#Drought news (March 4, 2021): Portions of the High Plains in eastern #Colorado and central #Wyoming recorded above-normal precipitation over the past week

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

The current U.S. Drought Monitor period was highlighted by a large swath of heavy rain that started in northeast Texas and progressed northeast into the Mid-Atlantic. In this area, widespread reports of 200-400% of normal precipitation took place, with some areas of Kentucky having widespread 6-8 inch amounts. Dry conditions dominated much of the West and especially the Southwest and into the Plains. Some active weather in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains brought with it rain and snow, helping to boost seasonal snow totals. Temperatures during the week were cooler than normal over the West with departures of 6-9 degrees below normal widespread, while temperatures were above normal from the Plains eastward with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal over much of Alabama…

High Plains

Dry conditions dominated the region, with only portions of central South Dakota, central and eastern North Dakota, portions of the High Plains in eastern Colorado and central Wyoming recording above-normal precipitation. Temperatures were above normal over most of the area, with below-normal temperatures farther west into Wyoming and Colorado. The greatest departures were in eastern South Dakota where temperatures were 6-9 degrees above normal and northwest Wyoming where temperatures were 12-15 degrees below normal for the week. Improvements were made in north central Wyoming, where areas of extreme and severe drought were showing a good snow season to allow for a reduction in drought intensity. Severe drought was expanded in far northeast North Dakota and into far northwest Minnesota…

West

Dry conditions dominated areas from California to New Mexico with just a few pockets of above-normal precipitation over central Colorado, central Wyoming, the Pacific Northwest, and northern Montana. Temperatures were cooler than normal over much of the region with much of the Great Basin and into Wyoming recording temperatures 9-12 degrees below normal. After a good month of precipitation along with the most recent precipitation in the area, many areas of Oregon saw improvements to the drought status, with long-term issues still being monitored. Much of California is enduring its second consecutive dry winter, with most areas below 75% of normal snowpack for this time of year. Many water agencies were discussing water conservation measures, with the North Marin Water District considering both voluntary and mandatory water conservation orders. Moderate drought was expanded over areas of southern California where drought is beginning to develop again after a fairly dry winter. Improvements to abnormally dry, moderate and severe drought conditions were made in Idaho while abnormally dry conditions were improved over western Montana. Eastern Montana conditions continued to deteriorate with an expansion of moderate and severe drought this week. A recent winter storm in and around the Denver metro area and areas to the west allowed for improvements to the extreme drought conditions there as snow totals for the current water year were up over 100%…

South

There was a contrast in temperatures over the region; west Texas and Oklahoma were below normal while areas of southern Mississippi were greater than 10 degrees above normal for the week. Heavy rains fell from northeast Texas through much of southern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and all of Tennessee this week, with areas from southern Arkansas to western Tennessee recording 400% of normal precipitation. Dry conditions dominate most of Oklahoma and the central, southern, and western portions of Texas. Improvements were made to the moderate drought over northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma this week. A reassessment was done over southwest Oklahoma, removing the lingering extreme drought there. Exceptional drought was removed over far west Texas as the El Paso area had recorded enough precipitation recently to allow for improvement in intensity. Much of Texas saw degradations with dryness, especially over the last 4 months, dominating the indicators. Coupled with the dryness, the recent cold snap also has impacted winter wheat, with the regional agronomist stating that the drought has probably caused more loss to winter wheat across the region than the recent weather events. Early estimated losses from the recent winter storm are at least $600 million, with $230 million in damages to citrus, $228 million to livestock, and $150 million to vegetable crops in Texas. An area of extreme drought was added in the far western panhandle of Oklahoma, bridging a gap where extreme drought was being depicted in both New Mexico and Colorado…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that precipitation totals will be greatest along the West Coast from central California into the Pacific Northwest. The Plains and Midwest as well as the Rocky Mountains may see a more active pattern, with the greatest amounts of precipitation expected over the northern Plains and Upper Midwest and portions of the central Plains. Dry conditions will dominate the Mid-Atlantic and into the Tennessee River Valley while the Florida peninsula may have several opportunities for precipitation.

The 6-10 day outlooks show the greatest chances of above-normal precipitation centered on the Midwest, with much of the country showing above-normal chances of above-normal precipitation. Coastal areas of the Southeast and into the peninsula of Florida are showing the greatest chances of below-normal precipitation. There are above-normal chances of above-normal temperatures for most areas east of the Rocky Mountains, with the greatest chances in the Midwest. Above-normal chances of below-normal temperatures are expected over much of the West, with coastal areas having the greatest chances.

Here’s the one week change map ending March 2, 2021.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending March 2, 2021.

Just for grins here are the US Drought Monitor maps for early March for the last few years.

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#Drought news (March 4, 2021): Historic drought deepens in the West as window for rain, snow closes — The Washington Post #runoff

From The Washington Post (Becky Bollinger and Andrew Freedman):

Water supply and wildfire concerns grow for the dry season

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has published weekly maps since 2000, the 2020 drought is the worst, in terms of its geographical scope, in more than 20 years.

Almost 80 percent of the Western U.S. is in drought, with nearly 42 percent of the region in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

Much of the region experienced developing drought in the summer, following a warm and dry spring. Since then, conditions have deteriorated, and the precipitation deficits continue to build. At its maximum extent in January 2021, 47 percent of the West was in extreme drought or worse. Nearly a quarter of the area was in the worst drought category, an event with a probability frequency of once every 50 to 100 years.

February did bring an active weather pattern with it. The Pacific Northwest received more than 10 inches of precipitation last month. Much of the interior Rockies through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado received between 1 and 5 inches of moisture for the month. The Sierra Nevada in California received between 2 and 6 inches, much of that in the form of snow.

West Drought Monitor March 2, 2021.

However, despite the precipitation, some areas are still struggling. Blue outlines in the map below show where snowpack increased last month. The Southwest was much drier in February.

Where the purple outlines overlap on this map, these areas are above average for snowpack now. Outside of the purple outlines, snowpack is still largely below average. Areas outlined in orange experienced a decline in the percentage of average snowpack since the beginning of February.

February precipitation in the West. (National Weather Service) via The Washington Post

And red outlines show the areas where snowpack is extremely low compared to normal. The evidence is clear — February was beneficial for many, but it was not a drought buster, and drought continues to maintain its stranglehold on the West…

Across the interior Rockies, snowpack usually reaches its peak in late March/early April and begins its slow melt — adding water to the rivers and eventually filling the reservoirs. While 2020 snowpack peaked around the time we’d expect, it melted out too fast, thanks to anomalously warm temperatures and no new snowstorms.

Does how it melts make a difference? You bet! Check out this water supply forecast for Lake Powell from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Water supply forecast for Lake Powell. (Colorado Basin River Forecast Center) via The Washington Post

Forecasts in the blue shading started out a bit below average (the green line is the average supply into Lake Powell). With each passing month, that forecast got a bit lower. And what actually happened was at the very low end of what was forecast (the orange line is the observed supply into Lake Powell for 2020). The actual inflow into Lake Powell was 3.4 million acre feet below average…

Fast forward to a hot and dry summer. With the exception of a couple of isolated locations in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, and Montana, most of the West experienced much above average temperatures and below average to record low precipitation for June-September last year.

In the Southwest, July-September typically ranks as the wettest time of year, which is largely a result of the North American Monsoon. Monsoon moisture in the late summer is key for replenishing soil moisture. Without an active monsoon, soils dry out just before the beginning of snow season. And unfortunately, that happened in the fall of 2020.

Soil moisture as of Sept. 2020. (NASA) via The Washington Post

Modeled soil moisture at the end of September shows the extremely dry soils in the West. As we entered the cold season, this soil moisture was “locked in.”

The high elevation ground freezes, and that is the state the soil moisture will be at when the thaw begins in the spring. Start the season with dry soils, and that is the first “bucket” that needs to be filled when the snow starts melting.

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center estimates that much of the Colorado River Basin needs 10 inches or more of precipitation for soil saturation. Averaged over watershed basins, normal snowpack peaks around at around 20-25 inches.

But to get the snowpack needed and cover the soil moisture deficits, these basins would potentially need 120-150 percent of average snowfall for the season. Can we expect that much snowpack this season? Unfortunately, no.

Climate change is playing a significant role in influencing water supplies in the West, with early spring snowmelt, hotter and drier summers and warming winters all acting to exacerbate drought conditions…

This map shows all the stations in the west that measure snowpack. As of Feb. 28, stations colored orange and red have below average snowpack for this time of year. The Sierra Nevadas in California are well below average for snowpack. With a typical peak date of April 1, there is only one month left to add to that snow cover. And considering they receive almost no moisture during the warm season, this month is extra critical.

Snow water equivalents compared to average. (USDA)

For the mountain ranges throughout Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, snowpack is also below average. For the Colorado Headwaters region, there are roughly 45 days until normal peak snowpack, but the likelihood of a normal snowpack is decreasing by the day…

Becky Bolinger is the assistant state climatologist for Colorado and a research scientist at Colorado State University.

2021 #COleg: On tap at capitol: wildfire restoration, underground water storage, new #water funding authority — @WaterEdCO

Colorado state capitol building. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

Colorado lawmakers are considering three major water bills that would help finance wildfire mitigation and forest health projects, study underground water storage for future beneficial use, and create a state enterprise to fund drinking and wastewater projects through fees paid by water utility customers.

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

Wildfire mitigation and forest health

Last year was Colorado’s worst wildfire season ever. The three largest fires on record burned over 600,000 acres. Water providers fear that spring runoff will clog streams and reservoirs with ash and sediment, damaging clean water supplies.

House Bill 1008 is sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose. (Editor’s note: Rep. Arndt is a board member of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News). HB21-1008 (Forest Health Project Financing) aims to help fund local wildfire mitigation and forest health efforts to protect watersheds. It would allow counties, municipalities and special districts to band together and form special improvement districts empowered to levy property taxes to fund wildfire mitigation and forest health projects. It would also make those improvement districts eligible for $50 million from a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) bond program, and expand the program’s life by 10 years to last through 2033.

Arndt said districts would be formed voluntarily and noted that any property tax assessments would require voter approval. “The Colorado way,” she said, “opt in.” Catlin, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed. “This is an opportunity for communities to take some preemptive steps and, if needed, be able to bond through the state to get help and make the payments to take care of the problem.” Keith McLaughlin, CWRPDA executive director, emphasized that “every $1 in fire mitigation efforts saves between $3 and $6 in fire suppression costs.”

The House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee passed the bill unanimously to the House Finance Committee Feb. 22. It will be heard there on March 4.

Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

Underground water storage

Concern with declining water tables and the volume of water leaving the state in excess of compact requirements led Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, a rancher and dryland farmer, to introduce HB21-1043 Study Underground Water Storage Maximum Beneficial Use. The bill would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to contract with a state university to study ways to maximize beneficial use of water by storing excess surface flows in aquifers for future use. The study would identify aquifers with storage capacity, funds to pay for storage, specific storage projects, and proposed legislation to implement its recommendations. It would be due to the interim Water Resources Review Committee by Aug. 1, 2022.

While acknowledging the value of underground water storage, some House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee members questioned the need for the study since several similar studies had already been done and at least two large water providers—Denver and Greeley—are already storing water underground. There were also concerns about who would have rights to excess surface flows. Rep. Arndt, committee chair, asked, “Who would get those rights…you can’t just capture excess water?” Rep. Holtorf replied that whoever’s next in line when it reenters the river would gain use to the water; nothing changes the prior appropriation doctrine.

Rep. Holtorf concluded, “I’m not going to say it’s not complicated, but at the end of the day we’ve got to do something to get maximum beneficial use of water that we give away and try to keep it in our state for the beneficial use of everyone.” He had the backing of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Water Congress and Colorado Groundwater Association. The committee passed the bill 9-1 to the House Finance Committee.

A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

Financing water projects

The Colorado Water Plan, adopted in 2015, projects a need to spend an additional $100 million a year for 30 years in state money to fully fund water projects and activities to meet its objectives. Funding to date has come nowhere near that figure, but a bill introduced this session will try to put a dent in it.

SB21-034 (Water Resource Financing Enterprise), sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would create the Water Resources Financing Enterprise made up of both the CWRPDA and CWCB board of directors. The new enterprise would provide grants and loans for drinking water, wastewater treatment, and raw water delivery projects. The enterprise could issue revenue bonds to be repaid from fees assessed on drinking water customers of 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water delivered each month in excess of the first 4,000 gallons. SB21-034 would generate roughly $37 million annually. If passed, it would go on the November 2022 ballot as a legislatively referred measure for approval by voters statewide.

