At the time of publishing The Pagosa Springs Sun website was down so I couldn’t get a deep link to the article.
From the San Juan Conservation District via The Pagosa Springs Sun (Cynthia Purcell):
The San Juan Conservation District has been focusing efforts on evaluating irrigation systems in the Upper San Juan River Basin and looking for opportunities to improve them.
We have completed our inventory from the upper reaches of the San Juan River Basin down to the Blanco Basin watershed. We are now looking to assess the needs within both the Upper and Lower Blanco Basin.
We have assembled a team of natural resource professionals to perform this agricultural in ventory. Sterling Moss, a retired Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist from southwest Colorado, will be leading the team.
With technical assistance from NRCS, the team will be reaching out to ditch representatives, water right holders and agricultural water users to discuss voluntary participation in this process. They will be out in the watershed throughout the summer evaluating the ditches and are happy to perform a free on-site visit to evaluate private on- farm systems when they are in the area. According to the landowner’s identified goals and objectives, agriculture water system improvements will be developed, with cost estimates provided for the improvements. The ultimate goal is to find funding to help improve these irrigation systems.
This is part of a larger project in cooperation with the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to understand local water supply needs and identify potential project areas in the Upper San Juan River Basin. This process is part of the Colorado Water Plan and is funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board as well as local organizations and partners.
The San Juan Conservation District is a special district of the state of Colorado and was established in 1947 to help farmers and ranchers with soil erosion as a result of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. Today, our mission is to promote the prudent use and adequate treatment of all land, water and related resources within its boundaries to sustain the use of these resources for future generations and to assist in restoration of these resources. We serve the residents of Archuleta County and parts of Hinsdale and Mineral counties up to the Continental Divide. We also work closely with our federal counterpart, the NRCS, and share an office with them.
Private landowner information will be kept confidential and not released to the public.
If you would like to have your irrigation water needs evaluated or have questions, please contact Cynthia Purcell, district manager, at (970) 731-3615 or email@example.com.
At the time of publishing The Pagosa Springs Sun website was down so I couldn’t get a deep link to the article.
From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):
The voluntary drought stage was first announced in a press release on April 12.
Ramsey notes in his May 11 press release that the area has seen “higher than normal temperatures” this spring, which “will lead to a quicker than normal melting of the snowpack reducing our available water and could lead to water use restrictions.”
There are no water use restrictions in place under the voluntary drought stage; however, PAWSD does encourage responsible water use…
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 684 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12.
Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,150 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was 3,920 cfs in 1941. The lowest recorded rate was 156 cfs, recorded in 2002.
As of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 536 cfs.
Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,140 cfs.
The highest recorded rate was 3,460 cfs in 1973. The lowest recorded rate was 92.7 cfs in 2002.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 20.8 inches of snow water equivalent as of 3 p.m. on May 12.
That amount is 63 percent of the May 12 median for this site.
The average snow water equivalent for this date at the Wolf Creek summit is 33.2 inches.
FromThe Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Shannon Marvel):
The Glenwood Springs City Council passed a resolution which will adjust rates for all customers during their April 15 council meeting.
The rate change will appear on water bills arriving in July…
A 5,000-gallon user’s monthly combined bill will increase in year one from $92 to $122.
The resolution also includes a regular, yearly 5% increase until 2030, according to the release…
“Current utility revenues will not cover the cost for critical infrastructure improvements, some of which are immediately necessary to ensure safe and reliable service,” the release states. “Other capital needs primarily include replacement or rehabilitation of utility assets reaching the end of their service lives and additional storage capacity for firefighting capabilities.”
The city’s water and sewer fund operates on system improvement fees and user fees.
“Currently, water department revenues only pay for annual costs, bonding, and depreciation,” the release states.
Funding for capital projects currently comes from city reserves, low interest loans and competitive grants…
Upcoming or in-progress city water projects include:
• A new raw water pump line from the Roaring Fork Pump station up to the Red Mountain water plant
• Replacement of the lift station adjacent to the Colorado River, which is over 40 years old
• Red Mountain South subdivision water and roadway rebuild
• A second Cardiff water tank
• Restoring the Park East raw water irrigation system
• A city-wide water model to analyze distribution under various demands
• Sewer and/or water line repairs or replacements on more than 25 city streets
• A new North Glenwood water tank
• Review and repairs to all sewer lift stations and replacement of two of the remaining existing lift stations
Here’s a gust column from Scott Fetchenhier that’s running in The Durango Herald:
State leaders need to take action to protect the places in Southwest Colorado that we know, love and call home from the pollution that threatens our air, water and climate.
I live in and represent San Juan County, where my constituents and I are reliant on Tri-State Generation and Transmission for our electricity. As the second largest electricity provider in the state, Tri-State is a key player in reducing greenhouse gas pollution in our state, which is why we need Senate Bill 200.
Our rural mountain communities are dependent on bold steps toward climate pollution reductions for our visitor-based, snow-reliant economies. We have seen the impacts of climate change in our county: unprecedented beetle kill, the 416 Fire in 2018 and the Ice Lake Fire in October 2020. Wind-blown dust from the Four Corners lands on our snowpack and causes the snow to melt off more quickly. We often see rain in December and March instead of snow because of higher temperatures.
We know that without big actions to reduce emissions, we will continue to see increasingly severe and frequent natural disasters.
With these impacts in mind, it’s great that Tri-State seems to have heard its members’ calls for carbon reductions of at least 80% by 2030. Last fall, Tri-State announced a commitment to 80% carbon reductions by 2030 from electricity delivered to Colorado customers as part of its Responsible Energy Plan. This Responsible Energy Plan is a big step in the right direction for Tri-State and the communities it serves, and we want to make sure it happens. However, the plan is currently only a voluntary commitment and my constituents need certainty that Tri-State will honor that commitment.
In fact, last fall San Juan County passed a county resolution urging state leaders to hold Tri-State accountable to 80% emissions reduction by 2030. Part of that resolution reads: “The evidence of climate change is impacting daily lives in San Juan County with near-historic drought, unprecedented smoke from fires across Colorado and the U.S., and rapidly increasing temperatures, and the urgency for our electric utility to take bold, immediate steps toward reducing emissions couldn’t be more clear.”
And we’re not the only ones. Four other communities in Tri-State’s service territory have also passed similar resolutions, including the Town of Telluride, Summit County, the Town of Rico and San Miguel County.
Southwest Colorado can better prepare to combat and be resilient to climate change if we know we can count on our power provider to reduce carbon emissions significantly in the next 10 years. I thank Tri-State for its voluntary commitment to 80% reductions by 2030 in response to its member communities’ advocacy, and I ask our state leaders to ensure that Tri-State gets there in a timely and equitable way that allows Coloradans to generate clean electricity locally rather than import coal from other states. SB-200 takes care of that.
Tri-State is one among several utilities and industries that we need to be able to count on to do their part to reduce emissions in Colorado. While I appreciate the efforts that state leaders have underway to reduce carbon emissions, the reality is that Colorado’s utilities are not on track to meet our climate goals. In fact, we are at risk of increasing climate pollution in Colorado in the coming years, especially with the volume of people predicted to be moving to our state in the next 20 years.
To successfully meet the state’s climate pollution targets, we need not only the incentives and rule-makings that state leaders are working on now, but also clear and enforceable targets in each sector of our economy, starting with electricity.
Our mountain communities need to be able to count on utilities like Tri-State to reduce emissions and there is language in SB 200 that will ensure just that. I urge Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Legislature to support SB 200 in order to keep us on track to cut greenhouse gas pollution and protect the communities we all love.
Scott Fetchenhier is a San Juan County Commissioner based in Silverton. He originally came to Silverton to work in the mines as both a geologist and laborer. He owns a gift shop in Silverton and has been in business almost 40 years.
Editor’s Note: Tri-State Generation and Transmission is the provider of most of the power for La Plata Electric Association, the co-op that serves many of our readers.
In response to forecast increasing runoff and flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, May 15th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.
Sponsored by Senators Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, this bill is focused on allocating $20 million from the general fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be spent to implement the state water plan as follows:
$15 million, which is transferred to the water plan implementation cash fund for expenditures and grants administered by the CWCB to implement the state water plan; and
$5 million, which is transferred to the water supply reserve fund for CWCB to disperse to the basin roundtables.
Ensuring that Colorado can meet its future water needs is critical to maintaining our state as a competitive place to work, play, and live. Colorado has recently faced some of its worst drought years in the state’s history, and predictions are that the growing water demands will continue to strain our limited resources.
The Colorado Water Plan has been established as the state’s framework for solutions to preserve water values to support a productive economy, healthy agricultural sector, and robust recreation industry. But the bill’s sponsors say the state Water Plan is currently underfunded and needs investments to ensure the state’s long-term economy and protection of our natural resources.
Here’s the release from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
Of the over 400 climate scenarios assessed in the 1.5°C report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), only around 50 scenarios avoid significantly overshooting 1.5°C. Of those only around 20 make realistic assumptions on mitigation options, for instance the rate and scale of carbon removal from the atmosphere or extent of tree planting, a new study shows. All 20 scenarios need to pull at least one mitigation lever at “challenging” rather than “reasonable” levels, according to the analysis. Hence the world faces a high degree of risk of overstepping the 1.5°C limit. The realistic window for meeting the 1.5°C target is very rapidly closing.
“If all climate mitigation levers are pulled, it may still be possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement. The findings could help inform the heated climate policy debate. The emission scenarios differ in their reliance on each of the five mitigation levers we looked at. Yet all scenarios that we find to be realistic pull at least several levers at challenging levels,” says lead author Lila Warszawski from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “None of the realistic scenarios relies on a single silver bullet.”
All realistic scenarios pull all five levers
“The energy sector is key to the 1.5°C target of course, with on the one hand reduction of energy demand and on the other decarbonisation of energy use and production,” says Warszawski. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”
The researchers drew from existing research to define bounds that delineate between the ‘reasonable’, ‘challenging’, and ‘speculative’ use of each of the levers by mid-century. The bounds quantify the range of emissions reduction potentials of each of the aggregate levers, which result from technological, economic, social and resource considerations. They can then be translated into contributions to keep warming at 1.5°C with no or low temperature overshoot.
A triple challenge for humanity
“This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” says co-author Tim Lenton from Exeter University. “We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge – piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.”
“Humanity is facing a triple challenge to stabilize global warming without significantly overshooting the 1.5°C commitment” says co-author Nebojsa Nakicenovic from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA. “First is to half global emissions every decade requiring a herculean effort and a decarbonization revolution by phasing-out fossil energy, a quantum leap in efficiency and sufficiency, and climate-friendly behaviors and diets; second to pursue nature-friendly carbon removal through afforestation and land-use change; and third to assure safe operating of Earth systems that now remove half of global emissions from the atmosphere.”
Unrealistically optimistic scenarios over-estimate e.g. carbon capture and storage potentials
Those scenarios classified by the analysis as unrealistically optimistic most frequently tend to over-estimate carbon capture and storage potentials, while others over-estimate energy consumption or reduction of non-CO2 greenhouse gases like methane. Still others make all too bold assumptions about dietary changes towards more plant-based food or about limited population growth.
The authors also took a closer look at the scenarios provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2018 and the one called ‘Sky’ produced by the Shell oil and gas company. Both scenarios foresee net emissions falling to zero globally as late as 2070. The researchers found that they do not lie within the corridor of carbon dioxide emissions over the next century that seems to offer a realistic chance of meeting the 1.5°C target. The Shell Sky scenario shows emissions levels in 2030 well above other scenarios considered in this study.
“The Shell Sky scenario has been called a pie in the sky, and that’s indeed what it is,” says co-author Gail Whiteman from the University of Exeter’s Business School. “From a science perspective, this is quite clear. In the business community some still like it because it seems to offer, in comparison to other scenarios, a relatively easy way out of the climate crisis. Our analysis shows, however, that there are no easy ways out.”
Irrespective of the specific climate target rapid emission reductions are key
“The necessary emissions reductions are hard to achieve, technically but also politically. They require unprecedented innovation of lifestyles and international cooperation,” concludes co-author Johan Rockström from PIK. “I understand anyone who thinks we might fail the 1.5°C target. Also, it is clear that irrespective of the specific climate target rapidly implementing strong emission reductions is key now. Yet I think limiting warming at 1.5°C is worth just every effort because this would limit the risk of giving some tipping elements in the Earth system an additional push, such as ice sheets or ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest. As technical as this all might sound, it really is about assuring a safe climate future for all.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought date from the US Drought Monitor. (Updated with the change maps that were not available at publishing time.)
US Drought Monitor map May 11, 2021.
West Drought Monitor map May 11, 2021.
