#ENSO and #ClimateChange: What does the new IPCC report say? — NOAA

From NOAA (Tom Di Liberto):

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their Working Group 1 report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change (1). This huge report, both in terms of importance and length (the thing is nearly 4000 pages!), covers literally everything you can possibly imagine about Earth’s climate. Past changes, current observations, future projections of warming are all in there. So what does this exhaustive summary of climate research have to say about the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and climate change? Let’s dig in!

How has ENSO changed in the past?

Often when discussing climate change, the conversation stays firmly placed in discussing future changes. But it’s clear that the climate is changing already. Before we can jump into what, if any, ENSO changes are expected for the future, it’s important to look back and see if ENSO is ALREADY changing. And then determine if THOSE changes are influenced by our insatiable appetite for emitting greenhouse gases (GHG). So what’s up?

The Oceanic Niño Index, or ONI, from 1950-present. The ONI is the three-month sea surface temperature anomaly in the Niño3.4 region of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Red indicates above-average temperatures and blue indicates below-average temperatures. Climate.gov image using data from NOAA NWS Climate Prediction Center.

It’s changed!… kinda. (WITH LOTS OF NUANCE!) The amplitude (strength) of ENSO along with the frequency of high-magnitude events (aka the BIG ones) are higher since 1950 than from 1850-1950 to as far back at 1400-1950. (2) The IPCC report also noted that a higher number of El Niño events in the last 20-30 years have been associated with temperature changes that are stronger in the central Pacific rather than the east.

But those differences don’t necessarily mean that human-caused climate change is behind them (there’s that nuance!). The instrumental record and paleoclimate proxy evidence (coral, tree rings, sediment cores) all show that throughout the Holocene (the last 11,700 years), ENSO has displayed all sorts of different patterns and amplitudes. There is no clear evidence that any changes since 1950 in ENSO are all that unusual. Plus, climate model simulations that do not include rising greenhouse gases produce similarly large variations in ENSO behavior over long periods of time due solely to the chaotic nature of the climate system.

The same holds true for the trend in recent years for central Pacific El Niño events. Both paleoclimate data and climate models indicate that any changes seen are well within the range of natural variability. That’s just how the earth works sometimes.

It’s like student scores in weekly pop quizzes in high school before and after using a study aide. Before, the scores ranged from 0 to 100 with periods of consistent scores above 90 and other times of consistent 60s (or worse. Hey, it could be senior year and prom is coming up!). If you were the teacher, you wouldn’t feel confident that the student “turned a corner” from using that specific study aide until you saw a long consistent streak of higher scores. You’d seen scores like that on occasion before, after all. Maybe the flash cards work. Maybe they don’t. It’s too hard to say.

What’s going to happen to ENSO in a warming world?

First things first, it is virtually certain that ENSO will not only exist in a warming world, but that it will continue to play a huge role in affecting earth’s climate patterns (3).

But what can we say about climate change changing ENSO in the future? Especially, if we can’t say with much confidence if climate change is affecting ENSO already.

Changes in amplitude of ENSO variability of both (top) sea surface temperatures and (bottom) precipitation anomalies averaged over Niño3.4 region for 1950–2014 from CMIP6 climate model historical simulations and for 2015–2100 four shared socioeconomic pathways (SSP) scenarios. Thick lines stand for multi-model mean and shading is the 5–95% range across CMIP6 models for historical simulation (grey), SSP1-2.6 (blue) and SSP3-7.0 (pink), respectively. Climate.gov figure adapted from Figure 4.10 in IPCC AR6 WG1 Physical Science Basis report.

There is no climate model consensus on a change in ENSO-related sea surface temperature over the next century in any of the greenhouse gas emission scenarios used in the report. But regardless of any changes in ENSO sea surface temperatures, in intermediate to very high GHG scenarios, it is very likely that rainfall variability over the east-central tropical Pacific will increase significantly (4). Basically, we may expect El Niño to be wetter in this region and La Niña may be drier.

Importantly, this is NOT saying that the climate models all show no change in ENSO over the next century in these scenarios. Some of the models certainly do show change. The issue is that there is no clear consistency not just among different models, but also among different runs of the same model made with slightly different initial conditions (ensembles). Some show higher amplitude ENSO events. Others project lower amplitude events. It’s this wide range of outcomes that has led to the IPCC’s low confidence in how ENSO could change in a warming world.

Why is this all so complicated?

ENSO is a super-duper complex give and take between the ocean and the atmosphere. Changes in global surface temperatures…PSHT…that’s easy compared to ENSO.

ENSO mechanisms showing the complexity of processes involved in ENSO. Dashed contour shows the location of the strongest positive SST anomaly during El Niño (the Niño 3 region). NOAA Climate.gov, based on original provided by Eric Guilyardi.

How is it complex? Seven years ago, I described ENSO as the light in a room controlled by hundreds of dimmer switches. This is because ENSO is controlled by multiple feedbacks, which we discussed in this blog post. Climate change is like a bratty kid who goes into the room and fiddles with each switch, turning some up and others down. Whether the end result is a brighter room (stronger or more frequent ENSO) or a darker room (weaker or less frequent ENSO) is hard to predict.

Even without climate change affecting things, modeling ENSO is hard! With so many influences, it’s easy for a climate model to get the “right” answer (the light in the room) for the “wrong” reasons (adjusting different dimmer switches to get the final “correct” amount of light). Climate models can show a wide range of potential ENSO outcomes for the future by slightly changing a whole bunch of “dimmer switches.” It’s hard to say which switches are more “right” than the others.

A generalized look at how general circulation models can predict different impacts on ENSO from various mechanisms or processes related to ENSO, yet still predict the same resulting ENSO amplitude. Occasionally, models can even predict a different sign for a mechanism (see equatorial ocean dynamics in blue for model C), and still have the resulting ENSO amplitude be the same. It is therefore important to verify that models correctly predict the final ENSO amplitude as well as the correct ENSO mechanisms, or processes. Graphic by Fiona Martin, based on work by Eric Guilyardi.

And of course, the last complicating thing is just how different ENSO has been over the long-term past. With such a variable history, it makes it more difficult to see a climate change specific signal pop out.

Any new research shed any light on ENSO and Climate Change?

Yes, and no. Yes in a sense that new research is seemingly released monthly. And no in a sense that the new research is still often at odds. One week an article might suggest that ENSO events will get stronger in a warming world. And the next week a paper comes out and says “Nuh uh, it’ll be weaker”.

If anything, this just gives more credence to the conclusions of the IPCC report of low confidence in how ENSO, overall, will change. That’s not to say that it won’t. We just don’t know yet exactly how things will play out.

Any last IPCC WG1 Physical Science Basis report thoughts?

There is no actual new science done in this report. Instead, the scientists who authored this report were tasked with assessing the state of the science to come to conclusions about what can be said about climate change and its impact on everything. It should be expected that some individual scientists might feel that their research wasn’t given enough credence. But the authors’ goal is to reflect the research in totality. Believe me, there will be plenty more research into how ENSO might change due to climate change, so stay tuned!


(1) The report is the first of three reports to be released as part of the sixth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The next two reports to be released in the first half of 2022 will be on adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

(2) How can scientists reconstruct the state of ENSO back to the 1400s? Through the use of climate proxies like fossil coral. We’ve covered this topic a couple of times on the ENSO Blog. First in a guest post by Dr. Kim Cobb and second in a post by me on volcanos.

(3) The exact phrasing found in the IPCC AR6 WG1 report is that “it is virtually certain that the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will remain the dominant mode of interannual variability in a warmer world.”

(4) The reason for this is that the average sea surface temperatures are expected to warm more in the eastern and central tropical Pacific relative to the rest of the tropics, which makes it easier for an ENSO sea surface temperature anomaly to induce a rainfall anomaly even if the ENSO sea surface temperature anomalies do not change.

Even #Colorado’s Largest Wildfire Was No Match For Beavers — KUNC

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

From KUNC (Alex Hager):

Deep in the Cameron Peak burn scar, nestled among charred hills, there’s an oasis of green — an idyllic patch of trickling streams that wind through a lush grass field. Apart from a few scorched branches on the periphery, it’s hard to tell that this particular spot was in the middle of Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire just a year ago.

This wetland was spared thanks to the work of beavers.

The mammals, quite famously, dam up streams to make ponds and a sprawling network of channels. Beavers are clumsy on land, but talented swimmers; so the web of pools and canals lets them find safety anywhere within the meadow.

On a recent visit to that patch of preserved land in Poudre Canyon, ecohydrologist Emily Fairfax emphasized the size of the beavers’ canal network.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t even count them,” she said. “It’s a lot. There’s at least 10 ponds up here that are large enough to see in satellite images. And then between all those ponds is just an absolute spiderweb of canals, many of which are too small for me to see until I’m here on the ground.”

The very infrastructure that gives beavers safety from predators also helps shield them from wildfire. Their work saturates the ground, creating an abnormally wet patch in the middle of an otherwise dry area. Dams allow the water to pool, and the channels spread it out over a wide swath of valley floor.

Fairfax researches how beavers re-shape the landscapes where they live. Across the West, she’s seen beaver-created wetlands survive wildfires.

“When you’re at this beaver complex,” she said, “it never stops being green. Everything else in the landscape – the hill slopes on either side, they both charred. They lost all their vegetation during this fire. But this spot, it did not. These plants were here last year and they’re still here today.”

#Drought increasing in southern #Colorado — KOAA

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 21, 2021.

From KOAA (Alex O’Brien):

This week, a reintroduction of D1 Moderate drought levels has returned to Crowley county and surrounding areas as well as Baca county.

We are in much better shape this September versus September 2020, where the majority of the state was under severe and extreme drought. And last fall brought one of the worst wildfire seasons in state history.

Colorado Drought Monitor September 22, 2020.

Until now, Colorado Springs has been riding on a precipitation surplus from wet weather in Spring and early Summer. For the first time this year, Colorado Springs is at a deficit for the water year.

Drought is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a long time to develop and a long time to fix. This summer’s initial improvement in drought across eastern Colorado now seems to be tipping the other way.

Looking ahead, the Climate Prediction Center anticipates precipitation leaning below average in Fall, and temperatures will likely be above average.

This Fall forecast supports drought persisting or worsening into 2022.

#LakePowell Reaches New Low — NASA #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and lake elevation data from the Bureau of Reclamation. Story by Michael Carlowicz.

Lake Powell September 1, 2017. Photo credit: NASA

Lake Powell August 27, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

From NASA:

As North America approaches the end of the 2021 water year, the two largest reservoirs in the United States stand at their lowest levels since they were first filled. After two years of intense drought and two decades of long-term drought in the American Southwest, government water managers have been forced to reconsider how supplies will be portioned out in the 2022 water year.

Straddling the border of southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona, Lake Powell is the second largest reservoir by capacity in the United States. In July 2021, water levels on the lake fell to the lowest point since 1969 and have continued dropping. As of September 20, 2021, the water elevation at Glen Canyon Dam was 3,546.93 feet, more than 153 feet below “full pool” (elevation 3,700 feet). The lake held just 30 percent of its capacity. To compensate, federal managers started releasing water from upstream reservoirs to help keep Lake Powell from dropping below a threshold that threatens hydropower equipment at the dam.

The natural-color images above show Lake Powell in the late summer of 2017 and 2021, as observed by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8. The September 2017 image was chosen because it represents the highest water level (3,630.76 feet) from the past decade. The line plot below shows water levels since 1999, when Lake Powell approached 94 percent capacity.

Lake Powell elevation 1999 – 2021. Graphic credit: NASA

Downstream in the Colorado River water management system, Lake Mead is filled to just 35 percent of capacity. More than 94 percent of the land area across nine western states is now affected by some level of drought, according to the September 23 report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In an announcement on September 22, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) explained that updated hydrological models for the next five years “show continued elevated risk of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reaching critically-low elevations as a result of the historic drought and low-runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin. At Lake Powell, the projections indicate the potential of falling below minimum power pool as early as July 2022 should extremely dry hydrology continue into next year.” Minimum power pool refers to an elevation—3,490 feet—that water levels must remain above to keep the dam’s hydropower turbines working properly.

With the entire Lower Colorado River water storage system at 39 percent of capacity, the Bureau of Reclamation recently announced that water allocations in the U.S. Southwest would be cut over the next year. “Given ongoing historic drought and low runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin, downstream releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be reduced in 2022 due to declining reservoir levels,” the USBR statement said. “In the Lower Basin the reductions represent the first “shortage” declaration—demonstrating the severity of the drought and low reservoir conditions.”

The natural-color images above were acquired in March 1999, April 2005, May 2011, and April 2021 by the Landsat 5, 7, and 8 satellites. Springtime typically marks the lowest water levels before mountaintop snow starts to melt and run down into the watershed. The images capture years with the two highest and lowest levels over the past 22 years. (For a year-by-year view, see the Earth Observatory feature World of Change: Water Level in Lake Powell.)

The Colorado River basin is managed to provide water to millions of people—most notably the cities of San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles—and 4 to 5 million acres of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico. Water is allotted through laws like the 1922 Colorado River Compact and by a recent drought contingency plan announced in 2019.

In a report and op-ed released on September 22, members of a NOAA Drought Task Force offered some context for the low water levels across the region. “Successive dry winter seasons in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, together with a failed 2020 summer southwestern monsoon, led precipitation totals since January 2020 to be the lowest on record since at least 1895 over the entirety of the Southwest. At the same time, temperatures across the six states considered in the report (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah) were at their third highest on record. Together, the exceptionally low precipitation and warm temperatures reduced snowpack and increased evaporation of soil moisture, leading to a persistent and widespread drought over most of the American West.“

Opinion: Water is the 3rd District’s ‘community of interest.’ Only one redistricting map gets it: The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Stewart Udall and John Kennedy.

From The Colorado Sun (Mark Craddock):

Redistricting Commissioner Simon Tafoya’s proposed 3rd Congressional District boundary deserves strong consideration

On Aug. 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a capacity crowd at Pueblo’s Dutch Clark Stadium.

“I don’t think there is any more valuable lesson for a President or Member of the House and Senate than to fly as we have flown today over some of the bleakest land in the United States and then to come to a river and see what grows next to it, and come to this city and come to this town and come to this platform and know how vitally important water is.”

Kennedy had traveled to Pueblo to announce the Fryingpan-Arkansas project, an enormous trans-mountain project to divert Western Slope water to the Arkansas River basin. In all, it required six storage dams, 17 diversion dams and structures, hundreds of miles of combined canals, conduits, tunnels and transmission lines, and two power plants, switchyards and substations. The project took 10 years for authorization, spark-plugged throughout by Colorado’s powerful 4th District Congressman Wayne [Aspinall], a Palisade Democrat, and another 20 years to construct.

Roosevelt driving through a sequoia tree tunnel. By SMU Central University Libraries – https://www.flickr.com/photos/smu_cul_digitalcollections/14994749857/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53266489

“This is a national responsibility,” Kennedy said in 1962. “When Theodore Roosevelt became President after being Vice President, the leader of his state said, ‘my God, they have put that cowboy in the White House.’ Well, because he had been a cowboy in North Dakota, and had spent some of the most significant years of his life there, he became committed to the development of the resources of the West, and every citizen who lives in the West owes Theodore Roosevelt, that cowboy, a debt of obligation.”

These words uttered by one of this country’s most-iconic leaders, delivered in a football stadium in the heart of Colorado’s 3 rd Congressional District, are as prescient now as they were nearly 60 years ago.

Consider the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among seven U.S. states within the Colorado River basin governing the allocation of the water rights among the parties to the compact. It serves to this day as a foundational document in water law.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Or the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest trans mountain diversion project in the state, which annually delivers some 213,000 acre-feet of water from the headwaters of the Colorado River to the South Platte River Basin.

Then there’s Dillon Reservoir and the Harold Roberts Tunnel, which delivers Colorado River headwaters to the North Fork of the Platte River to serve a thirsty Denver metro area.

The list goes on.

The point is, past projects to divert and share water have been expensive, generational endeavors involving participation and coordination, arm-twisting and teeth gnashing, among all manner of federal, state and local officials. And the fights over Colorado’s headwaters will only gain in importance over the coming decades, as global climate change influences our weather and thirsty citizens clamor for their piece of a dwindling pie.

In pondering the boundaries of a 3rd Congressional District that must by nature encompass nearly half of Colorado’s land area; water policy is the one, clear, universal “community of interest” that has historically impacted the entire area, continues to do so today, and will continue to do so well into the future.

In this context, I urge the Commission to give its utmost consideration to Commissioner Simon Tafoya’s redistricting plan, illustrated in the “P.005.Tafoya” map submitted Sept. 13, 2021.

Tafoya’s plan is the only one among the 120-or-so I have reviewed and continually reported on that puts this vital community of interest front and center in constructing the boundaries of the 3rd District.