The bill is similar to legislation Sen. Coram introduced last year. That bill was defeated in committee with assurances that it would be studied in greater detail by the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The pandemic, however, wiped out all interim studies. SB21-034 has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and is scheduled to be heard on March 4.

Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

In Rapidly #Warming #ColoradoRiver Basin, The Negotiating Table Is Being Set — KUNC #COriver #aridification #DCP

The All American Canal diverts water from the Lower Colorado River to irrigate crops in California’s Imperial Valley and supply 9 cities. Graphic credit: USGS

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The decision of who gets to sit at that table, whose interests are represented, and what’s on the menu is still very much in flux. But the uncertainty isn’t stopping would-be participants from voicing concerns they feel leaders in the southwestern watershed can no longer ignore.

And when it comes to the water supply for 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, the stakes are much higher than a one-night feast.

“Who’s at the existing table?”

Late last year, the seven states that make up the Colorado River basin — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, California, Nevada and Arizona — made clear that after a federal government-induced year-long pause to negotiations, they were ready to start negotiating future policies.

In a letter dated Dec. 17 to then-Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, water officials gave notice they were “initiating preliminary conversations with one another,” to figure out how to operate the river’s biggest reservoirs.

The talks are focused on creating policy past 2026, when a current set of guidelines established in 2007 expires. The 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for the first time addressed the issue of looming water shortages in the basin, and linked the operations of Lakes Powell and Mead. While those who negotiated the agreement slapped each other on the back in Las Vegas, plenty of others in the basin said it failed to truly address the wide range of problems that have plagued the watershed for decades.

When water managers negotiated that major policy overhaul in 2007, the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the watershed were left out.

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

Daryl Vigil of the Jicarilla-Apache Nation says that’s also true for a landmark 2012 study that calculated water supplies and demands in the basin. According to a letter sent by 17 tribal leaders to the federal government about the 2007 guidelines, it’s only been in the last five years that tribes have seen the federal government meaningfully engage with them on Colorado River issues. Even now, as basin leaders commit to more tribal inclusivity this time around, the mechanism to do so doesn’t currently exist.

“There’s no process at all in the current structure to have inclusivity of tribes,” Vigil said.

Vigil is a co-leader of the Water & Tribes Initiative. The initiative receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage. The project’s main goal is to build capacity of tribes to participate in the renegotiation of the 2007 guidelines, Vigil said.

For all the talk of consensus-building in the watershed, up until now it’s only been among a narrow group of players, Vigil said. Many other perspectives, like the river’s cultural and spiritual value or its ecological role in some of the driest reaches of the country, are ignored or rejected.

“Who’s at the existing table? The existing table in terms of policy in the Colorado River truly is controlled by the basin states and the federal government,” Vigil said…

Collectively the tribes hold rights to about 20% of the river’s flow. Combine that with a dwindling supply due to rapidly warming temperatures at the river’s headwaters, and the alarm bells start ringing more loudly…

Tribal leaders aren’t the only people who’ve been summarily excluded in the past. Environmentalists, recreation advocates, scientists and water officials from Mexico have also been left out of various agreements in the past, depending on the issue at hand.

The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Xcel’s plan for $1.7 billion in transmission in eastern #Colorado — The Mountain Town News

Graphic credit: The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Xcel Energy-Colorado and other utilities propose to build 560 miles of additional 345-kilovolt transmission lines across eastern Colorado in the coming decade to get the wind and other resources they need as they close coal plants and meet expanding demand to displace fossil fuels in transportation and buildings.

The $1.7 billion investment would access 5,500 megawatts of new wind and solar power and energy storage for Xcel. Xcel is calling it Colorado’s Power Pathway.

Xcel hopes to get the first segment in service by 2025 and other segments complete in 2026 and 2027—a herculean task, given the slow pace customary to getting approval for transmission before construction actually begins.

Partnering with Xcel are Colorado’s other major electrical utilities: Tri-State Generation & Transmission, Colorado Springs Utilities, Platte River Power Authority, and Black Hills Energy. But Holy Cross Energy, another utility, will also be affected, as it relies upon Xcel’s transmission for delivery to the Aspen-Glenwood Springs-Vail areas.

“Investments in our transmission systems increase grid capacity, strengthen reliability, help us continue our clean energy transition and provide the best possible service for our customers and local communities,” said Alice Jackson, president, Xcel Energy-Colorado. “This new transmission line will support our vision to reduce carbon emissions and deliver 100% carbon-free energy by 2050 and will result in much-needed economic and generation development in the region.”

Tri-State’s participation is contingent on completion of an agreement being worked on. But the agreement in strong enough conceptually that Duane Highley, Tri-State’s chief executive, offered a statement that echoed that of Jackson, but with one small difference. The project would drive investment “in rural communities we serve,” he said. Most of the area of eastern Colorado is served by cooperatives who are members of Tri-State.

Graphic via The Mountain Town News.

In his new book, “How to Avoid Climate Disaster,” Bill Gates likens transmission to freeways and distribution lines to local roads and streets.

The plan envisions five segments that collectively sort of create a box in eastern Colorado. One leg would connect from Fort St. Vain, the gas-powered plant near Greeley, eastward to a new substation near Fort Morgan. This would roughly parallel U.S. Highway 34.

From Fort Morgan and Brush and the Pawnee power plant, which Xcel wants to convert from coal generation to natural gas by 2028, another line would continue eastward to Yuma and then veer south to Burlington and Xcel’s new wind farm at Cheyenne Ridge.

A third segment would continue south along the Kansas border to the vicinity of Lamar. From the Lamar area a fourth leg would then continue north of U.S. Highway 50 and the Arkansas River to the Tundra switching station northeast of Pueblo. The final legal would link Tundra with the Harvest Mile Substation, located southeast of Aurora.

Xcel also identifies a potential transmission line from the Lamar area south to Walsh, which may have Colorado’s very best sustained wind resource. See story, “Windy enough in Dust Bowl land.”

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com

The project would yield three new substations, expansion of four existing substations, including one previously planned but not yet in service.

Xcel has filed an application with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. Local land-use approvals will also be required.

The release from Xcel made no mention of a major transmission bill introduced in the Colorado Legislature Sen. Chris Hansen and Rep. Alex Valdez, both Democrats from Denver.

SB21-72 seeks to enable Colorado to meet its clean energy goals by creating a new agency, the Colorado electric transmission authority, with the authority to issue revenues bonds and responsibility to identify and establish transmission corridors within Colorado and coordinate with other entities to establish transmission corridors that connected to out-of-state transmission. The bill would also allow additional classes of transmission utilities to obtain revenue through the colocation of broadband facilities within their existing rights-of-way.

It’s not clear how this bill, if made into law, will affect Xcel’s plans for transmission.

@USBR awards $3.6 million to improve #desalination technologies

Photo shows the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility – BGNDRF, in Alamogordo, NM via USBR

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

The Bureau of Reclamation is awarding $3.6 million to 10 projects for advanced water treatment research and development. The Desalination and Water Purification Research Program funding seeks to improve technologies for water supply development from nontraditional waters, including seawater, brackish groundwater, and municipal wastewater.

“Interest in desalination as a water source is growing in the United States,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Improving technologies to treat water will make the advanced treatment of water more affordable for communities throughout the country and increase water supplies for the nation.”

The Desalination and Water Purification Research Program supports President Biden’s new Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad as it will help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Reclamation selected six laboratory projects and four pilot-scale research projects. The $3.6 million will be matched by $5.3 million in non-federal funding to support the research projects. The selected projects are:

PILOT-SCALE PROJECTS

Carollo Engineers, Inc. (Arizona) – $403,002
Sephton Water Technology, Inc. (California) – $139,968
Gradiant Osmotics LLC (Massachusetts) – $800,000
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Massachusetts) – $799,989

LABORATORY PROJECTS

Yale University (Connecticut) – $250,000
New Mexico Institute of Technology and Mining (New Mexico) – $249,969
University of Cincinnati (Ohio) – $249,630
SolMem, LLC (Texas) – $241,506
University of Houston (Texas) – $249,466
William Marsh Rice University (Texas) – $250,000

A laboratory-scale study involving small flow rates. They are used to determine the viability of a novel process, new materials, or process modifications. A pilot-scale project tests a novel process to determine the technical, practical, and economic viability of the process and are generally preceded by laboratory studies that demonstrate if that the technology works.

To learn more about Reclamation’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program and see complete descriptions of the research projects, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/research/dwpr.

Desalination plant, Aruba

TomTalks Episode 18:The State of #Drought in #Colorado

In part 1 of this installment of TomTalks, Nona and Hope are joined by Mike Kintgen from the Denver Botanic Gardens who teaches us about the drought in Colorado and the frequency of droughts we have experienced in history.

Stay tuned for the second part of this presentation to learn about the affects of drought and what YOU can do to help!

WEBINAR: Land Conservation and Water, March 9, 2021 — @WaterEdCO

Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

As land trusts conserve private land, they also protect water rights. Some of Colorado’s land trusts are going beyond the parcel-by-parcel approach to conservation and are tackling big water challenges in a regional way.

During this March 9 webinar, we’ll learn how land trusts work with water rights in Colorado. Then we’ll focus on two visionary projects: Colorado Open Lands and partners in the San Luis Valley are reimagining conservation easements and putting them to work to slow groundwater decline and encourage aquifer sustainability. And the Palmer Land Conservancy is protecting irrigated farmland east of Pueblo along the Bessemer Ditch with conservation easements and, thanks to a high-level landscape-scale analysis, Palmer is combatting the effects of buy and dry by keeping water on the area’s most productive ag land.

How are land trusts making these projects work? Why are they well-positioned to play such an important role in water management? Is there an opportunity for more land trusts to tackle water management challenges in these big, innovative ways? Join us to explore these questions and come prepared with your own.

With speakers:
Melissa Daruna, Keep It Colorado
Sarah Parmar, Colorado Open Lands
Ed Roberson, Palmer Land Conservancy

Presented in partnership by Water Education Colorado and Keep It Colorado

When
March 9th, 2021 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM

The Biggest #Coal Power Plant in the American West Closed. What Happens with the #ColoradoRiver Water It Used? — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

> Navajo Generating Station. Photo credit: Wolfgang Moroder.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Navajo Generating Station was the largest coal-fired power plant in the American West, a testament to the political bargaining generations ago that divvied up the region’s land, minerals, and water. But the facility’s time is now up. In November 2019, the power plant stopped producing electricity. In December 2020, the trio of 775-foot smokestacks came tumbling down. Six weeks ago, the precipitators that prevented fine coal particles from being emitted into the air were dynamited, crumbling to the desert floor like felled beasts.

In the end, Navajo Generating Station will be little more than a memory. But it also leaves behind an unsettled legacy. Besides a few scattered buildings, a transmission line, and a rail line, what will remain after the facility is decommissioned is a water rights dispute.

The coal-fired power plant that sat on Navajo Nation land in the northeastern corner of Arizona did not just generate electricity. It also drew water from the Colorado River, an essential input for cooling the plant’s machinery.

What happens to that water now that the plant is being decommissioned? Who gets to decide how it is used? In a drying region in which every drop of water is accounted for and parceled out, the stakes are high and the legal claims are unresolved.

The three players are the Navajo Nation, state of Arizona, and the federal government. The ground rules are established in decades-old interstate compacts and more recent federal laws. On the horizon are unsettled water rights claims and new infrastructure. A pipeline to deliver water to the Navajo Nation in Arizona is under construction today — but due to legal complexities there is no certainty that water will immediately flow through the pipes once the system is completed.

As crews proceed with the demolition of Navajo Generating Station, water in northeastern Arizona amounts to a lingering question mark for a basin dealing with climate stress and inequality in water access for the Navajo people…

The Colorado River was part of the bargain, too. Its water, drawn from nearby Lake Powell, was needed to remove heat created during power generation. In a 1968 resolution, the Navajo Tribal Council approved the consumptive use of 34,100 acre-feet of water from the river for the facility, an agreement that was in place until the end.

Across the West, a generation of coal-fired power plants is reckoning with the same fate as Navajo Generating Station. State mandates combined with cheaper sources of electricity from sun, wind, and natural gas and expensive pollution controls are nudging the owners to retire coal-fired units.

There are benefits to this trend and not just for reducing heat-trapping gases, said Stacy Tellinghuisen of the Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit group Western Resource Advocates. Closing these facilities brings the possibility of making water available for other industrial, municipal, agricultural, or environmental uses.

Few transfers of water rights from closed power plants have taken place because it is a complex and time-intensive process, Tellinghuisen told Circle of Blue. “Most plants have closed in the last five years,” she said. “The water rights process is slower than that.”