High Plains Drought Monitor map May 11, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor map May 11, 2021.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week saw deterioration in drought-related conditions on the map across areas of the West, including California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Montana. Moving into dry season, California is expecting drought impacts to intensify during the summer months as snowpack runoff is forecasted to be below normal and reservoir storage levels at the state’s two largest reservoirs (Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville) are at 48% and 41% of average, respectively. In response to the deteriorating conditions, Governor Newsom expanded the coverage of his recent drought emergency declaration to include an additional 39 counties statewide. In the Southwest, Lake Powell is currently 35% full and Lake Mead is 38% full with the total Lower Colorado system at 43% full (compared to 52% full at the same time last year) as of May 10, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In New Mexico, the state’s largest reservoir along the Rio Grande is currently at 12% full. In Arizona, the Salt River Project is reporting the Salt River system reservoirs at 79% full, the Verde River system at 32% full, and the total reservoir system at 73% full (compared to 98% full a year ago). In the High Plains, portions of eastern Colorado and Wyoming saw improvement in drought conditions in response to recent rainfall events and improvement in soil moisture levels. In the Midwest and Northeast, beneficial rainfall during the past two weeks has helped reduce areas of drought on the map. In the South and Southeast, heavy rainfall impacted portions of the region during the past several weeks, leading to reductions in areas of drought in response to improved soil moisture and streamflow levels…
On this week’s map, areas of the region—including Colorado and Wyoming —saw improvements, including a reduction in areas of Extreme Drought (D3), Severe Drought (D2), and Moderate Drought (D1) in response to rainfall during the past week and above-normal precipitation during the past 30-to-60-day period. During the past 60 days, the percentage of normal precipitation has been ~150 to 300% of normal. Moreover, NASA SPoRT is showing soil moisture levels (0 to 10 cm depth) ranging from the 70th to the 98th percentile. Conversely, abnormally dry soils and areas of dry vegetation are being observed in far western portions of Colorado and Wyoming. In terms of streamflow activity, 7-day average streamflows are much below normal (<10th percentile) across much of western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming, and northern portions of North Dakota. Average temperatures for the week were mainly below normal (2 to 12 deg F) with the greatest negative departures observed in the Dakotas. According to the latest (May 10) USDA North Dakota Crop Progress and Condition report, topsoil across the state was rated 52% very short and 28% short with subsoil moisture supplies rated 52% very short and 29% short. In Colorado, reservoir storage levels statewide (end of April) are below normal at 85% of average compared to 104% of average last year. Storage levels were notably below normal in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basins at 57% of average compared to 95% of average last year at the same time. In terms of NOAA NCEI’s climatological rankings, North Dakota observed its driest 6- and 9-month periods on record. On a climate-division level, western Colorado’s Climate Division 2 (Colorado Drainage) observed its driest April on record, as well as its driest 12-month period on record…
Out West, approximately 84% of the region is currently in drought on the map with 47% in Extreme Drought (D3) or Exceptional Drought (D4). On this week’s maps, drought intensified in areas of California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Utah as dry conditions continued this week across most of the region. In California, areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded on the map in the southern and eastern Sierra in response to very poor snowpack conditions during the 2020–2021 Water Year. In the southern Sierra, the Tulare Basin 6-Station Precipitation Index for the Water Year to Date (WYTD) is currently showing its 2nd driest Water Year on record—only slightly ahead of the driest year on record back in the 1976–1977 season. In the central Sierra, the San Joaquin 5-Station Index is currently observing its 3rd driest WYTD on record and in the northern Sierra, the Northern Sierra 8-station Index its 2nd driest WYTD on record. In response to deteriorating conditions across much of California, Governor Newsom expanded the drought emergency declaration to cover 39 additional counties across the state, including counties in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds. In Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service is reporting a drought-related die-off of juniper trees across portions of central and northern Arizona in Prescott and Kaibab National Forests. In addition, reports are coming in from northern Arizona that ranchers on the Coconino Plateau have been hauling water for cattle and wildlife for the past month because dirt stock tanks are completely dry. In northwestern Oregon, areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Moderate Drought (D1) expanded on this week’s map as streamflow and soil moisture levels continue to degrade. In southwestern Montana, areas of Moderate Drought (D1) expanded on the map in response to below-normal precipitation during the past 30-to-90-day period, low streamflows, and reductions in irrigation allotments. In the Upper Colorado River Basin, May through July streamflow volumes are forecasted to be less than 60% of average and inflow into Lake Powell is forecasted to be 28% of normal. According to NOAA NCEI, the West Climate Region (California and Nevada) had its 6th driest April on record and its 3rd driest October through April period on record. Likewise, the Northwest Climate Region (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) had its 3rd driest April on record. In the Southwest Climate Region (Four Corners states), the last 12- and 24-month periods were both the driest on record for the region. At the state level, California observed its 6th warmest April on record and Arizona observed its 10th warmest…
Across portions of the region, the active pattern continued with significant rainfall accumulations observed in portions of eastern Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi where 7-day totals ranged from 2 to 8 inches. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 7-day average streamflows were above normal across much of the region—particularly in southeastern Texas and southern Louisiana where streamflow percentiles were greater than the 90th percentile. On the map, isolated rainfall activity (1 to 2 inches) this week led to some minor improvements in southern and north-central Texas, whereas portions of the Texas Panhandle and the Trans-Pecos region of western Texas saw some deterioration in drought-related conditions and an expansion of areas of drought on the map. In west-central and northern Oklahoma, short-term precipitation deficits and areas of below-normal soil moisture led to a slight expansion of areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) on the map. For March and April, precipitation across the South Climate Region was slightly above normal (40th wettest). However, at the state level, Louisiana observed its 8th wettest April on record with the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans observing their 2nd and 5th wettest April, respectively…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy liquid accumulations ranging from 2 to 4+ inches across the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana and Texas, as well as the eastern halves of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and areas of the lower Midwest. Lesser accumulations (generally <1 inch) are expected across the Southeast, parts of the Mid-Atlantic, and the Northeast. Out West, dry conditions are forecasted with the exception of areas of eastern New Mexico, Colorado, and areas of Wyoming that are expected to receive accumulations of <1.5 inches. The CPC 6-10-day Outlook calls for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across much of the conterminous United States with the exception of Southern California, western Oregon and Washington, and the Southeast where there is a moderate probability of below-normal temperatures. In terms of precipitation, there is a moderate probability of above-normal precipitation across the northern Rockies, the Plains states, and areas of the Upper Midwest. In contrast, below-normal precipitation is expected across the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, portions of the Southwest, and the Eastern Tier.
Here’s the release from the Center for Biological Diversity (Melissa Hornbein, Taylor McKinnon, Grant Stevens, Brett Henderson, Natasha Léger, Jeremy Nichols):
Conservation groups filed a lawsuit [May 10, 2021] challenging the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service’s 2020 approval of a plan that allows fracking across 35,000 acres of Colorado’s Western Slope. The North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan allows 35 new fracking wells in the North Fork Valley and Thompson Divide areas of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.
Today’s lawsuit says federal agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws by failing to fully assess the potential for water pollution and harm to the climate, and by refusing to analyze alternatives that would minimize or eliminate harm to the environment. The plan would result in about 52 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution, equivalent to the annual pollution from a dozen coal-fired power plants.
“The Trump administration charted a course to destroy public lands and our shared climate,” said Peter Hart, a staff attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “This master development plan is a 30-year commitment to the disastrous ‘energy dominance’ agenda which ignored significant impacts on the communities and spectacular values of the North Fork. We are determined to hold our federal government accountable to a more sustainable future for Colorado’s public lands, wildlife, people and climate.”
“Fossil fuel development and sustainable public lands don’t mix, especially in the roadless headwaters of the Upper North Fork Valley,” said Brett Henderson, executive director of Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “This project is incompatible with necessary climate change action, healthy wildlife habitat, and watershed health, and is at odds with the future of our communities.”
“We are in a megadrought in the North Fork Valley and the Western Slope. The water used to frack in the watershed risks precious water resources and only exacerbates the climate and the water crisis,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “This 35-well project is the beginning of much larger plans to extract a resource which should be left in the ground and for which the market is drying up.”
“This dangerous plan promises more runaway climate pollution in one of the fastest-warming regions in the United States,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re suing to force federal agencies to stop ignoring the climate emergency. Like the planet, the Colorado River Basin can’t survive a future of ever-expanding fossil fuel development.”
“It is past time for the federal government to meaningfully consider climate change in its oil and gas permitting decisions,” said Melissa Hornbein, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Gunnison and Delta Counties have already exceeded 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming; the project failed to meaningfully analyze impacts to climate, roadless areas, and the agriculture and ecotourism centered economies of the North Fork Valley. More drilling is projected to harm Delta County’s tax revenue, not help it. These communities need land management that serves the public interest.”
“This case is about confronting the Trump administration’s complete disregard of law, science and public lands,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We can’t frack our way to a safe climate and we certainly can’t afford to keep letting the oil and gas industry run roughshod over Colorado’s irreplaceable and vital public lands.”
Colorado’s Western Slope is already suffering from severe warming. The Washington Post recently featured the area as the largest “climate hot spot” in the lower 48 states, where temperatures have already risen more than 2 degrees Celsius, reducing snowpack and drying Colorado River flows that support endangered fish, agriculture and 40 million downstream water users.
In January 574 conservation, Native American, religious and business groups sent the then president-elect a proposed executive order to ban new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on federal public lands and waters. In February the Biden administration issued an executive order pausing oil and gas leasing onshore and offshore pending a climate review of federal fossil fuel programs. In June the Interior Department will issue an interim report describing findings from a March online forum and public comments.
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide fossil fuel leasing ban on federal lands and oceans would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals.
Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroy habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have inflicted immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from the world’s already producing oil and gas fields, if fully developed, would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Western Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to safeguard the wildlife, wildlands, and communities of the American West in the face of a changing climate. As a public interest law firm, WELC does not charge clients and partners for services, but relies instead on charitable gifts from individuals, families, and foundations to accomplish our mission.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Conservation groups are suing federal agencies to challenge their approval last year of a proposal by Gunnison Energy to drill 35 oil and gas wells across some 35,000 acres of the upper North Fork Valley.
The groups say the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service violated federal laws by failing to properly assess the climate impacts of the project or analyze alternatives that would have minimized environmental impacts.
The suit was brought by the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, WildEarth Guardians, Citizens for a Healthy Community in Paonia and High Country Conservation Advocates in Crested Butte.
The project’s location is in Gunnison and Delta counties west of McClure Pass. Some 25,800 acres of the affected acreage is U.S. Forest Service land, 8,648 acres are private and 468 involve BLM land.
The company plans to drill wells down and then out horizontally into the Mancos shale formation from five well pads, three of them new. It has estimated the project could produce up to 700 billion cubic feet of gas over 30 years. That equates to about 2.5% of the gas consumed in the United States last year.
The project also would require about 21 million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture each well, the company has estimated. And conservation groups said in a news release that it would result in about 52 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution, which they said is the same as what a dozen coal-fired power plants emit in a year…
The suit says that in evaluating the project, the BLM and Forest Service failed take a hard look at methane emissions related to the project. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. The suit also says the agencies failed to use “tools or methods generally accepted in the scientific community to evaluate the impact” of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, such as the social cost of carbon and global carbon budgeting.
For the first time in a year, the Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins areas are no longer experiencing drought or abnormal dryness.
The return to normal for some of the state’s most populous areas comes after several waves of spring rain and snowstorms.
But the improved conditions come with a big caveat: Much of western Colorado remains in severe and exceptional drought, part of a regional pattern affecting the Southwest.
Conditions have improved in the areas around Colorado Springs and Pueblo as well, receding from severe and extreme drought into only moderate drought…
The precipitation patterns this winter favored the northern areas of the Front Range, she said.
“It’s typical for a La Niña winter,” Bowen said about the winter weather pattern affecting North America this year…
Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center, said the drought still affecting the western part of the state fits with a trend over the past two decades…
Forecasts now predict southern Colorado has a higher-than-normal chance for large wildfires through June, [Peter] Goble said, and the same heightened risk of large wildfires for all of western Colorado through July.
Binational Water Conservation Making the Colorado River More Sustainable for People and Birds
**Este artículo se puede encontrar en español**
The Colorado River is flowing again in its delta. This is a big deal for a river that has not flowed through its delta in most years since the 1960s, resulting in an ecosystem that is severely desiccated and devastated.
Thanks to commitments from the United States and Mexico in the Colorado River binational agreement—Minute 323 – 35,000 acre-feet of water (11.4 billion gallons) dedicated to create environmental benefits will be delivered to the river from May 1 to October 11. The expectation is that this will create and support habitat for birds like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yuma Ridgway’s Rail, and Vermilion Flycatcher, and give life to the many plants and animals in this ribbon oasis of green in the midst of the Sonoran Desert.
The last time the two governments cooperated to put water for the environment into the Colorado River was in 2014, when they released a “pulse flow” of water from Morelos Dam (the furthest downstream dam on the Colorado River, located at the U.S. – Mexico border). For eight glorious weeks, the Colorado River was conjured back to life in its final 100 miles. Birds took notice (bird abundance increased 20% from the previous year, and species diversity increased 42%) and local communities celebrated with a spontaneous river fiesta that went on for weeks.
This time, the water will flow for more than five months. Thanks to lessons learned from scientists who studied the 2014 pulse flow, the water will be less likely to infiltrate into the ground, and more likely to fill the river channel providing environmental benefits all the way down to the Gulf of California. System operators are using Mexico’s canal system to bypass Morelos Dam and the driest parts of the channel, delivering the water into the river some 45 river-miles downstream. There it will fill the river where the channel is already wet, maximizing water use efficiency. The scientists’ design optimizes the location and timing of flow to support the hundreds of species of birds that use the delta, and the floodplain habitats they rely on.
Audubon and its partners in Raise the River—the non-governmental organization (NGO) coalition working to restore the Colorado River Delta—are excited to see this sophisticated approach to environmental water delivery. Scientists will study the flow again this year in order to add to our understanding of how to best use the limited supply of water available for the environment.