It seems like the kind of plan that would have brought the rousing support of a young president from Massachusetts, a powerful Congressman from Palisade, and “that cowboy from South Dakota.”

It is a nod to our region’s past and a powerful recognition of our inevitable future.

Mark Craddock lives in Walsenburg.

Long power outages after disasters aren’t inevitable – but to avoid them, utilities need to think differently — The Conversation

Power poles downed by Hurricane Ida in Houma, Louisiana, Aug. 30, 2021.
Nick Wagner/Xinhua via Getty Images

Seth Blumsack, Penn State

A busy 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is in full swing. The year’s 18th named storm, Sam, has become a hurricane. Meanwhile, some residents in the parts of Louisiana hit hardest by Hurricane Ida in late August are still waiting for their power to be restored. And thousands of Texas residents endured multi-day outages after Hurricane Nicholas in mid-September.

Americans are becoming painfully aware that U.S. energy grids are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Hurricanes in the east, wildfires in the west, ice storms, floods and even landslides can trigger widespread power shortages. And climate change is likely making many of these extreme events more frequent, more severe or both.

As a long-time researcher of the electric utility industry, I’ve noticed that the U.S. tends to treat extended power cuts from natural disasters as an unfortunate fact of life. Even in states like Pennsylvania, where I live, that aren’t typically in the path of major tropical storms, a surprising amount of energy infrastructure is potentially vulnerable to extreme weather.

But in my view, major energy disruptions are not inevitable consequences beyond our control. Rather, the rising number of large weather-related blackouts in recent years shows that utilities, regulators and government agencies aren’t planning for these events in the right way. What’s needed is an understanding that extreme weather events are fundamentally different from other kinds of power blackouts, and that resilience is not just about the grid itself, but also the people that it serves.

How power companies plan for disasters

In most areas of the U.S., power grids tend not to fail unless they are pushed really hard. Utilities have built a tremendous amount of redundancy into energy delivery systems – extra generating capacity and transmission lines that can get electricity to customers if part of the system fails. That’s the right approach if major threats are things like equipment overloads on very hot days, or random equipment failures that could cascade into much bigger problems.

Utilities and regulators have planned grid design around these kinds of failures for decades. And for the most part, this approach has worked well. Truly severe power outages from causes other than extreme weather don’t happen very often in the U.S. The last really big one, on Aug. 14-15, 2003, affected some 50 million people across the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and southern Canada.

Redundancy is a good strategy for keeping the grid stable following an unexpected malfunction of one or two pieces of equipment. It also allows utilities to do more of what they are good at – building, maintaining and operating power grid infrastructure.

But in the face of extreme weather events, the system needs a different kind of redundancy. Building more equipment in vulnerable places won’t keep the lights on if the entire area is hit by a disruptive event all at once. In Louisiana, Hurricane Ida was so fierce that it took down multiple power transmission lines that feed electricity into New Orleans and surrounding parishes. Some of this damaged infrastructure had been upgraded or put in place following previous severe storms.

Graphic showing distribution poles downed by Gulf coast hurricanes
Hurricane Ida took down nearly twice as many electric power distribution poles as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Rethinking resilience planning

Planning properly for resilience to extreme weather events requires doing some things differently.

First, it means realizing that a lot of equipment in the same place will be affected all at once. One reason that Ida led to such large blackouts in New Orleans was that some older transmission lines going into the city hadn’t been upgraded to withstand more severe weather, even though they ran beside new equipment.

Second, the goal should be to get people the services that they need, not necessarily to keep the grid up and running, which is very costly and just won’t be possible in all circumstances.

This means thinking about solutions outside of the traditional utility business model – for example, deploying lifeline systems such as solar panels, batteries or generators. This isn’t how utilities traditionally do business, but it will tide people over while power companies make large-scale grid repairs after storms.

Third, it’s time to acknowledge that the risks of extreme events are increasing faster than many utilities have been adapting their plans. For example, Pacific Gas and Electric in California has only recently incorporated wildfire risk into its transmission planning, and now is more seriously considering burying power lines.

Entergy, which serves much of the area hit hardest by Ida, has upgraded its transmission design standards so that newer lines can withstand higher winds. This is a useful step, but it did not prevent catastrophic power outages during a period of dangerously hot weather. Utilities and regulators still assume that the scale and likelihood of many weather-related risks has not changed in the past several decades. As climate change accelerates, utilities and regulators should be working to understand which risks are changing and how.

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Some utilities, like those in New York, are learning from recent experiences with extreme weather events and trying to solve these problems. Con Edison, for example, has focused not only on restoration plans following extreme events, but has also tried to model and quantify the changing risks that it faces. Others, like those in Vermont and California, are weighing how they can achieve extreme-weather resilience as their grids become more dependent on renewables.

How much money to spend for resilient grids is a major question. What’s already clear is that building more, bigger infrastructure is not necessarily better.The Conversation

Seth Blumsack, Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics and International Affairs, Penn State

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

NOAA #Drought Task Force Report on the 2020–2021 southwestern U.S. drought

Southwest Drought Monitor map September 21, 2021.

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:


Using the state-of-science and the collective expertise of the NOAA Drought Task Force, this report addresses three questions about the period of below normal rain, snow, runoff, and soil moisture, known as the 2020–21 U.S. Southwest drought: (1) How bad is it? (2) What caused it? And (3) When will it end?

For the six states of the U.S. Southwest (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah)i, January 2020 through August 2021 have been exceptional in the instrumental climate record since 1895, with the lowest total precipitation and the third-highest daily average temperatures recorded, which together imposed an unyielding, unprecedented, and costly drought. This exceptional drought punctuates a two-decade period of persistently warm and dry conditions throughout the region. The low precipitation across U.S. states and seasons appears to have been largely due to natural, but unfavorable, variations in the atmosphere and ocean. As such, predicting when total precipitation will return to pre-drought levels is a challenge. While summer 2021 brought welcome monsoon rains to parts of the Southwest, several seasons, or years, of above-average rain and high elevation snow are needed to replenish rivers, soils, and reservoirs across the region. This suggests that for much of the U.S. Southwest, the present drought will last at least into 2022, potentially longer. At the same time, exceptionally warm temperatures from human-caused warming have melted snowpack and drawn water from the land surface more rapidly than in previous years. The warm temperatures that helped to make this drought so intense and widespread will continue (and increase) until stringent climate mitigation is pursued and regional warming trends are reversed. As such, continued warming of the U.S. Southwest due to greenhouse gas emissions will make even randomly occurring seasons of average- to below-average precipitation a potential drought trigger, and intensify droughts beyond what would be expected from rainfall or snowpack deficits alone. Human-caused increases in drought risk will continue to impose enormous costs upon the livelihoods and well-being of the ~60+ million people living in the six states of the U.S. Southwest, as well as the broader communities dependent on the goods and services they produce.

i The2021 drought covers much of Western North America, including parts of Canada and Mexico. This report centers on the U.S. Southwest as the 2020–21 drought has been most persistent and severe there.

Why Rewildling Our Landscapes Needs to Include Bugs — The Revelator #ActOnClimate

A fly on a strawflower. Photo: Daniela, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From The Revalator (Vicki Hird):

If we are to successfully restore the natural world, we’ll need to focus on some of the smallest creatures in the ecosystem, says the author of the new book, Rebugging the Planet.

The following excerpt is from Vicki Hird’s new book Rebugging the Planet: The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More (Chelsea Green Publishing, September 23, 2021) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

What is rewilding? Basically, it’s the attempt to recreate the natural ecological systems that once covered our landscapes — woods, rivers, wetlands — and trusting nature to look after itself, perhaps with some help at the start to fix the most broken pieces.

Many rewilding projects are large in scale, to allow nature to really do its stuff without interference and pollution from us. It is about vast estates and landscapes, large herbivores or carnivores and huge decisions made by distant landowners or institutions. These are invaluable. But is not always about completely removing people — after all, humans are part of the natural world.

Instead, we need to find new ways to live while reconnecting with the ecosystems we live in, creating a richer world in which people and nature can thrive together. We can live alongside more bees, worms and flies, and I believe there is a benefit to taking the debate on rewilding down to the tiny scale of some of the smallest creatures on the planet.

Invertebrates are core to any rewilding project: ideal foot soldiers for the cause at every level as they travel, adapt and multiply so brilliantly. And, aside from farmed honeybees, silk moths and biological control agents, almost all the invertebrates we encounter, wherever we encounter them, are wild. They may be there because we created the environment for them, but they are not domesticated or tame — or even that interested in us.

How Does Rewilding Help Bugs?

Rebugging is looking at the ways, small and large, to nurture complex communities of these tiny, vital players in almost all the natural and not-so-natural places on earth. It means conserving them where they are managing to hang on, and restoring them where they are needed as part of a rewilding movement. And it means putting bugs back into our everyday lives, our homes and where we play and work.

But what does “good” look like for the bugs? We need to better know what the “perfect” habitats and conditions would be for bugs to thrive: the baselines against which recent losses occurred. We can’t tell what the true losses are as we don’t know what was there before people arrived, or even a hundred years ago. But how exciting to discover more new insect habitats through rebugging, as we let nature make its way.

Even rewilding a relatively small area can create something akin to the original habitats of the invertebrates, and we will discover so many intriguing aspects in the process. Rewilding projects are already throwing up some challenges to our previous knowledge about their favored habitats as species take to a habitat in a rewilded area that we had no idea they liked.

Bringing Back Lost Species

Which animals belong where is a fascinating issue in rewilding. It can involve reintroducing a species to re-establish it or to boost numbers of a native animal or plant at risk of going extinct. Or it can be about recreating an ecosystem that has got out of balance, such as a flood plain that needs the plants and animals back to slow water flow.

Would we want to bring invertebrate species back into countries and regions that have lost them? The removal of keystone species — a species that is fundamental to the existence of a particular ecosystem — can be catastrophic for a wild ecosystem, but reintroduction can work in unforeseen ways.

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the western U.S. created unexpected and positive results for the park ecology. When wolves were removed from the park 70 years ago, elk overgrazing became a problem and only resolved when the wolves were reintroduced, and so elks were naturally managed better. But there was a further impact: beaver populations grew now that their willow trees were not overgrazed by the elk. This created new fish and water invertebrate habitats, which then influenced other species feeding on the bugs and fish. Everything is connected, and while many focus on the furry vertebrate species, we need to recognize and nurture the bugs, too, as vital parts of the arrangement.

Beavers are also being reintroduced into U.K. river systems, leading to new habitats, more diversity, and even floodwater management and boosting green tourism. Sometimes iconic species can be hugely important for building public support for conservation, but also can help fund projects through carefully managed tourism.

But what about invertebrates? Rebugging could allow species lost to an area to be introduced successfully and this is indeed happening.

Given their size and ability to produce numerous offspring quickly, invertebrates have the wonderful ability to recolonize far more quickly when they spot the opportunity than larger species. Just take the aphid, which can produce five to 10 offspring every day. The African driver queen ant can produce an estimated three to four million eggs a month. And they do not need so much careful handling as, say, a wolf.

However, it makes sense also to focus on protecting the native bug species that are still in their habitats, but are just hanging on in pockets of scrub, hedgerows or small woodlands, and even urban parks, where once their habitats would have been far more widespread. And they can help rewild the small spaces as well as the big ones.

The School of Rebugging

Critical to keeping places wild and protected will be helping people to have a stronger relationship with nature. Making public access safe and easy in rewilded space will help create a movement for rebugging. Great wilderness parks such as the 63 federally designated U.S. national parks present a whole other level of invertebrate opportunity. As these areas are managed by government bodies largely for wildlife, rather than farming or other purposes, they can be described as wild — and over 80% of the areas involved are managed as wilderness.

They maintain some of the best habitats, perfect for invertebrates to thrive. This is an extraordinary asset, but one which compares dramatically with other land management in the U.S.: the empty prairies and often car-filled cities, where insects and other invertebrates are subject to massive pressures from industrial farming, pollution and development.

Take the sub-arctic Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska where there is an abundance of invertebrates such as bees and flower flies. People visit this park to see the grizzly bears but the other fur-covered animals should also gain attention. Alongside the flies, the bumblebees are critical for pollination and they have recently found a new species of bumblebee in this park — always an exciting moment.

These are keystone species and the Denali park’s grizzly bears, caribou and wolves would not survive without the bugs because they all need the wildflowers and shrubs for their food or the food of their prey. The grizzlies in particular need the bees to pollinate the blueberries, one of the bear’s main foods. As we know, honeybees are under threat globally, so it is vital that we protect the other pollinators like bumblebees so they can pollinate both wild plants and farmed crops.

Wildlife parks do have threats such as the pressure of visitors, especially at peak holiday periods. Other dangers respect no boundaries — for instance, climate change, illegal hunting and invasive species. But these places provide a fantastic way to conserve bugs in their natural world and to show what they can do.

Rebugging Actions

The joy of rebugging is that you can do it almost anywhere. Give people the chance to act and to encourage some bees, or even hummingbird hawkmoths, in a green patch of land, and you can start to change hearts and minds. From a Costa Rican municipality giving bees citizenship to an amazing three thousand food-growing spaces making space for nature in London, it is possible — and it is happening.

The “rebugging” title of this book was inspired by another, recent book Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and its Birds by Benedict Macdonald, who argues that to have more birds around, larger mammals must be allowed to do their work and re-engineer the landscapes. Letting nature heal itself and letting it get messy is key to a revival in birds and other species. If we can use the lens of birds and beavers to understand rewilding, we should also use bugs.

© 2021 Vicki Hird. Published with permission.

CDPHE: Algaecide in Vail Resorts pond water suspected in fish die-off — The #Vail Daily

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

From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

An algaecide that was toxic to fish entered Mill Creek this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has learned based on discussions with Vail Resorts.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife recorded 120 dead fish Tuesday in Mill Creek and Gore Creek in Vail, where a spill was reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by Vail Resorts…

The department said it is inspecting Mill and Gore creeks to determine if there were possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, Nason said.

The department coordinated with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to provide the initial investigation Tuesday. Friday’s inspection was a follow-up to that effort, Nason said…

On Monday, Vail Resorts was contacted by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which had noticed an abnormally high water demand in the core Vail area over the weekend.

The water and sanitation district had narrowed down the high use to a storage tank at Golden Peak. The major customer user from that tank is Vail Resorts for its snowmaking system, which, according to a memo from the town of Vail’s Environmental Sustainability Department, is not usually online until Oct. 1.

Vail Resorts, according to the memo, discovered that a few isolation valves on their snowmaking setup had been left open since March. Maintenance had been performed on the snowmaking system on Sept. 17, which required the drain line to be opened for repair work.

On Monday, the valves for the snowmaking setup were shut, which stopped the discharge of water to Mill Creek…

Copper Sulfate

The discharged water was blue-gray, and bugs, fish and algae had been killed in 1,500 feet of affected creek. Common algaecides contain copper sulfate, which is blue and can be toxic to fish.

“Based on discussions with Vail Resorts, we learned that the spilled water to the river is a combination of potable water and pond water with algaecide, which in this case was toxic to fish given the dead fish,” Nason said. “While events that lead to fish kills are an immediate concern, dead fish doesn’t always mean there is an urgent public health threat.”

The fish were surrounded by high levels of the spilled and contaminated water, Nason said.

But for people or dogs playing near or in this area, Nason said the risk of health impacts are expected to be low “because much of that spilled water has been washed away and diluted as it moves downstream — otherwise we would be seeing many more dead fish downstream.”

Monsoonal rains kept the state from setting records for dry conditions, but demand for #water keeps reservoirs low — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #monsoon2021

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianned Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The summer monsoons brought good moisture to the Western slope, relieving some of the two-year drought that has plagued areas west of the Continental Divide.

But higher than average demand for water, spurred by growth in some parts of the state, means some reservoirs are at their lowest levels, approaching the records set in 2002 and 2018. And one particular river basin is in pretty bad shape, according to Thursday’s reports.

The reports came out during the monthly meeting of the state Water Availability Task Force, a collection of state water officials, climatologists, municipal water providers and federal water watchers.

According to Assistant State Climatologist Becky Bolinger of the Colorado Climate Center, the Yampa/White River basin, primarily in Routt and Moffat counties, has seen the worst of it this year, with below average precipitation and, even more concerning, below average stream flows. Based on the most recent reports from the U.S. Drought Monitor, the Yampa basin is in the most severe drought level, known as D4 for exceptional drought, since the first monitoring of drought levels started in 2000, and that level has persisted for almost 52 straight weeks, also a record.

Colorado Drought Monitor map September 21, 2021.

It’s meant that the large sections of the Yampa have been closed to fishing for virtually the entire summer, according to the state division of parks and wildlife.