One place where a transfer has taken place is in Colorado. In 2013, Black Hills Energy closed the coal-fired W.N. Clark plant, located in Cañon City. In 2020, the company sold its water rights back to Cañon City Hydraulic and Irrigating Ditch Company for eventual use in irrigated agriculture…

In the case of Navajo Generating Station, water rights are where the accounting becomes tricky. The Colorado River is divided by legal compacts into upper and lower basins. The compacts allocate water between the seven states, while a treaty outlines obligations to Mexico. Most of Arizona is in the lower basin, along with California and Nevada. But not all of Arizona. A sliver of its northeastern corner is located in the upper basin. Nearly all of Arizona’s upper basin land is on the Navajo Nation.

The Upper Colorado River Compact of 1948, negotiated among the states and endorsed by Congress, provides Arizona’s upper basin with 50,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water.

The 1968 tribal council resolution states that the Navajo would not claim the water as long as Navajo Generating Station was operating. If the plant shut down, the resolution directs the Secretary of the Interior to return the water “to the Navajo Tribe for their exclusive use and benefit.”

Pollack, the water lawyer, said that the Navajo Nation’s position is that the 50,000 acre-feet in Arizona’s upper basin allocation “was intended for the benefit of the Navajo Nation.” The Nation also does not believe its water rights are circumscribed by the Upper Colorado River Compact.

How could the Navajo Nation access this water? Pollack presented two hypothetical scenarios. If the Nation, within reservation lands, wanted to dam and draw water from waterways or pump groundwater that is linked to streams, it could do so on its own, Pollack argued. Such a scenario is highly unlikely, he said, given the infrastructure that would be required to store and move water.

A more plausible scenario would be drawing water from Lake Powell, as did the power plant. That option would require a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir. Pollack said he believes Reclamation would then consult with the state of Arizona before approving any contract.

How does the state view its role? In response to written questions, the Arizona Department of Water Resources described what it believes is the process for allocating upper basin water.

“An entity wishing to use any of Arizona’s Upper Basin allocation would need to apply to ADWR for a permit to appropriate the water,” according to the statement. “The director of ADWR would make a decision on the application based on criteria in statute, including whether the entity would put the water to a beneficial use. Water from Arizona’s Upper Basin allocation could also be allocated to an Arizona Indian tribe pursuant to a Congressionally approved Indian water rights settlement.”

There are other opinions. Mike Pearce, a partner with the Phoenix law firm Gammage & Burnham, told Circle of Blue that from his perspective the water that was used by Navajo Generating Station “would revert back to the state of Arizona to be allocated under state law.”

[…]

The water in question is not a large amount in the big picture — Arizona’s lower basin, after all, is allocated 2.8 million acre-feet from the Colorado River. But in a region that is drying as the planet warms, every drop of water is important. In the face of these hydrological changes, veteran scholars of the basin have questioned the wisdom of allowing additional withdrawals from the river. Plus, there are equity concerns. An estimated 30 percent of Navajo Nation households do not have running water, which requires them to haul water to their homes, often by driving dozens of miles roundtrip…

Some upper basin water is already being put to use in Arizona. Subtracting Navajo Generating Station, the state’s upper basin use amounted to about 11,500 acre-feet in 2018, mostly for municipal purposes in Page and debits for reservoir evaporation.

What about the rest? For now, the unused portion of Arizona’s 50,000 acre-feet is what is known colloquially as “system water.” It stays in Lake Powell and helps the upper basin meet its water delivery obligation to the lower basin.

Though currently there is not much demand in Arizona’s upper basin, there is one potential use in the near term. An act of Congress in 2009 authorized the Navajo-Gallup water supply project, a system intended to deliver water to the eastern half of the Navajo Nation, as well as the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the town of Gallup, New Mexico.

The law sets aside 22,650 acre-feet for the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, and 6,411 acre-feet for the Navajo Nation in Arizona. The water for the Arizona section is supposed to be subtracted from Arizona’s upper basin allocation.

There is a catch, though. The law states that the water can only be delivered to the Navajo Nation in Arizona if the Nation settles its water rights claims to two other Arizona basins: the Little Colorado River and the lower basin of the Colorado. The Little Colorado River adjudication is ongoing in state court.

For Pollack, the addition of that clause is an insult. It ties water access for Navajo communities in the upper basin to negotiations about other water sources…

Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

While the legal conflict simmers, the Bureau of Reclamation is continuing to build out the Navajo-Gallup supply system, a project that includes about 280 miles of pipeline in addition to two treatment plants and several pumping stations.

Patrick Page, area manager of Reclamation’s Four Corners Construction Office, wrote to Circle of Blue in an email that major components are now under construction: two pumping stations and a 30-mile section of mainline pipe.

Congress set a deadline of December 31, 2024 to complete the project. But Reclamation can extend that deadline with the agreement of the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. Page said that an extension might be necessary depending on the design assessment of a key intake structure. The wait for water might grow longer.

“[#California’s] water future remains uncertain due to the variability in precipitation and changing #climate, state officials say” — Sean de Guzman #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Nick Ellis, Electrical Engineer in Statewide Monitoring Network Section, Ramesh Gautam, Chief of California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, and Sean de Guzman, Chief of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, conduct the second media snow survey of the 2021 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The survey is held approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento off Highway 50 in El Dorado County. Photo taken February 3, 2021.

Here’s a release from the California Department of Water Resources:

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today conducted the second manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station. The manual survey recorded 63 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 17 inches, which is 93 percent of average for this location. The SWE measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast.

“The recent blast of winter weather was a welcome sight, but it was not enough to offset this winter’s dry start,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “While there is still a chance we will see additional storms in the coming weeks, the Department and other state agencies are preparing for the potential for a second consecutive year of dry conditions.”

Statewide snow survey measurements reflect those dry conditions. Measurements from DWR’s electronic snow survey stations indicate that statewide the snowpack’s SWE is 12.5 inches, or 70 percent of the February 3 average, and 45 percent of the April 1 average. April 1 is typically when California’s snowpack is the deepest and has the highest SWE.

Fall 2020 was extremely dry, especially in the Sierra Nevada, and follows last year’s below-average snow and precipitation. With only a couple months remaining in California’s traditional wet season, Californians should look at ways to reduce water use at home. Each individual act of conservation makes a difference over time. Visit http://SaveOurWater.com to learn easy ways to save water every day.

West Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

From The Los Angeles Times (Erin B. Logan):

The winter storms that dumped heavy snow and rain across California early in 2021 are likely not enough to negate what will be a critically dry year, state water officials believe.

California’s Department of Water Resources on Tuesday recorded a snow depth of 56 inches and water content of 21 inches at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. The water content of the overall snowpack was 61% of the average for March 2 and 54% of the average for April 1, when it is historically at its maximum.

Surveys of the Sierra snowpack, which normally supplies about 30% of California’s water, are a key element of the department’s water-supply forecast.

December, January and February are typically the wettest part of the “water year,” which starts Oct. 1. In January, when L.A. should have received 3.12 inches of rain, only 2.44 inches fell.

Without any serious storms on the horizon, California will end this year dry, Sean de Guzman, the department’s chief of Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting, said at a Tuesday news conference.

Though Californians have made progress in embracing wise water habits, “our state’s water future remains uncertain due to the variability in precipitation and changing climate,” he said.

California’s reservoirs are beginning to see the impact of a second consecutive year with below-average precipitation across the state, de Guzman said…

Phillips Station recorded more precipitation than other locations around the state. It’s located in the central Sierra, where storm systems in January and February dumped heavy amounts of rain and snow. Stations further south have less precipitation, de Guzman said.

This year is so far similar to 2014, which came in the midst of California’s most recent severe drought, which ran from 2012 to 2016.

#Aspen seeks community engagement on #water plan — @AspenJournalism

City of Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter stands at the city’s Castle Creek water diversion on Wednesday. Castle Creek is the source of most of Aspen’s potable water.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Wildfire, infrastructure failure and persistent drought are the three biggest risks to the city of Aspen’s main water sources of Castle and Maroon creeks, according to consultants Carollo Engineers.

“The (risks) you worry about most are the ones that are fairly likely to happen and would have a pretty high consequence if they did,” said John Rehring, senior project manager and vice president of Carollo Engineers.

The risks to Aspen’s water supplies are just one of many topics consultants are taking into account as they develop a roadmap for the next 50 years of the city’s water management. As part of consultants’ data-gathering process, the city is holding the third and final community engagement session from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The first two sessions were lightly attended, but city officials are hoping more citizens will show up Wednesday.

“I always like to see more people be involved,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager for the city of Aspen. “We want to be completely transparent with the public.”

Carollo is working toward a final water integrated resource plan, or IRP, which they are expected to release by mid 2021. A main component of the plan will be how to address Aspen’s potential water shortages.

Although numbers are still preliminary, according to a presentation engineers gave to the city in January, the city’s estimated shortage is about 2,500 acre-feet on an annual basis. A shortage is defined as an inability to meet all demands at the same time, for example if prolonged drought cut streamflows such that the city could not provide enough water for outdoor irrigation or meet instream flow requirements.

One potential solution would be to bring online three groundwater wells in downtown Aspen, which are currently not being used because of water quality issues like too much fluoride. Having different water sources that might not be subject to natural disasters like wildfires and avalanches the same way Castle and Maroon creeks are would make Aspen’s water supply less vulnerable.

“Having the groundwater in there would help with diversity and risks and vulnerabilities,” Rehring said.

The city has a portfolio of water rights on various local waterways, ditches and wells. But it’s main source of potable water is Castle Creek.

Aspen’s Leonard Thomas Reservoir, which feeds the city’s treatment plant, holds about 10 acre-feet of water. The city is exploring other locations where it could store water as part ofthe development of a water integrated resource plan.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Storage location

Consultants also are working on finding a location to which to move Aspen’s conditional water-storage rights and determining whether the city needs storage at all. After a lengthy water court battle, in June 2019 the city gave up its rights that could have someday allowed it to build dams and reservoirs on upper Castle or Maroon creeks.

The city has identified five other locations where it could possibly store water. Those sites are the city golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, the city’s Cozy Point open space, the Woody Creek gravel pit and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.

Previous consultants have come to different conclusions about how much water storage the city actually needs. A 2017 report by Deere and Ault Consultants, which was based on conclusions in a risk analysis by Headwaters Corporation, said Aspen needs 8,500 acre-feet of water storage. But a 2016 study by Wilson Water concluded Aspen does not need any storage.

“We are trying to identify just what the storage needs are and better define just how much storage is needed or maybe how to phase in that storage capacity over time,” Rehring said. “We have not zeroed in on any particular site at this point.”

Wednesday’s meeting will take place on Zoom. To register and for more information, go to aspencommunityvoice.com.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the March 1 edition of The Aspen Times.

Baca Water & San. District prepares to sue US Fish & Wildlife over #water — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

From the Baca Grande Water & Sanitation District (John Loll) via The Crestone Eagle:

The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors on February 17, 2021 authorized the District’s Attorney Marcus J. Lock to prepare, but not yet file, litigation against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failure to abide by a Water Service Agreement that supplies water to the Baca Grande Subdivision.

Contract negotiations deadlock

Contract negotiations over extending the current Agreement have been on-going for at least 18 months and are now stalemated. USFWS is refusing to abide by procedures stipulated in the Agreement regarding the cost of water purchased from it and would charge a rate almost ten times more than that charged for augmented water purchases in the San Luis Valley, as determined by Dick Wolfe, former State Engineer.

Relief from payment of excessive water prices is critical for the District going forward, as many components in the aging water delivery system are approaching their replacement dates. The current deadlock in negotiations is also inhibiting the District’s efforts to move forward on the purchase of water rights from USFWS. Purchase of water rights is central to the long-term health of the District and would end, as one Director said, “Throwing money down a bottomless well.”

Savings from excessive rates may help stabilize the District’s fiscal posture that has required two recent rate increases. A Lease To Own arrangement may also prove feasible, but is dependent upon being able to reach agreement on a fair rate to be charged.

The District’s Board of Directors also authorized contact with our political representatives to educate them and seek their assistance in resolving these critical issues. Educating our northern valley communities is called for as well, as they have shown in prior water battles that their determination is one of the greatest sources of advocacy available.

Background

The Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District originally leased water rights from a company called Arizona-Colorado Land & Cattle Company back in 1972. This company owned the Luis Baca Grant No. 4 and the water rights that went with it. The purpose of the lease was “to assure the availability of the water supply necessary” for the District’s operations. In 1997, the District entered into a new Water Service Agreement with Cabeza de Vaca Land & Cattle Company, LLC, which was a successor to the previous company and became the new owner of the Baca Ranch and the leased water rights. The purpose of the new Agreement remained the same, to ensure the District had access to a sufficient supply of water to serve the District’s customers.