The agreement that made these flows possible—Minute 323—lasts through 2026. The agreement also commits more than $30 million for water conservation infrastructure in the Mexicali Valley. The water savings will improve local resilience to global warming, increase the water supply stored in Lake Mead, make additional water available to water users in the United States, and create additional water supply for the environment (the coalition of NGOs will also contribute from a local water trust). Minute 323 also ensures that the United States and Mexico conserve Colorado River water and share in shortages when supplies are low. In the context of a drought on the Colorado River that has persisted since 2000, and the expectation of climate change exacerbating drought conditions, these provisions create water supply reliability for both people and nature.
This spring, water for the Colorado River Delta creates a renewed sense of hope. Over the next few months we have the opportunity to see what a small volume of water can do to revive the remnant ecosystem, to nurture its birds, and gift local communities with the return of their river. We can be reassured that, at least in parts of the delta, the Colorado River lives again. In an extraordinarily dry year, deliberate management of water to sustain the environment is the kind of management we will need throughout the Colorado River Basin to ensure that persistent drought and long term impacts of climate change do not lead to the end of river ecosystems in the arid West.
FromThe High Country News [May 13, 2021] (Sharon Udasin):
Through partnerships and exchanges, the community is ensuring that its members have long-term access to their own resources while helping solve broader water supply problems.
A riverbed that has been parched since the end of the 19th century — a portion of the historic lifeblood of the Gila River Indian Community — is now coursing again with water, luring things like cattails and birds back to its shores.
“You add water and stuff just immediately starts coming back naturally. Birds have returned and it’s just such a different experience,” says Jason Hauter, an attorney and a community member. “It’s amazing how much has returned.”
The revival of this small segment of the 649-mile (1045-kilometer) Gila River, which has served the tribes that make up the Gila River Indian Community — the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and the Pee-Posh (Maricopa) — for roughly 2,000 years, was an added benefit of a grassroots infrastructure overhaul, known as “managed aquifer recharge,” or MAR, which aimed to restore the local groundwater basin. The MAR project has not only secured a water supply for local agriculture, but it has also generated a stable source of income and strengthened the community’s ties to tradition.
“The land started to heal itself, reinvigorate itself,” says Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, who recently began his third term as leader of the Gila River Indian Community.
Hauter credits Lewis and his colleagues for ensuring that community members have long-term access to their own resources while helping solve broader water supply problems in the region through innovative partnerships and exchanges with neighbors.
“They are very thoughtful about future generations, but they also recognize they live in this larger community and that you have to collaborate,” Hauter says. “Encouraging your neighbors to have good water practices, but also helping your neighbors, is good water policy.”
A particularly longstanding claim to water rights
The ins and outs of water management and usage in the West are complex. In a region where every drop is important, questions about water — such as who gets what, how it’s moved from one place to another, and who pays for it — are vital to communities’ capacity to survive and thrive. These decisions are often based on century-plus-old legal doctrines that don’t always fit neatly into a modern, warming world — or address longstanding disregard for Native American tribal nations’ rights.
Western U.S. states adhere to legal doctrines called “prior appropriation” — sometimes referred to as “first in time, first in right” — linked to the mid-19th century Gold Rush and the Homestead Act, through which miners and farmers were able to claim and divert water sources for “beneficial use” — defined by activities such as irrigation, industry, power production and domestic use. A 1908 Supreme Court case ruled that the federal decision to establish Native American reservations inherently meant there would be sufficient water for those reservations. The priority date for water rights on these reservations therefore had to match the date of establishment, meaning that many tribal nations’ water rights took precedence over those of most existing users. During the past few decades, these nations have largely opted for settlements with the relevant federal, state and private bodies, rather than entering extensive and costly litigation to recover their water rights.
These settlements allow tribal nations to take part in the competitive markets that have long ruled water in the West. These markets involve things like selling water rights, getting money for helping mitigate drought and accruing “credit” from the Arizona Water Banking Authority by storing water in underground basins administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
One such pivotal settlement came in 2004: To resolve tribal water rights claims, Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlement Act, which allocates a set amount of water each year to the Gila River Indian Community, drawing that water budget from a variety of sources in Arizona. The community had a particularly longstanding claim to water rights due to its two-millennia history of farming, curtailed when miners and white settlers began diverting water following the Civil War. The governor’s late father, Rodney Lewis, devoted his career as Gila River Tribal Attorney to fighting for a just water settlement.
“It was the theft of our water, so this was a generational historic struggle to regain our water,” Lewis says. “We were and we still are historically agriculturalists, farmers. Our lineage, our ancestors were the Huhugam. And the Huhugam civilization had pretty much cultivated the modern-day Phoenix area in central Arizona.”
“They were master builders,” he adds, referring to complex water systems and canals that he says rivaled those of the Nile Valley.
As more and more nations regain control of their water resources, they are securing a critical provision for the long-term financial prosperity of their people and protection of their lands.
Mutually beneficial partnerships
As often occurs in tribal water rights settlements, the 2004 agreement served to restore the Gila River Indian Community’s claims to the river and its tributaries without displacing the descendants “of those who committed the original sin,” says Hauter, a partner at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which currently serves as outside counsel for the Community.
Toward that end, Hauter says, “really, what’s provided is an alternative supply.”
That alternative supply comes from the Central Arizona Project (CAP), an infrastructural behemoth that conveys about 1.5 million acre-feet (1.85 billion cubic meters; one acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons) of water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona each year. Serving as the single largest renewable water supply for the state of Arizona, the 336-mile (540-kilometer) system was authorized by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, soon after which construction by the Bureau of Reclamation began. Three years later, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District — a multi-county water district — formed to repay the federal government for the project’s costs and oversee regional water supply.
Through the 2004 settlement, the Gila River Indian Community has the single largest CAP entitlement — bigger than that of the city of Phoenix — at 311,800 acre-feet (385 million cubic meters), Hauter explains. Finding mutual benefit in helping quench the thirst of the surrounding region, the community entered into various water exchanges and leases that delivered about 60,000 acre-feet (74 million cubic meters) to Phoenix and other municipalities annually and left about 250,000-acre-feet (308 million cubic meters) for its own purposes, according to Hauter.
But this sudden surplus from the CAP actually posed a problem.
Pumping water from the project, community members understood, would eventually become prohibitive due to water transport and associated electricity costs. The Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, managed by the U.S. Department of Interior, covers the Fixed OM&R (operation, maintenance and replacement) for certain Arizona tribes with settlements, but funding is only projected to last until 2045, Hauter explains.
The community was using only about 50,000 acre-feet (62 million cubic meters) for irrigation purposes, leaving about 200,000-acre-feet (247 million cubic meters) unused, Hauter says. Because any unused CAP water can be remarketed by the state, Arizonans began counting on the community to not use its full share.
With the legal guidance of Hauter and his team, the community launched a strategic venture to store, share and sell much more of its CAP water in 2010.
The first such partnership occurred with former water supply rival the Salt River Project, the name of the utilities responsible for providing most of Phoenix’s water and power. Had the community decided to enter litigation to recover its water rights, rather than settling, the Salt River Project could have faced enormous supply losses.
But the former rivals instead became partners, after identifying that the Salt River Project’s underground storage facility (USF), the Granite Reef Underground Storage Project, was an ideal place to store a portion of the CAP allocation the Gila River Indian Community was not currently using. The partnership has enabled the Salt River Project to withdraw water from storage — while maintaining a “safe yield,” or making sure any water that is taken from aquifers is replenished. In return, the community has gained long-term storage credit, Hauter explains. Such storage credit enables the holder to bank CAP water and, when necessary, recover the water for future use.
The community also stores water in groundwater savings facilities (GSF), including one operated by the Salt River Project and another south of the Gila River operated by the Maricopa Stanfield Drainage District. While a USF physically stores water in the aquifer through direct recharge, a GSF is an “indirect” recharge facility that uses CAP water instead of pumping local groundwater.
In what Hauter described as an “in lieu” agreement, the community provides the operators of these GSF facilities with a renewable water supply — another portion of its CAP allocation — and so reduces the Salt River Project and Maricopa District’s need to extract groundwater. In return, the community gets storage credit for the water that can remain in the ground.
“Everything we needed was at the river”
While these external collaborations bolstered the resilience of the community, as well as that of the arid surrounding region, Gila River residents only really saw the revival of their long-lost local waterway when community leaders launched a homegrown storage initiative. Recognizing the value in keeping some unused CAP resources at home, they chose to establish a network of managed aquifer recharge (MAR) sites. This type of underground storage allows for the free flow of water from a naturally permeable area, such as a streambed, into an aquifer, as opposed to “constructed recharge” sites that involve injecting water into percolation basins by means of a constructed device.
In order to implement these plans, the Gila River Indian Community came to an agreement with Arizona to acquire state regulatory permits for the MAR projects, despite the fact that tribal nations have sovereign control over water management. As a result of this decision, the community has been able to market long-term storage credits in a sort of environmentally friendly banking system that allows more groundwater to stay in the ground.
“They realized they could get multiple benefits from deciding to have their project permitted per the Arizona regulations,” says Sharon Megdal, director of The University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center.
“They voluntarily chose to abide by the regulations for storage and recovery and therefore come under the whole credit accrual and accounting system,” she continues, stressing that not only can credits be used to recover water when needed in the future, but they can also be purchased by outside entities, which creates a revenue stream for the community. “That’s really exciting.”
Three MAR facilities are already operating on the reservation today: MAR-5, the Olberg Dam underground storage facility, permitted in 2018; MAR-1B, the Cholla Mountain underground storage facility, permitted in 2020; and MAR-6B, a western and downstream expansion of MAR-5, which came online a few months ago. Construction of MAR-8, located downstream from MAR-5, will be complete in a few years, according to Hauter.
Hauter adds that it was only while planning the initial MAR-5 site that community members envisioned the riparian restoration program that served “to recreate the river,” allowing cattails and other plants to blossom and enabling community members to create baskets and traditional medicines. Although the idea of restoring the river was secondary to the storage plans, Hauter says that its flow is intrinsic to the community’s culture.
“The tangible benefit for most members is really having the river back to some degree,” Hauter adds. “It wasn’t something the settlement intended to accomplish, but the settlement gave the community the tools to make it happen.”
Lewis and his father, who had already retired at the time, used those tools to see the first MAR site to fruition. The Lewises and their colleagues understood the benefit in adopting innovative methods for accumulating water at their future storage site.
“He truly saw the MAR-5 as a living testament to our historic tie to the Gila River,” the governor says, adding that his father considered the facility an opportunity to “return the flow of the river.”
With the revived river flow, the riparian habitat quickly began blossoming, including 50 documented species of birds within the first year of MAR-5’s operations, Lewis says. An interpretive trail now weaves through the once arid wetland, providing educational signposts and offering sacred cultural spaces for spiritual practice, Lewis explains. Elders are now taking advantage of the plants and silt available to engage in traditional basket weaving, medicine making and pottery, he adds.
“They still remember the river sometimes flowing and the smell of the water,” Lewis says.
In recent years, before the opening of the MAR-5 site, the channel filled with water only in particularly wet seasons involving floods or heavy snowpack upstream, according to Lewis.
“Everything we needed was at the river,” he adds. “That was our lifeblood.”
Continuing to plan for a drought-ridden future
In conjunction with the opening of the MAR facilities, the community cemented a pivotal agreement in 2019 with the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD), a groundwater replenishment entity operated by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. Through this agreement, CAGRD leases 18,185 acre-feet (22 million cubic meters) of the community’s CAP water and stores the majority of that water in the MAR sites, while receiving long-term storage credits in return from the Arizona Water Banking Authority. Only if the MAR facilities are full is CAGRD allowed to store the leased water elsewhere, Hauter explains.
Alongside the MAR projects, the community has also been rehabilitating existing wells and building new ones in order to create a backup supply for agricultural use when Gila River flow is minimal. Well water is less expensive than CAP water, since wells can recharge naturally during storms — so much so that such events collectively add at least 100,000 acre-feet (123 million cubic meters) to the community’s annual water supply, according to Hauter.
The community took additional steps to reroute its CAP supplies after the federal government and the seven Colorado River Basin States implemented their drought contingency plans, meant to elevate water levels in Lake Mead, in 2020. As part of that regional effort, Hauter explains, the Community is providing a total of at least 200,000 acre-feet (247 million cubic meters) of water to be stored in Lake Mead from 2020 to 2026, when the drought contingency plans expire. For its contribution, the Community gets money through the Arizona Water Bank and the Bureau of Reclamation.
Only through the community’s creative collaborations and homegrown projects has so much of its CAP entitlement been able to help replenish Lake Mead, Hauter says. Today, the community has reduced its CAP water usage for irrigation to 15,000 acre-feet (19 million cubic meters) per year, while its CAP water storage capacity in the MAR projects is up to about 40,000 acre-feet (49 million cubic meters) per year. After construction of MAR-8 is complete, total CAP water use for storage and irrigation will reach about 75,000 acre-feet (93 million cubic meters), Hauter says.
As the community’s leaders continue to plan for a drought-ridden future, they are evaluating whether it will be necessary to use more of its CAP allocation for their own needs. At the moment, much of the reservation’s agriculture involves water-intensive crops like alfalfa, feed corn and cotton. An overhaul of the farming infrastructure, according to Hauter, would require “changing attitudes about how food is grown” and incorporating more efficient technologies, as well as encouraging farming among younger people.
Overall, Hauter says, “it’s an exciting future for the community, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 20 or so years.”