Bolinger said the 2021 summer was the fourth warmest on record, going back 127 years. There was only one month — February — where temperatures were below average for the entire water year that runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Monsoons, however, kept the state from setting records for dry conditions, Bolinger indicated. There was above average rainfall in Western Colorado, particularly for the Colorado River basin, but not enough to overcome drought conditions in northwestern Colorado counties such as Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt.

And drought conditions are starting to rise on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Bolinger noted that Washington County had the driest summer on record. About 41% of the state is in some form of drought, although that’s better than it was in January, when the entire state was in drought…

Bolinger said there is a high likelihood that Colorado will experience a weak “La Niña” winter, meaning a wet pattern that may provide more snowfall over the northern mountains but drier conditions and less snowfall in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado and the Eastern Plains.

Karl Wetlaufer of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tracks reservoir levels and precipitation by river basins. Wetlaufer said the Yampa got a bit of a reprieve with precipitation in August and above average rainfall in September. His biggest concern was for declining reservoir storage in almost every basin except for the South Platte, where reservoir levels have been well above average. The South Platte was the only basin where reservoir levels actually increased in 2021…

In the Gunnison River basin, where the Bureau of Reclamation is tapping Blue Mesa Reservoir to keep electrical generation going at Lake Powell, reservoir levels are almost at the lowest in history, Wetlaufer said. Statewide, reservoir storage is at about 80% of average, down from 85% a year ago, and at 48% of capacity…

Stream flows are also well below normal, Wetlaufer explained, even in areas of the state that had good snowpack. The effect of very dry soils from the winter months, combined with a warm and dry summer, meant some parts of the state, like the Yampa, saw their stream flows drop to 32% of normal flows…

The impact of this year’s precipitation has meant struggles for farmers planting millet and winter wheat, according to Joel Schneekloth, a regional water resources specialist at Colorado State University. He explained that for some farmers, the rainfall has been so spotty that they’re checking fields to see which ones caught rain and then immediately move to plant wheat in those fields. The good news seems to be that while fields have been drier than average, crops don’t seem to be using as much water, which he theorized could be due to higher humidity levels.

Chimney Hollow, two other projects in Larimer County get state stimulus #water grants — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Preparing the site of the future construction office complex at Chimney Hollow Reservoir. Photo credit: Northern Water

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Michael Hughes):

Three water projects in the region will get $4.7 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board’s giving doubled this year due to COVID-related stimulus funds.

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud is getting $3.8 million toward connecting the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County to one at Chimney Hollow in Larimer County…

Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin. Graphic credit: Northern Water

The grant goes for the [bypass] channel, which is still being designed.

“Colorado River Connectivity Channel is a major modification to Windy Gap Reservoir,” Stahla said. He said the channel’s funding is nearly complete. The grant “isn’t the final piece. We anticipate all the pieces coming together” by mid-2022…

Two other area projects got grants.

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

A “Poudre Headwaters Restoration — Grand Ditch Barrier” effort by Colorado Trout Unlimited in Denver got about $300,000 toward restoring 38 miles of stream and 110 acres of lake habitat.

The specific project involves the greenback cutthroat trout.

Efficient irrigation systems help save water and decrease leaching of salts. Photo credit: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

A $1.2 million irrigation infrastructure effort got half its costs from this round of water board funds. The grantee is Colorado State University, through its Fort Collins campus, to use on work to boost water and energy efficiency and agricultural production.

The specific project is to build storage ponds, upgrade the existing equipment and add irrigation systems and other infrastructure for research on soil and crops and to launch a farm management competition to improve agricultural profitability.

Both projects are in Larimer County.

Human-Caused #ClimateChange Is Worsening The #Megadrought Gripping #Colorado, NOAA Scientists Say — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Some boats were still in the water the first week of September at the Lake Fork Marina. Across Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Elk Creek Marina’s boat slips were emptied early because of declining water levels in the reservoir.

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Human-caused climate change is intensifying the 20-year drought that’s plaguing Colorado and the Southwest, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Without “stringent” climate mitigation, the region will continue to warm, a consortium of federal and university scientists who are part of the agency’s drought task force concluded in their analysis. Increased temperatures likely mean drought conditions will remain even if there’s an average amount of snow and rainfall. Exceptionally warm temperatures melt snowpack and cause more water to evaporate from the land than in previous years, the scientists wrote.

Human-caused increases in drought risk are expected to continue to impose “enormous costs” on roughly 60 million people who live in the Southwest and other communities that depend on the goods and services produced in the region, the scientists wrote.

The 20 months between January 2020 and August 2021 saw the lowest total precipitation and the third-highest daily average temperatures on record for the Southwest, data show. That combination imposed an “unyielding, unprecedented and costly drought,” researchers wrote.

The report suggests it would take several years of above-average rain and snow to replenish rivers, soils and reservoirs — and that drought conditions will last at least into 2022 or potentially longer for much of the Southwest.

The drought is drying up the Colorado River, which supplies 40 million people in the Southwest and Mexico. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the U.S., both hold Colorado River water and hit their lowest levels on record earlier this summer.

A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
(Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021 via the Montrose Daily Press

Emergency action was needed to keep the dam at Lake Powell producing hydropower, which meant sending water from Colorado’s largest reservoir to Lake Powell. The drought also led the federal government to officially declare the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River basin, which means mandatory water cuts in some states and Mexico in 2022.

The economic cost of the drought and wildfires in 2020 is between $1 and $2 billion for Colorado, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a figure included in the drought report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

#Colorado Sports Betting Generates Nearly $8 Million for State Water Plan in FY21 — Casino.org #COWaterPlan

The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Casino.org (Steve Bittenbender):

Colorado gaming officials on Thursday [September 23, 2021] announced that the first full year of legal sports betting in the state produced nearly $8 million in tax revenue that will help the state implement its water resiliency plan.

The Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday.

“In all, the state received nearly $8.6 million in revenue, that’s discounting $1.6 million state gaming officials returned to the general fund in March to reimburse for start-up costs covered to launch wagering in May 2020.”

The Colorado Water Plan was established in November 2015 to help ensure the state’s long-term water needs would be met amid concerns about climate change and other challenges the state faces…

Despite the water plan funding representing less than 1 percent of the actual bets placed, state officials are still pleased with the results so far.

Teenage boys, young men, and a girl pose on the steps of a building, clothes include turtleneck sweaters, knee pants, a leather helmet, and duster hats. One holds a football. photographed by either Fred Garrison or Ola Aftinson Garrison.; History Colorado

From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson) via The Lamar Ledger:

Since Colorado launched legalized sports betting in May 2020, the state has collected nearly five times more money for water projects than anticipated, gaming officials said.

The start of the National Football League’s season provided yet another welcome financial bump, with about $44 million in bets during its first weekend (Sept. 9-13), according to Daniel Hartman, director of the state’s Division of Gaming…

Money collected from gambling proceeds goes toward work meant to conserve water, protect natural habitats, improve infrastructure and more, according to Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. And more money equals funding new projects under the Colorado Water Plan at a time when Colorado River reservoirs downstream are low.

Hartman said his office earmarked about $8 million from sports betting for the plan, which sets priorities through 2050 for projects in the following five categories: agriculture; conservation and land use; engagement and innovation; environment and recreation; and water storage and supply.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board doles out the money, and Ris said it tries to fund projects that check more than one box, like work with Colorado Springs Utilities that brings water from the Eagle River Basin to Colorado Springs and Aurora — which she said “opened up quite a bit of fish and boating habitat.”

Before voters legalized sports betting, Ris said her department was awarding grants with whatever money officials found in their “couch cushions.”

At the outset, legislative analysts projected gambling could bring in between $9.7 million to $11.2 million in its first year, revenue department spokeswoman Suzanne Karrer said. But shortly after voters agreed to legalize the practice, state officials cut their estimates for 2020-2021 to between $1.5 million and $1.7 million in part because casinos weren’t willing to pay $125,000 every other year to host sports betting, Karrer said.

Even when the pandemic shut down leagues for a few months, gamblers flocked to sports betting — made easy through apps. The $3 billion in bets from May 2020 to July 31, 2021, translates into $9.4 million in state revenue, Hartman said…

Ris said the board can’t give out any of this windfall until next summer, after the 2022 General Assembly grants it permission to spend the money.

#Drought news: One class degradation in the #SouthPlatteRiver, #ArkansasRiver, #ColoradoRiver, and #RioGrande basins in #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

For much of the drought-monitoring period, the remnants of Hurricane Nicholas continued to produce heavy showers across the South. Toward the end of the period, residual tropical moisture was drawn northward in advance of a strong cold front, further enhancing rainfall in several areas. At the Tuesday morning (September 21) cutoff, rain was falling in several areas—including parts of the Midwest—that have been experiencing dryness or drought. Meanwhile, the Northwest also received some precipitation, including high-elevation snow, providing limited drought relief. In many sections of the country, however, dry weather favored summer crop maturation and harvesting, but reduced topsoil moisture for newly planted winter grains. Some of the most significant short-term dryness, aggravated by late-season heat, existed across the southern Plains. Mostly dry weather also prevailed across the nation’s southwestern quadrant, including central and southern California. Near- or above-normal temperatures covered much of the country, except briefly in the wake of the previously mentioned cold front…

High Plains

Heavy rain clipped some eastern sections of the region, but many areas were dry, or nearly so, during the drought-monitoring period. A surge of heat in advance of a cold front, peaking on September 18, resulted in unusually high temperatures, followed by cooler conditions. On the 18th, there was a flurry of daily-record highs, including 98°F in Chadron, Nebraska; and 96°F in Dickinson, North Dakota. Still, drought conditions in many parts of the High Plains have modestly improved in recent weeks. Due to that beneficial rain, exceptional drought (D4) was removed from central North Dakota. A few other areas also noted drought improvements of up to one category, as moisture has generally increased for newly planted winter wheat—and some pastureland has begun to respond. Even with the rain, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that on September 19, topsoil moisture across the region ranged from 41% very short to short in Nebraska to 88% in Wyoming. Some rangeland and pastures continue to reel from drought that appears to have peaked earlier in the year; on September 19, the Dakotas led the region in very poor to poor ratings—83% in North Dakota and 80% in South Dakota. Wyoming’s rangeland and pastures were rated 71% very poor to poor…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 21, 2021.


Any meaningful precipitation was confined to the northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest, resulting in modest improvement in the drought depiction for those areas. As colder air arrived on September 19, precipitation changed to snow in Yellowstone National Park and other high-elevation sites in the northern Rockies and Northwest. In Oregon, record-setting rainfall totals for September 18 reached 1.31 inches in Portland and 1.13 inches in Salem. With a 0.42-inch sum, Spokane, Washington, also collected a record-setting total for September 18. Portland’s 3-day (September 17-19) rainfall reached 2.52 inches. However, Washington’s topsoil moisture, as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, improved only from 100 to 90% very short to short during the week ending September 19. The precipitation had little impact east of the northern Rockies; Montana led the nation on the 19th with topsoil moisture rated 95% very short to short. Meanwhile, producers along and northwest of a line from California to Wyoming continued to deal with abysmal rangeland and pasture conditions, which (as reported by USDA) ranged from 55% very poor to poor in Idaho to 91% in Montana and Washington. Farther south, the 2021 North American monsoon has withdrawn from the Southwest, roughly on schedule, following a summer of beneficial rainfall that provided relief from short-term drought but left significant, underlying long-term drought issues such as groundwater depletion and low reservoir levels. Areas that received substantial monsoon-related rainfall are designated on the map with an “L” label, indicating that long-term drought persists. Elsewhere, several wildfires continued to actively burn, especially in parts of California. The latest “hot spot” for wildfire activity was the southern Sierra Nevada, where the Windy Fire and the KNP Complex were the most significant incidents. The KNP Complex, a 28,000-acre, lightning-sparked fire, was burning in California’s Sequoia National Park. The Windy Fire, which has charred more than 31,000 acres of vegetation and was also igniting by lightning, was burning in several jurisdictions, including the Tule River Indian Reservation and the Sequoia National Forest…


The region remained a contrast between wetness in areas affected by the remnants of Hurricane Nicholas (and previous tropical systems) and rapidly developing dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3) in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, topsoil moisture rated very short to short increased at least 10 percentage points during the week ending September 19 to reach 72% in Oklahoma and 69% in Texas. Broad deterioration of up to one category was observed across the driest areas. One of the driest spots was Tulsa, Oklahoma, where August rainfall totaled 0.78 inch (23% of normal) and September 1-21 precipitation stood at one-tenth of an inch (4% of normal). Tulsa also reported high temperatures of 90°F or greater on each of the last 26 days of August and first 20 days of September, but the 46-day streak finally ended with a high of 80°F on September 21. By September 19, USDA reported that winter wheat was 20% planted in Texas and 15% planted in Oklahoma; that crop will soon need rain to ensure germination and proper establishment…

Looking Ahead

On September 22, a slow-moving cold front will press toward the Atlantic Seaboard, delivering some additional heavy rain. Rain will also linger through Thursday in the lower Great Lakes region. Although cool, dry air will overspread much of the East by Friday, rain will continue into the weekend across New England and southern Florida. However, most of the remainder of the country will experience dry weather during the next 5 days. In fact, any precipitation west of the Mississippi Valley should be limited to showers in the Desert Southwest and Pacific Northwest. From the Pacific Coast to the Plains, summer-like warmth will accompany the mostly dry conditions. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for September 28 – October 2 calls for the likelihood of near- or above-normal temperatures nationwide, except for cooler-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Coast States and the western Great Basin. Meanwhile, below-normal rainfall in most areas from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast should contrast with wetter-than-normal weather in other areas, including northern California, the Northwest, the Intermountain West, and the central and southern High Plains.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 21, 2021.

Study: Dry Future Likely Unavoidable for Southwest, But Reducing Greenhouse Gases Can Still Help — NOAA

Photo credit: NOAA

From NOAA:

For the past two decades, the southwestern United States has been desiccated by one of the most severe long-term droughts—or ‘megadroughts’—of the last 1,200 years. And now, scientists say the risk of similar extreme megadroughts and severe single-year droughts will increase in the future as Earth’s temperature continues to rise, according to a new study in Earth’s Future sponsored by CPO’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) program and led by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). The study was also supported by the CPO-led National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).

More specifically, the study showed that, regardless of future levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the warming climate has locked in an elevated risk of intense megadroughts for the region. However, mitigation measures—efforts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—can and do reduce the risk of intense single-year droughts. The severity of megadroughts declines with mitigation as well, making their impacts less damaging.

“The ongoing Southwestern drought highlights the profound effects dry conditions have on people and the economy,” said Ko Barrett, NOAA Research Senior Advisor for Climate and Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “The study clearly highlights the positive impact that greenhouse gas mitigation could have on the occurrence and severity of Southwestern drought. It is not too late to act and blunt impacts.”

Co-author Kate Marvel, a research scientist at GISS and Columbia University, added, “There is never going to be a temperature threshold we exceed where mitigation is not going to have an impact or where it’s not going to matter.”

The graphs show the risk of severe single-year droughts (left) and 21-year megadroughts (right) by 2100 under low, intermediate, and high emissions scenarios compared to observations and modeled history. The risk of both single-year and 21-year drought events increases with higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Even under a low emissions scenario, the research team found at least a roughly 50% chance of severe megadroughts by the end of the century. Graphic credit: Cook et al. 2021

Megadroughts are intense drought events that last for at least 20 years. The research team selected the severe 21-year megadrought of 2000-2020 and single-year drought of 2002 and as analogs, or representatives, of extreme droughts that could become more prevalent as the climate changes under future emissions trajectories. Severe single-year droughts can drain water resources, wither crops, and fuel fires, causing major economic losses. And the longer droughts last, the more their many impacts get compounded and the longer recovery takes—meaning even one or two really wet years may not be enough for a return to pre-drought conditions.

To see how rising temperatures might contribute to severe droughts like the analogs in the future, the authors examined historical reconstructions, models and instrument measurements of soil moisture data, as well as projections out to the year 2100 using the latest generation of climate models. They also investigated how mitigation under three different emissions scenarios would affect the outcomes.

The results showed that in both the past and the future, as temperatures rise, the factors contributing to drought intensify, increasing the risk of severe short- and long-term droughts on par with the 2002 and 2000-2020 droughts. Notably, the research team found at least a roughly 50% chance of severe megadroughts by the end of the century, even under a low emissions scenario. However, mitigation measures do reduce long-term drought intensity by lowering the risk of extreme single-year droughts during megadrought events, according to the findings.

Rising temperatures, thirsty atmosphere

The authors point to precipitation changes and a “thirstier” atmosphere as the main drivers of increasing extreme drought risk in the Southwest.

Ideally, winter snow in the mountains melts to fill streams and lakes in the spring, its slow release and accompanying spring rains supplying a steady source of water for drinking and agriculture. But warming temperatures disrupt this process. More precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, and the smaller snowpack melts earlier. If the soil is already dry from the previous year, it may simply absorb the melting snow, instead of leaving excess that runs off into bodies of water, said lead author Ben Cook, research associate at NASA GISS, an adjunct associate research scientist at Columbia University, and a member of the Drought Task Force organized by CPO’s MAPP program. This is one variable that has contributed to historic droughts in California and other parts of the west in 2021.