This 1997 agreement is still in effect, but now the lessor is USFWS as a result of the federal government’s acquisition of what is now the Baca Grande National Wildlife Refuge in 2004. The Water Service Agreement is perpetual in nature unless terminated by the District. However, the District would prefer to purchase the water rights and own them outright rather than continue to make lease payments to USFWS forever.

In the Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve Act of 2000 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (which includes USFWS) to sell water rights to the District. This has yet to happen.

Maintaining positive relations with Baca National Wildlife Refuge

It’s important to make a distinction between the local USFWS representatives with whom the District has enjoyed excellent relationships throughout the years. The District very much hopes to continue with the same regard in future endeavors. Rather, the issues seem to occur in regional and national levels.

Opportunities to become involved

Soon the District will be crafting opportunities for community members to become involved in our efforts. Items under consideration include: Campaign Committee? Zoom Public Information Meetings? Postcard Campaign to elected representatives? Forming Alliances with other Local and Valley Groups?

Offer input now

You can offer your suggestions and ideas now by email to: info@bacawater.com.

How #cloudseeding can boost mountain #snowpack — Yale #Climate Connections

Scenes from the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE) project, which was undertaken in Idaho’s Payette Basin in winter 2017. Credit: Joshua Aikins via Aspen Journalism

From Yale Climate Connections (Sarah Kennedy):

In the spring, melting snowpack in the Rocky Mountains feeds the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 40 million people across seven states. But as the climate warms, snowpack is shrinking, prompting concerns over water shortages.

One technique that can help increase precipitation is called cloud seeding. It’s been used in some areas since the 1950s.

A machine or airplane releases particles, such as silver iodide, into developing storm clouds. The particles attract molecules of water vapor, and if the conditions are right, those droplets form more rain or snow.

Mohammed Mahmoud is with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which has funded cloud seeding projects in the Rocky Mountains for years.

“The type of cloud seeding we’re interested in is winter cloud seeding, and what that does is enhance the snow pack,” he says. “So that ultimately, in the spring, that enhanced snowpack can increase the runoff that water users rely on downstream.”

The practice remains controversial, but researchers have found that cloud seeding can increase the amount of precipitation that falls in a storm by up to 15%.

So it can help reduce the impact of climate change on critical water supplies.

Without Active Spring Snow, State’s #Snowpack On Track To Be Below Average (March 2, 2021) — CBS #Denver #runoff

From CBS Denver (Jamie Leary):

Colorado’s high country is just weeks away from its average peak snowpack date. Current measurements are on the fast track to coming up short.

“Our snowpack has been struggling. We’re close to average, but not quite to average so the likelihood of getting average snowpack is pretty low at this point. It’s most likely that most areas of our state will have a little bit below average snowpack when we end the season,” said Becky Bolinger, Assistant State Climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.

Bolinger’s specialty is drought, and the state of Colorado has been keeping her busy…

With the average peak snowpack for Colorado’s northern mountains in mid-to-late April, the time to make up for the deficit is running out. Bolinger doesn’t see March and April producing enough moisture to get back to average…

Graphic via the NRCS.

Snowfall in February, while not enough to make an overall impact, did help some. Denver Water reported its collection system was at 140% of its normal accumulation for the month. While it’s not far from normal for the season at 92%, Denver Water says it could use more…

Bolinger says utility providers are constantly monitoring drought conditions and advises people pay attention to what they have to say.

“We’re going to continue in this situation where we don’t have quite enough water in the system, so another thing I’m expecting is to see, as we move into the summer, is that many of us are likely going to have some watering restrictions.”

The good news? The lack of moisture means less new growth and fewer fuels for potential fires to burn, but Bolinger is still hopeful the state sees a few strong spring storms.

“What’s keeping me up at night, very specifically, is that we go unseasonably warm, and we don’t get much more snowpack, and it melts too fast, and it melts too early, and we start our summertime temperatures too early. That means we will get into a fire season early, and then we run the risk of having another large and devastating wildfire season.”

Utah snowpack basin-filled map March 2, 2021 via the NRCS.

From Utah Public Radio (Harriet Cornachione):

Last year, Utah experienced its worst drought in 20 years. Typically Utahns count on spring snowpack to remedy a dry year and while February snows have been a boon to ski areas the question remains: are they enough to generate an average water supply?

“In an average year, we’d still have about 40 more days of getting snowpack. So this storm was great. But we’re still supposed to be adding to that,” said Laura Haskell who is the senior engineer with Utah Water Resources.

She updates the U.S. Drought Monitor with Utah’s drought conditions. With 90% of the state is in extreme drought and 57% in exceptional drought, more snow is needed.

“One of the things that’s unique about this year is that yes, right now, we have 81-82% of normal snowpack for the state. But the big problem is the soil moisture, because we are in a domain that we have just not seen before,” said Jordan Clayton.

Clayton is a data collection officer with the National Resources Conservation Service, and is responsible for Utah’s snow survey. He said that even if Utah gets a normal snowpack by early April, stream runoff would still be well below average of how dry the soils are…

[Paul Miller] said based on current conditions at Lake Powell, they are likely forecasting the driest flow on record – about 60 years – in April. That forecast determines how much flow is going to be released out of Lake Powell for the rest of the water year. That impacts all of us…

Haskell noted that municipal residents may not know how current conditions impact the water supply for others, because they get water from a stored system. By being aware earlier of water conditions people can reduce their landscape water use which is one way to help.

West Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

From Aspen Public Radio (Madelyn Beck):

A recent snowstorm that blew through the Mountain West was a welcome sight for states facing extreme drought. But across the southern half of the region, it may not have been as beneficial as it looks.

That’s because the storm came with a cold snap, and snow that forms in that extremely cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture…

Hendrikx said as a simple rule of thumb, every 10 inches of snow melts down to about 1 inch of water. If that snow forms in more extreme colds, though (like -20 degrees fahrenheit) it can produce half that much.

That translates to less runoff when it melts. Or rather, if it melts before it’s kicked up by the wind and faces sublimation…

Still, every bit of moisture helps in the weeks and months leading into spring. In places like Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, the entire state is in a drought…

[Mary] Carlson said the mountains that feed the Rio Grande River have seen some good weeks recently, but they still need plenty more moisture.

Demand Management Feasibility Investigation Framework Concepts Workshop, March 2, 2021 — @CWCB_DNR #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A bend in Glen Canyon of the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, c. 1898. By George Wharton James, 1858—1923 – http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll65/id/17037, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30894893

Click here for all the inside skinny.

This workshop is intended for staff to present to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Members what a potential framework concept for a Demand Management program could look like.

The workshop will be live streamed on YouTube for public viewing.

If you would like to make a public comment during the workshop, please complete the Request to Address the Board Form prior to the workshop.

With questions or for more information, contact Sara Leonard.

George Sibley resigns from Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District — The Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver

“My name is George, and I’m a recovering writer.”
Credit: George Sibley via his Facebook page.

From the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District (Sonja Chavez) via The Gunnison Country Times:

Board loses esteemed water leader

After 14 years of service at the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, George Sibley stepped down from the district’s board earlier this month.

Sibley, 79, cited his health and age as the reasons for his decision. Upper Gunnison General Manager Sonja Chaves and Board President Michelle Piece received a letter from Sibley on Feb. 9 notifying them that his resignation was effective immediately.

“I’ve got some stress-related health issues, nothing very serious, but I’m also almost 80; it was just time to cut back on some of my involvements, and make sure I get some other personal things done I’m working on,” Sibley said Tuesday.

Chavez said Sibley and his persistence in asking difficult questions will be missed at the Upper Gunnison.

“George has so much historical and institutional knowledge of water issues on the Westerm Slope,” Chavez said. “I didn’t always agree with George, but I appreciate that he pushed those difficult conversations!’

Sibley was the Upper Gunnison’s board secretary and served on a handful of committees at the time of his resignation.

The Upper Gunnison’s Board of Directors formally thanked Sibley by passing a resolution acknowledging his service. The resolution notes Sibley’s decades of writing about water, including “Water Wranglers,” which was published in 2012 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Colorado River District, as well as his role in organizing the Colorado Water Workshop, one of the premiere meetings of water policymakers in the Western U.S.

“We will miss him dearly,” said Upper Gunnison board Vice President Stacy McPhail during the board’s meeting Tuesday.

Board member John Perusek fills Sibley’s role as secretary. The Upper Gunnison will advertise the vacancy for 45 days ahead of the Upper Gunnison’s June 28 annual meeting. Applicants will need to be residents of the City of Gunnison since Sibley represented the city’s district on the board. Applicant letters will be forwarded to Seventh Judicial District Judge Steven Patrick. In accordance with the Upper Gunnison’s founding statute, Patrick will make the appointment decision.

Iconic Venetucci Farm to be reborn — full of color — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #PFAS

Ventucci Farm pumpkin harvest back in the day. Photo credit: Facebook.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Debbie Kelley):

By summer, fields of peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and some 40 other varieties of flowers will shimmer in the sun and bend in the breeze.

A pergola will become a cut-flower processing center. An old tuberculosis hut will be transformed into a flower stand.

The renovated barn will host weddings and community events, the empty pig pen will be converted into bachelor’s quarters and the former chicken coop will serve as an outdoor reception area…

Children will be able to pick a Pueblo-grown pumpkin during a fall festival, with hayrides and activities planned for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October.

“This is one of those places that people have good memories, and that’s one of the things that’s driving my desire to be involved — for people to be in the moment and make memories again,” said Nikki McComsey, owner of Gather Mountain Blooms.

McComsey is leasing a portion of the farm and managing the property, which in the 1930s was bought by the family of the late Nick and Bambi Venetucci and now is overseen by two local philanthropic foundations.

The aged fields, where thousands of pumpkins that were given away grew plump, beans and peas could be plucked from the vine and immediately savored, and grass-fed cows, pastured pigs and productive hens roamed, have lain barren for nearly five years.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Unforeseen contamination of the Widefield aquifer, which was saturated with perfluorinated compounds originating from firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base, forced the farm to stop selling edible goods in 2016.

Revenue dried up along with the plants…

The farm’s primary source of income had been selling water from four of its seven wells to the Fountain Valley’s three water districts, said Samuel Clark, executive director of Pikes Peak Real Estate Foundation.

Water leasing netted the farm $260,000 in 2016, Clark said.

Lost revenue from produce and other consumables sold at farmers’ markets ranged from $30,000 to $190,000 annually, he said.

But the farm is poised to become bountiful once again.

After years of working with the Air Force and area water districts, Venetucci’s wells this week were connected to a new filtration system rendering water from the aquifer safe to use, according to Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation District.

Big questions loom after inspection of #GrizzlyCreekFire burn scar — The #Aspen Times

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The Grizzly Creek Fire covered 32,631 acres before it was officially deemed contained Dec. 18. It shut down Interstate 70 for two weeks after it ignited on Aug. 10. It threatened Glenwood Springs’ water supply and forced the closure of popular hiking trails and rafting put-ins.

The disruption likely isn’t finished.

“We’re going to learn a lot this summer,” said Steve Hunter, a former engineer with the White River National Forest and member of the Burn Area Emergency Response team, or BAER. That group of scientists and specialists started assessing the Grizzly Creek burn area for soil burn severity and potential problems areas for flooding and debris flows even before the fire was out.

Hunter discussed the role of the BAER team and the major issues facing the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar during a videoconference Thursday night hosted by Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt nonprofit that explores all issues related to water in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The BAER team’s work helped determined that 12% of the terrain within the perimeter of the fire suffered a high level of burn severity. That means all or nearly all of the pre-fire ground cover and surface organic matter was consumed. The soil became hardened and will shed water instead of absorb it.

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) specialists recently completed their data gathering and verification field work of the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area. The Soil Burn Severity map has been finalized. Soil Burn Severity levels are Unburned, Low, Moderate, and High. The map shows that in the Grizzly Creek Fire area, approximately 45% of the 32,370 acres analyzed by the BAER team is either unburned (12%) or low (33%) soil burn severity, while 43% sustained a moderate soil burn severity, and 12% burned at high soil burn severity. Map credit: Inciweb

Firefighters did a remarkable job protecting two of the major drainages from the fire. No Name Creek, which drains down into a residential area, was only 8% burned. Grizzly Creek was 14% burned. Terrain in other catchments was up to 40% burned.

The areas that suffered the most fire damage may be most susceptible to flooding, debris flows and rock falls. The Glenwood Canyon walls are steep, Hunter said.