Lewis is confident that the community’s agricultural tradition will remain strong, particularly due to the younger generation’s concerns for social justice, equity and environmental issues.
“We want to provide opportunities for our community members to re-engage in any way in our agricultural heritage,” he says. “We’ve always been innovators, going back to the Huhugam with their amazing engineering.”
In addition to the commercial company Gila River Farms, which is owned by the tribe and employs community members, Lewis says that local family farms continue to thrive. Lewis also says that “there’s a big push” for young people to obtain degrees in agro-business, hydrology, water engineering and other relevant fields that will provide them with a livelihood while working for their community — a place that has become even more special to them during the pandemic year.
“It’s a public health emergency that we’ve been going through,” Lewis adds. “But at the same time, I think this is an opportunity where you see a lot [of] our younger generation that are wanting to learn who it is to be from the Gila River Indian Community.”
“A total win-win”
While the MAR projects and the larger water exchange deals serve to safeguard the community’s water supplies, Hauter says he’s uncertain as to whether neighboring tribal nations could replicate this model. Other tribes, he explains, might have different agricultural interests or economic concerns, as well as varying geological and hydrological conditions.
In Megdal’s opinion, at least one aspect of the community’s strategy could be replicable regardless of geography: the strategic accrual and marketing of long-term storage credits in permitted recharge facilities. The Gila River Indian Community has diversified its portfolio of storage credit and sales through “multiple vehicles,” she explains, including its MAR projects, the Salt River Project partnership, and its transfer of credits to CAGRD.
“They are able to meet their objectives including having riparian benefits and river benefits and sell the credits — because the credits are then recovered elsewhere … For them, it’s like a total win-win,” Megdal says, adding that she considers the community’s achievements to be “a bellwether project.”
Already, she says, the Tucson-region Tohono O’odham Nation has begun selling some credits to CAGRD. Acknowledging that the two cases involve varying geological and legislative circumstances, Megdal stresses that the Gila River Indian Community has demonstrated the benefits of the storage and credit accrual system.
“These long-term storage credits are the most marketable part of the water system,” Megdal says. “It’s an emerging market, and the Gila River Indian Community has emerged as a key leader in that market.”
“I see this example of a tribal nation entering voluntarily into an intergovernmental agreement with the state so that all the parties can develop these mutually beneficial exchanges or marketing transactions in a voluntary way,” she adds. “It’s really a notable innovation.”
Sharon Udasin is a Boulder-based journalist, with specialties in environment, water and energy.
This article, produced jointly by California Health Report and High Country News, is part of a collaboration that also includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, Circle of Blue, Columbia Insight, Ensia, New Mexico In Depth and SJV Water. It was made possible by a grant from The Water Desk, with support from Ensia and INN’s Amplify News Project.
This story was supported by a grant from The Water Desk, with support from Ensia and the Institute for Nonprofit News’s Amplify News Project.
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION issuedby
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS
and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 13 May 2021 ENSO Alert System Status: Final La Niña Advisory
Synopsis: La Niña has ended, with ENSO-neutral likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer (67% chance in June-August 2021).
During April, the tropical Pacific Ocean returned to ENSO-neutral conditions as the coupling between the atmosphere and ocean weakened. Sea surface temperatures were near-to-below average across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean in the past month. The Niño indices have generally trended toward normal during the last several months, except for the easternmost Niño-1+2 region, which was -0.7oC in the past week. Subsurface temperature anomalies continued to increase due to a downwelling Kelvin wave, which reinforced the positive temperature anomalies along the thermocline. Low-level easterly wind anomalies were weakly present in the east-centralPacific, but were westerly in the far western Pacific Ocean, while upper-level wind anomalies remained westerly across the central and east-central tropicalPacific. Tropical convection became near average around the Date Line in the past month, with suppressed convection evident over Indonesia. Overall, the ocean and atmosphere system reflected a return to ENSO-neutral.
Most of the models in the IRI/CPC plume predict a continuation of ENSO-neutral through the Northern Hemisphere summer 2021. The forecaster consensus agrees with this set of models through the summer, and then begins hedging toward cooler conditions as the Northern Hemisphere fall approaches. La Niña chances are around 50-55% during the late fall and winter, which is in alignment with forecasts from the NCEP Climate Forecast System and North American Multi-model Ensemble. However, there is typically large uncertainty with forecasts made in the spring, so confidence in ENSO-neutral for the coming seasons is highest. In summary, La Niña has ended, with ENSO-neutral likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer (67% chance in June-August 2021; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
George Sibley was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2006 representing Division 8, the City of Gunnison, and most recently served as Secretary for the District. After nearly 13 years of service, George submitted his resignation to the UGRWCD earlier this year. George is well-known and well-respected on the Western slope and throughout the state for his commitment to and many years of valuable service on water issues and protecting water users in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Because of his knowledge, time and effort committed to all things water, George affectionately earned the honorary title of Gunnison’s own “Water Buffalo,” a role he portrayed in many of the annual Sonofagunn productions at the Gunnison Arts Center.
“George will be dearly missed within the water community for the knowledge he brings to the table and for spurring much needed conversations around the water resource challenges we face,” said UGRWCD General Manager Sonja Chavez. “We wish him the very best!”
Here’s to calm waters, George, as you embark on the next phase of life!
Beavers, known for their work ethic, tenacity and sometimes destructive instincts, are making a comeback in the worlds of science and water as researchers look for natural ways to restore rivers and wetlands and improve the health of drought-stressed aquifers.
“The concept of beavers and their ability to restore streams is not new,” said Sarah Marshall, an ecohydrologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program who has been studying these semi-aquatic rodents for years. “Now we have a body of groundwater and sediment capture studies that have really resonated with folks who are managing water, especially with these nagging problems of drought and earlier snowmelt.”
This fall, Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit that advocates for protecting and restoring headwater regions in the state, is sponsoring a beaver summit, a conference designed to unveil some of the latest ecological research on creatures once valued only for their glossy fur.
“The idea is to drive the knowledge to the general public and legislators so they have a better handle on how to address this,” said Jerry Mallett, Colorado Headwaters founder and president.
Beaver advocates would like to see more funding for research, new programs, such as a beaver census, and better integration of wetland restoration efforts in headwaters areas.
Before beavers were nearly trapped out of existence in the mid-1800s, they inhabited high mountain wetlands and river basins across Colorado and the West. They played an important ecological role, according to Marshall. Their dams trapped water, allowing it to flood wetlands and soak into underground aquifers. Those same dams also trapped sediment, enhancing habitat for fish and other wildlife.
But beavers also did their fair share of damage as the West was settled, garnering a reputation for damming irrigation ditches and flooding culverts and roads, angering ranchers and city dwellers alike.
Even in urban areas, beavers are considered a nuisance because their never-ending dam building often floods city parks and harms trees.
But Marshall is hopeful that events such as the upcoming summit as well as ongoing education of policy makers and the public on the benefits of the water-related work beavers do will help improve their reputation.
“One of the most important things about how beavers help streams is that they are very dynamic. They don’t just create a dam. They move around in watersheds creating systems that are constantly changing.
“By creating a series of dams they do everything from refilling alluvial aquifers to physically trapping sediment and creating physical habitat for rare species such as boreal toads and trout,” she said.
Carlyle Currier, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said beavers remain a sore topic in the agricultural world because their dams often harm expensive irrigation systems and cause flooding.
“Certainly they can be a nuisance if they’re in the wrong place,” Currier said.
There is also concern that if beavers significantly alter how water moves through a stream, it could injure water rights.
Currier said he and his ranching colleagues are willing to listen to what the beaver scientists are recommending.
“The devil is always in the details,” he said. “But in headwaters areas, you could argue that they do more good than harm.”
The Colorado conference, slated for Oct. 20 and 22 in Avon, comes on the heels of similar confabs that have been held recently in California and New Mexico, Mallet said.
As drought and climate change cause widespread reductions in river flows and aquifer levels, researchers and others are re-evaluating how wetlands and rivers evolved. They are hopeful that the furry architects and general contractors who originally helped shape them can be restored and put to work again in a way that aids everyone, Marshall said.
“We built all of this infrastructure and managed land in a context that did not include beavers. As we’re changing how we view them culturally, there is an opportunity for co-existence,” Marshall said.
“People are starting to realize that when you have beavers in a stream reach you have nice green grass growing along the banks for your cattle. It’s a fascinating path that we are on. People are starting to see them in a new light,” Marshall said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
This year’s event will include panels and presentations on climate change, Colorado landscaping aesthetics, social change, community education programs, and much more! There will be a special keynote address from Leander Lacy, Interim Alliance Director of Denver Metro Nature Alliance and host of The Green Mind podcast.
Watershed Summit 2021, or “Shed ’21” as we like to call it, is produced through a collaborative partnership between the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water, Aurora Water, the One World One Water (OWOW) Center, Resource Central and Denver Botanic Gardens.
About this event
Participants will meet and check-in at the Morgan Conservation District’s office at 8:30 a.m., with the ride beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tours on the ride include an irrigated corn producer, a dairy farmer, and a local vineyard. The tour will wrap up with lunch at the vineyard. This is a 7-mile ride, with approximately 3 miles back to town. Your registration includes an Ag Bike Tour water bottle and hat. Lunch will be provided by Blue Ribbon BBQ. Cost of tour is $30 and cost of lunch (without tour) is $20. RSVP by May 15th. Please contact us with any questions!
Reservoirs, snowpack in good shape for coming South Platte irrigation season
Recent wet weather has lifted parts of northern Colorado, especially Logan County, out of drought status, but forecasters say that’s probably a temporary situation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 60-day forecast for most of northern Colorado, including the South Platte Basin, is a 60-percent chance of less than normal precipitation and slightly higher than normal temperatures.
The runoff and storage situation for the Lower South Platte Valley seems particularly bright, with snowpack in the South Platte Basin higher than normal, thanks to late-winter snowstorms in the high country. Local reservoirs are full or nearly so, and should fill completely before demand for irrigation water begins. A spot check of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s point flow chart showed approximately 650 cubic feet per second flowing past Sterling at mid-day Wednesday.
Statistically, NOAA’s data site showed that, so far, 2021 is the 29th driest year to date in the 127 years that records have been kept, the county had the 53rd driest February over that same time period and, as of April 30, about 14.5 percent of people in Logan County still are affected by drought.
And the “coaches,” websites and dealers need to emphasize how much consumers’ annual operating costs will drop when they’re not paying $3 a gallon for gas, changing the oil every six months, and handling thousand-dollar repairs of combustion engines.
Reliability and performance. Some of the EV-curious still seem to think, advocates say, that storage batteries spontaneously combust, or that the complex electronics are always going haywire, or that their relatively small vehicle will drive like a low-powered sewing machine. That’s where the marketing and education side need to double down on the lower costs of long-term maintenance in EVs, which have far-fewer moving engine parts than their gas cousins.
Moravcsik and others like to emphasize the drivability of EVs — and not just the sportier Teslas. Even the smallest EV sedans and hatchbacks on the market have far-faster and more-responsive acceleration than a comparable gas engine. Electric cars have no lag when you step on the accelerator, making highway entrances a sport instead of a nightmare.
Drought conditions in April increased in much of western Colorado, as already dry conditions were made worse by well-below-average precipitation, the Colorado Water Supply Outlook stated in its May report.
Higher temperatures in the high country worsened the situation with substantial loss of snowpack, which fell to 72 percent of median statewide by the end of April…
Statewide, 33 SNOTEL sites saw the lowest precipitation on record, while 15 other sites recorded the second-lowest precipitation on record for April. Most of those SNOTEL sites were west of the Continental Divide.
Dry conditions will impact water storage for the coming summer months. Reservoir storage in all river basins, except the South Platte and Arkansas, saw a decrease in relative storage. Statewide reservoir storage is 84 percent of normal, a percentage point drop from April.
An above-average warm and dry April caused a decline in forecasted water supplies. All basins west of the Continental Divide are now forecast to have streamflow volumes below 60 percent of average. East of the divide, conditions are a little better, with forecasts for the South Platte and Arkansas river basins anticipating streamflow volumes at 88 and 71 percent of average, respectively.
Streamflow forecasts for much of Colorado are discouraging, with most of the rivers seeing volumes well below normal.
West of the Continental Divide, runoff conditions are deteriorating. In western Colorado, below-average precipitation and higher temperatures have reduced snowpack. Forty-one of the streamflow forecast points are predicted to have a top-10 lowest runoff volume on record.
The Gunnison Basin, the Yampa-white-Little Snake River Basin and the San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan River Basin are all projected to be below 50 percent of average streamflow volumes.
Snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin is below normal at 76 percent of median. Precipitation for April was 41 percent of average, which brings the water year-to-date precipitation to 83 percent of average.
Reservoir storage at the end of April was 69 percent of average, compared to 91 percent in April 2020.
Current streamflow forecasts range from 81 percent of average on the Cucharas River near La Veta to 64 percent of average on Chalk Creek near Nathrop for May to July.
As our climate changes, rising temperatures and drought conditions have intensified across the Colorado River Basin. This overstretched river system is also seeing rapid growth in the population that relies on it. Overuse has impacted agricultural water availability, native fish and many birds and plants that rely on streamside habitat and the river itself.
Problems like these can seem daunting from a bird’s eye view. Solutions must come from within the communities themselves—and through many innovative, thoughtful collaborations along the way.