As the atmosphere warms, it also gets temporarily drier, or “thirstier.” Dry air acts like a sponge, absorbing water out of plants and soil. Because warm air can hold more moisture than cold air, rising temperatures mean more moisture getting pulled from the ground into the atmosphere.

Results show that both of these factors contribute to pronounced, widespread drying in all three warming scenarios.

The maps show the projected change in summer soil moisture by the late 21st century under low, intermediate, and high emissions scenarios. Darker shades of brown mean drier soil and darker shades of green mean wetter soil. Both precipitation changes and a “thirstier” atmosphere contribute to pronounced, widespread drying under all three scenarios. Credit: NOAA

The southwestern United States has been prone to drought for millennia, and as the warming temperatures make the soil drier, that natural dryness becomes the backdrop for a higher risk of severe droughts, Marvel said.

Mitigate or Adapt? Yes.

Despite a dry future, mitigation can still reduce drought severity and adaptation can help communities plan for the worst. Mitigation can include preventing new emissions, such as by shifting to clean energy, or removing greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, such as by planting trees or through technology. In contrast, adaptation refers to actions that help humans and the environment prepare for changes that are already happening or cannot be avoided.

“Mitigation has clear benefits for reducing the frequency and severity of single-year droughts,” Cook said. “We may have more of these 20-year drought periods, but if we can avoid the really sharp, short-term, extreme spikes, then that may be something that’s easier to adapt to.”

The graph shows the risk of extreme single-year droughts during 21-year megadrought events under low, intermediate, and high emissions scenario. Results show that mitigation measures reduce long-term drought intensity by lowering the risk of extreme single-year droughts during megadrought events. Credit: NOAA

This means even if global warming is not halted immediately, taking action can still help, said Marvel.

“There’s going to be a new normal regardless,” Marvel said. “There’s going to have to be some adaptation to a drier regional climate. But the degree of that adaptation—how often these droughts happen, what happens to the drought risk—that’s basically under our control.”

NOAA and NASA’s freely available data are a vital part of both mitigation and adaptation efforts. By studying and understanding our planet, scientists, resource managers, farmers, policymakers and others can make decisions that not only help mitigate climate change, but adapt to a warmer future as well.

Dire Federal #Water Projections Demand Urgent Action from State Leaders — Water for #Colorado

The Colorado River meanders through ranch land near Kremmling on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Here’s the release from Water for Colorado:

The Water for Colorado Coalition today released the following statement in response to the release of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s 2-Year and 5-Year Probabilistic Projections. The projections, which come shortly after the first-ever Tier 1 shortage declaration in the Colorado River Basin, indicate a high likelihood that water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead could reach critically low levels as early as next year, and demonstrate the immediate need for action.

“These latest projections from the Bureau of Reclamation further demonstrate the risk that Colorado faces as water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead are likely to continue to decline. Our state is rapidly warming, and flows in several of our major rivers have dropped drastically in the face of ongoing drought and climate change. Coloradans are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate and today’s projections confirm that incremental solutions to protect the Colorado River and our state’s water future are no longer enough.

“These new projections signal a paradigm shift in Colorado River Basin conditions, and they must be met with bold climate and water management action by leaders that prepare our state for a hotter and drier future. We must improve protection for, and restoration of, our rivers and watersheds through policy change and targeted funding for high-impact water and river pilots and projects. Additionally, Colorado can – and should – implement common-sense strategies that prioritize conservation and efficiency in the near term to help increase our resilience to drought and provide long-term water security for all Coloradans. As Colorado works to update its state Water Plan, leaders must continue to engage with all communities across the state to understand local needs while also planning for how to best deploy any infusion of federal or state funding to support the protection and restoration of working lands and healthy, flowing rivers.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

“As climate change continues to reduce flows in our rivers and threaten Colorado’s water supply, it is time to acknowledge that we are living in an era of less and thus must take meaningful action to improve the resilience of our rivers for all people, wildlife, and economies that rely on them.”

About the Water for Colorado Coalition

The Water for Colorado Coalition is a group of nine organizations dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future. The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

USBR releases updated projections of #ColoradoRiver system conditions: Modeling results assist drought response planning in the Colorado River Basin #COriver #aridification

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

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Becki Bryant and Patti Aaron):

The Bureau of Reclamation today [September 22, 2021] released updated modeling projections of major reservoir levels within the Colorado River system over the next five years. These projections are used by Reclamation and water users in the basin for future water management planning. The new projections show continued elevated risk of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reaching critically-low elevations as a result of the historic drought and low-runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

Today’s announcement comes as the Administration pursues a whole-of-government approach to drought mitigation via the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group, co-chaired by the Department of the Interior. The Working Group is coordinating with partners across the federal government, providing assistance to impacted communities, and developing long-term solutions to climate change.

Projection of Lake Powell end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Powell Projections

At Lake Powell, the projections indicate the potential of falling below minimum power pool as early as July 2022 should extremely dry hydrology continue into next year. Beyond 2022, the chance Lake Powell could fall below minimum power pool ranges from about 25% to 35%. Elevation 3,525 feet, the target elevation in Lake Powell, has an almost 90% chance of being reached next year. That target elevation provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

“The latest outlook for Lake Powell is troubling,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan. “This highlights the importance of continuing to work collaboratively with the Basin States, Tribes and other partners toward solutions.”

After consultation with – and acknowledgement from – all seven Basin States and other partners, under the emergency provisions of the 2019 Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA), Reclamation started supplemental water deliveries in July 2021 to Lake Powell from the upper reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo. Those supplemental deliveries will provide up to an additional 181 thousand acre-feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of the 2021.

As the Upper Basin States continue to work towards the development of a Drought Operations plan that will govern potential future supplemental deliveries, previous modeling assumptions regarding any additional or continued DROA releases have been removed to provide a clearer representation of future risk. The removal of these assumptions was the main contributor in the increase in risk between the last set of projections released in June of this year.

Projection of Lake Mead end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Mead Projections

At Lake Mead, today’s projections indicate the chance of Lake Mead declining to elevation 1,025 feet (the third shortage trigger) is as high as 66% in 2025, and that there is a 22% chance of the reservoir elevation dropping to 1,000 feet the same year.

Reclamation continues to work with all seven Colorado River Basin States to address current conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

“This five-year probability table underscores the need for additional actions beyond the 2007 Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan to be taken to enhance our efforts to protect Lake Mead, Lake Powell and the Colorado River system overall,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Most of the flow of the Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountains. The Upper Basin experienced an exceptionally dry spring in 2021, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 26% of average, despite near-average snowfall last winter. Total Colorado River system storage today is 39% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.

Today’s release also includes updated presentations that utilize additional forecast information to improve public understanding of Reclamation’s future hydrologic projections. In keeping with its commitment to better inform all water users and the public regarding the hydrologic tools available, Reclamation has added in-depth information on its website about modeling and projections in the Colorado River system. A new interactive tool also allows users to explore projected reservoir conditions under a range of inflow forecasts.

“We’re providing detailed information on our modeling and projections to further generate productive discussions about the future of Lake Powell and Lake Mead based on the best data available,” said Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Regional Director Jacklynn Gould. “Being prepared to adopt further actions to protect the elevations at these reservoirs remains a Reclamation priority and focus.”

To view the most recent Colorado River system projections, visit https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html.

John Kerry’s Sales Pitch to Save the Planet (Actually species, the planet will survive #ClimateChange) — The New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, left, talks with China’s special representative on climate change Xie Zhenhua prior to the opening of the COP21 conference in Le Bourget, France on Saturday. (Francois Mori / AP)

From The New York Times (Lisa Friedman):

John Kerry, the former United States senator and secretary of state, is now a kind of pedigreed traveling salesman for the environment, shuttling from country to country, with an urgent pitch to save the planet.

He’s visited 14 countries in nine months, some of them more than once. He flies commercial these days and, at 77, the travel is tiring. But President Biden’s special climate envoy is under mounting pressure.

The graph shows average annual global temperatures since 1880 (source data) compared to the long-term average (1901-2000). The zero line represents the long-term average temperature for the whole planet; blue and red bars show the difference above or below average for each year. (These data were among the sources of data used in the State of the Climate in 2020’s temperature analysis, but here are compared to the 20th-century average. In the report, they are compared to the 1981-2010 average.)

With just 40 days before leaders from around the world gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for a pivotal United Nations climate summit, Mr. Kerry needs to convince other countries to commit to sharply turn away in this decade from burning coal, oil and gas and cut the resulting carbon emissions, which are heating the planet to dangerous levels.

His sales approach is simple. “We’ve got to do what the science tells us to do,” he said.

But his task is enormous. Mr. Kerry is trying to reassert American leadership and illustrate Mr. Biden’s claim that “America is back.” That’s a difficult proposition following the go-it-alone approach of former President Donald J. Trump, who questioned the science behind climate change and pulled the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the only one out of 197 nations to withdraw.

Allies openly ask Mr. Kerry whether they can still count on the United States. “I said ‘Look, come next election, you may have Trump back,” R.K. Singh, India’s power minister said a day after meeting with Mr. Kerry. “So then what happens?”

Mr. Kerry’s mission is further complicated by political fissures at home and the fact that President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda may not survive a divided Congress.

Republican leaders argue that transitioning away from the fossil fuels that have underpinned the American economy for more than a century risks national security…

Mr. Kerry described his decision to return to government as “what the fight of public life is all about.”

“I deeply believe that this is a major crisis for our world,” he said, as he relaxed in his hotel suite after a battery of meetings with Indian ministers and business leaders. “And this is a moment where we have a chance to do something about it. And who can say no to a president of the United States who asks you to do that at this particular moment in time.”


His trip last week ended without a commitment from India, the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitting country, that it would raise its ambitions to fight climate change. He ended a recent trip to China, the top emitter, similarly empty-handed. Brazil, which plans to continue burning coal for the next 30 years and where deforestation of the Amazon is a major contributor to climate change, skipped a virtual climate meeting convened by Mr. Biden last week.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, said signs don’t portend well for Mr. Kerry’s efforts and the looming U.N. summit in November. “Glasgow will come up short,” he predicted.

Still, Mr. Kerry pushes on. He plans to meet again with China’s top climate diplomat, Xie Zhenhua. It will be the 19th discussion between the two men since January, according to his staff.

As part of the Paris accord, countries agreed to restrain the increase in average global temperature “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, preferably 1.5 degrees, compared with temperatures before the Industrial Revolution. For every fraction of a degree of warming, the world will see more frequent, intense and deadly heat waves, wildfires, drought and floods as well as species extinction.

What’s more, a new analysis released last week by the United Nations found that the Paris commitment is insufficient; even if countries carry through on the promises they made in 2015, the global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by century’s end. “The world is on a catastrophic pathway,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said.

The goal at Glasgow is to compel the biggest polluting countries to commit to action that is more ambitious than outlined in the Paris accord.

Mr. Kerry said he believed that nations would rise to meet the challenge.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I think most of the problems on Earth are caused by human beings. And if we cause them, we ought to be able to solve them or prevent them.”


As secretary of state during the Obama administration, Mr. Kerry was confident that the United States and China could cooperate on climate and end the “You go first. No, you go first,” stalemate that had stalled action for decades.

So he initiated secret negotiations, including hosting Chinese leaders at a Legal Sea Foods restaurant on the docks of Boston Harbor. That laid the groundwork for a joint pledge in 2014 by the United States and China to cut emissions, albeit at different paces. The following year in Paris, nations took the unprecedented step of pledging climate action in their own countries — an accord that Mr. Kerry helped craft.

Mr. Kerry’s approach to diplomacy remains largely the same today: optimistic and relentless, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former aides and colleagues.

“He doesn’t believe in walking away, and that’s his strength as a negotiator. If the door is closed, he looks for an open window,” said Martin Indyk, Mr. Kerry’s former Mideast envoy.

“He’s quintessentially American,” Mr. Indyk said. “He never met a problem he didn’t think he couldn’t solve.”

Aides say he is focused on details, texting his staff late into the night to seek a country’s solar capacity statistics or economic data or with more obscure questions, like Mr. Modi’s stated spiritual connection to environmental issues…

During his brief hiatus from public life, Mr. Kerry created an interdisciplinary climate program at Yale University, his alma mater, and launched “World War Zero,” a bipartisan group of world leaders and celebrities to combat climate change…

Friends and colleagues were not surprised when in January he accepted Mr. Biden’s offer to serve as the first presidential climate envoy.

Retirement never suited Kerry, who wants to be in the arena, said Thomas Vallely, a longtime friend who is a senior adviser for Mainland Southeast Asia at Harvard University’s Ash Center. “This is like bullfighting. He’s addicted.”

Upon his return to government, Mr. Kerry said he found that the Trump years damaged America’s credibility, saying it “was chewed up and spat out” after Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement…

As a result, Mr. Kerry’s approach is a delicate attempt to try to understand what countries need, as opposed to making demands. In India, for example, he announced a partnership to help the country meet its goal of ramping up its renewable energy capacity.

He won’t even suggest what emissions target should be set by China, the biggest emitter, even as that country plans to develop 247 gigawatts of coal power domestically, nearly six times Germanyʼs entire coal-fired capacity. “I don’t want to be in a position where China reads it and they say, ‘Oh, there’s Kerry, telling us what we have to do.’”

Mr. Kerry and his team of about 35 policy experts have had some success. On Tuesday, President Xi Jinping announced at the United Nations that China will stop financing overseas coal projects, an issue that Mr. Kerry had made a priority during his discussions with Chinese leaders. Earlier this year Canada, South Korea and Japan raised their climate targets, all in large part because of prodding from the United States. And several administration officials said that President Biden’s announcement Tuesday that he intends to double aid on climate change to developing countries was a result of direct conversations with Mr. Kerry who argued that increasing climate finance will be critical to the success of the Glasgow summit.

Mr. Kerry insisted he is “hopeful” that the biggest economies will take meaningful climate action in Glasgow, if not because of the scientific imperative but because of market forces. Capital is shifting away from fossil fuels and towards new global investment in wind, solar and other renewable energy that does not emit greenhouse gases, he said. About 70 percent of the $530 billion spent worldwide on new power generation this year is expected to be invested in renewable energy, according to the International Energy Agency. Technology is improving, the costs of clean energy are dropping and markets are moving.

“You know, right now, everything’s a question mark,” Mr. Kerry said. But, he added, “I think the world is coming around.”

Jackpot: #Colorado stimulus funds boost #water grants to $13M — @WaterEdCO

ooking west across the 445 acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, which straddles the Colorado River (Summer 2011). Photo By: Jeff Dahlstrom, NCWCD via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

Thanks to a major infusion of COVID-related state stimulus cash earlier this year, nearly $13M in grants was awarded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Sept. 16 to projects designed to improve irrigation systems, aid the environment, improve water storage, and reconnect a critical channel on the Colorado River in Grand County.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has historically dispensed $7.5 million annually in grants to assist projects that align with the goals of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

Thanks to the state stimulus funding, state legislators delivered $15 million in cash to the grant program, more than double last year’s amount. The funds must be awarded by July 2023.

In addition to supporting the water plan, the grants are designed to benefit multiple segments of the state’s economy, according to Anna Mauss, the CWCB’s chief financial officer.

“That can be hard to define,” she says, “but we are looking at solutions that benefit all sectors.”

The projects and their grants can be found here:


Environment and recreation projects represented the largest slice of the pie at $6.6 million. The second largest slice, at $4.2 million, went to water storage and supply projects. Four agriculture projects together got $1.5 million.

The largest recipient of grants funds, at $3.8 million, is the Windy Gap Dam bypass, a project that will reconnect a critical channel on the Colorado River in Grand County. It has federal, state and county funding and cash from conservation organizations and landowners, all working under the umbrella of the Northern Water Conservancy District, which oversees Windy Gap for its owner, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Proposed bypass channel for the Colorado River with Windy Gap Reservoir being taken offline, part of the agreements around Northern Water’s Windy Gap Firming project.

The dam was constructed in the 1980s just below the confluence of the Fraser with the Colorado River west of Granby. Aquatic life has since diminished. The new channel is to reconnect the Colorado downstream from the dam with its upstream habitat.

According to the application, the project will expand the river’s gold medal trout fishery and make this segment more resilient in the face of increased water diversions, wildfires and climate change.

Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture got nearly $300,000 for a soil health project that will focus on the Republican River watershed for three years. Program directors expect 10 farmers to participate, incorporating water-saving actions into their land-use planning in a way that will conserve 47,000 acre-feet annually. In this way, according to the grant application, the project will also help sustain the Ogallala Aquifer.