Many of the roots and vegetation that anchored rocks and dirt have disappeared. So a canyon that was susceptible to rock falls events even before the fire is even riper now…

The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

Several steps have already been taken to try to gauge the risks and provide tools to warn about threats to Interstate 70, utilities in the Colorado River corridor and homes in populated parts of the canyon.

Numerous rain gauges were installed high up the canyon walls to help foresee flash flooding potential. The U.S. Geological Survey has run hydrologic modeling and runoff for major drainages within the burn area. (The website wasn’t operating properly Friday.) The U.S. Service assessed areas where culverts need to be cleared, repaired and even enlarged to handle expected debris flows…

At this point, the Forest Service does not plan to reseed significant acreage within the burn area. One hurdle is the terrain itself. Sending hand crews up the steep slopes is not practical or safe and it would be difficult to seed by airplane…

Where access isn’t as big of a challenge, the Forest Service will monitor conditions to determine if terrain can be managed for natural recovery. In other areas, such as the interstate right-of-way and at trailheads, the Forest Service is working on reseeding with the Colorado Department of Transportation…

Places where firebreaks were cut by bulldozers or hand crews, for example, need soil amendments at the least to help natural vegetation grow back. Some of those areas may also need to be seeded.

The Forest Service has also secured funding for trail and road stabilization. Some of the work started last fall and will continue when the snow melts out.

Can #Colorado negotiate these steeps? — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Cap-and-trade proposed as market mechanism to slash carbon emissions. Air quality commission says not now.

Curtis Rueter works for Noble Energy, one of Colorado’s major oil and gas producers, and is a Republican. That makes him a political minority among the members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, of which he is chairman.

In his voting, Rueter, who lives in Westminster, tends a bit more conservative than his fellow commission members from Boulder County. But on the issue of whether to move forward with a process that could have yielded carbon pricing in Colorado, he expressed some sympathy.

“I am generally in favor of market-based mechanisms, so it’s a little hard to walk away from that,” he said. at the commission’s meeting on Feb. 19. But like nearly all the others on the commission, Rueter said he was persuaded that there were just too many fundamental questions about cap-and-trade system for the AQCC to embrace at this time. Only Boulder County’s Jana Milford dissented in the 7-1 vote. Even Elise Jones, until recently a Boulder County commissioner, voted no.

Just as important as the final vote may have been the advance testimony. It broke down largely along environmental vs. business lines.

Western Resource Advocates, Boulder County, and Colorado Communities for a Climate Action testified in favor of the cap-and-trade proposal.

From the business side came opposition from Xcel Energy, The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and allied chambers from Grand Junction to Fort Collins to Aurora, and, in a 7-page letter, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Most businesses echoed what Gov. Jared Polis said in a letter: “While a carbon pricing program may be one of many tools that should be considered in the future as part of state efforts to achieve our goals, our assessment of state level cap and trade programs implemented in other jurisdictions is that they are costly to administer, exceptionally complicated, risk shifting more pollution to communities that already bear the brunt of poor environmental quality, have high risk for unintended consequences, and are not as effective at driving actual emissions reductions as more targeted, sector-specific efforts,” Polis wrote.

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com

The cap-and-trade proposal came from the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF has been saying for a year that Colorado has been moving too slowly to decarbonize following the 2019 passage of the landmark SB-1261. The law requires 50% decarbonization by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

What does a 50% reduction look like over the course of the next 9 years? Think in terms of ski slopes, and not the dark blue of intermediates or even the ego-boosting single-black-diamond runs at Vail or Snowmass. Not even the mogul-laden Outhouse at Winter Park or Senior’s at Telluride.

Instead, think of the serious steeps of Silverton Mountain, where an avalanche beacon is de rigueur.

Can Colorado, a novice at carbon reduction, navigate down this Silverton Mountain-type carbon reduction slope by 2030?

Colorado, says EDF and Western Resource Advocates, needs a backstop, a more sweeping mechanism to ensure the state hits these carbon reduction goals.

California has had cap-and-trade for years, and a similar device has been used among New England states to nudge reductions from the power sector. The European Union also has cap-and-trade.

Following the May 2019 signing of Colorado’s carbon-reduction law, H.B. 19-1261, the Polis administration set out to create an emissions inventory, then began structuring a sector-by-sector approach. For example, the Air Quality Control Commission has conducted lengthy rule-making processes leading up to adoption of regulations in several areas.

Hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration, are being tamped down. Emissions from the oil-and gas-sector are being squeezed. The commission this year will direct its attention to proposed rules that result in fewer emissions from transportation.

Meanwhile, the state has set out to hurry along the state’s electrical utilities from their coal-based foundations to renewables and a small amount of new gas. The utilities representing 99% of the state’s electrical sales have agreed to reduce emissions 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. Only one of those commitments, that of Xcel Energy, has the force of law. Others fall under the heading of clean energy plans. But state officials think that utilities likely will decarbonize electricity even more rapidly than their current commitments. That 80% is a bottom, not a top.

Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, presented to the Air Quality Control Commission an update on the state’s roadmap. The document released in mid-January runs 276 pages, but Toor boiled it down to 19 slides, which nonetheless took him 60 minutes to explain. It was a rich explanation.

Toor explained that Colorado needs to reduce emissions by 70 million tons annually. The Polis administration thinks it can achieve close to half of the reductions it needs to meet its 2030 target by 2030 through the retirement of coal plants and associated coal mines. Those reductions alone will yield 32.3 million tons annually.

The oil and gas sector should yield a reduction of 13 million tons, according to the state’s roadmap. That process had taken a step forward the previous day when the Air Quality Control Commission adopted regulations that tighten the requirements to minimize emissions from pneumatic controllers. Later this year, the AQCC will take up more proposed regulations.

Replacement of internal-combustion technology in transportation will yield 13 million tons. The Polis administration foresees deep reductions in transportation, partly through an incentives-based approach, even if not it’s not clear what all the components of the strategy look like.

Near-term actions in buildings, both residential and commercial, and in industrial fuel use can yield another 5 million tons annual reduction.

Waste reduction—methane from coal mines, landfills, sewage treatment plants, and improved recycling—will nick another 7.5 million tons annually More speculative are the strategies designed to reduce emission from natural and working lands by 1 million tons.

Add it all up and the state still doesn’t know how it will get all of the way to the 2030 target, let alone its 2050 goal of 90% reduction. Toor and other state officials, however, have expressed confidence that the roadmap can get Colorado far down the road to the decarbonization destination and is skeptical that cap-and-trade will.

“I would agree with the characterization that cap-and-trade guarantees emissions reductions,” said Toor. In the real world, he explains, those regimes struggle to achieve reductions particularly in sectors such as transportation where there are many decisions. The more demonstrable achievement has been in producing revenue to be used for reduction strategies.

“I don’t know that the record supports that they guarantee a true pathway toward reductions of emissions.”

In contrast, the roadmap has identified “highly enforceable strategies” to achieve reduction of 58 to 59 million of the 70 million tons needed by 2030, he said.

Some actions depend upon new legislation, perhaps this year and in succeeding years.

In the building sector, for example, the Polis administration sees “very interesting opportunities” with a bill being introduced into the legislature this year that would give gas-distribution companies targets in carbon reduction while working with their customers. See, “Colorado’s legislative climate & energy landscape.”

“This isn’t something that we are going to solve through just this year’s legislative session and this and next year’s regulatory actions,” said Toor. He cited many potential pathways, including hydrogen, but also, beyond 2030, the potential for cost-effective carbon capture and sequestration.

Later in the day, Pam Kiely and Thomas Bloomfield made the Environmental Defense Fund’s case for cap and trade. They described a more significant gap between known actions and the targets, a greater uncertainty about hitting the targets that they argued would best be addressed by giving power and other economic sectors allocation of allowances, which can then best be moved around to achieve reductions in cost-effective ways.

One example of cap-and-trade actually involves Colorado. The project is at Somerset, where several funding sources were pooled to pay for harnessing of methane emissions from the Elk Creek Mine to produce electricity. The Aspen Skiing Co. paid a premium for the electricity, and Holy Cross Energy added financial incentives. But a portion of the money that has gone to the developer, Vessels Coal Gas Co., is money from California’s cap-and-trade market

Kiely said Colorado’s 2019 law directed the Air Quality Control Commission to consider the greatest and most cost-effective emissions reductions available through program design. That, she said, was explicit authority for creating a cap-and-trade program.

“We think it’s a relatively light (legal) lift,” said Bloomfield. “You have authority to charge for those emissions.”

Further, Kiely said, cap-and-trade will most effectively achieve reductions in emissions and will do so faster than the state’s current approach. It will deliver a consistent economic signal and be the most adaptable. “The program does not have to predict where the optimal reduction opportunities will be a year from now without information about the relative cost of pollution control technologies, turnover rates in vehicles and other key uncertainties,” she said.

Then the questions came in. Kiely rebutted Toor’s charge of ineffectiveness. The most telling criticism of the California program was that the price was too low, she said.

What defeated the proposal—at least for now—were questions about its legality. Colorado’s Tabor limits revenues, and commission members were mostly of the opinion that their authority revenue-raising authority needed to be explored in depth.

Garry Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division, said that doing the work to rev up for a cap-and-trade program would require a “massive increase in the division’s staff,” north of 40 to 50 new employees, and the division does not have state funding.

He and others also contended that pursuing cap-and-trade would siphon work from the existing roadmap.

Then there was the sentiment that for a program of this size, the commission really did need direct legislative authority.

Commissioner Martha Rudolph said that in her prior position as director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, she had favored cap-and-trade. Not now, because of the legal, resource, and timing issues.

Elise Jones, the former Boulder County commissioner, voted no, but not without stressing the need to keep the conversation going, which is what will happen in a subcommittee meeting within the next few years.

“This is not now, not never,” said Rueter of the vote. This is conversation that will come up again, maybe at the federal level or maybe in Colorado a few years down the road.”

Wolf Creek #snowpack above average — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Upper San Juan River snowpack February 28, 2021 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

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 25.7 inches of snow water equivalent as of 2 p.m. on Feb. 24.

That amount is 109 percent of the Feb. 10 median for the site.

The average snow water equivalent for this date at the Wolf Creek summit is 23.5 inches.

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph February 26, 2021 via the NRCS.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 85 percent of the Feb. 24 median in terms of snowpack…

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 49.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Based on 85 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 73 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1995 at 269 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 28 cfs recorded in 1961.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District plans for early season #drought mitigation — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

West Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mouseamy):

At its meeting on Feb. 11, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors nailed down its drought management system.

PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey went over the trigger points in place for establishing drought stages.

Ramsey said, “The way we’re going now is based upon a couple different trigger points, and it’s also based on the date that the trigger point hit. For example, if Hatcher is down 6 feet and if it’s in late September, no big deal; if it’s in early May we’ve probably got problems coming. So, this way it kind of helps us see what’s coming on.”

He continued, “Later on, in the summer, then we’ll start looking at three other issues: the amount of water in the Hatcher reservoir, the amount of water that’s going down the San Juan River and the state’s drought statement.”

PAWSD Treasurer Glenn Walsh voiced a concern.

“The two triggers early in the season, the call date and the snow water [equivalent] … those just need to be aligned better. If we’re operating off hitting both triggers, then I have less concern. But if we’re operating off hitting one of the two triggers, for instance the call date in 2018 was 4/11, and if we had a 2018-type year, I wouldn’t be comfortable with just starting the year full-blown stage 4 — ‘your lawns are going to die’ — because my impression was 2018 was not that type of year … Even though we do have two indicators that we use up until June 1 and then three that we use after June 1, it would be good if those were aligned so there’s not some discordance where we’re in level 4 then when we turn over to the river and lake level and the regional drought declaration we’re back to level 1 — you know? We’re jumping back and forth,” he said.

“I guess my question is we’re going to trigger the early season stages by one of the two measures, or are we going to go with the least restrictive? … If we’re only going by one trigger, that could wind up being kind of a false alarm,” Walsh said.

Ramsey responded, “Yes and no … They typically do fall fairly close together. … I don’t know how often they do a call before we run out of snow — it’s usually within a week. … Just because the trigger says to do that, if there’s a reason for the board to say, ‘Let’s not do it because of x, y, or z,’we call it. It just gives us a starting point … To go to stage 1, 2, 3, 4 takes a board decision; it doesn’t just do it automatically.”

[…]

At the meeting, Ramsey mentioned that entering a voluntary level 1 or level 2 drought stage in the early season might help to eliminate the chances of reaching level 3 or level 4 later in the season by means of alerting the public to be conservative with their water usage.

“The way we’re moving now, we’re probably going to go at a voluntary level 1, level 2 a little earlier than we have historically. We are not going to charge a surcharge to throw you into level 3 or level 4. When we get into level 2, there will be an increase in excess water use in residential, and when we get to level 3 there will be an excess water use in commercial. But, there will be no surcharge until we get to level 3 and level 4,” notified Ramsey.