That’s where the Maybell diversion comes in. Located on the lower Yampa River, a tributary to the Colorado River, the Maybell diversion provides water for 18 agricultural producers in northwest Colorado. The diversion structure, built in 1896, channels water through a broken, antiquated headgate into the Maybell Ditch, an 18-mile canal that flows roughly in line with the river and irrigates hay pasture and ranchlands.
The Maybell Diversion
The Maybell reach of the Yampa is home to abundant wildlife, including four endangered fish species, whose free movement depends on healthy river flows. While boaters enjoy paddling through Juniper Canyon, the reach of river with the Maybell diversion is known for hazardous conditions at high and low flows. Landslides and large boulders block the river, creating challenges for inexperienced boaters. Drought conditions exacerbate low flows and create awkward conditions for passage of boats and fish alike.
“Maybell is the largest diversion on the Yampa and it was a high priority for the community to address the need for infrastructure improvements,” explains Diana Lane, director of Colorado’s Sustainable Food and Water program at TNC.
In partnership with the Maybell Irrigation District, The Nature Conservancy is working to rehabilitate the diversion and modernize the headgate, ensuring that the diversion provides water to the users who need it. At the same time, TNC is coordinating with the recreation community to ensure safe passage of watercraft through the new diversion. As a result of this project, we hope that the Yampa will see increased ecological connectivity and resilience to climate change and that the irrigators will have improved control of their irrigation system.
Upgrading the Ditch, Headgate and Diversion
The three parts of the project—lining the ditch, replacing the headgate and rehabilitating the diversion—will improve efficiency, water flow and habitat for native fish. Ditch lining, completed in November of 2020, repaired a section that was previously unstable, erosive and leaky.
The next two steps occur together. Replacing the headgate with a new, remotely operated one will allow more flexibility for adjusting flows based on irrigators’ needs and local flow conditions. For example, when supplemental water is released from Elkhead Reservoir upstream for the benefit of endangered fish, the new headgate can be adjusted to ensure the water stays in the critical habitat reach. At the same time, diversion rehabilitation will repair the damage that’s been done by historic erosion and improve passage for boats and fish.
“This is an exemplary multi-benefit project with agricultural, environmental and recreational elements that were brought to our attention by the community,” notes Jennifer Wellman, TNC’s project manager. “Working directly with the water users, we have an opportunity to rectify the diversion while paying attention to what the river needs. Drought conditions highlight that everyone benefits from flows in the river.”
Through our partnership with the Maybell Irrigation District, these projects create a better future for the diversion. Partnerships like these are crucial to cementing a better future for the Yampa River.
This project is supported by strong local partnerships with Friends of the Yampa, the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, Moffat County and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program and potential grants from other agencies help support the multi-benefit project overall. The mosaic of public and private funds contribute to much-needed improvements to the Yampa River that mesh with community-driven solutions to drought and river protection. By modernizing the Maybell diversion and ditch operations, the Yampa River will see improved flows and function for years to come.
One Piece of a Larger Puzzle
The success of this project is tied to the larger story of the Colorado River Basin. As rivers throughout the basin are being stretched to a breaking point, the 30 native fish species that are found nowhere else in the world face an increasingly uncertain future. These waters also feed habitat that supports an amazing array of the West’s wildlife.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve. I think if we all work together, we can come to a solution. If we don’t do that, then the next generation might not have the water they need,” says Camblin, of the Maybell Irrigation District.
As work continues on the Maybell Ditch, it represents a win for agriculture, recreation and the environment that the economy relies on, and for the fish that have called this river home for thousands of years.
From the Community Agriculture Alliance (Andy Baur) via The Craig Daily Press:
The Yampa River Fund steering committee recently awarded $200,000 to six projects during its 2021 grant cycle. As designed, the YRF funded projects that enhance river flows, restore riparian and instream habitat, and improve infrastructure for a healthier river. One of the projects, permitting for the Maybell Diversion Restoration Project, is an excellent example of how the YRF supports multibenefit projects that help water users while benefiting river health and recreation as well. When completed, the Maybell Diversion Project will result in significant positive impact to the Maybell agricultural community, endangered and native fish habitat, and recreation interests. What makes the Maybell project a great fit for the YRF is it stands to create a positive impact in all river users, the economy and the environment for decades to come.
The project is moving forward through a partnership between The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Maybell Irrigation District (MID). The goal is to reconstruct the historic Maybell diversion and modernize the headgates in the lower Yampa River. TNC, MID, Friends of the Yampa and other partners are committed to increasing water users’ control of irrigation water while improving aquatic habitat by removing impediments to flow as well as facilitating boat and fish passage at the Maybell diversion. Safer and reliable water infrastructure will bring increased economic benefits to the communities in the lower Yampa basin. In addition, this project supports recovery of four endangered fish while meeting agricultural irrigation needs and increasing ecological connectivity, water security and resilience to climate change.
Located in the designated critical habitat reach of the Yampa, downstream of Juniper Canyon, the MID currently withdraws water through two broken and antiquated headgates into the Maybell Ditch. Built in 1896, the ditch is approximately 18 miles long and is one of the largest diverters on the Yampa River. Though the diversion infrastructure historically served the users well, it is impacted by critically low flows during times of drought and water scarcity.
Stakeholders and community members view the project as critical to remedying chronic low-flow and obstacles to boat and fish passage in the lower Yampa. The project received funding in 2019 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable to finalize engineering designs, specifications and permitting for construction to begin in 2022. TNC and partners are in the process of fundraising and working with the Maybell community to schedule construction and develop a path forward.
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.
The Arizona Legislature on Tuesday made a formal request asking Congress to fund a study to determine the feasibility of pipelining Mississippi River floodwater to the Colorado River.
House Concurrent Memorial 2004 passed the Arizona Senate by a 23-7 vote and the Arizona House by a 54-6 margin. A memorial is not a law, but a legislative measure containing a request or proposal, asking other parties outside the Arizona Legislature’s jurisdiction to take action. HCMs have no official standing or effect, but serve as a public record of the request presented for consideration.
The memorial was introduced by Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma. Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, is among co-sponsors.
It asks that “the United States Congress fund a technological and feasibility study of developing a diversion dam and pipeline to harvest floodwater from the Mississippi River to replenish the Colorado River and prevent flood damage along the Mississippi River.”
It also states that “If shown to be feasible, the United States Congress implement the diversion dam and pipeline as a partial solution to the water supply shortage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the flood damage that occurs along the Mississippi River.”
Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the two major reservoirs on the Colorado River. Both are at historically low levels and likely will trigger a Tier 1 water emergency in Arizona later this year or in 2022.
The memorial notes the low water levels of both reservoirs and the “historic flooding in 2011 and 2019 along the Mississippi River” that caused 11 deaths and more than $9.5 billion in damage.
It asks that the request be sent to the President of the U.S. Senate, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the governors of states on the Mississippi River — Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin — as well as Arizona’s 11 members of Congress.
“Arizona has long been at the forefront among Western states in supporting the development and implementation of pioneering, well-reasoned water management policies,” Dunn said, a line straight out of the HCM he crafted. “Arizona and the other six Colorado Basin states are in the 20th year of severe drought and experiencing a severe water shortage. Water levels are at critical levels, jeopardizing the water delivery and power generation. A new water source could help augment Colorado River supplies.
“One promising possibility involves piping water that is harvested from Mississippi River floodwaters. Diverting this water, which is otherwise lost into the Gulf of Mexico, would also help prevent the loss of human life and billions in economic damages when such flooding occurs. This concept is already being proven in Denver, where floodwater is being successfully harvested from the Missouri River to help alleviate its water shortage.”
Durango La Plata Airport has only received 2.56 inches of precipitation so far in 2021. The average there is 4.36 inches through May.
The snowpack in the southwest part of the country was very low this season from October through May — a typical result of a La Nina weather pattern. Colorado was mostly spared the major snow deficit thanks to some well-placed upslope storms east of the Continental Divide, but the southwest corner of the state did get caught up in the lack of snow.
And what little snow there was in southwest Colorado this season is melting out fast.
A few mountain weather stations are showing that the winter snowpack has already completely melted out. For example, the Snotel site on Lizard Head Pass shows no snow left on the ground there as of May 9 – that’s more than three weeks earlier than normal.
One of the areas hardest hit by the lack of snow in southwest Colorado is McPhee Reservoir, the fifth largest in the state.
“This is likely to be our fourth worst year in runoff,” said Ken Curtis, the general manager of Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages McPhee Reservoir. “We have had other bad years like 2002 and 2018, but in both cases, we did have more carryover.”
He said in previous bad snow years, there had been enough water left over from the previous year to carry over into the low year.
This year is unfortunately following another poor runoff season in 2020. Curtis said there was average snowpack above the reservoir last year, but only about 34% of the expected snowmelt actually made it into the reservoir.
He said McPhee is currently 50 feet below average and not expected to fill any higher. That will put a lot of hardship on primarily famers.
Curtis said there’s about 30,000 acres of farming between Cortez and Dove Creek, along with all the farms on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation that depend on water from McPhee.
He said those areas do not have senior water rights.
In response to a forecast for increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Wednesday, May 12th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.
Join the Colorado River District and the Community Agriculture Alliance for the Yampa Valley State of the River to learn more about current issues in the Yampa River Basin, from the Flattops to Dinosaur.
Understand more about your river, your water, the potential for a call on the river this summer and what the proposed over appropriation designation on the Yampa means for your water use. In presentations and discussions at the meeting, speakers will also give information about funding for Yampa River Basin water projects and updates on our water supply as we enter another summer of drought. Attendees will also hear about plans to manage the watershed and keep water flowing in the Yampa in hot, dry years.
If you cannot attend the webinar live, register to receive a recording of the webinar in your email inbox to watch later.
Welcome – Colorado River District and Community Agriculture Alliance
Colorado River District’s Partnership Project Funding Program – Colorado River District Director of Strategic Partnerships Amy Moyer
Water Supply Updates and Drought in the Yampa River Basin – Colorado Assistant State Climatologist Becky Bolinger
These conservation efforts build on five decades of NOAA’s work connecting people to places by conserving and restoring special marine, coastal and Great Lakes areas for the benefit of all Americans. This important work includes:
NOAA recently tripled the size of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to protect 14 reefs and banks that are habitat for recreationally important fishing.
NOAA will soon publish a final rule regarding a proposal to designate a new sanctuary, the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Michigan. When finalized, the designation will expand public and recreational access to the area’s 36 known shipwreck sites.
NOAA and the State of Connecticut are working together to designate a new National Estuarine Research Reserve, expected in January 2022, which will create a “living classroom” for research and education on Long Island Sound.
Area snowpack improved in April but is back on a melting trend. According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measurement sites, the snowpack level at Copper Mountain peaked at the beginning of April at 12.4 inches of snow-water equivalent — the amount of water held in the snowpack. The snow-water equivalent dropped to 10.6 inches in mid-April and increased to 12 inches by Friday, April 30.
The snowpack has declined in May and is currently sitting at 9.8 inches of snow-water equivalent on Copper Mountain, or 82% of the 30-year median. The upper Colorado River basin, which Summit County falls into, is at 65% of normal snow-water equivalent as of May 10.
“Things aren’t looking so good right now,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bernie Meier said. “We’ve melted out about a third of the snowpack already.”
Meier said cool and snowy days like Monday, May 10, slow down the melting process and add a bit to the snowpack, but overall, he expects the snowpack to remain below normal. He said the snowpack usually melts out between June 10 and 20…
According to the National Weather Service’s almanac, only 9 inches of snow was recorded in April at the Dillon Weather Station — almost half the area’s normal April snowfall of 17.3 inches.
So far, May is closer to average with a total of 3 inches as of Monday morning and more on the way with through the remainder of the storm. Through May 10, normal snowfall for the Dillon station is 3.3 inches.
Though not much snow accumulated, drought conditions have improved in Summit County, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The county is still in a drought, but the severity has lessened to a severe drought in the northern portion of the county and a moderate drought in the southern portion of the county, according to the Drought Monitor’s severity scale. As of April 27, the northern portion of the county was still in an extreme drought.
As the drought outlook for the Western U.S. becomes increasingly bleak, attention is turning once again to groundwater – literally, water stored in the ground. It is Earth’s most widespread and reliable source of fresh water, but it’s not limitless.
Groundwater flows through tiny spaces within sediments and their underlying bedrock. At some points, called discharge areas, groundwater rises to the surface, moving into lakes, rivers and streams. At other points, known as recharge areas, water percolates deep into the ground, either through precipitation or leakage from rivers, lakes and streams.
Groundwater depletion can also cause wells to run dry when the top surface of the groundwater – known as the water table – drops so far that the well isn’t deep enough to reach it, leaving the well literally high and dry. Yet until recently, little was known about how vulnerable global wells are to running dry because of declining groundwater levels.
There is no global database of wells, so over six years we compiled 134 unique well construction databases spanning 40 different countries. In total, we analyzed nearly 39 million well construction records, including each well’s location, the reason it was constructed and its depth.
Our results show that wells are vital to human livelihoods – and recording well depths helped us see how vulnerable wells are to running dry.
Millions of wells at risk
Our analysis led to two main findings. First, up to 20% of wells around the world extend no more than 16 feet (5 meters) below the water table. That means these wells will run dry if groundwater levels decline by just a few feet.