Barr Lake State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Two other projects getting funding are on the Front Range. At Barr Lake, located along Interstate 76 northeast of Denver, the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Co. plans to enlarge the storage capacity. A new study of regional extreme precipitation by the Colorado Dam Safety found that raising the spillway culvert would safely accommodate 1,500 acre-feet of additional storage. This, however, will inundate structures in the surrounding state park. The $279,000 granted the company will provide partial funding to mitigate the higher water levels on the park facilities.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Trout Unlimited was awarded $300,000 for efforts to restore populations of the greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish, at the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River. The species is native to the Eastern Slope, but the Poudre is augmented by diversions from the headwaters of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Most prominent of those diversions is the Grand River Ditch. The $300,000 granted to Trout Unlimited will go to creating a fish barrier in the Grand Ditch where it flows across the Continental Divide and into a tributary of the Poudre River.

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said that the project will take about 10 years. The greenback is currently federally listed as threatened by the Environmental Protection Agency, but Trout Unlimited hopes that a recovery stronghold on the Poudre can result in delisting. The full project will provide connected habitat for the trout species to more than 38 miles of stream and more than 110 acres of lakes and reservoirs.

Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at allen@bigpivots.com and allen.best@comcast.net.

The Ute Indian Tribe #Water Claims against Deptartment of Interior/State of #Utah Dismissed — Utah Attorney General’s Office #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Green River Basin

Here’s the release from the Utah Attorney General’s office (Richard Piatt):

A federal [United States District Court for the District of Columbia] judge dismissed claims in a lawsuit filed by the Ute Indian Tribe against the U.S. Department of Interior, the State of Utah, and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. The Tribe alleged mismanagement of water-development projects in northeastern Utah.

In 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation filed two lawsuits against the Department of Interior regarding water issues. The State of Utah intervened in one action and was later named as a defendant. The suits claimed that the federal government was perpetuating historical discrimination regarding water rights on Tribal lands, violating the Tribe’s sovereignty, and questioning whether the government had fulfilled necessary trust responsibilities.

“All along, the State of Utah has maintained there was no discrimination regarding the Tribe’s water rights, and we’re grateful the judge affirmed that,” said Teresa Wilhelmsen, Director of the Utah Division of Water Rights and State Engineer. “Difficult emotions can arise from cases like this, and the State is ready to move forward. It intends to continue working with the Tribe in the administration of the Tribe’s significant water rights in a cooperative and mutually productive way.”

The court dismissed 12 of the 16 claims against the United States and the State of Utah and transferred the remaining four claims to the District of Utah Federal Court.

Read the judge’s ruling here.

More on Ute Tribe water litigation:
Background and Joint Statement by State of Utah

In 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation filed lawsuits against the United States Department of Interior in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) in Washington, D.C.

Among other things, the lawsuits alleged that:

(1) the United States breached several trust, contractual, and constitutional obligations to the Tribe;
(2) a 1965 agreement quantified the Tribe’s reserved water rights;
(3) the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA), enacted in part to settle the Tribe’s water rights and water right claims, actually took Tribal property; and
(4) only the Tribe has jurisdiction over Tribal water rights.

CFC case brought similar assertions but sought only money damages while the District Court case sought declaratory relief relating to the water issues.

The State of Utah intervened in the initial U.S District Court case as a sovereign, having a direct interest in the administration of water across the state on behalf of all Utah water users, including the Tribe. The Ute Tribe then amended the complaint to name the State of Utah, Governor Herbert, the Utah State Engineer, and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District as defendant parties and included the state in some of the claims brought against the United States. The Tribe also asserted an additional claim, alleging that the State defendants had historically deprived the Tribe of due process and equal protection rights.

In July 2021, D.C. District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols heard argument on the defendants’ separate motions to dismiss the lawsuit and, by Order dated September 15, 2021, granted those motions, dismissing the Tribe’s trust, contract, jurisdictional, and civil rights claims. The Court held that the Tribe had not demonstrated specific, enforceable trust duties that compelled the United States to build or rehabilitate the facilities the Tribe demanded. In addition, the Court noted that the Tribe had waived the claims, or otherwise settled them under CUPCA and by a separate settlement negotiated between the United States and the Tribe in 2012. The Court also held that several of the Tribe’s claims were untimely. In dismissing the Tribe’s separate but related lawsuit earlier in February 2021, the CFC had also cited the Tribe’s waiver of claims in the 2012 settlement and CUPCA. The CFC decision also noted that CUPCA payments “put the Tribe in the same position it would have enjoyed” had the water facilities contemplated in the 1960s been constructed and that the CUPCA settled “once and for all” the Tribe’s water claims. The CFC noted that the Tribe has received over $354 million in compensation pursuant to that Act.

#Durango: Acid Mine Nation Day — A #GoldKingMine Spill Retrospective, September 26, 2021

“Back in the Saddle” #BikeToWork Day, September 22, 2021

Longs Peak from Sloans Lake September 22, 2021

I’m working remotely today so I rode to two breakfast stations near my home. First up was the station at 25th and Sheridan in Edgewater, then around Sloans Lake.

On the way home I stopped at the station near Leroy’s Bagels on W. 29th Avenue. I ran into a colleague that works for Denver Water so the conversation moved from Bike to Work, through water demand analysis, and water quality — then back to our bicycles.

I hope you had a chance to celebrate the cool sunny morning on your bicycle. There are many events this afternoon and evening to help get the good bicycle feelings going.

Mount “Named for the governor that ordered the Sand Creek Massacre” Evans from Sloans Lake

Do humans also exert a cooling influence on Earth’s climate? — NOAA

From NOAA:

Yes, humans exert a cooling influence on Earth in several ways. But, overall, these cooling influences are smaller than the warming influence of the heat-trapping gases humans put into the air.

Our greatest cooling influence comes from particulate pollution (aerosols) we produce. We put plumes of aerosols into the air from power plants and industrial smokestacks; smoke and gases from biomass burning; windblown dust from deforested areas, dried wetlands, and crop fields; exhaust from ships’ smokestacks; tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, buses, and trains; etc. Aerosol particles absorb and reflect the sun’s rays, thereby reducing the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface. They also interact with clouds, in many cases making them brighter and longer-lived, also reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface. Learn more.

Aerosols can result from natural processes such as dust storms and lightning-sparked wildfires. Aerosols can also result from human activities, everything from cooking fires to industrial smokestacks. This image, captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the NASA Terra satellite on December 6, 2018, shows a natural-color image of smoke hugging the southern face of the Himalaya. Superimposed on the natural-color image is a MODIS measurement of aerosol optical depth (AOD). AOD values over 3 indicate aerosols dense enough to obscure sunlight.

Whereas aerosols linger in the atmosphere from days to a few weeks, heat-trapping gases that we add to the atmosphere linger from decades to centuries. Plus, when scientists discovered that our aerosol emissions were causing other undesired harmful side effects—such as acid rain and human respiratory diseases and deaths—we began to regulate and reduce their emission. Thus, the warming effect of our heat-trapping gases is ultimately winning out over the cooling influence of our particle pollution. Learn more


Myhre, G., D. Shindell, F.-M. Bréon, W. Collins, J. Fuglestvedt, J. Huang, D. Koch, J.-F. Lamarque, D. Lee, B. Mendoza, T. Nakajima, A. Robock, G. Stephens, T. Takemura and H. Zhang (2013). Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. (pdf)

Weak #LaNiña in the forecast: Here’s what it means for ski season in Summit County — The Summit Daily #ENSO #BlueRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A nice storm blew through last night. The webcam at Black Mountain Lodge shows a little bit of snow up on the hill. Like earlier dustings, this snow won’t last. We have a sunny week forecast, but temperatures won’t be quite as warm. We should see highs in the 50’s and low 60’s. Not quite snowmaking weather yet, but that time isn’t too far away. Photo credit: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

As the ski season approaches, everyone wants to know how much snow Summit County will get this year.

Joel Gratz, founding meteorologist of Open Snow, explained that at this point in the year, the only way to have some sort of idea about what the upcoming season will look like is to determine whether it will be an El Nino or a La Nina year and then to look at past weather patterns associated with those climate phenomena. El Nino and La Nina refer to warmer or cooler water temperatures, respectively, in the Pacific Ocean and impact weather worldwide.

“The reason people talk about it now is because El Nino and La Nina is the only factor that we can kind of reliably predict many months in advance,” Gratz said. “All the other things that control storm tracks aren’t able to be predicted more than really a week or two in advance, which is when we’re just tracking each individual storm.”

This year, there’s a 70% to 80% chance that La Nina will arrive this winter, and models are showing that La Nina will be weak to moderate.

So what does this mean for our ski season? Unfortunately, not much.

Gratz explained that the stronger the La Nina or El Nino, the better chance Colorado will get at least average snowfall — if not above average. But a weak La Nina means anything could happen…

Here are the typical outcomes from both El Niño and La Niña for the US. Note each El Niño and La Niña can present differently, these are just the average impacts. Graphic credit: NWS Salt Lake City office

Typically, Gratz said La Nina does well for the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains, meaning it’s likely to be wetter than normal in those areas. On the flip side, El Nino often favors the south in terms of precipitation. However, as Colorado is in the middle of North America, correlation between weather and El Nino and La Nina is weaker. Gratz said El Nino often means some bigger storms are seen on the Front Range, but Summit County is often unaffected.

“Many past seasons with a La Nina have done pretty well in the northern mountains where Summit is. Last season was a La Nina, and it was OK but generally below average,” Gratz said…

To complicate things more, Gratz noted that Colorado’s worst season and its best season in the past 30 years both occurred when there was neither a La Nina nor an El Nino. Overall, Gratz said El Nino and La Nina are general concepts that sometimes work at the local level…

The seven- to 10-days out marker is for when meteorologists have their eye on an incoming storm but don’t have many details, Gratz explained. After that, they’re filling in those details, such as snow accumulation ranges, until the storm hits.

While it’s essentially anyone’s guess what the ski season will look like in terms of powder days, the National Weather Service’s two week forecast isn’t promising. Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said that through the end of the month, above normal temperatures are expected. She added that there is a high chance that the remainder of September will be dry.

The latest “The Roundup” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJounalism #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Contractors for Homestake Partners are drilling test holes for a geotechnical study near Homestake Creek. A proposed project could develop more water from Homestake Creek for Aurora and Colorado Springs, and could also benefit Western Slope entities.

Click here to read the newsletter (Curtis Wackerle). Here’s an excerpt:

The Eagle River Watershed Council on Tuesday hosted a hike for the public in the Homestake Valley, an area receiving increased scrutiny because of a project that proposes to take more water from the Colorado River basin and bring it to the fast-growing Front Range.

The goal of the event — which included presentations from representatives from public-lands conservation group Wilderness Workshop, municipal water provider Aurora Water and other experts — was to provide a broad overview of a complicated issue, according to watershed council executive director Holly Loff.

“We know it’s going to be a long process, but we want to make sure people are engaged in the conversation and look to us as a resource,” Loff said. “We will continue to provide science-based, factual information.”

The watershed council advocates for the health of the upper Colorado and Eagle river watersheds through research, education and projects, according to its website.

Webinar: #Colorado #Water Issues, Local Action — The One World One Water Center

Denver. Photo credit: The One World One Water Center

Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

After learning from Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her work with the Flint, Michigan water crisis, take a dive into local water issues and what water leaders are doing to protect our community.

Virtual panel discussion moderated by: Jerd Smith, Digital Content Editor- Fresh Water News


  • Lizeth Chacon, Executive Director- Colorado People’s Alliance
  • Tom Romero, University of Denver- Sturm College of Law, Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (in)Equality
  • Alexis Woodrow, Lead Reduction Program Manager- Denver Water
  • Learn more about OWOW here!

    USBR announces five winners that will share $200,000 in Imperfection Detection Challenge

    Finding new, non-destructive methods to inspect carbon fiber-reinforced pipe is the goal of the Imperfection Detection Challenge. Photo credit: USBR

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamtion (Peter Soeth):

    The Bureau of Reclamation selected five winning submissions to share $200,000 for phase 1 of the Imperfection Detection Challenge. This prize competition sought new tools to evaluate the condition of fiber-reinforced polymer composite structures non-destructively. These composites are used in pipelines, tanks and other specialized infrastructure components.

    The five winning submissions are:

  • Utilizing Space Tech to Detect FRP Damage on Earth, Brownsville, Texas
  • Low-Terahertz Imaging Radar, Netherlands
  • Ultrasonic SH waves imaging FRP structures, Columbia, Maryland
  • Applied Impact Robotics, Inc, Sterling, Virginia
  • Augmented reality system for low-THz inspection, Romania
  • “Composite structures are increasingly used in constructing pipelines, tanks and other infrastructure,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “We are encouraged by the projects submitted and look forward to further development in the next phase of the prize competition.”

    The five winners now move to phase 2 and have 10 months to develop and demonstrate their prototype’s performance. Up to three of the top-performing teams will receive $10,000 each and move to phase 3.

    In phase 3, finalists deliver their prototypes to be evaluated by Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers and affiliated partners. The winner of this phase receives $50,000.

    Submissions receiving a phase 1 honorable mention for this prize competition are:

  • UAX GO, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
  • Multi-modal Ultrasonic Device (MUD), England
  • Reclamation is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clemson Composites Center, Jesse Garant Metrology, Thompson Pipe Group, NASA Tournament Labs and HeroX on this prize competition. To learn more about this competition, please visit Imperfection Detection Prize Competition Page.

    Prize competitions spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. Reclamation supports innovation to target the most persistent science and technology challenges through prize competitions. It has awarded more than $4 million in prizes through 28 competitions in the past six years. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

    This week’s topsoil moisture short/very short by @usda_oce

    WA saw modest improvement with recent precip (from 100 to 90% very short/short).

    A flash drought signal is apparent in OK and TX, along with a few other states.

    Overall, 50% is short/very short, up 1% from last week.

    #Utah’s water outlook slightly improved, but #West remains in grip of long-term drought — The #SaltLake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    West Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

    From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

    Utah’s drought-induced water crisis has softened somewhat after a string of monsoons, but the state’s water supplies are far from safe, with reservoirs across the state falling below 40% full, state officials told lawmakers Tuesday. Only a massive snowpack this winter can assure adequate supplies going into next year, and even then, Utah’s water future remains uncertain in the face of long-term drought and climate change.

    In July the entire state was in extreme or exceptional drought and Utah’s two largest lakes hit their lowest levels ever…

    “We are setting all the wrong records,” Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told the Legislative Water Development Commission. “Then came August. We had some great monsoon season, which we didn’t receive the previous year.”

    August precipitation was four times normal in many places…

    All eyes are fixated on the Colorado River, a water source that supplies much of the American Southwest. Its flows have diminished so much after 20 years of drought and warming temperatures that a shortage was declared last month in the river’s Lower Basin States and Utah’s Lake Powell is looking more like a puddle than the nation’s second-largest reservoir.

    The federal Bureau of Reclamation has forecast that by next May the lake will fall to the point where hydropower cannot be generated at Glen Canyon Dam, said Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s Colorado River Authority commissioner. To reduce the risk of that happening, the bureau is releasing 181,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge and two other Upper Basin reservoirs this summer and fall…

    Describing himself as an optimist, [Carl] Albrecht said he believes the West’s drought will end and Utah should position itself to capture the water when heavy snows return…

    Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council pushed back, arguing that Utah’s water needs will decline as water-intensive agriculture is displaced by the very growth Albrecht described.

    “We’re converting our farmland to blacktop, subdivisions, shopping malls and homes. And because municipal lands use less water per acre than agricultural lands, it’s leading to a growth in our water supply,” Frankel said.

    He said you will find eight pages of water rights posted for sale on KSL.com, showing a vibrant market for water that’s available along the Wasatch Front.

    Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

    Western #Kansas farmers battle #water supply issues — The Center Square

    The dry bed of the Arkansas River near the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Cimarron, Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer groundwater levels in much of western Kansas started dropping in the 1950s as pumping increased, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. File Photo / Max McCoy

    From The Center Square (Kimberly James):

    Due to a number of reasons including this year drought conditions, water supply is becoming a major concern in western Kansas.

    Agriculture-heavy western Kansas is substantially supported by the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers. But water-intensive crops and farming are putting incredible pressure on it. Groundwater levels in the Ogallala have been on the decline ever since irrigation began. The state water plan warns that if irrigation and pumping continue at this rate, some regions may see themselves out of water in as little as 20 years.

    “For agriculture, the impact on farming is increasing costs to pump water from a continuously lowering groundwater level,” Elmer Ronnenbaum, general manager at Kansas Rural Water Association, told The Center Square. “At some point, the aquifer will either not yield sufficient water for irrigation or the costs associated with pumping water from so deep will make irrigation no longer feasible.”

    While funding for groundwater management remains an issue, there are a few solutions being implemented.