He added, “The way I calculated the surcharge was … for every drought stage we have it goes to a decrease on one use by x percentage, so I just assume that we decreased our water use by x percentage, which means that we decreased our income by x percentage, and I’m making it up with that.”

He continued, “The hope is by going into drought mitigation level 1, level 2 voluntary, early … the only way to get to that surcharge is if we were in great dire straits.”

#Snowpack news (February 27, 2021): Nice bumps from the storminess, most basin’s percent of normal is hanging around the low end of the normal range

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

Here’s the Westwide Snotel basin-filled map for February 28, 2021 from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 28, 2021 via the NRCS.

Report: Estimates of future Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin water use confound planning: “In other words, if the water physically is not there anymore, it doesn’t really matter what the compact says the upper basin is entitled to” — Heather Sackett, @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

#LakePowell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question. CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Paper’s authors say unrealistic projections make it harder to plan for a future under climate change

Some water experts fear that a long-held aspiration to develop more water in the Upper Colorado River Basin is creating another chance to let politics and not science lead the way on river management.

“Alternative Management Paradigms for the Future of the Colorado and Green Rivers,” a white paper released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies, says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, we need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo.

Estimates about how much water the upper basin will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the paper.

The paper says unrealistic future water-use projections for the upper basin — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — confound planning because they predict the region will use more water than it actually will. The Upper Colorado River Commission’s estimates for future growth are unlikely to be realized and are perhaps implausible, unreasonable and unjustified, the paper says.

“The projection of demand is always higher than what is actually used,” said Jack Schmidt, one of the paper’s authors and the Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies at Utah State University. “We said you can’t plan the future of the river based on these aspirational use projections when there’s a clear demonstration that we never end up using as much as we aspire to use.”

The Center for Colorado River Studies is affiliated with Utah State but draws on expertise from throughout the basin. The paper is the sixth in a series of white papers that is part of The Future of the Colorado River Project. The project is being funded by multiple donors, including the Walton Family Foundation, the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, the Utah Water Research Laboratory and two private donors, as well as by grants from the Catena Foundation, which is a major donor to Aspen Journalism’s water desk.

According to the paper, between 1988 and 2018 consumptive water use in the upper basin has remained flat at an average of 4.4 million acre-feet a year. This figure is based on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Consumptive Uses and Losses reports. The UCRC’s most recent numbers from 2016 show future water use in the upper basin — known as a “depletion demand schedule” — at 5.27 million acre-feet by 2020 and 5.94 million acre-feet by 2060.

“In percentage terms, these UCRC projections for 2020 are already 23% higher than actual use and would be more than 40% higher than present use in 2060,” the paper reads.

And future water use is unlikely to increase because of three main reasons: thirsty coal-fired power plants are on their way to being decommissioned; land that was formerly used for irrigated agriculture is transitioning to residential developments, which use less water; and there are regulatory and political barriers to more large transmountain diversions from the headwaters of the river to the Front Range.

The white paper’s authors say these unrealistic future projections of water use make it harder to plan for a water-short future under climate change.

“Unreasonable and unjustified estimations create the impression that compact delivery violations, very low Lake Powell and Lake Mead storage content and greater Lower Basin shortages are inevitable,” the paper reads. “Such distortions mislead the public about the magnitude of the impending water supply crisis and make identifying solutions to an already difficult problem even harder.”

The issue is twofold: With climate change, there is not enough water for the upper basin to develop new projects without the risk of a compact call; and if the past three decades are any indication, the upper basin is not on track to use more water in the future anyway.

So why might the UCRC be overestimating future water use? To understand that, one must take a closer look at the Colorado River Compact.

Urban development along Colorado’s Front Range is seen in an aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. A commission representing states comprising the upper basin of the Colorado River estimates as much as 40% higher water use compared to current levels by 2060, but a recent white paper calls those assumptions into question as says they hamper efforts to realistically deal with climate change.
CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

The law of the river

In 1922, the framers of the Colorado River Compact divided the waters of the river, giving the upper basin and the lower basin — California, Nevada and Arizona — 7.5 million acre-feet each. This amount, known as an apportionment or “entitlement,” was thought to be fair at the time because it gave the slow-growing upper basin time to develop their share of the water without the faster-growing lower basin claiming it first.

The mission of the UCRC is to protect the upper basin’s ability to use its share of the river. And this entitlement is symbolic of the upper basin’s dreams and aspirations: growing cities and towns and thriving agricultural communities.

The problem is that the century-old agreement didn’t account for dwindling flows caused by climate change. Studies have found — under what Brad Udall, one of the paper’s authors and a climate and water researcher at Colorado State University, calls “the new abnormal” — that runoff decreases as temperatures rise.

Compounding the issue is that under the compact, the upper basin is still required to deliver the same amount of water to the lower basin regardless of declining flows.

“The reason we entered into a compact was because we knew we couldn’t develop as quickly as the lower basin, so the whole idea is that we could develop later,” said Jennifer Gimbel, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and interim director at the CSU Water Center. “But as we know, streamflow is not as strong and climate change is cutting into it even more and more, and that puts you into a conundrum.”

The result is that there are 15 million acre-feet of entitlements on paper, not including Mexico’s share, but just 12 million to 13 million acre-feet of water. And that number is likely to decline even further as temperatures rise. Soon, there may not be enough water for the upper basin to meet its compact obligations to the lower basin and to develop new water projects.

“You cannot have a situation where climate change is reducing the yield of the basin and everyone is sticking to what they think their entitlements are under the compact,” said Eric Kuhn, one of the study’s authors. “Something has to give.”

In other words, if the water physically is not there anymore, it doesn’t really matter what the compact says the upper basin is entitled to.

Kuhn is the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District and also co-author of the 2019 book “Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.” One of the book’s main points is that past Colorado River decision-makers let politics and competition for a limited supply of water — not science — be the main drivers of river management. Because of that, the river was over-allocated from the beginning. Kuhn worries that this trend may be continuing.

“The fear is that this is another opportunity to ignore the science,” he said. “Forget about these projections that show how much water we might have been able to develop 40 years ago and focus on the river that nature has given us with climate change and not the one we wish we had from decades ago.”

Members of the Colorado River Commission, in Santa Fe in 1922, after signing the Colorado River Compact. From left, W. S. Norviel (Arizona), Delph E. Carpenter (Colorado), Herbert Hoover (Secretary of Commerce and Chairman of Commission), R. E. Caldwell (Utah), Clarence C. Stetson (Executive Secretary of Commission), Stephen B. Davis, Jr. (New Mexico), Frank C. Emerson (Wyoming), W. F. McClure (California), and James G. Scrugham (Nevada)
CREDIT: COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY WATER RESOURCES ARCHIVE via Aspen Journalism

Interstate poker game

The upper basin, including Colorado, is currently exploring the concept of a demand-management program, which could reduce water use by paying irrigators to not irrigate. The goal of the program, which would be temporary and voluntary for participants, would be to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water to Lake Powell to prop up levels and avoid a compact call.

A compact call could occur if the upper-basin states can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower-basin states as required by the compact. This could trigger an interstate legal quagmire, a scenario that water managers desperately want to avoid.

If it appears contradictory that the upper basin is looking at how to reduce water use while at the same time clinging to a plan for more future water use, that’s because it is.

Water attorney Peter Fleming said some are asking why the upper basin is planning to reduce existing depletions while also planning an additional million acre-feet of depletions. Fleming is general counsel for the River District. He also is on the legal committee for the UCRC, but is not speaking on behalf of that organization here. “It seems the upper basin as a whole needs to reconcile that seeming contradiction,” he said.

Some water experts compared the UCRC’s depletion schedule to an interstate chess or poker game, complete with bluffing. The upper basin must insist it will one day put to beneficial use all of its unused share — or else the lower basin, which already uses all of its own share, could somehow claim the unused portion.

“There’s still this fear that if we don’t use our water, the lower basin will establish an economic use and economic reliance on that water, and it will be very difficult to get it back in the future, even though we are entitled to it,” Kuhn said. “The downside to that right now is the water is just not there.”

Lake Powell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question.
CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

UCRC Director Amy Haas said in an email that although the paper is thought-provoking, the authors base their analysis on an obsolete projection of future Upper Basin water use demands from 2007 instead of relying on the current 2016 projections, which show a decrease in future demand as well as a slower rate of projected future demand. She said the authors did not consult the commission on the paper before its release.

Study authors have said that current data from the Bureau of Reclamation wasn’t released in time for the 2016 numbers to be used in the paper, and that they used the most up-to-date information available to them. They also say the differences between the two sets of numbers are minor and don’t change their findings.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Colorado Water Plan Update — @WaterEdCO

What we are working to protect. Culebra-Gallegos maíz de concho grown at Acequia Institute farm in Viejo San Acacio. Photograph by Devon G. Peña

From Water Education Colorado (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):

Effective agricultural water planning is critical for a sustainable and resilient future in Colorado. Not only does the agricultural sector account for 86.7% of the state’s consumed water, but agriculture is also the crucial economic and cultural foundation for many communities. The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP), a statewide roadmap for water management, is currently undergoing a multi-year update that includes new information, critical action items, and revised water planning schemes for all sectors. This update will be published in 2022. In order to foster lasting resilience, the CWP update must be more inclusive of all Coloradoans and provide comprehensive planning for historically underserved communities across the state.

True sustainability can not be divorced from empowering all communities. Studies show that systems with many sources of knowledge are generally more resilient. Just as farmers often plant several different crops to prepare for potential vulnerabilities, water planning must strive to be as diverse as possible to create a water resilient future.

Who has been excluded from agricultural water planning?

Colorado has an exciting opportunity to be more inclusive in water planning and subsequently create a truly sustainable CWP. But first, underserved groups must be identified throughout all sectors. This will necessitate nuanced outreach and calls to action. Three groups who have been historically excluded from Colorado water planning in agriculture are:

In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Judy Lopez with Colorado Open Lands and landowner Dave Marquez discuss upcoming restoration work on the Culebra River, which
traverses his property. Marquez irrigates from the Francisco Sanchez Acequia to grow alfalfa-grass hay. The acequia worked with Colorado Open Lands and the bylaws project to develop bylaws that preserve their oral traditions. Photo by Christi Bode
  • People who operate under acequia management systems. For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. These producers are primarily Hispanic or Latinx and reside in the San Luis Valley within the Rio Grande River Basin or in the Arkansas River Basin. The term “acequia” is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP — in a footnote of a farmer profile.
  • Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Tribal water users. Two federally recognized tribes have designated land reservations within the borders of Colorado: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (SUIT) and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT). While it must be acknowledged that 48 contemporary tribal nations are historically tied to the lands that make up Colorado, the Ute tribes are holders of federal reserved water rights in the state. Both the SUIT and UMUT tribal reservations are located within the Southwest Basin (e.g. San Juan/Dolores), though the UMUT reservation also includes land in New Mexico and Utah. While the tribes have become more frequent partners in broader interstate negotiations, inclusion at the intrastate level is still limited to the Southwest Basin Roundtable. Given the Ute tribes’ status as the state’s original water users and the unique nature of their federally reserved rights, more efforts should be made to explicitly include tribal representatives in deliberative processes.
  • Hanging Oyster mushroom columns growing on waste coffeegrounds via Gro Cycle
  • Urban agricultural producers. Urban agriculture in Colorado may include a variety of production methods and water uses, such as community gardens, hydroponic growing facilities, small-scale market farms, and more. It is important to note that there is not necessarily the same rich history or record of exclusion for urban agriculture as the above two groups. Rather, planning for water in urban agriculture could present an exciting opportunity to foster resilience in the food system and land use planning for the future of Colorado. Before defining demographics and practices within urban agriculture, a standard definition of urban agriculture in Colorado must be implemented.
  • Tribes are acknowledged in the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan, and acequias are acknowledged in the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. Urban agriculture is not mentioned in the 2015 CWP or in any of the Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs). The BIPs could serve as an opportunity to elevate underserved voices, given their regional focus, and create a space for them at the state level. An equitable and just water planning process at all levels, from local to basin to state, is critical for Colorado’s present and future water needs.

    Paving the way toward more inclusivity in Colorado water planning

    The Department of Natural Resources has recently announced the formation of a water equity committee, which is set to include representatives from each river basin and each tribal nation. Within this engagement process, Colorado water planners must make the effort to explicitly solicit input and feedback from underserved individuals and groups in agriculture and all other water sectors. Outreach efforts must be nuanced for each community, each conversation, and each stage in inclusive planning. Overall, CWCB should focus on elevating voices of change makers within historically underserved communities and solicit consistent feedback for a more inclusive, equitable, and holistic Colorado Water Plan.