Second, we found that newer wells are not being dug significantly deeper than older wells in some places where groundwater levels are declining. In some areas, such as eastern New Mexico, newer wells are not drilled deeper than older wells because the deeper rock layers are impermeable and contain saline water. New wells are at least as likely to run dry as older wells in these areas.
– Sell the property. This is often considered if constructing a new well is unaffordable. Drilling a new household well in the U.S. Southwest can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But selling a property that lacks access to a reliable and convenient water supply can be challenging.
– Divert or haul water from alternative sources, such as nearby rivers or lakes. This approach is feasible only if surface water resources are not already reserved for other users or too far away. Even if nearby surface waters are available, treating their quality to make them safe to drink can be harder than treating well water.
– Reduce water use to slow or stop groundwater level declines. This could mean switching to crops that are less water-intensive, or adopting irrigation systems that reduce water losses. Such approaches may reduce farmers’ profits or require upfront investments in new technologies.
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– Limit or abandon activities that require lots of water, such as irrigation. This strategy can be challenging if irrigated land provides higher crop yields than unirrigated land. Recent research suggests that some land in the central U.S. is not suitable for unirrigated “dryland” farming.
State and local agencies can distribute groundwater permits in ways that help stabilize falling groundwater levels over the long run, or in ways that prioritize certain water users. Enacting and enforcing policies designed to limit groundwater depletion can help protect wells from running dry. While it can be difficult to limit use of a resource as essential as water, we believe that in most cases, simply drilling deeper is not a sustainable path forward.
FromColorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):
Most ranchers sell their cattle to a meat company for the going price, so there’s often little profit or incentive to invest in significant environmental improvements to their land. Something as simple as planting trees among pastures is expensive, especially across hundreds or thousands of acres.
“These kinds of things are great for biodiversity and take carbon out of the atmosphere and create all this public benefit and conserve water,” said Anthony Myint. “But they can’t sell the beef for an extra dollar.”
Restore Colorado is a simple idea, but Myint hopes it will have a big impact. Restaurants and other food businesses donate 1 percent of their profits to fund farming and ranching projects that suck carbon from the atmosphere through plants that take in the greenhouse gas and store it in healthy soil. Some see regenerative agriculture as a key way to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air worsening climate change…
Boulder started Restore Colorado through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and teamed up with Myint, who founded well-known Mission Chinese Food in New York and San Francisco and first started crowd-funding carbon-farming grants in California…
To give farmers extra financial support to invest in climate-friendly agriculture, Myint thinks the food industry should take cues from the energy industry. Electricity customers, for example, can pay a little extra on their utility bills to support clean energy or elect to buy power from a solar farm…
McCauley Family Farm in Longmont is one of the first in Colorado to get a grant from this program. Farm manager Marcus McCauley said one way he will use the money is to create more silvopasture, where trees are grown on grazing land. Those trees can provide a windbreak for the grass, and the protection and shade can help keep moisture in the ground during a drought…
All of these things mean healthier soil on McCauley’s farm. That healthier soil means the trees and grass suck even carbon out of the air. And healthier plants mean McCauley’s pasture-raised chicken and sheep are more nutritious — and they do less damage to the land…
The Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Soil Health Initiative supports regenerative agriculture projects with a five-year, $5 million agreement with the USDA. Cindy Lair, who manages the Colorado State Conservation Board program, said she thinks the Restore Colorado concept would be “cool to take statewide and find more ways to link food consumers to their food.”
“We have such a tendency to be so disconnected from where our food is produced,” Lair said. She sees Restore Colorado as a way to help people make that connection. Lair said the state is paying close attention to the Boulder program and wants to “see if we can help build on it.”
Here’s the release from the NRCS (Brian Domonkos):
An exceptionally dry April, along with warmer mountain temperature exacerbated already dry conditions in much of Colorado. Precipitation in April ranged from a high of 83 percent of average in the South Platte River Basin to as low as 29 percent of average in the combined San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan river basin. NRCS Hydrologist Joel Atwood notes, “Many SNOTEL sites reported record low precipitation for April west of the Continental Divide. Snowpack has also declined in all basins except the South Platte, due to higher temperature and below-average precipitation.” As of May 9th, all basins in the state have snowpack below 80 percent of median except the South Platte river basin, which has 102 percent of median snowpack.
Statewide reservoir storage declined by a percentage point over last month, where all basins except the South Platte river basin saw a decline in relative storage. The combined Yampa-White-North Platte and the South Platte river basins ended April with above-average storage at 106 and 101 percent of average, respectively. On the low end, the combined San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan and the Arkansas river basins ended April with 57 and 69 percent of average reservoir storage, respectively.
Recent precipitation that has helped improve water supply in the South Platte river basin has had little impact on the rest of the state. Dry conditions have persisted in much of the state since last summer, and a dry April only compounded current drought conditions. NRCS Hydrologist Atwood continued to comment that “With much of the snowpack in many basins already melted out, persistent dry soil conditions, and little hope for substantial precipitation moving into summer, runoff volumes will continue to be meager.” All basins west of the continental divide are forecasted to have streamflow volumes between 34 and 73 percent of average. The South Platte river basin, which has the best water supply outlook in the state, has streamflow volume forecasts range from 90 to 104 percent of average.
In response to a forecast lull in flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a temporary increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, May 11th, starting at 0400 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.
While peak flows can vary, the Yampa River generally peaks in late May to early June, while Butcherknife Creek, Burgess Creek, Spring Creek, Soda Creek and Walton Creek can peak significantly earlier in the year. This past week, the Yampa River increased to nearly 700 cfs.
The Streets Division will supply sand and sandbags for residential properties that need them on a case-by-case basis. Sandbags will need to be filled and placed by the homeowner. Contact the Streets Division at 970-879-1807 during normal office hours or dispatch at 970-879-1144 after hours to request this service. Commercial properties and residential neighborhoods with frequent needs must acquire their own sandbags. Those experiencing a flooding emergency should call 911.
NOAA released new climate normals for the United States this week. This is something that takes place every 10 years. The new normals use weather data from 1991 through 2020. The previous 30-year normals used weather records from 1981 through 2010.
The new normals show that over the past 10 years average temperatures have warmed for most of the lower 48 states when looking at the data from an annual perspective. There is an area with cooler temperatures stretching from Montana to the Dakotas. All of Colorado has warmed over the last decade with the biggest changes found in the southern part of the state.
As far as precipitation goes, a large part of the United States has become wetter over the last decade, which is something one would expect in a warmer world if there is a source to provide moisture. That’s because warmer air can hold more water vapor and water vapor contains energy that fuels storms.
You may notice that a lot of the wetter locations are east of the Rocky Mountains. Summertime wind patterns and the Gulf of Mexico play a big role in this. A predominant flow of wind from the south transports warm, humid air to that part of the country, setting the stage for afternoon showers and thunderstorms.
But the southwest United States, including Colorado, is trending drier when looking at the new climate normals. A warmer, drier climate can spawn severe long-term droughts and other hazards such as wildfires and water shortages. Unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of this in the past several years.
Fort Collins City Manager Darin Atteberry signed a Declaration and Order for a voluntary Water Shortage Watch pursuant to Fort Collins City Code Section 26-167(a) and the Water Shortage Action Plan (WSAP). The Water Shortage Watch and corresponding voluntary water restrictions (water-saving actions) went into effect Thursday, April 29 for Fort Collins Utilities water customers.
The Water Shortage Watch has been enacted due to possible limitations on Utilities’ ability to treat Cache la Poudre River supplies following the Cameron Peak Fire. Runoff and thunderstorms may cause sediment and ash from the burn area to flow into the river. This erosion, in addition to irrigation demands during what is projected to be a hot and dry summer, has the potential to create a water shortage.
Upon determination that a watch is no longer needed or that conditions have worsened, the city manager will publish another Declaration and Order, either declaring the end of the watch or indicating the need for mandatory water restrictions following guidelines identified in the WSAP. For more information on the WSAP, visit fcgov.com/WSAP.
A Water Shortage Watch is a voluntary action level in the WSAP, used when our community is experiencing conditions that may lead to a water shortage. During a watch, all Fort Collins Utilities residential and business customers are encouraged to voluntarily reduce water use based on best practices for efficient outdoor and indoor water use. There are no water rate increases or citations associated with a watch.
The voluntary water-saving actions implemented during a Water Shortage Watch follow measures under WSAP Action Level I, including limiting lawn watering to two days a week, no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 ppm, and using a shutoff nozzle on hoses, including while hand watering and washing vehicles at home.
Water pollution concerns have prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue separate notices to two developers in Grand County.
In Kremmling, Blue Valley Ranch received notice dated April 13 for allegedly failing to submit monitor data for its wastewater treatment plant since December 2019. For that violation, Blue Valley Ranch faces a $3,000 fine.
At the Grand Park development in Fraser, a state representative inspected the Elk Creek Condos, the Meadows and a storage facility in early April and found the facilities were discharging “sediment-laden stormwater” into Elk Creek and the Fraser River.
In the report, the inspector noted there were no control measures around multiple locations at the Elk Creek Condos and the Meadows that allowed stormwater discharges or increased the potential for them…
Altogether, regulators found three sites they believed were operating in violation of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, its regulations or a discharge permit.
In addition, based on inspections in September 2019 and August 2020, Elk Creek Condos and the Meadows were found to have incomplete stormwater management plans, multiple stormwater control measure concerns and incomplete inspection records. The storage facility on Old Victory Road is alleged to not have a discharge permit.
The notices alleged that “Grand Park Development failed to implement, select, design, install, and maintain control measures in accordance with good engineering, hydrologic, and pollution control practices to minimize the discharge of pollutants from all potential pollutant sources.”
The state also issued a notice of violation for the Mill Avenue apartments for starting construction without a discharge permit, but Lipscomb said state officials did so by mistake. The project had a permit under the Grand Park name before it was updated later with the Byers Peak Properties, according to permit documents provided by Grand Park.
Lipscomb said he expects that all of the notices will be addressed without consequence. Grand Park has 30 days from April 20, when the notices were issued, to respond to each alleged violation. A response has already been sent regarding the Mill Apartments.
If the state rejects the developer’s responses, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could impose up to $10,000 per day in penalties. The state could also require Grand Park to hire a consultant to ensure compliance.
The notices state that the CDPHE investigation is ongoing and may supplement the notice with additional violations and required further actions.
CDPHE also issued a notice of violation to Blue Valley Ranch for failing to submit monitoring data for its wastewater treatment plant since December 2019, and the ranch is required to begin submitting the monitoring data for the treatment plant.
The notice received by Blue Valley Ranch adds that the CDPHE investigation is ongoing and may supplement the notice with further violations and required actions.
Like Grand Park, Blue Valley Ranch has 30 days to respond. Blue Valley Ranch representatives did not return the newspapers’ requests for comment.
Anyone who listens to weather reports has heard meteorologists comment that yesterday’s temperature was 3 degrees above normal, or last month was much drier than normal. But what does “normal” mean in this context – and in a world in which the climate is changing?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released updated “climate normals” – datasets that the agency produces every 10 years to give forecasters and the public baseline measurements of average temperature, rainfall and other conditions across the U.S. As the state climatologist and assistant state climatologist for Colorado, we work with this information all the time. Here’s what climate normals are, how they’ve changed, and how you can best make sense of them.
What are the new normals?
NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information released the new set of normals, covering 1991-2020, on May 4, 2021. Climatologists have been performing calculations on data from long-term observing stations around the country for a wide range of parameters, including high and low temperature, precipitation and snowfall.
The data also includes more detailed statistics, like the normal number of days below freezing or those with more than an inch of snowfall. NOAA puts data from individual stations onto a grid to enable the creation of useful maps for the entire country, even in places with relatively few observing stations. This provides a wealth of information for anyone interested in the climate of a specific area.
Why are normals updated?
The World Meteorological Organization sets international standards for climatological normals, defined as a 30-year periods that are regularly updated. The idea is to have global consistency for analysis. The 30-year normals also create a benchmark that represents recent climate conditions and serves as a reference for assessing current conditions.
Climate change highlights the need for regularly updating these normals. For the past 10 years, weather professionals have used the 1981-2010 climate normals as our reference. But we’ve observed above-average temperatures much more frequently than below-average temperatures from 1991-2020 for much of the U.S. Updating the normals is a way to calibrate to our most recently observed climate.
And as the climate continues to change, the further away in time we get from the “normal” period, the less representative that period will become. Using a very long period of time, or not regularly updating the period, could lead to including observations that would be extremely unlikely in our climate today.
On the other hand, there are situations in which it makes sense to consider periods longer than 30 years – for example, to understand long-term changes to the climate or to monitor extremes.
The concept of ‘normal’ in weather and climate
An old saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, asserts that “climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get.” Calculations of normal climate conditions for particular locations show how this works.
For example, data from the long-term weather and climate observing station in Fort Collins, Colorado, where we work, shows that precipitation in summer (June, July and August) over the 30 years from 1991 to 2020 varied significantly from year to year. The lowest summer rainfall was 1.48 inches in 2002 and the highest was 14.79 inches in 1997. Most years, it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 inches.
But few years match the average value, just shy of 5 inches. So even though we call this the “normal” amount of rainfall, in most years the total is higher or lower – sometimes by quite a bit.
Looking at summer temperatures from the same station, let’s compare the previous 30-year period, 1981-2010, with the most recent 30-year period, 1991-2020. The data shows a shift toward higher temperatures between the two time periods. The normal summer temperature increased by nearly 1 degree, from 69.6 to 70.4 F. This “new normal” for the past 30 years reflects climate warming that has occurred both locally and globally.