    “Practical solutions include Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCA) and Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMA),” Ronnenbaum said. “Another solution that has been floated in recent years is an aqueduct to transport water to southwest Kansas from the Missouri River in northeast Kansas, but generally has been deemed too costly and is opposed by neighboring states and local (northeast Kansas) residents.”

    Two LEMAs have already been established in Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District (GMD) No. 4, which appears to have slowed water level declines over just a few years. A third LEMA was just implemented in Western Kansas GMD No. 1.

    Kansas farmers will continue to farm, but with limited water supply, some may have to shift their focus to continue to be profitable.

    “Advances in technology have allowed some irrigators to keep irrigating with less yield of water but comes at a cost to change,” Ronnenbaum said. “Some farmers will have to switch to dryland crops or crops with lower irrigation water use requirements as the aquifer declines in their areas. For example, cotton requires half the amount of irrigation water but currently is nearly as profitable as corn.”

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    The Entire #ColoradoRiver Basin is in Crisis — Audubon #COriver #aridification

    Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe. Photo: Sunil Singh/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon (Karyn Stockdale):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) shared alarming news this year about the unprecedented conditions on the Colorado River. The agency, which oversees federal water management across 17 western states, publishes some pretty wonky information, even for those of us who regularly interface with this agency and rely on its analyses.

    However, in June, Reclamation shared its new, five-year projections for the Colorado River Basin. It shares these projections a few times every year to assist drought management within the Basin. This time, the news was big: the water situation on the Colorado River is worse than folks anticipated when adopting the shared shortage agreements called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) adopted in 2019.

    To jump to the conclusion: Reclamation’s projections signal that we urgently need to do more than the DCPs envisioned because of the increasingly hot and dry conditions in the basin. Reclamation has continued to revise its projections throughout this shockingly dry spring, resulting in really dire projections for water storage and distribution. In other words, less water for people, and less water in streams that benefit birds, fish, and a robust recreational economy.

    We’ve arrived at the time when the limits of the Colorado River are being reached.

    What does this mean for birds? Birds rely on the riparian habitats of the Colorado River and its tributaries, and aquatic birds have come to rely on the big reservoirs on the river, too. Surveys of aquatic birds at Lake Powell have documented dabbling ducks, diving species, shorebirds, and more. American Coot and Western Grebe are common. Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, and Green-winged Teal have also been observed. The habitats created by Lake Powell have existed for less than 60 years and can change with the lake level, which can affect birds.

    Colorado River Basin Plumbing. Credit: Lester Doré/Mary Moran via Dustin Mulvaney and Twitter

    You may recall that the main reservoirs on the highly-plumbed Colorado River—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—sometimes “equalize” in water accounting flows. Lake Powell is the receiving reservoir from the Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico) meaning that it stores water that runs downstream from these states. Lake Mead is the distributing reservoir for the Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada, and California) and Mexico meaning that water deliveries to each of these places comes from available water in this lake (and legal water rights, of course). The amount of water in Lake Mead—the largest reservoir in the country—determines how much water a state has available for its Colorado River water users.

    Reclamation projects that Lake Mead water levels are, for the first time ever, so low that they will require cuts in water Lower Basin water deliveries, operating in a Tier 1 shortage. And the agency says there is a greater than 99 percent chance of this shortage continuing into 2022 and a high risk (greater than 80 percent probability) that Lake Mead will remain under shortage operations for at least the next five years, perhaps with even more aggressive cuts.

    Severe drought conditions are also triggering an emergency response with the release of water from reservoirs further upstream to address declining water levels at Lake Powell and protect the ability of the Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydropower. Representatives from Reclamation and the Upper Basin states just announced they will release water from Flaming Gorge and other reservoirs.

    If we have another bad water year, elevations at Lake Mead could even be lower than before Lake Powell was created. It’s getting to the bottom for both of these reservoirs.

    Why does this matter? These unprecedented and exceptional drought conditions are a signal to all of us to take steps to ensure the river flows long into the future and address water security for people and wildlife. Climate change is here and the entire Colorado River Basin is in crisis.

    We have a very limited window to begin implementing innovative tools that are at our disposal in order to adapt to and mitigate climate change. In addition to reductions in carbon emissions and other large-scale solutions for our planet, Audubon continues to focus on federal and state investments in climate resilient strategies that will help stabilize water supplies and better assist economic sectors and ecosystems adapt to changing conditions. Future water projections by Reclamation – and future agreements on the Colorado River – need to account for climate extremes.

    The effects of prolonged drought and climate change affect everyone in the basin. Our ways of life are at stake—millions of acres of farmland and ranches, urban and rural communities, recreation on rivers and lakes, our economies, as well as incredible bird life. Our work is more urgent and more difficult.

    Scott McInnis appointed as Mesa County Director for the #ColoradoRiver District — KKCO #COriver #aridification

    From KKCO (Madelynn Fellet):

    On Sept. 13, Mesa County Commissioners Cody Davis and Janet Rowland voted 2-0 and elected Scott McInnis as the Mesa County Director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District…

    In his almost 30 years of working in public service, McInnis boasts knowledge of various water issues that qualify him even more for his new position. With his legislative service, McInnis has worked closely with the River District, which considers the amount and water right seniority of the Colorado River. McInnis was also a partner with the Delaney and Balcomb law firm, which at the time, was legal counsel for the Colorado River District.

    In addition to his new position, McInnis served as a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, he served as the Majority Leader and Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. McInnis has also served as a U.S. Congressman for six terms, where he served on the Natural Resources Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.

    Opinion: It’s time to stop shipping water across the Rockies — Writers on the Range #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From Writers on the Range (David O. Williams):

    David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range. Photo credit: Writers on the Range

    It was 1952 when the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs first started gobbling up water rights in a remote, high mountain valley on the state’s Western Slope. The valley is called Homestake, and now, those same cities want even more of its pure water.

    In western Colorado, where only about 20% of Colorado’s population lives, all water tries to flow toward the Pacific Ocean. On the east side, where most people live, water flows to the Atlantic. To bring the water from the west side to the east side of the Rockies requires lots of money and lots of pipelines.

    But money isn’t much of a barrier when your population is exploding: Colorado Springs, with 478,961 residents, and Aurora, with 386,261, need more water. And they aim to get it even if it must cross under the Continental Divide and damage a fragile and ancient wetland called a “fen” in the process.

    The new reservoir the two cities plan to build would be five miles downstream from their existing Homestake Reservoir, and called Whitney Reservoir after a creek that flows into Homestake Creek. There’s also a Whitney Park within the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which could lose some 500 acres if the new reservoir goes through.

    The Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail, which could lose 500 acres under the new reservoir plan.
    (Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

    But protesters are already active, and conservation groups are threatening lawsuits. Meanwhile, the cities have already quietly begun test drilling at four possible dam sites on U.S. Forest Service land along Homestake Creek.

    Obstacles, however, are popping up. The Forest Service says it won’t even consider a reservoir proposal that shrinks a wilderness area, and the cities would have to get that approval from both Congress and the White House.

    The U.S. congressman for the district, rising Democratic star Joe Neguse, has also made it clear he doesn’t support shrinking a designated wilderness or damaging wetlands. Local leaders are also chiming in: “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” said Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber, who co-wrote a letter to the Forest Service. Both represent small towns dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation.

    State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who grew up in the nearby ski town of Vail, also wrote the Forest Service to oppose the dam: “I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district … oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.”

    Another issue, and for some it’s the most critical, is the fate of valuable “fen” wetlands that would be destroyed by a dam and reservoir. “This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told Aspen Journalism in 2019. “You can mitigate, but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

    etlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact.
    (Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

    Nor can you turn the clock back to 1952, when Colorado’s population was 1.36 million, compared to 5.7 million today, and the global land and ocean temperature was 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Climate change, scientists say, will cause the Colorado River to lose up to 31% of its historical flow by 2052. That prediction was a factor in a recent, first-ever federal water shortage declaration.

    “When Colorado Springs and Aurora got their water right, the [Holy Cross] wilderness wasn’t there and wetlands at that time were something we were just filling in,” said Jerry Mallett, president of the local conservation group Colorado Headwaters. “Since then (wetlands) have become an extremely valuable resource because of what they can do for groundwater recharge, addressing climate change — all kinds of things.”

    Then there’s the issue of Kentucky bluegrass, Colorado’s landscaping groundcover of choice. Kentucky gets more than 50 inches of rain a year compared to the Front Range average of 17, so why pump western Colorado’s high-elevation water through the Rockies for lawns?

    Colorado photographer and conservationist John Fielder, who says he’s been just about everywhere within the nearly 123,000-acre Holy Cross Wilderness Area, wants people to just look at his images of the fen wetlands along Homestake Creek, and then ask themselves these questions:

    “Is anything more sublime and fertile and life-giving than a 10,000-or-more-year-old fen wetland? You can’t “mitigate” the loss of ancient wetlands by creating a manmade wet place somewhere else. No more water to the Front Range.”

    David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a freelance writer who lives near Vail, Colorado.

    Facebook’s algorithms fueled massive foreign propaganda campaigns during the 2020 election – here’s how algorithms can manipulate you — The Conversation

    Facebook has known that its algorithms enable trolls to spread propoganda.
    STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Filippo Menczer, Indiana University

    An internal Facebook report found that the social media platform’s algorithms – the rules its computers follow in deciding the content that you see – enabled disinformation campaigns based in Eastern Europe to reach nearly half of all Americans in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, according to a report in Technology Review.

    The campaigns produced the most popular pages for Christian and Black American content, and overall reached 140 million U.S. users per month. Seventy-five percent of the people exposed to the content hadn’t followed any of the pages. People saw the content because Facebook’s content-recommendation system put it into their news feeds.

    Social media platforms rely heavily on people’s behavior to decide on the content that you see. In particular, they watch for content that people respond to or “engage” with by liking, commenting and sharing. Troll farms, organizations that spread provocative content, exploit this by copying high-engagement content and posting it as their own.

    As a computer scientist who studies the ways large numbers of people interact using technology, I understand the logic of using the wisdom of the crowds in these algorithms. I also see substantial pitfalls in how the social media companies do so in practice.

    From lions on the savanna to likes on Facebook

    The concept of the wisdom of crowds assumes that using signals from others’ actions, opinions and preferences as a guide will lead to sound decisions. For example, collective predictions are normally more accurate than individual ones. Collective intelligence is used to predict financial markets, sports, elections and even disease outbreaks.

    Throughout millions of years of evolution, these principles have been coded into the human brain in the form of cognitive biases that come with names like familiarity, mere exposure and bandwagon effect. If everyone starts running, you should also start running; maybe someone saw a lion coming and running could save your life. You may not know why, but it’s wiser to ask questions later.

    Your brain picks up clues from the environment – including your peers – and uses simple rules to quickly translate those signals into decisions: Go with the winner, follow the majority, copy your neighbor. These rules work remarkably well in typical situations because they are based on sound assumptions. For example, they assume that people often act rationally, it is unlikely that many are wrong, the past predicts the future, and so on.

    Technology allows people to access signals from much larger numbers of other people, most of whom they do not know. Artificial intelligence applications make heavy use of these popularity or “engagement” signals, from selecting search engine results to recommending music and videos, and from suggesting friends to ranking posts on news feeds.

    Not everything viral deserves to be

    Our research shows that virtually all web technology platforms, such as social media and news recommendation systems, have a strong popularity bias. When applications are driven by cues like engagement rather than explicit search engine queries, popularity bias can lead to harmful unintended consequences.

    Social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok rely heavily on AI algorithms to rank and recommend content. These algorithms take as input what you like, comment on and share – in other words, content you engage with. The goal of the algorithms is to maximize engagement by finding out what people like and ranking it at the top of their feeds.

    A primer on the Facebook algorithm.

    On the surface this seems reasonable. If people like credible news, expert opinions and fun videos, these algorithms should identify such high-quality content. But the wisdom of the crowds makes a key assumption here: that recommending what is popular will help high-quality content “bubble up.”

    We tested this assumption by studying an algorithm that ranks items using a mix of quality and popularity. We found that in general, popularity bias is more likely to lower the overall quality of content. The reason is that engagement is not a reliable indicator of quality when few people have been exposed to an item. In these cases, engagement generates a noisy signal, and the algorithm is likely to amplify this initial noise. Once the popularity of a low-quality item is large enough, it will keep getting amplified.

    Algorithms aren’t the only thing affected by engagement bias – it can affect people too. Evidence shows that information is transmitted via “complex contagion,” meaning the more times people are exposed to an idea online, the more likely they are to adopt and reshare it. When social media tells people an item is going viral, their cognitive biases kick in and translate into the irresistible urge to pay attention to it and share it.

    Not-so-wise crowds

    We recently ran an experiment using a news literacy app called Fakey. It is a game developed by our lab, which simulates a news feed like those of Facebook and Twitter. Players see a mix of current articles from fake news, junk science, hyperpartisan and conspiratorial sources, as well as mainstream sources. They get points for sharing or liking news from reliable sources and for flagging low-credibility articles for fact-checking.

    We found that players are more likely to like or share and less likely to flag articles from low-credibility sources when players can see that many other users have engaged with those articles. Exposure to the engagement metrics thus creates a vulnerability.

    The wisdom of the crowds fails because it is built on the false assumption that the crowd is made up of diverse, independent sources. There may be several reasons this is not the case.

    First, because of people’s tendency to associate with similar people, their online neighborhoods are not very diverse. The ease with which social media users can unfriend those with whom they disagree pushes people into homogeneous communities, often referred to as echo chambers.

    Second, because many people’s friends are friends of one another, they influence one another. A famous experiment demonstrated that knowing what music your friends like affects your own stated preferences. Your social desire to conform distorts your independent judgment.

    Third, popularity signals can be gamed. Over the years, search engines have developed sophisticated techniques to counter so-called “link farms” and other schemes to manipulate search algorithms. Social media platforms, on the other hand, are just beginning to learn about their own vulnerabilities.

    People aiming to manipulate the information market have created fake accounts, like trolls and social bots, and organized fake networks. They have flooded the network to create the appearance that a conspiracy theory or a political candidate is popular, tricking both platform algorithms and people’s cognitive biases at once. They have even altered the structure of social networks to create illusions about majority opinions.

    [Over 110,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

    Dialing down engagement

    What to do? Technology platforms are currently on the defensive. They are becoming more aggressive during elections in taking down fake accounts and harmful misinformation. But these efforts can be akin to a game of whack-a-mole.

    A different, preventive approach would be to add friction. In other words, to slow down the process of spreading information. High-frequency behaviors such as automated liking and sharing could be inhibited by CAPTCHA tests or fees. Not only would this decrease opportunities for manipulation, but with less information people would be able to pay more attention to what they see. It would leave less room for engagement bias to affect people’s decisions.

    It would also help if social media companies adjusted their algorithms to rely less on engagement to determine the content they serve you. Perhaps the revelations of Facebook’s knowledge of troll farms exploiting engagement will provide the necessary impetus.

    This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 10, 2021.The Conversation

    Filippo Menczer, Luddy Distinguished Professor of Informatics and Computer Science, Indiana University

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

    Economic cost of #ClimateChange could be six times higher than previously thought — University College London #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Science Senator. It’s called science.

    From University College London:

    Published [September 6, 2021] in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the international team of scientists found that the economic damage could be six times higher by the end of this century than previously estimated.

    Projections like this help governments around the world calculate the relative costs and benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, prior analysis has shown that the models used may ignore important risks and therefore underestimate the costs.

    Currently, most models focus on short-term damage, assuming that climate change has no lasting effect on economic growth, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Extreme events like droughts, fires, heatwaves and storms are likely to cause long-term economic harm because of their impact on health, savings and labour productivity.

    The study authors first updated one of the three climate-economy models used to set the price of carbon for national policy decisions, then used it to explore the impact of year-to-year climate variations and the rates of economic recovery after climate events.

    The study shows that by 2100, global GDP could be 37% lower than it would be without the impacts of warming, when taking the effects of climate change on economic growth into account. Without accounting for lasting damages – excluded from most estimates – GDP would be around 6% lower, meaning the impacts on growth may increase the economic costs of climate change by a factor of six.

    Yet, there is still considerable uncertainty about how much climate damages continue to affect long-term growth and how far societies can adapt to reduce these damages; depending on how much growth is affected, the economic costs of warming this century could be up to 51% of global GDP.

    Study co-author Dr Chris Brierley (UCL Geography) said: “We don’t yet know exactly how much effect climate change will have on long-term economic growth – but it’s unlikely to be zero, as most economic models have assumed.

    “Climate change makes detrimental events like the recent heatwave in North America and the floods in Europe much more likely. If we stop assuming that economies recover from such events within months, the costs of warming look much higher than usually stated. We still need a better understanding of how climate alters economic growth, but even in the presence of small long-term effects, cutting emissions becomes much more urgent.”