    This strategy should aim to advance diverse representation in natural resource planning and provide opportunities for more equitable funding. Explicit inclusion via community outreach may also encourage diversity in water planning schemes, which can in turn create a more sustainable future. The equity committee and the CWCB should reach out to representatives of underserved communities and facilitate dynamic and interactive working sessions where stakeholders can discuss water challenges and opportunities with the CWCB.

    In partnership with CWCB and the University of Colorado – Boulder, we conducted an initial working session with a goal of establishing a more inclusive dialogue for producers. This work session, which focused on water issues among urban agriculture producers, will be discussed in a later blog post.

    Ideally, such facilitated dialogues will lead to additional working sessions, inclusion in water planning procedures at the state level, participation in Basin Roundtables, submission of public comments, and general advocacy pointed toward agricultural water planning. This approach may foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive 2022 Colorado Water Plan, and a better water planning process into the future.

    “The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously” — Somini Sengupta, The New York Times

    Cars pass the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Power Generator Company coal power plant in Shanghai on March 22, 2016. – Environmental watchdog Greenpeace warned on March 22, 2019 the world’s coal plants are “deepening” the global water crisis as the water consumed by them can meet the basic needs of one billion people. China, the world’s largest emitter, has promised to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2060. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE / AFP) via Voice of America

    From The New York Times (Somini Sengupta):

    New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.

    The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

    The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

    New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

    The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

    The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously…

    Some of the biggest emitter countries — including Australia, Brazil and Russia — submitted new plans for 2030 without increasing their ambitions. Mexico lowered its climate targets, which the Natural Resources Defense Council described as a signal that “Mexico is effectively retreating from its previous leadership on climate and clean energy.”

    In contrast, 36 countries — among them Britain, Chile, Kenya, Nepal and the 27 countries of the European Union — raised their climate targets.

    The Paris Agreement is designed in such a way that the United Nations can neither dictate nor enforce any country’s climate targets, or what are called nationally determined contributions. Each country is expected to set its own, make regular reports to the world on its progress and set new targets every five years. Diplomatic peer pressure is meant to persuade each country to be more ambitious.

    The end goal is to limit global temperature increase to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of 1990 levels. Any warming beyond that, scientists have said in exhaustive studies, would risk widening wildfires and droughts, growing food and water insecurity, and the inundation of coastal cities and small islands.

    #Colorado Water Plan Update Is Underway — @AudubonRockies

    > Great Blue Herons. Photo: Pamela Underhill Karaz/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

    Help define this moment for birds, rivers, and people.

    What memories can you recall from five years ago? Well, you may remember that Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan had just been finalized in November of 2015. The Audubon network, our partners, and Coloradans were key in defining the plan. Five years of plan implementation have flown by. As the plan moves forward in its first update, what have we learned to set the course for necessary immediate and long-term steps to ensure water security for people and the environment? We need your statewide engagement, again.

    The Water Plan in Short

    Colorado’s Water Plan 2015 is a framework pointing the way toward safeguarding Colorado’s water values as population, water variability, and drought increase. Colorado’s water values are supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

    The plan’s foundation stands on work by Colorado’s nine basin roundtables and their basin implementation plans, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), partners, and stakeholders statewide. The collaboration that fueled the Colorado Water Plan sparked the state’s largest civic engagement and the CWCB received more than 30,000 public comments on priorities and direction for the plan. Audubon’s network provided nearly 20 percent of general comments received, and Audubon staff provided consented technical environmental resilience and stream ecology language. The top-two categories of all public comments received were support for healthy rivers and better use of water in cities and towns. The unprecedented public engagement truly produced Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Without a strong plan and funding for implementation, Colorado’s birds, rivers, and people will face a problematic future with unacceptable consequences.

    Why Update Now?

    Colorado is changing and the Colorado Water Plan must be responsive. Our population is over 5.7 million today and could nearly double by 2060. With climate change increasing temperatures and making water supply less predictable, rivers are already stretched thin. Within the next few decades, even assuming aggressive water conservation and the completion of dozens of water projects currently being considered, the state could face a shortfall that exceeds 500,000 acre-feet annually.

    The plan update will complete in 2022 and map Colorado water resource management for the next seven years. As a headwaters state, the value of Colorado’s rivers flows far beyond its boundaries. Healthy, flowing rivers support all water uses and users—both wildlife and people. Protecting rivers protects our economy, our birds, and our way of life, but their future is uncertain. Audubon was closely involved in the creation of the plan and currently is involved in its implementation. Now, five years later, we’re helping to update the plan.

    (Abby Burk and other experts explain how Colorado can best update the Colorado Water Plan.)

    How to Engage

    Audubon is committed to protecting the health of Colorado’s rivers, ecosystems, and sustainable water supplies—values that benefit everyone. We are working across water interests to show that water connects rather than separates us. Together, we can protect Colorado’s incredible rivers and the birds that depend upon them. Public input on the Colorado Water Plan update will be critical. Here’s how you can participate:

    Engage in Your Local Basin

    Each of Colorado’s nine basin roundtables has been updating their local water supply and management plans called basin implementation plans (BIPs). Updated BIPs will soon be ready for public review. Click on your basin here to find your basin roundtable website, then click through to the BIP update status. Updated BIPs are getting ready to roll out soon. Also, due to COVID-19 concerns, basin roundtables have been meeting virtually. If you have not already, you can attend a virtual basin roundtable meeting to get to know your basin’s scope of work and your basin’s hardworking volunteers leading local water management efforts.

    Engage on the State Plan

    Everyone needs healthy rivers. Our hope is that this plan update will represent not only the human needs, but also a healthy ecosystem on which we and our wildlife depend. Currently, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is collecting survey feedback on the direction for the Colorado Water Plan update. Staff and stakeholder input has informed the current thinking, which is summarized in five informational sheets: Water Plan Update Vision, Vibrant Communities, Robust Agriculture, Thriving Watersheds, and Resilient Planning. Please review the information sheets and fill out the survey here.

    Audubon Rockies will be asking for local involvement through comments on the basin implementation plans and the statewide plan, so be on the lookout for more timely ways you can engage!

    New Technology Helps Ranchers Maximize Grass Production — NRCS

    Photo credit: NRCS

    Here’s the release from the NRCS (Brianna Randall):

    One out of every three acres in the U.S. is rangeland. Two-thirds of these are privately owned, mainly by ranchers who graze their livestock in the open country of the American West.

    Our rangelands produce premium beef, wool, and dairy. But it’s the plants that feed these livestock that are the foundation for profitable agriculture in the West.

    But ranchers haven’t had a good way to measure how their grass is faring — until now.

    The Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP), developed in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the University of Montana, allows producers to track changes in the amount and types of plants growing on their property.

    RAP is a free online resource that provides data on vegetation trends across the West from the mid-1980s to the present; and it calculates how productive those plants are. A combination of long-term datasets shows landowners how their lands have changed over time, which translates directly into their operation’s profitability.

    “We can finally quantify outcomes of rangeland conservation in terms of dollars and cents,” says Tim Griffiths, western coordinator for NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife.

    Graphic credit: NRCS

    Closing the gap to boost grass growth

    Farmers in the central and eastern U.S. have been using technology to track changes in crop production for decades. As soon as they see that their plant productivity is declining — and revenues following suit — they can take steps to address the limitations and boost productivity again.

    RAP provides the same power to ranchers.

    Graphic credit: NRCS

    RAP can show ranchers the gap between their potential production and the actual production they realize in terms of pounds-per-acre of grass. It helps landowners understand how much they can potentially gain by changing management practices to boost available forage and close the gap.

    Landowners can see how their plant production has changed in a single month or over the span of several years. The technology can be used to visualize plant productivity in an area as small as a baseball diamond or as large as several states.

    “Basically, RAP can prevent lost revenues by showing producers where their land is less effective at growing grass. It helps ranchers put the right practices in the right places,” says Brady Allred, a University of Montana researcher who helped develop RAP.

    Preventing trees from robbing ranchers

    Photo credit: NRCS

    One of the main threats to production and profitability on western rangelands is the expansion of trees onto grasslands. From eastern redcedar destroying tallgrass prairie to juniper marching across sagebrush grazing lands, woody species are costing producers millions of dollars in lost forage.

    For example, the now-forested property in Nebraska pictured here produced zero pounds/acre of grass in 2014. But in 1985, RAP reveals that same property produced 2,200 pounds/acre of grass — before eastern redcedar consumed the once-fertile prairie.

    “Last year, we quantified that western rangelands missed out on tens of billions of pounds of forage due to trees taking over prairies and shrub lands since 1990,” says Dirac Twidwell, rangeland ecologist at the University of Nebraska and science advisor for NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife.

    This yield gap, says Twidwell is “costing producers hundreds of millions in lost revenue each year.”

    Take the Flint Hills of Kansas, America’s most productive grasslands and the fourth-largest intact prairie left in the world. In 2019, RAP shows that this region produced 21.3 billion pounds of forage.

    But RAP also shows that ranchers in the Flint Hills lost another billion pounds of forage in 2019 due to encroaching trees. That adds up to nearly 800,000 round-bales of hay lost last year.

    Put in terms of dollars, those unwanted trees cost Kansas producers $8.3 million in lost revenue in a single year.

    Graphic credit: NRCS

    Stemming the tide of trees with technology

    Using RAP’s satellite imagery, ranchers across Nebraska are burning seeds and saplings before they become trees; and in Kansas, ranchers are using RAP to cut trees across ownership boundaries to restore prime grass grazing lands.

    New technology like RAP helps us “help the land” in order to sustain wildlife, provide food and fiber, and support agricultural families long into the future.

    Flooding events a major concern for Grand County following #EastTroublesomFire — The Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The map above displays estimates of the likelihood of debris flow (in %), potential volume of debris flow (in m3), and combined relative debris flow hazard. These predictions are made at the scale of the drainage basin, and at the scale of the individual stream segment. Estimates of probability, volume, and combined hazard are based upon a design storm with a peak 15-minute rainfall intensity of 24 millimeters per hour (mm/h). Predictions may be viewed interactively by clicking on the button at the top right corner of the map displayed above. Map credit: USGS

    From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Amy Golden):

    One of the biggest concerns following the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County is flooding risk, specifically flooding that picks up debris to create mudflows. Local and national officials are working to get the word out about this new risk and prepare Grand County for a changed landscape this summer…

    A number of watersheds were burned in the East Troublesome Fire, including 94% of the Willow Creek Watershed, 90% of the Stillwater Creek Watershed, 42% of the North Inlet Watershed and 29% of the Colorado River Watershed.

    Projections have found that water flow from snowmelt and weather events on the burn scar could be 14 times higher than before. According to Grand County Emergency Manager Joel Cochran, the National Weather Service will be monitoring rainstorms that produce even a little bit of rain…

    The US Geological Survey has also produced preliminary hazard assessment across the East Troublesome burn scar. The assessment found that most of the water basins in the burn scar present a moderate risk of debris flow hazards with a high risk in certain areas.

    County officials have been working to identify specific risks to property and life.

    The first part of that included field surveys for damage assessments, which were completed last week. Using additional modeling, risk for various structures have been further assessed and officials are working to communicate that hazard to land owners.

    In her Tuesday update to commissioners, Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris added that some narrow canyons and roads near flowing water would likely need formal evacuation plans.

    #Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop: Agriculture Irrigation Infrastructure — @CWCB_DNR, @DARCAonline, Ag Water Alliance

    The Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the Crystal River for the first time ever in 2018. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

    Join a roundtable discussion focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions to inform the 2022 Colorado Water Plan.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board, in partnership with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance and Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, invites you to participate in a virtual, Colorado Water Plan Update Scoping Workshop focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions. The format of the workshop will be an expert roundtable discussion that will inform the scoping process of the Colorado Water Plan Update (more information here: https://engagecwcb.org/colorado-water-plan-update).

    The Colorado Water Plan provides a roadmap for addressing water resource challenges; informing strategies, policy development, and programming. The event will be open to the public.

    More than 25 million drink from the worst US #water systems, with Latinos most exposed — The Guardian

    The water treatment process

    Here’s an in-depth report from Emily Holden, Caty Enders, Niko Kommenda, and Vivian Ho that’s running in The Guardian. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the story map detailing the problem. Here’s an excerpt:

    Millions of people in the US are drinking water that fails to meet federal health standards, including by violating limits for dangerous contaminants.

    Latinos are disproportionately exposed, according to the Guardian’s review of more than 140,000 public water systems across the US and county-level demographic data.