Across the continental U.S., the temperature rose by about 0.5 F on average from the 1981-2010 to 1991-2020 period. The new average is 1.2 F warmer than that of the 20th century. A couple of exceptions are cooling observed in the spring over the Northern Great Plains and cooling over the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic in November. December shows the greatest amount of warming.
Precipitation is more variable than temperature from year to year and decade to decade. As a result, the changes in normal precipitation represent a mix of effects from long-term climate change and natural variations.
Overall, the 2010s were very wet in much of the central and eastern U.S. and dry in the west, and the normals reflect that. Average annual rainfall in Houston increased by over an inch, to 55.6 inches per year, while at Phoenix, Arizona, it dropped from an already dry 8.02 inches to a parched 7.22 inches per year.
On a monthly basis, some of the most notable patterns to emerge are widespread drying in November, particularly over the Gulf states and along the Pacific Coast, and a wetter pattern over the eastern half of the country in April.
Shifting to new climate normals can have counterintuitive effects. For example, in the next few years there may be a better chance that you’ll see what are now described as cooler-than-normal temperatures in a given day or month. Using Fort Collins again as an example, before the update, a summer average temperature of 70 F would have been slightly warmer than normal. Now that same summer would go down as being slightly cooler than normal, even though it would still be warmer than around 100 of the 127 years in the history of that location.
Meteorologists and climatologists are already starting to incorporate these new normals into our work. But when you hear the term “normal,” keep in mind that it reflects a 30-year snapshot and represents a different reality today than it did 30, 60 or 100 years ago.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Two local irrigation districts are looking to replace the aging Grand Valley Power hydroelectric plant by the Colorado River near Palisade with a new, adjacent plant after deciding against trying to keep the old plant running.
The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Water Users Association expect to spend some $10 million, not counting cash spending and in-kind contributions to date, on what is to be called the Vinelands Power Plant. It will replace a plant that dates to the early 1930s.
The existing plant is owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation but administered by the two local irrigation entities, with Orchard Mesa Irrigation overseeing day-to-day operations and Grand Valley Water Users diverting water for it. The local entities hold a lease of power privilege contract granted by Bureau of Reclamation to operate and maintain the existing plant, and will be negotiating a new lease with the agency for the new plant.
Those negotiations take place in public, and are scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on Monday in a virtual meeting on a Microsoft Teams platform. Information on joining the meeting may be obtained by contacting Justyn Liff at email@example.com or 970-248-0625.
A 30-minute public comment session will follow a scheduled two hours of negotiations, and negotiations will continue on another day if needed, said Ryan Christianson, water management chief for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office.
Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, said the hope is to begin construction on the new plant this fall and to have it operating within a year or so afterward.
The irrigation entities had been proceeding on parallel tracks, both pursuing continued operation of the existing plant and considering the possibility of replacing it…
Only one of the current plant’s two turbines is being used now. Harris said if the plant were rehabilitated, it could produce up to about 3.5 megawatts of power, compared to close to 5 megawatts for the new one.
Power from the plant had been sold to Xcel Energy, but starting this year, it is being sold to Holy Cross Energy, based in Glenwood Springs.
Harris said the new plant will be owned 51% by irrigators and 49% by Idaho-based Sorenson Engineering, which will build it. Harris said the company has built several power plants for the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.
The Palisade plant will be built on land owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and by Orchard Mesa Irrigation. The project also makes use of fairly senior federal water rights and a federal canal to supply the plant, which are also reasons why the lease with the Bureau of Reclamation is required.
For the plant’s owners, the project will produce revenues from selling power to Holy Cross. Harris said irrigators also benefit because water that supplies the plant also improves the ability to get irrigation water into a canal at the upstream “roller dam” diversion point at times when the Colorado River is running low.
However, the dam has broader benefits as well. Harris said the Bureau of Reclamation holds a water right for the plant of 400 cubic feet per second in the summer and 800 cfs in the winter. That water helps bolster flows immediately downstream in what’s known as the 15-mile reach, an area of critical importance for four endangered fish because water levels can fall so low between where irrigation diversions occur for Grand Valley uses and the Gunnison River meets the Colorado River downstream.
Keeping a power plant operating protects the federal water rights and helps in ensuring compliance with Endangered Species Act requirements to protect the fish, which Harris said benefits not just local irrigators but numerous other water diverters on the Colorado River in the state, including diverters of water to the Eastern Slope.
The plant’s benefit to the fish has helped in securing a lot of partner funding for the new plant, from sources such as the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Water Trust.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a clear connection between access to clean water and public health, according to Navajo tribal member Bidtah Becker.
Becker is part of a group called the Water & Tribes Initiative that advocates for water access in Indian Country. She said the pandemic has made it easier to ask Congress for money to solve the problem.
“The conversation has shifted from, ‘Oh no, you could never get that amount of money.’ And there’s always a little subtext of, ‘Are you really deserving of that money?’” she said. “Now it’s like, ‘Yes. Everybody needs clean drinking water. No questions asked.”
Becker said a significant amount of funding is needed to bring clean, running water to every Native American household in the U.S.
Her group hired University of Utah law professor Heather Tanana to compile a report on the issues tribes in the Colorado River Basin face when it comes to clean water delivery. Tanana, who is Navajo, looked at four components: lack of infrastructure, contamination, increasing demand and insufficient maintenance funding.
“Even though we only looked at the Colorado River Basin tribes, we can confidently say every tribe in the U.S. is dealing with one of these issues,” she said.
Here’s Joe Lewandowski’s guest column about his retirement from Colorado Parks & Wildlife that’s running in The Pagosa Springs Sun:
Storytellers, often, are relegated to the outside but always trying to look in, constantly hoping for entry into some unique situation or adventure or thought process that functions to make a story compelling, heart-wrenching or, simply, interesting.
I started my formal storytelling career in Colorado as a reporter at a weekly newspaper in Vail in the late 1970s. After more than 20 years writing for four newspapers and a dozen other publications and websites, I tired of the daily deadline grind. That’s when I saw an advertisement for a “Public Information Officer” (PIO) for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
While the job would be a step away from objective journalism, I knew it would offer a unique vantage point for storytelling. Fortunately, my experience proved worthy and in 2005, I landed the position as the PIO for what was then DOW’s Southwest Region, a location of big mountain ranges, vast expanses of public lands, canyons, rivers and, of course, abundant wildlife. I saw this as a story-rich environment.
The job provided the unique position I’d often thought about — being on the inside. I worked alongside biologists, district wildlife managers (DWMs, once called game wardens), wildlife researchers, hatchery man- agers and later, park rangers and managers. My job entailed asking them questions, explaining their good work to the public and conveying the importance of wildlife and outdoor spaces and recreation to the people of Colorado. For the first time in my writing career, I was working on the same team as my sources. I was focused on positive, one-sided stories — something my journalistic colleagues would likely frown upon.
As I got to know my colleagues, I started hearing about things I’d never known. Sure, I’d always considered myself an environmentalist, but I didn’t know about the importance of the nitty-gritty on-the-ground work being done by dedicated, smart, professional biologists and scientists who care deeply about wildlife. And an extra bonus for me — most of them loved to talk about their work.
In no time, I was going out on the types of adventures I’d dreamed about as a kid. Walking into wild, untrammeled and mysterious locations on the lookout for wildlife.
Consider the subject matter I was given to work with:
Along with three others tracking newborn lynx, I stood on a ridge and looked down onto a hillside thick with trees, fallen logs, boulders and brush. The crew had found the gen- eral location of a female lynx thanks to its telemetry collar. The cat’s move- ments had stopped, indicating that it had made a den and given birth. Our job that day was to find the kit- tens, assess the litter and record the findings.
The lead researcher, Tanya, said, “OK, let’s find the kittens.”
Looking at the forest tangle, I was incredulous. “Where do we look?” I asked.
Tanya laughed and said, “Under every log and bush and outcrop.”
An hour later, she yelled out that she’d found the kittens. Three, each a little fur-ball, not much bigger than a coffee cup. The kittens cried and squirmed; and circling us warily but helplessly prowled the mother, issuing low, mournful growls.
And then I got to write a story about that little adventure.
On other occasions, I rode along with DWMs making the rounds along remote roads during hunting season. When we’d pull up to a camp, hunters would happily walk out to greet us and pepper the wildlife officer with questions about where to find the elk. On another ride-along, I observed as a DWM explained to an Oklahoma couple that the location of the two cow elk they’d killed was far from the area described on their licenses. They each had to pay a $1,500 fine, didn’t get to take the meat home and had to admit their guilt.
In early summer one year, I accompanied a crew of about 10 into the Weminuche Wilderness to find native cutthroat trout in a tumbling, 15-foot wide stream. The crew carried “electrofishing” gear, shocked the water and stunned the fish temporarily. Then the aquatic biologists spawned the fish right on the stream bank, placed the fertilized eggs in a container and took them back to the Durango hatchery. The eggs hatched and from a few dozen fish, thousands of progeny eventually emerged and eventually restocked. I learned that the success of natural reproduction by fish is about 1 percent, but nearly 100 percent at a hatchery. Some purists criticize the human meddling, but without our help, there would be very few, if any, native cutthroat trout. Of course, it was humans who screwed up the trout’s habitat in the first place. So, this work on a backcountry stream showed that humans can also right some wrongs.
While I never doubted that most people value wildlife, I learned through this job that deliberate effort is needed to maintain this resource. Thanks to far-sighted conservationists who stepped up in previous cen- turies to maintain natural systems, latter-day conservationists working for wildlife agencies can dedicate their life’s work to the conservation of wildlife.
One early spring day, I stood on the banks of a small stream that courses from the flanks of the Uncompahgre Plateau toward the Gunnison River. Kevin, an aquatics researcher, explained that this stream often goes dry by mid-summer. Yet three species of native fish — the flannel mouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub — make a run up this stream every year to spawn. Sometimes called “trash fish” because they usually don’t rise to an angler’s lure, Kevin showed me the beauty and uniqueness of these species. These fish have survived for tens of thousands of years and are only found in the greater Colorado River Basin. They battle torrents of icy run-off, survive in silt-filled water and often spend months in muddy pools. The suckers are built like 2-foot long torpedoes, sturdy and streamlined. And Colorado Parks and Wildlife employs aquatic biologists to make sure these fish survive the continuing onslaught of physical insults humans throw at them.
I wrote about that, too, hoping that readers would gain an under- standing of why we can’t lose these unique creatures. Because if we do, something of ourselves will die along with them.
I’ve crawled into dens with bears — they, fully sedated — while researchers examined cubs and changed GPS collars on the sows. A couple of times, I was enlisted to hold 3-pound cubs underneath my jacket to keep them warm while the researchers finished their work. They whined and growled and squirmed and clawed and I fell in love with them immediately.
Another day, I squeezed into a tight opening of a cave located in a small canyon in western Colorado. Hidden in the back were lion cubs. As I crawled, I listened to Ken, a mountain lion researcher “We have a collar on the mother and we know from the GPS signal that she’s far away hunting and eating. That’s a good thing, because if she showed up while we were taking her cubs she’d turn us into confetti.”
I paused as I considered our vulnerability. But I had every reason to trust Ken, who had worked for three decades studying mountain lions. We pulled three cubs from the cave, placed small radio collars on them (they’d rot and fall off in a couple of months), collected blood for the genetic information it would provide and returned the cubs safely to the cave.
I’ve been along for the capture of pronghorn, turkeys, deer, elk and bighorn sheep. I’ve placed my hands on them and felt the magnificent fur, muscles and bones of these animals that spend all of their living minutes in the wild lands of Colorado.
All my stories, of course, weren’t about adventures. I also wrote about meetings and proposals and other mundane and necessary business to which a public agency must attend.
The great stories, the interesting stories, however, I was always ready and willing to tell. At parties and in grocery stores, people would ask me about some critter they saw or about something I had written. On chairlifts or in random meetings in bars or along trails with strangers, I was often asked what I did for a living in Durango. As soon as I started explaining my job, it was always apparent that people wanted to know more. I was happy to tell them a quick story and proud to say that I worked for an agency that was dedicated to taking care of wildlife and land and water.
Now, however, after 16 years with the agency, 45 years in Colorado and 67 years as a resident of this planet, I am taking my leave from this job. I feel honored and privileged to have been hired to tell my fellow Colora- dans all these stories.
I owe a great debt to all the people in this agency who took the time to explain the intricacies of how a ptarmigan molts, how a bear knows when to go into hibernation, the value of wetlands, how to reestablish native trout and more and more. To those who have read my stuff, I thank you. And rest assured that there are many more stories to come from the next lucky writer who gets this job.
Joe Lewandowski retired as o the PIO for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southwest Region on April 30.
During the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District board meeting on Tuesday, May 4, Town Public Works Director Martin Schmidt shared increasing concerns with the town’s wastewater pumping.
“About a year ago, I came to the board with a report from an engineer from the company that sold us the pumps, Sulzer, and they were very confident in a replacement pump to be put into the lift stations because it would solve our net-pressure suction head issue,” Schmidt said. “It exacerbated issues down the line and acceler- ated some pump failures. That’s a big issue.”
In his agenda brief, Schmidt states that after the board approved pur- chasing a different pump that was recommended by the supplier, the newer pump exacerbated issues with other parts of the pumping train and inadvertently increased the speed of the pump failures at the lift stations.