    The researchers also updated the model to take advances in climate science over the past decade into account, as well as the effect of climate change on the variability of annual average temperatures – both of which increased the projected cost of climate change.

    The authors calculated the effect of these changes on the ‘social cost of carbon’ (SCCO2), a crucial indicator of the level of urgency for taking climate action that calculates the economic cost of greenhouse gas emissions to society. Expressed in US dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide, estimates currently vary greatly between $10 to $1,000. However, when taking more robust climate science and updated models into account, this new study suggests that the economic damage could in fact be over $3,000 per tonne of CO2.

    “Burning CO2 has a cost to society, even if it is not directly to our wallets. Each person’s emissions could quite well result in a cost to humanity of over $1,300 per year, rising to over $15,000 once the impacts of climate change on economic growth are included,” Dr Brierley said.

    While the findings show large uncertainties, the central values were found to be much higher than policymakers currently assume; the US government, for example, currently uses a social cost of carbon of around $51 per tonne to judge the costs and benefits of projects linked with greenhouse gas emissions, whilst the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which covers power, manufacturing and aviation, recently exceeded €61 for the first time.

    Study co-author Paul Waidelich (ETH Zürich) said: “The findings confirm that it is cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than it is to deal with climate change impacts, and the economic damages from continued warming would greatly outweigh most costs that could be involved in preventing emissions now. The risk of costs being even higher than previously assumed reaffirms the urgency for fast and strong mitigation. It shows that choosing to not reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an extremely risky economic strategy.”

    Former UCL MSc student and study lead author, Jarmo Kikstra (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Imperial College London), said: “It is very difficult to calculate the overall costs of climate change, but increased scientific evidence has improved economic estimates. Climate science on this has improved a lot over the past decade, and the improvements we made with the science do not change the order of magnitude of cost-benefit estimates.

    “However, we are much more uncertain when it comes to how the economy will respond to future climate impacts. We reveal that if we look more closely at the lasting impact the climate can have on economies, we find that the costs might increase many times, depending on how much climate action we take.”

    Why can’t we just move water to solve a #drought? — News Nation

    US Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

    From News Nation (Alix Martichoux):

    Have you seen the U.S. Drought Monitor’s map lately? It’s not good. Especially for one half of the country.

    More than 98% of the Western United States is experiencing drought. In the Northeast, it’s only about 15% of the land under a drought. In the Southeast it’s even lower, at 8%.

    So if there’s plenty of water in reservoirs to the East, why not just move around resources and share the goods as one big happy country? A candidate in California’s gubernatorial recall election recently suggested building a pipeline from the Mississippi River the Golden State. We asked two drought experts. It turns out it would be stupidly complicated.

    The first problem: Our country is very, very big.

    “It’s really far away,” says Stephanie Pincetl, professor at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “There are mountains and deserts and swamps and all kinds of things. That infrastructure would be enormously expensive to build. I mean trillions of dollars.”

    Even if cost wasn’t a factor, logistics would be complicated. The water would need to be transported in some sort of massive pipe…

    You’d need to dig through thousands of miles of land – much of it probably private property – to put a pipe underground…

    Now, let’s say money and logistics are no obstacle. It still doesn’t make sense environmentally.

    “It would require a lot of energy to move that water, gobs of energy,” says Pincetl…

    We’re much better off finding ways to conserve the water we do have and use it more wisely, Hall says…

    Hall is less subtle: “That’s a wildly unrealistic thing to do. … We need to be thinking about our addictions to resources that we take for granted.”

    Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

    [Abnormaly Dry D0] Conditions Hit Arvada, Denver’s East Metro Area — Patch.com

    Colorado Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

    From Patch.com (Amber Fisher):

    Drought has spread from western Colorado across much of Denver’s metro area, including Arvada, according to a monitor released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The agency classified the following cities and regions as ‘abnormally dry’:

  • Eastern Jefferson County
  • Adams County
  • Denver County
  • Arapahoe County
  • Eastern Douglas County
  • Eastern Boulder County
  • Rainfall kept Arvada drought-free throughout the summer, but recent dry conditions have increased, weather officials said.

    Western Colorado has battled extreme drought for several months. Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Montezuma counties remain under ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought conditions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Remediation work now underway at Bolts Lake — Eagle River Water & Sanitation District

    Location of proposed Bolts Reservoir at the south end of the town of Minturn. Photo credit: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District

    Here’s the release Eagle River Water & Sanitation District:

    Healing the Land: Collaborative partnership contributing to cleanup efforts

    An important collaborative effort among community stakeholders has begun to clean up portions of the Eagle Mine Superfund site at the southern end of Minturn, Colo., an historic former mining and railroad town.

    The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and landowner, Battle North LLC, are moving forward with a remedial work plan approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) earlier this year.

    Battle North, which owns about 600 acres in the Maloit Park and Bolts Lake areas, has been working with the EPA and CDPHE since 2006, completing extensive testing and analysis of the site to understand which areas needed additional remediation to allow for future residential use.

    The district and the authority are currently evaluating the Bolts Lake area, which was never part of the Superfund site, to confirm the feasibility of creating a water supply reservoir.

    In February, the district, the authority, and Battle North reached an agreement for the district and authority to purchase the Bolts Lake site following a due diligence period. The district and authority would allow passive recreation on the reservoir, including non-motorized boating and fishing, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the reservoir’s main purpose of water supply.

    In addition, the construction of the reservoir would require deep excavation within the former lake footprint to roughly triple the volume of the original reservoir capacity. The clean material excavated from the reservoir area would be used as cover material for areas in Operable Unit 3 of the Superfund site, pursuant to a remedial action work plan approved by the EPA and CDPHE, which furthers remediation efforts.

    Operable Unit 3 of the Superfund site, which is adjacent to the proposed location of the new reservoir, was remediated in the 1990s but certain restrictions remain along Tigiwon Road and a portion of the iconic mining trestle where the current cleanup efforts are taking place. The plan to remove several hundred yards of contaminated soil, relocating it to an approved disposal facility, is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

    Battle North will also submit additional work plans for future cleanup of other portions of the Superfund site to the EPA and CDPHE for their review and approval to allow for continued remediation efforts in the coming years.

    Monitoring and operation and maintenance activities have been ongoing at the Superfund site since 2001.

    Minturn Mayor John Widerman agreed and noted his excitement for the area cleanup, saying, “Historical preservation is very important to Minturnites, and so, too, is remediation of the areas that remain contaminated. We very much appreciate the efforts by the district, the authority, and the landowner to continue to clean up and make room for a much-needed water supply reservoir. This has been a collaborative effort from the beginning, and this remains a focal point of how we will continue to make progress on issues that affect more than just Minturn.”

    The Bolts Lake area is planned to ultimately accommodate a 1,200-acre foot reservoir on about 45 acres, with enough water storage to secure service for customers of the district and authority for decades to come, as well as potential future development of the Bolts and Maloit Park areas.

    Eagle River Basin

    Rio De Chama Acequia Association Seeks Fair Treatment, Opportunity To Store Water In Abiquiu Lake — The #LosAlamos Reporter #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Los Alamos Reporter (Maire O’Neill):

    Members of the Rio de Chama Acequia Association (RCAA) are adamant about continuing the repartimento – the traditional way of sharing water in New Mexico. They want their acequia parciantes to be treated like all the other contractors in the San Juan-Chama River Project and they want to be able to store water in Abiquiu Lake.

    New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

    The Los Alamos Reporter recently sat down with the officers of the association to discuss the issues they are facing and the solutions they propose. RCAA chair Darel Madrid explained how in the 1960s, water was diverted from the Little Navajo river in Colorado to build up water in the Rio Grande through the San Juan-Chama River Project. He said most of that water streamed through a tunnel under the mountains and into Heron Reservoir.

    “Ours is the only river system in the area that has foreign water running through it. Our water rights are tied to the native water rights of the Rio Chama basin. With climate change, we’re getting less and less snowpack. We’re getting warmer springs and all the melt-off is running through our acequia system before we are ready to use it,” Madrid said. “In our climate down here, the growing season usually starts the latter part of May or in June and continues into October. This water is melting off earlier and it’s passing through our system in March and early April. It leaves us in a bind.”

    Madrid explained that because the RCAA water rights are tied to the Rio Chama water, only a sliver of the water that you see running through their system is actually their water.

    “When people see all this water flowing through the system, they don’t realize that only a portion of that water is our water. We have approximately 22 acequias from below the dam that run from the Trujillo-Abeyta ditch, which is the northern-most, to the Salazar Ditch, which is the last one to receive water,” he said.

    The foreign water that’s running through the system is owned mostly by contractors of the original San Juan–Chama River Project including the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District which takes care of everybody from Cochiti all the way down to Socorro, and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. There are also minor contractors like the County of Los Alamos, the City of Espanola, the Village of Taos, and the City of Santa Fe – all of whom bought into the project in the 60s…

    For many years there was less of a drought situation in the region so there was plenty of water for everybody, he said…

    “When the Rio Grande Compact was established in the late 20s or 30s, none of the RCAA acequias were invited to the table. They didn’t have a voice in those discussions at all. The parciantes were busy being farmers and were not organized. The same thing happened during the San Juan-Chama River Project. For all that we can tell, we weren’t invited to the table and all these decisions were made without our participation. When all was said and done we were left with all these rules and regulations that we have to abide by so it’s almost like taxation without representation,” Madrid said.

    He noted that regulations for the acequias are all set through court orders with the State Engineer’s Office having the most authority…

    The 22 RCAA ditches have the oldest priority dates for rights to the water with some of them going back to the 1600s. Madrid believes those are probably the oldest water rights in the entire nation, second only to Native Americans. The ditch behind his home has been in continual use for more than 400 years. Families of others on the board have been irrigating for hundreds of years in the area.

    Abiquiu Dam, impounding Abiquiu Lake on the Rio Chama in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, USA. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the dam in 1963 for flood control, water storage, and recreation. By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual LibraryImage pageImage description pageDigital Visual Library home page, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2044112

    RCAA Treasurer Carlos Salazar said RCAA wants to find a way to store its water so that it doesn’t have to buy water and believes this would require federal legislation because the dams were constructed with federal funds. The Association hopes that the congressional delegation will help them to find a way to store their native water because it comes from their ancestral lands. Because the water can’t be stored, half of any water that flows past the Otowi Bridge near the Pueblo of San Ildefonso in the spring goes to Texas.

    All the RCAA acequias are metered by the state engineer. Their diversion is measured, but one of the big debates RCAA has with the state engineer is that not all of it is consumed and the state charges them for all of the diversion and doesn’t credit them for any return flow. Another burden the RCAA has to bear is that its member acequias are saddled with all the costs for the operation and maintenance…

    The RCAA believes all diversion levels should be increased by 30 percent but they would need to invest in return flow measurement to accomplish that and it would take $1,000 per ditch, a total of about $54,000 to accomplish that.

    Seaman noted that the RCAA is simply trying to continue the tradition of the acequias.

    “To me, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed every citizen all these rights and we don’t see it happening now with this adjudication of water to the Rio Grande and the City of Albuquerque and our neighbors there on Heron Reservoir. All that imported water – where were the acequias?” Salazar said. “I think we should be treated fairly. Our rights pre-date all of them and we should be given an opportunity to store water even if we have to pay for the storage.”

    The Rio Chama viewed from US highway 84 between Abiquiú, New Mexico, and Abiquiu Dam. By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110189310

    Opinion: The time is now for oil and gas bonding reform — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Don Lumbardy):

    Making a living as a rancher on the Western Slope isn’t easy. Working the land in an arid environment, keeping livestock, and negotiating in turbulent market conditions is hard work at the best of times. Yet over the past 50 years that I’ve raised cattle and grown crops in Mesa County, I have witnessed the days growing hotter and drier with each passing year.

    For many like myself who sought to build a career feeding our community from the land that I call home, drought is threatening to wither our way of life. Protecting what little water we have and taking action to slow the change in climate is vital to sustaining agriculture in Western Colorado, which is why we must urge state and federal decision makers to adopt protective rules that require oil and gas operators to set aside enough money to clean up their oil and gas wells after they are finished with production.

    When a well that is drilled to extract oil or gas has no operator responsible for it (due to bankruptcy, etc.), it is referred to as an “orphaned well.” Orphaned wells result in many problems for public health and the environment, including venting harmful chemicals into the air, polluting groundwater with toxic sludge, creating dangerous conditions for wildlife, and releasing plumes of methane.

    Large operators will frequently drill wells, extract most of the resource, and then sell them off to smaller operators towards the end of the well’s productive life. After the small operator pumps the last dredges, they often declare bankruptcy, and leave the orphaned wells for the government (that is, taxpayers) to clean up.

    Unfortunately, we already have a number of these orphaned wells here in Mesa County’s own backyard. For example, Fram Operating LLC has left a number of wells orphaned in the Grand Junction watershed. Fram only posted some $310,000 in bonds to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, despite the total bill for cleanup being about $5 million. These wells are a direct threat to the community’s water supply.

    In my own experience, Fram has tried to strong-arm landowners such as myself into allowing them to drill on their property without regard to the potential impacts that their extraction might have on our water supply. Despite my protests and explanation that any drilling could divert away water that I needed to grow crops and raise cattle, their landman told me that my concerns didn’t matter, and that they would drill anyway. Fortunately, this did not come to pass, but there is no doubt in my mind that if they hadn’t filed for bankruptcy, they would have tried.

    My story is just one example of what is happening across our state, and the real threat that orphaned oil and gas wells pose to us all. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunting, fishing, and animal watching contribute about $800 million to the economy of western Colorado, and $5.7 billion statewide. Colorado’s agricultural sector creates an additional $47 billion. Protecting these industries from disruptive changes in weather patterns, habitat loss, and soil degradation that orphaned wells contribute to is vital to protecting over 124,000 jobs throughout our state.

    But it’s not just jobs on the line; it’s also our tax dollars. Of the approximately 52,000 producing wells in Colorado, about half produce less than 5 barrels of oil or equivalent in [methane] gas per day. Should the operators walk away from their obligations to plug and reclaim them, it will be Colorado taxpayers left to foot the bill for the billions of dollars in cleanup costs they represent.

    Fortunately, there are steps we can take right now to prevent the orphaned well crisis we are facing from festering any longer. Presently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is seeking to craft new financial assurance rules. They need to hear from the public that we expect operators to post a bond for the full cost of plugging and reclamation for each well up front before they are allowed to drill. At the federal level, we must encourage Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet to push for the latter’s Oil and Gas Bonding Reform and Orphaned Well Remediation Act, which would provide billions of dollars to clean up orphaned wells and modernize bonding rates, to be passed by Congress as soon as possible.

    For those of us on the Western Slope working in agriculture, science has produced technological advances that have made our work easier and level of crop production possible. Now, science is telling us that we have to protect our environment, health, and water from orphaned oil and gas wells. By working together, we can confront this threat to our health, economy, and tax dollars, and protect this vibrant, beautiful state for Coloradans now and in the future.

    Don Lumbardy is a fourth-generation rancher born in Mesa County, just 20 miles west of the ranch he lives on today. Don has been ranching in western Colorado for nearly 50 years, and works to help the public understand the importance of food, water, and protecting the environment that sustains them.

    Paper: Sustainable irrigation based on co-regulation of soil water supply and atmospheric evaporative demand — Nature Communications

    Click here to read the paper (Jingwen Zhang, Kaiyu Guan, Bin Peng, Ming Pan, Wang Zhou, Chongya Jiang, Hyungsuk Kimm, Trenton E. Franz, Robert F. Grant, Yi Yang, Daran R. Rudnick, Derek M. Heeren, Andrew E. Suyker, William L. Bauerle & Grace L. Miner). Here’s the abstract:


    Irrigation is an important adaptation to reduce crop yield loss due to water stress from both soil water deficit (low soil moisture) and atmospheric aridity (high vapor pressure deficit, VPD). Traditionally, irrigation has primarily focused on soil water deficit. Observational evidence demonstrates that stomatal conductance is co-regulated by soil moisture and VPD from water supply and demand aspects. Here we use a validated hydraulically-driven ecosystem model to reproduce the co-regulation pattern. Specifically, we propose a plant-centric irrigation scheme considering water supply-demand dynamics (SDD), and compare it with soil-moisture-based irrigation scheme (management allowable depletion, MAD) for continuous maize cropping systems in Nebraska, United States. We find that, under current climate conditions, the plant-centric SDD irrigation scheme combining soil moisture and VPD, could significantly reduce irrigation water use (−24.0%) while maintaining crop yields, and increase economic profits (+11.2%) and irrigation water productivity (+25.2%) compared with MAD, thus SDD could significantly improve water sustainability…

    The co-regulation of soil moisture and VPD on stomatal conductance
    Stomatal conductance can be treated as one of the most effective metrics to quantify plant water stress considering both soil water supply (i.e., soil moisture) and atmospheric evaporative demand (i.e., VPD). Figure 2 showed the co-regulation pattern of soil moisture and VPD on stomatal conductance of maize based on observations (including those from greenhouse experiments and eddy-covariance sites) and process-based modeling under different climate conditions. Based on the contour fitted using a statistical model (see Methods), the whole regime can be classified into the co-regulated regime (i.e., inclined contours) and the VPD-dominated regime (i.e., horizontal contours). The greenhouse measurements of maize indicated that stomatal conductance increased with soil moisture and decreased with VPD in the co-regulated regime (large gradient of stomatal conductance with soil moisture and VPD, Fig. S1), while it was mainly driven by VPD in the VPD-dominated regime (Fig. 2a, b). The co-regulation of soil moisture and VPD on stomatal conductance was further confirmed with eddy-covariance measurements (Fig. 2c, d). Stomatal conductance was higher under higher soil moisture (more water supply) and/or lower VPD (less water demand). All these observed patterns could be reproduced by a validated hydraulically driven ecosystem model (ecosys) under maize cropping systems across 12 sites in Nebraska (an example site-GD in Fig. 2e, f, and Fig. S2) (see Methods). The co-regulation pattern indicated that plants can have water stress even at high soil moisture but under high VPD conditions. In contrast, plants may not have water stress when soil moisture was relatively low and VPD also happened to be low.