“What we need is a system that will pump sewage and not destroy pumps at the rate they’re destroying them,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt explained that pumps should be lasting between 15 and 20 years with minor maintenance. Currently, some of them are lasting not even six months.
“Staff has been working on a solution for this from the very moment we realized the problem has been occurring,” he said. “We worked with them throughout the fall and into the winter and around Christmastime, we realized Sulzer wasn’t coming forward with any reasonable solutions.”
During a phone call the follow- ing day, Phillips explained several options for the emergency backups she referred to during the meeting.
“We do have an overflow vault that is located under the ground next to Pump Station 1, and that is for taking any kind of overflow that the pumps would not be able to handle,” she said. “That would get us maybe about 12 hours of time and if we needed to do more than that, we’ve identified a supplier of a bypass pump that we would utilize.”
Phillips explained that there are two pump stations with four pumps each in service at any given time. Typically 150,000 to 250,000 gallons per day of wastewater are being pumped. Both pump stations are suffering from issues.
“We also could utilize the existing old sewer lagoons that are down there, one of which is par- tially lined,” she said. “We could get several days of overflow by utilizing those old lagoons, and in the meantime would be requesting emergency assistance from Sulzer and other suppliers to ship us on an emergency basis additional pumps.”
“We are waiting on [the engineer’s] report. I anticipated it this afternoon; it will probably be here tomorrow,” said Schmidt during the meeting.
Wind blowing down from burned forests caressed a knoll where leaders from the Biden administration and Congress sat in camp chairs Friday, looking over charts showing massive new fire breaks along Colorado’s Front Range, mobilizing to combat cascading climate warming impacts…
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a key player in carrying out President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, anchored this summit, calling the intensification of wildfires in the West a crisis and declaring “now is the time to dramatically infuse resources into forests.”
Americans “are becoming more sensitive to climate change, and forests play an incredibly important role. We’re committed to a net-zero U.S. agriculture industry by 2050, but that won’t make any difference if our forests continue to burn up… Hopefully people will see the necessity of investing,” Vilsack said in an interview.
The Minnesota-based company recently filed suit in Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and its drinking water standards adopted last year. 3M called them “the result of a rushed and invalid regulatory process, scientifically flawed, and reliant on speculative and unquantified purported benefits to justify the costly” rules.
Nessel said the suit is a way for 3M officials to go after the limits for PFAS compounds in drinking water. 3M officials in their suit contend the cleanup efforts will cost millions of dollars in the first year and would continue to climb.
Michigan’s attorney general has sued 3M, along with other PFAS manufacturers, to recover clean up costs, damages to the environment and natural resource damages caused by PFAS contamination. State officials have contended that many of 3M’s products with PFAS ended up contaminating the environment that include land, drinking water and other natural resources.
“3M profited for years from its sale of PFAS products and concealed its evidence of adverse health impacts from state and federal regulators,” Nessel said in a statement. “It is no coincidence that this out-of-state company is resorting to attempts to rewrite our state’s standards put in place to protect Michiganders from PFAS in their drinking water.
Details of a proposed solar farm in western Pueblo County were discussed during a virtual public meeting Thursday. The Turkey Creek Solar Farm, if approved by Pueblo County Commissioners during the permitting process, will be built by 174 Power Global of Irvine, California, to supply solar power for Black Hills Energy. It will be located just north of U.S. Highway 50 one mile east of the Fremont/Pueblo County line. Approximately 1,200 to 1,400 acres will be used for the project, according to Ed Maddox, project development lead for 174 Power Global. The land will be leased from Gary Walker of Walker Ranches.
“We do consider both lease agreements and purchase options with land owners,” on projects like Turkey Creek, Maddox said. “In this particular case the land owner is a large local land owner who wants to continue to own and operate the ranch as it is, and leasing provides the best solution.” The permitting process is expected to take the remainder of the year with construction starting in 2022. “Over the 12- to 14-month construction period for Turkey Creek, we will have an average of about 300 workers during construction and that will vary from a minimum of about 150 to 450 or more workers during peak construction,” said Stephanie Lauer, environmental permitting manager for 174 Power Global. Once the solar farm begins operations in 2023, “We will have about three to five full-time workers who are responsible for daily maintenance of the facility and monitoring of all the systems,” Lauer said.
Additional local labor will be needed several times a year for vegetation mowing and washing of the panels. The solar panels will be aligned in rows running north to south and will be attached to a tracking system which allows the panels to track the sun from east to west as it moves. “They will be 10- to 14-feet high when they are tilted to their highest position,” Maddox said. When motorists are driving on U.S. 50 they will see portions of the solar farm, but the panels will not obstruct the view of the mountains, Maddox said.
Travelers will not be affected by glint or glare from the panels because of their dark grey color which will absorb light, not reflect it. Wildlife fencing will ensure pronghorn, elk and cattle will be able to access the underpass that allows animals to move under the highway.
The solar farm will generate enough electricity to power 46,000 homes each year, said Taylor Henderson, project developer for Out- shine Energy. Only a handful of questions came from the audience. One local landowner asked how the construction will impact traffic on Stone City Road. Lauer said she did not think the road will be used as workers will get to the site at two access points along U.S. 50.
Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use…
The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024. The project is also connecting nearby Navajo communities, where many residents lack running water, an issue the Navajo Nation says is long past due and in need of a fix. But now a potential four-year delay could force a growing number of people to rely on these strained groundwater sources. A plan to keep taps from running dry will come with a price tag.
The situation highlights how precarious water has become for this city of almost 22,000 in western New Mexico and offers a peek inside the complicated mix of relationships, creativity and familiarity with multiple government agencies that’s required to manage water in the 21st century.
Gallup sits in the high desert along the red sandstone mesas of the Colorado Plateau. For much of its history, it has functioned as an industrial town and a bustling commercial center. Named in 1881 after railroad paymaster David L. Gallup, freight trains and Amtrak still rumble through, in addition to a steady flow of semi-truck traffic around the exits for Interstate-40. Surrounded by the Navajo Nation, on the first weekend of the month the town swells by 100,000 as people stream in for supplies. Those with no running water at home fill water containers. People do laundry, wash cars, go out to eat.
For decades, the Navajo Nation bordertown has relied on groundwater stored in sandstone layers deep underground. With no nearby rivers, wells tapping that water have been the city’s only option. But because annual rain and snowfall don’t replenish the water, levels have dropped over recent decades. In the 1990s, the city projected shortages by as early as 2010.
“Not only was Gallup running out of water, everybody was running out,” said Marc DePauli, owner of DePauli Engineering and Surveying, which the city has hired to work on the water systems. About 20 smaller surrounding water systems had “straws in the same bucket,” all leaning on dwindling reserves.
Help is coming in the form of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the result of a historic agreement that settled Navajo Nation claims to water in this arid region of the Southwest after decades of discussions.
Consisting of two major pipelines that run through Navajo communities in western New Mexico, the project will bring water from the San Juan River to within reach of some of the one in three homes without it on the Navajo Nation. One of the pipelines, the Cutter Lateral that branches to northwest New Mexico, is complete. The other, the San Juan Lateral, will move 37,700 acre feet of water each year for 200 miles along the western edge of the state, up to 7,500 acre-feet of which will come as far south as Gallup. In the future, the city will rely largely on water from the San Juan…
The water was supposed to flow by 2024, but a new design proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation will now likely push that date back by three to four years, putting Gallup in a tight spot, monetarily and water-wise. The construction delay coupled with the city shouldering more demand will require new wells to supply everyone until water from the San Juan arrives.
Thursday morning, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet released a statement welcoming a new federal initiative that supports a Senate effort he began in 2019. The Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful” initiative is focused on achieving the conservation goal of conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 through locally-led and voluntary efforts.
“Land and water conservation is a critical part of our effort to tackle the climate crisis. This report is a strong start and lays out a vision that aligns with the kind of conservation efforts we know to be successful in Colorado — efforts that take a locally led, collaborative, and inclusive approach and bring into the fold the private landowners, farmers, and ranchers who are already stewards of our natural resources. It’s the same approach that brought together the ranchers, hunters, anglers, and local elected leaders who worked for over a decade to draft the CORE Act.”
Bennet went on to say he was glad to see the administration’s commitment to empowering local communities to drive the process.
Here in Chaffee County, as in many other western counties and states, local conservation efforts have often been the driving force behind conservation efforts. In the past four years, they have also been the voice of local opposition to the opening of public lands to commercial development, and the marring of pristine public land and natural resources.
Last week, Utah State University hosted a webinar for natural resource professionals to discuss a drought reporting network called “Condition Monitoring Observer Reports.” Through a mobile app, Utah citizens can document drought impacts and submit their observations to a database used by state and university drought researchers and scientists. The data can help give scientists a more qualitative, detailed understanding of on-the-ground conditions and impacts of drought. Are farmers’ crops, or ranchers’ grazing areas, being affected? Are recreation areas changing? Photographs showing a location in a wet year and later in a dry year can give helpful comparative references.
Details like these, giving a fuller picture of what it means to be in a condition of drought, are increasingly important to scientists, policy-makers, and citizens of the Southwest as we grapple with the ongoing dry conditions. On March 17, Utah Governor Spencer Cox declared Utah to be in a state of emergency due to drought; 90% of the state is considered to be in “extreme” drought, and the entire state is in at least “moderate” drought. All of Grand County is in the “extreme” category, and some of the county is in the even more severe “exceptional” drought category.
An extreme demonstration of the drought is the current level of Lake Powell, which is nearing historic lows. At the beginning of the 2021 water year, the lake was at 48% of capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. In an April 15 update, the bureau reported that the lake had dipped even further to just 36% of capacity at the end of March.
The lake’s current shoreline looks very different than in higher water years; one family of visitors even discovered a shipwrecked boat, now completely emerged from the receded water. Receding waters have stranded boat ramps and drained marinas, however, the low lake levels could have much graver consequences than altered recreation experiences.
The lake level at the end of March, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, was about 3,567 above sea level. If the level drops to 3,525 feet above sea level, normal hydropower production and water releases from the lake are at risk.
The 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, agreed upon by the states who rely on the Colorado River for water, dictates that if reservoir levels reach critical lows, Upper Basin states will need to initiate drastic conservation measures to increase those water levels.
Water conservation has been a concern locally, with the Moab City Council holding discussions in recent months about Moab Valley water resources. The Glen Canyon aquifer provides most of Moab’s drinking water, and scientific studies in recent years have raised concerns about “safe yield” levels, or how much water per year it is safe to draw from the aquifer while still allowing it to recharge. Marc Stilson, regional engineer for the Utah Division of Water Rights, gave a presentation at the May 4 Grand County Commission meeting, updating elected officials on the division’s recent work. A six-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey, to which the state Division of Water Rights contributed, attempted to determine how much groundwater is in the valley.
Here’s the release from the Vail Recreation District via The Vail Daily:
The 2021 Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Vail Whitewater Race Series is almost here.
The Vail Recreation District offers five events on Gore Creek on Tuesdays from May 11 to June 8. This is a chance to test your paddling skills and compete against others. Register for individual races or the whole series.
For 2021, the Vail Recreation District is excited to introduce a new title sponsor for the series, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
“The Vail Whitewater Race Series is a great example of how our community thrives on water. Whether it’s snow, our rivers, or the safe water we deliver to homes and businesses every day, clean water is vital to our quality of life,” said Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s Diane Johnson. “As stewards of our rivers, we encourage everyone to reduce their impact on local streams by reducing their outdoor water use.”
The Vail Recreation District also partners with the Town of Vail and Alpine Quest Sports to put on these exciting races, held at the Vail Whitewater Park on Tuesday evenings beginning at 5:30 p.m. The first four races start at the Covered Bridge in Vail Village and end at International Bridge.
The last race on June 8 will start at the Ampitheater Bridge in Ford Park. Overall series prizes will be awarded following the final race.
The races will be divided between three categories including kayak (under 9-feet-6), two-person raft (R2) and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with different course challenges every week. Open to paddlers ages 16 and up with intermediate to expert abilities, the skills to run Class III whitewater in your chosen craft are required. The two-round format will consist of an individual time trial with results determining the seeding for the second round, a head-to-head race.
Please note that for 2021 the Vail Recreation District has limited rafts for use, so the R2 category will be limited to 15 teams. Preregistration is highly encouraged.
An after-party will also be hosted in Vail Village each week with prizes awarded to the winners of all three categories. For the first race on Tuesday, the after-party will take place at the Altitude Bar & Grill. All race participants over 21 will receive free beer courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company!
Registration is available at http://www.vailrec.com/register. Series registration for kayak and SUP participants is $60 and series registration for R2 participants is $80 per team.
Individual race registration for kayak and SUP participants is $15 preregistered or $20 day-of, and $20 preregistered or $30 day-of for R2 teams. Preregistration is highly encouraged and ends at 5 p.m. the day before each race. If space is still available, on-site, day-of registration will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Vail Whitewater Park and all participants should be present at the safety talk at 5:15 p.m.
Every registered participant at each race will be entered to win a $1,000 gift certificate from Hala Gear that can be used towards a board and paddle package of their choice. The winner will be drawn after the final race so make sure you attend that last after-party!
The Vail Recreation District will be following all state and county COVID-19 guidelines for this upcoming race season.
For more information, visit vailrec.com, call the VRD Sports Department at 970-479-2280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.