    Drought tests centuries-old water traditions in New Mexico — The Associated Press

    The Rio Chama viewed from US highway 84 between Abiquiú, New Mexico, and Abiquiu Dam. By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110189310

    From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan):

    Once an acequia commissioner and now a U.S. congresswoman, Leger Fernández knows how hard it is to tell farmers they won’t get all the water they need — or maybe none at all.

    She talks about the annual limpia, or cleaning of acequias in preparation for planting season.

    “There was always a sense of accomplishment but now what we’re witnessing is we can’t do it all the time anymore because we don’t have the water,” she said during a tour with acequia officials. “And what you all are facing is not of your making, right? But you are having to work through the struggle of making whatever water is available work for everybody in the community.”

    Some earthen canals didn’t get a drop of water this year, another example of parched Western conditions. Like many parts of the world, the region has become warmer and drier over the last 30 years, mainly due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases resulting from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas development and transportation.

    Boat docks are high and dry at reservoirs around New Mexico, and Lake Powell along the Utah-Arizona line has hit a record low this year. A key Northern California reservoir that helps water a quarter of U.S. crops is shrinking.

    For mayordomos — those who oversee acequias and ensure equitable water distribution — it has become a scramble.

    Less snow falls, and warmer temperatures melt it sooner. Dry soil soaks up runoff before it reaches streams and rivers that feed acequias.

    Paula Garcia, New Mexico Acequia Association executive director, shuns the phrase “new normal” because she said that implies stability in weather patterns the community’s ditches rely on…

    Federal water management policies have complicated matters as needs of cities and other users overshadow these Hispanic and Indigenous communities.

    Their traditions are rooted in Moorish ingenuity first brought to Europe and then to North America via Spanish settlers. Those water-sharing ideas were blended with already sophisticated irrigation culture developed by Indigenous communities in what is now the southwestern U.S.

    What developed were little slices of paradise, with gardens and orchards that have sustained communities for generations.

    Roughly 640 New Mexico acequias still provide water to thousands of acres of farmland.

    Darel Madrid, Rio Chama Acequia Association president, didn’t grow a garden this year. He wanted to lead by example…

    West Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

    After back-to-back record dry summer rainy seasons, some Southwest areas enjoyed above average rain this year. But maps are still bleak, with nearly 99% of the West dealing with some form of drought…

    When water-sharing compacts involving some of New Mexico’s largest cities were first negotiated decades ago, Madrid said communities along Rio Chama were left out. Now, as supplies are scarce, acequias around Abiquiu have been forced to seek state funding to buy water from downstream users. If none is available, they go without.

    As long as Rio Chama flows above 140 cubic feet per second, water can be diverted by acequias. The flow usually nosedives in May, and rationing starts when it drops below 50 cfs. Aside from isolated spikes from storm runoff, the flow is now less than half that.

    Madrid said acequias would benefit from permanent water storage in an upstream reservoir, which would need federal approval…

    Part of that means reimagining acequias without giving up the sense of community they command.

    At Santa Cruz Farm, owner Don Bustos is growing crops in greenhouses in fall and winter when less water is needed and evaporation is reduced, he said.

    In Taos, acequia leaders have bumped up annual cleaning to the fall so they don’t miss out on early runoff…

    Acequias have overcome periodic environmental crises, rivalries among water users and profound historical changes, Spanish historian and anthropologist Luis Pablo Martínez Sanmartín noted in a 2020 research report. He said survival has hinged on a common-good design based on cooperation, respect, equity, transparency and negotiation.

    The September 2021 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

    A map of the Southern Ute Reservation and nearby reservations. By U.S. Census Bureau – U.S. Census Bureau: American FactFinder, a combination of two maps, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3114932

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Southern Ute Indian Tribe (the Tribe) is taking public comment on their proposed water quality standards and certification procedures from August 23 to October 22, 2021. Although the standards apply only to Tribal Waters on lands where the tribe has jurisdiction, they can affect permits and licenses issued upstream by EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and/or the State of Colorado, on and off the reservation. Permitting and licensing entities must consider any possible impacts that could cause violations of standards downstream to Tribal Waters.

    For several years, the Tribe has been developing its authority to set water quality standards within their reservation boundaries. In 2018, the Tribe was granted “Treatment as a State” (TAS) by the EPA to receive delegated authority for sections 303(c) and 401 of the Clean Water Act to set water quality standards and certify that those standards will not be violated under certain federal permits and licenses. They did not apply for any permitting or enforcement authority. This current step is part of the Tribe’s process to promulgate its initial water quality standards and certification procedures.

    Documents related to the Tribe’s TAS application as well as the proposed standards and procedures can be found here and here. Comments can be emailed to SUIT’s Water Quality Standards Committee at wqs@southernute-nsn.gov. The Tribe will hold an online public hearing regarding the proposed standards on October 7th from 3:00 – 5:00pm. To pre-register, visit https://bit.ly/3wnzxAb.

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    Upper #SanJuanRiver conditions report — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    River report

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 23.7 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of noon Wednesday, Sept. 15.

    Based on 85 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 165 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1970 at 2,000 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 13.5 cfs, recorded in 2018.

    As of noon Wednesday, Sept. 15, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 24 cfs.

    Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 123 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was 2,650 cfs in 1970. The lowest recorded rate was 13.3 cfs in 2002.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

    Drought report

    The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was last updated on Sept. 7.

    The NIDIS website indicates 95.27 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry, this is down slightly from the previous report of 95.29 percent.

    The percentage of the county in a moderate drought remains at 67.47 percent, consistent with the previous report.

    The NIDIS website also notes that 42.68 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, which is up slightly from the previous report of 41.75 percent.

    Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 9.12 percent of the county remains in an extreme drought, mostly in the southwestern portion of the county, consistent with the previous report.

    The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

    No portion of the county is in an exceptional drought.

    For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

    A monsoon summer in the Southwest: How residents across the region are engaging with the yearly weather phenomenon — @HighCountryNews #GilaRiver #monsoon2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Monsoon storm near Tucson 2021. Image credit: Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

    From The High Country News (Jessica Kutz, September 17, 2021):

    When I moved to Tucson from western Colorado in the fall of 2019, I knew the weather would be warmer than I was used to. But the summer that followed turned out to be the hottest on record. I waited for the promised monsoon to cool things down, but that relief never came. Instead, I sweltered in my swamp-cooled duplex.

    Then, in mid-June this year, the monsoon season finally began. When the first rains hit, my partner, a Tucson resident for more than a decade, ran out into the street in our neighborhood to frolic in the torrent. As he pranced under dim streetlights, I worried that this storm would be like last year’s — the only rain of the season. What if it was the last monsoon ever? Given our increasingly unpredictable world, I decided to embrace the moment. I ran out, letting the rain soak through my clothes as a rush of water stormed down the street, my feet and ankles submerged in a dirty deluge.

    By July, the rain was making regular appearances. It was around that time that I first read about the Southwest Monsoon Fantasy Forecasts, an online game where people cast their monsoon predictions. That month turned out to be the wettest on record. It rained 8 inches in Tucson — the largest amount since the city started keeping track in the 1890s — a tremendous amount compared to the previous year’s 1.62 inches, and even to the yearly average, which is around 6 inches. Intrigued by how erratic the seasons seemed to be — and delighted by the prospect of winning a $400 backyard weather station that could track everything from wind speed to solar radiation — I decided to give the fantasy forecast a try.

    I created a username, joining the ranks of other amateur forecasters with imaginative monikers like “mesquite nerd” and “weather geek.” It was easy to log my guess for the month of August. Each city has its own page, with a bar graph depicting the median and mean rain totals, giving a sense of the usual rainfall. I moved a thick yellow line across the graph, contemplating my best estimates for El Paso, Flagstaff, Tucson, Phoenix and Albuquerque. Should I move the line closer to the right, showing how much I hoped for more rain? Or settle for a more conservative estimate? I imagined other weather enthusiasts across the West doing the same, attempting to make sense of a seasonal weather pattern that doesn’t seem to make sense much. I fiddled with my calculations for August and eventually settled on 1.8 inches, the median guess for Tucson. I didn’t believe our monsoon luck would continue past July.

    But August surpassed expectations again, with nearly 4 inches of rain. I was off, badly off, with my conservative estimate. It was worth it, though: The Tucson Mountains suddenly looked like a scene from Jurassic Park, with rocky slopes giving way to verdant valleys. What was brown and dry was now lush and green, and weeds flourished in the sidewalk cracks in the middle of August. Mesquite trees begin taking over my patio, and the mosquitos, which multiplied with the rain, eagerly dined out on my arms. But the rain brought problems of its own: While this year’s outsized monsoon storms were welcome, they were often accompanied by dangerous flooding that overwhelmed the desert arroyos and washes. Flash-flood notices lit up our phones all summer long in what an announcer at a local indie-movie theater called “a symphony of storm alerts.”

    OVER THE PAST DECADE, the University of Arizona’s Climate Assessment for the Southwest program (CLIMAS) has hosted an entertaining podcast about local weather systems. And in recent years, there’s inevitably an episode where the usual hosts, Michael Crimmins and Zack Guido, researchers and professors at the University of Arizona, have a back-and-forth about their monsoon predictions. It was that dialogue that inspired them, along with fellow researcher and producer Ben McMahan, to create the monsoon game. “(We wanted) to find new ways of talking about the monsoon that engaged the public, because we know how it’s the single season that captivates the attention of people,” said Guido.

    For Crimmins, it was also an excuse to indulge his obsession with the monsoon rains. He says his moods are dictated by the season; during last summer’s “nonsoon,” he cycled through all five stages of grief. “It’s kind of like an emotional thing in that I go up and down with the dewpoint temperature,” he told me. He spends his days alternating between checking his fancy home weather station — which is similar to the prize that was being offered — and, when he’s out, scanning his phone to see if any storms are developing. “I even got it to show up on my smartwatch,” he said incredulously. “That’s not normal.”

    The game’s main purpose is to educate residents about our regional weather systems. “It’s not so much that we think people have some innate ability to know what the weather is going to be,” Guido explained. “But we do think the act of thinking about weather and climate is a very useful exercise for a whole bunch of reasons.” Monsoon game players are more likely to take their curiosity a step further, researching the region’s historical precipitation patterns and trying to deepen their understanding by comparing their own weather hunches to the scientific data.

    The monsoons are something that affect us all, whether we realize it or not, because they influence the regional temperatures — and, for those of us with swamp coolers, they either intensify or reduce our personal experience of humidity and heat. “It’s kind of like soccer or fútbol for Latin Americans,” Guido said. “It’s the thing that everybody can talk about, and that everyone loves to talk about and you can kind of find common ground.”

    The Southwest’s monsoon is driven by a complex host of factors. But at its most basic level, it forms when the land warms up at a different rate than the Pacific Ocean does, causing the wind direction to shift and allowing moisture to travel north from Mexico. Most of the monsoon rains are actually concentrated in Mexico. In the Southwest, we’re on the periphery of the weather pattern. But that still covers a lot of territory: The monsoon season extends all the way up to Colorado and Utah and influences weather across the entire West. Various factors, including the air pressure system known as the Four Corners High and the amount of moisture in the air, aligned this year to give us a “good” monsoon. “Wherever that high-pressure system is, is really, really important,” Crimmins said. “If it is above Arizona and New Mexico, then that moisture is pushed back into Mexico.” This year, it was positioned just right.

    That’s why, Guido said, it’s harder than people think to connect extreme seasons — like this year’s remarkably good monsoon, say, or last season’s terribly dry one — to climate change. The dramatic differences between the two seasons represent an anomaly; it’s more likely that future changes from year to year will tend to be much subtler. “There’s so much variability that we would need long records, and highly dense records, to be able to find the trends in them. And we just don’t have that,” he said. “We know that we’ve altered the amount of energy within our system, and we know that has an effect on the climate system because the climate system is about moving energy around,” he said. There’s a reason the 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change avoids making definitive statements about the future of the Southwest’s monsoon. “It’s a $10 million question,” Guido said.

    Throughout the rainy months of summer, for McMahan, the game provoked a kind of internal conflict between his desire to win the competition and the region’s desperate need for precipitation. “I want it to rain a certain amount, but then I kind of want it to stop raining, but I actually don’t want it to stop raining,” he said when we spoke in August. “That cursing kind of talk is not acceptable about the monsoon.”

    As of press time, my own guesses have me ranked at 144th place. By mid-September, Tucson’s monsoon season was already the third wettest on record. More than 12 inches of rain has fallen since June. Who could have predicted that?

    Jessica Kutz is an assistant editor for High Country News. We welcome reader letters. Email her at jessicak@hcn.org.

    James Webb Space Telescope: An astronomer on the team explains how to send a giant telescope to space – and why — The Conversation

    The James Webb Space Telescope is the biggest orbital telescope ever built and is scheduled to be launched into space on Dec. 18, 2021.
    NASA/Desiree Stover, CC BY

    Marcia Rieke, University of Arizona

    The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to head to space on Dec. 18, 2021. With it, astronomers hope to find the first galaxies to form in the universe, will search for Earthlike atmospheres around other planets and accomplish many other scientific goals.

    I am an astronomer and the principal investigator for the Near Infrared Camera – or NIRCam for short – aboard the Webb telescope. I have participated in the development and testing for both my camera and the telescope as a whole.

    To see deep into the universe, the telescope has a very large mirror and must be kept extremely cold. But getting a fragile piece of equipment like this to space is no simple task. There have been many challenges my colleagues and I have had to overcome to design, test and soon launch and align the most powerful space telescope ever built.

    A gold section of the mirror with the sensors extended out in front of the mirror.
    In order to detect the most distant and oldest galaxies, the telescope needs to be huge and kept extremely cold.
    NASA/Chris Gunn, CC BY

    Young galaxies and alien atmospheres

    The Webb telescope has a mirror over 20 feet across, a tennis-court sized sun shade to block solar radiation and four separate camera and sensor systems to collect the data.

    It works kind of like a satellite dish. Light from a star or galaxy will enter the mouth of the telescope and bounce off the primary mirror toward the four sensors: NIRCam, which takes images in the near infrared; the Near Infrared Spectrograph, which can split the light from a selection of sources into their constituent colors and measures the strength of each; the Mid-Infrared Instrument, which takes images and measures wavelengths in the middle infrared; and the Near Infrared Imaging Slitless Spectrograph, which splits and measures the light of anything scientists point the satellite at.

    This design will allow scientists to study how stars form in the Milky Way and the atmospheres of planets outside the Solar System. It may even be possible to figure out the composition of these atmospheres.

    A complicated, gold-plated, hexagonal instrument standing on four silvery legs.
    The NIRCam, seen here, will measure infrared light from extremely distant and old galaxies.
    NASA/Chris Gunn, CC BY

    Ever since Edwin Hubble proved that distant galaxies are just like the Milky Way, astronomers have asked: How old are the oldest galaxies? How did they first form? And how have they changed over time? The Webb telescope was originally dubbed the “First Light Machine” because it is designed to answer these very questions.

    One of the main goals of the telescope is to study distant galaxies close to the edge of observable universe. It takes billions of years for the light from these galaxies to cross the universe and reach Earth. I estimate that images my colleagues and I will collect with NIRCam could show protogalaxies that formed a mere 300 million years after the Big Bang – when they were just 2% of their current age.

    Finding the first aggregations of stars that formed after the Big Bang is a daunting task for a simple reason: These protogalaxies are very far away and so appear to be very faint.

    Webb’s mirror is made of 18 separate segments and can collect more than