    Water systems in counties that are 25% or more Latino are violating drinking water contamination rules at twice the rate of those in the rest of the country.

    America’s worst public water systems – those that have accrued more than 15 “violation points” for breaking standards over five years – serve more than 25m Americans, the research shows. An estimated 5.8m of these are Latino.

    Texas, where millions of residents lost access to water and power during the recent storm, has the most high-violation systems, followed by California and Oklahoma. The average number of violations is highest in Oklahoma, West Virginia and New Mexico.

    The six-month investigation of five years of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other data also shows how:

  • Access to clean drinking water is highly unequal in the US, based on race, income and geography
  • Poorer counties have more than twice as many violation points as wealthy ones
  • Some water systems report hundreds of violation points year after year without any action from the government and without being required to notify customers
  • Rural counties have 28% more violation points than metropolitan ones
  • Scientists and former government officials describe a water regulation system that is broken. “Most policymakers believe compliance with environmental rules is high,” said Cynthia Giles, the former head of enforcement at the EPA under Barack Obama, but that belief was “wrong”.

    Experts are most concerned about systems serving smaller communities. They say Latinos are particularly at risk because they often live near industrial farms in California and the west that have polluted local water with nitrates in runoff from fertilizers and manure. They are also more likely to live in the south-west, where arsenic violations are common.

    2021 #COleg: #Colorado House panel debates making pumped hydro a #renewable energy source — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel (HB21-1052 Define Pumped Hydroelectricity As Renewable Energy)

    Pumped hydroelectric generation illustrated. Graphic via The Mountain Town News

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    The leading Republican in the Colorado House says it’s about time that pumped hydroelectric power plants are considered recycled energy that counts under the state’s renewable energy standard.

    One of the reasons why it isn’t already counted as a renewable energy is because, unlike conventional hydroelectric power plants, pumped hydro requires additional power to move water uphill to an upper reservoir so that it can flow downhill to a lower reservoir through a turbine to generate electricity.

    House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, told the House Energy & Environment Committee on Wednesday the technology now exists to do that either with traditional renewable energy or at least to make it all work carbon neutral…

    McKean said that most pumped hydroelectric plants don’t generate nearly as much electricity as those fossil fuel plants, but they often are used to help keep power costs to consumers down during peak usage times.

    The beauty of them is they can augment power during peak times when costs are higher, thus reducing those costs, and use less expensive electricity to pump the water back uphill during non-peak times, such as late at night, he said…

    McKean also said the pumped hydroelectric plants don’t require a lot of energy to pump that water uphill, adding that it can be done in a number of ways, including through stored power from solar, wind or rechargeable batteries.

    The measure, HB21-1052, which the committee discussed but hasn’t yet voted on, has support from several rural electric associations, the Colorado Farm Bureau and some environmental groups, such as Trout Unlimited, but only if the bill is amended to ensure guardrails are in place to protect aquatic life from being harmed, something McKean said he plans to do…

    Currently, there are only five hydroelectric pump storage stations operating in the state, all of which are located on the Front Range or Eastern Plains, according to a database maintained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    That agency also lists 64 conventional hydroelectric plants operating in Colorado, including many on the Western Slope.

    February 2021 #Drought Update — @ColoradoDNR

    Click here to read the update (Megan Holcomb & Tracy Kosloff):

    Drought conditions in Colorado continue as we reach our ninth straight month of above-average temperatures combined with eleven months of below-average precipitation. The state experienced the 15th warmest October-January on record and noted an overall increased temperature of 2.5°F above Colorado’s 20th century average. Despite the cold weather in mid-February, the month has shown warmer temperatures west of the divide and record-breaking low temperatures to the east. Holyoke reached their 5th coldest temperature on record at -30°F and Lamar recorded their 3rd coldest temperature at -27°F on the 15th of February.

    Colorado Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor from February 11th recorded exceptional (D4) drought conditions across 25% of the state, which dropped to 18% on the February 18th monitor. Extreme (D3) drought covers 41% of the state; severe (D2) drought covers 30%; and moderate (D1) drought covers 10%.

    The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) values from Nov 16 to Feb 13 highlight the northern mountains and central northern areas of the state in dry conditions. Eastern Colorado reflects select areas of above average precipitation after recent January snowstorms. However, the 12-month SPI map provides more accurate depictions of the 2020 deficits across the state.

    Through January statewide snowpack was 65% of normal. After a few February storms, statewide snowpack rose to 88% of normal as of Feb. 25th. State reservoir storage is currently at 83% of average. Extreme soil moisture deficits and below normal precipitation means all basins should prepare for a low runoff year. The continuance of drought is expected through 2021 and the State Drought Plan remains in Phase 3 activation.

    Water providers report slightly below average storage levels and near normal winter demands. Drought management planning and potential restrictions are being discussed through multiple coordinated groups. In January, over 120 water providers completed a CWCB needs survey to inform statewide drought coordination and near-term Municipal Water Task Force efforts.

    @NASA Snow Campaign Digs Deep in 2021 #snowpack #runoff

    Measuring snow might seem straightforward, but each environment brings unique challenges for instruments. For example, snowfall in forests gets caught in branches or falls underneath the tree canopy, making it more difficult to measure remotely than snow that falls on an open landscape. To dig into these differences, SnowEx measures snow both from the ground and from the air. Credit: NASA / Jessica Merzdorf

    Here’s the release from NASA:

    Whether the first snowflakes of winter fill you with glee or make you groan, winter snowfall is a crucial water source for drinking, agriculture and hydropower for more than 1 billion people worldwide.

    To plan water management and disaster preparedness during the rest of the year, hydrologists and resource managers need to know how much water each winter’s snowpack holds. Currently, ground or airborne observations of that measurement – called snow-water equivalent, or SWE (pronounced “swee”) – are collected at only a very limited number of locations around the world. However, NASA hopes in the future to launch a global satellite mission to track this precious resource from space.

    To design a mission that can measure all the snow characteristics that make up SWE, scientists need to determine what instrument combination to use, since no one instrument can do it alone. Enter NASA’s SnowEx field campaign, which measures snow properties like depth, density, grain size and temperature using a variety of instruments, on the ground and in the air. A potential future NASA global snow mission will combine multiple remote sensing instruments, field observations and models – and SnowEx is discovering the best combination for the job.

    (NASA’s SnowEx ground and airborne campaign is a multiyear effort using a variety of techniques to study snow characteristics, and the team began their new field study year in January 2021. Not only is SnowEx learning valuable information about how snow properties change by terrain and season, but they are also testing the tools NASA will need to sample snow from space.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Scientific Visualization Studio / Boise State University)

    Download this video in HD formats from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio

    Meeting the measurement challenges

    SnowEx team members Megan Mason and Gabrielle Antonioli take snow samples at one of the 2021 research sites, which is only accessible by skis. Credits: NASA / Gabrielle Antonioli

    Measuring snow might seem straightforward, but each environment brings unique challenges for remote sensing instruments. For example, snowfall in forests gets caught in branches or falls underneath the tree canopy, making it more difficult to measure remotely than snow that falls on an open landscape.

    To dig into those differences, SnowEx measures snow from the ground and by air. The ground and air teams take similar measurements to compare their results, gauging how similar instruments perform under different conditions.

    “Airborne observations allow us to collect high-resolution data over a large area, allowing simulation of remote sensing observations we might get from a satellite, at a range of resolutions and spatial extents,” said Carrie Vuyovich, SnowEx 2021 project scientist, lead snow scientist for NASA’s Terrestrial Hydrology Program and a physical scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Ground observations do not have the same spatial coverage, but allow us to validate the sensing technique in multiple, diverse locations, and the small footprint simplifies interpretation.”

    This year, the SnowEx team will deploy airborne lidar, radar and imaging systems to measure snow depth, changes in SWE, and the albedo of the snow surface, while collecting similar and complementary data over the same locations on the ground to compare and validate results. The albedo is the fraction of energy from the Sun reflected from a surface, a critical snow property for modeling melt.

    There are three primary goals for the SnowEx 2021 campaign. The first goal is to repeat the L-band InSAR airborne measurement time series that was cut short by COVID-19 in spring 2020. (InSAR is a radar technique that estimates snow depth similarly to lidar, tracking changes in how long it takes for radar pulses to travel from the aircraft to the bottom of the snowpack.) This year, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument will fly on a Gulf Stream 3 (G-3) aircraft weekly over each of six sites in Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Montana, from mid-January through late March.

    In 2022, NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch NISAR, a space-based InSAR mission to study Earth’s surface, including land, water, ice and more. SnowEx’s InSAR explorations will inform future snow research with NISAR and other radar missions. The team will use lidar to validate the InSAR measurements on the ground.

    Secondly, the team will use a spectrometer – an instrument that measures the intensity of visible and infrared radiation as a function of wavelength – to study albedo. Measuring albedo with spectrometers is a component of NASA’s Surface Biology and Geology (SBG) study, which is developing research initiatives to better understand Earth’s land and water ecosystems as part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s decadal survey. This is the first year SnowEx is directly targeting high-quality albedo observations, which will be focused in forested, steep terrain during the melt period. The team will fly NASA’s Airborne Visible / InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer-Next Generation, or AVIRIS-NG, over two sites in Colorado during March and April to collect these observations.

    A third goal for 2021 is to investigate snow properties in prairie landscapes. Snow is difficult to measure on prairies using the same approaches as over mountains because of their shallower depths.

    “Prairie landscapes are identified as a gap in our remote sensing capabilities,” said Vuyovich. “The substrate – the ground underneath – affects the signals and the ability to measure shallow snow. In addition, the spatial distribution of the snow in that environment is different from other environments, and can be difficult to measure and validate. Wind plays a significant role in redistributing snow across the landscape, which includes fields, crops, stubble, and ditches, leaving deep drifts and bare patches.”

    On the ground, teams dig snow pits – car-sized holes in the snow that reach down to the ground – and measure snow depth, water content, temperature, reflectance and grain size in the pit walls. Other team members on skis or snowshoes take handheld probe measurements of snow depth and albedo with field spectrometers. Using a snow micropenetrometer, measurements of the force on the probe tip provide detailed profiles of snow hardness and microstructure. The ground team also uses radar to rapidly measure how snow properties vary across the area of a typical satellite sensor pixel. The radar systems are mounted on snowmobiles or towed while skiing.

    “This year we have some new instruments, like helicopter- and UAV-based lidar surveys, which allow us to adapt to weather and line up these calibration and validation surveys with the airborne radar. The low cost flight platforms allow more frequent surveys over a given area than from a fixed-wing aircraft, which is important for this time series experiment,” said HP Marshall, an associate professor at Boise State University and SnowEx 2021’s co-project scientist. Airborne lidar works by bouncing laser pulses off the surface and measuring the time it takes for the pulse to return. By tracking differences in timing across the landscape, lidar creates a 3D picture of the height and structure of the surface below. Scientists can calculate snow depth by comparing lidar measurements of the same area when there’s snow, with surveys from when there is no snow.

    In addition to collecting observational data, SnowEx’s modeling research helps the team see how snow changes across different terrains and time.

    “Modeling fills in the gaps in the remote sensing and ground observations,” said Marshall. “In hard-to-measure areas like forests, models can use remote sensing observations in open areas to define precipitation patterns, allowing predictions of snow properties in the forest. Some of the remote sensing approaches that measure depth, such as lidar, also require models to estimate snow density, to allow conversion of depth to SWE. Between remote sensing acquisitions, models continue to simulate snow conditions. The models can be constantly updated when and where the remote sensing and ground observations of snow properties are available – all three approaches work together to provide the best estimates of snow conditions.”

    “People use models for different reasons,” Vuyovich said. “Water managers could use models to help make decisions. NASA’s Terrestrial Hydrology Program and SnowEx efforts will help design what we need from a satellite: what coverage, temporal frequency, accuracy and resolution are needed. Models can also help us fill in the gaps we may get between space-based observations.”

    Navigating a challenging landscape

    SnowEx team member McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor at the University of Utah, uses a hyperspectral imager to study the light reflected from the snow surface. This gives the team important information about snow composition and particle size. Credits: NASA / McKenzie Skiles

    In the sequential component of each campaign, SnowEx teams at sites across the western United States collect snow data weekly from December through May. Normally, this effort is punctuated by an intensive two- or three-week period of intensive data collection in one area, larger than the other site areas. In order to protect the teams during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, this year’s campaign will only include the time series. At each site, only local teams within a 2-hour drive of their home base will collect ground observations over a limited area, to avoid the need for overnight stays or gathering in large groups.

    “This is a pandemic world, and we’re doing a lot virtually,” Marshall said. “I’m excited that we’re able to navigate this, that we have dedicated local field crews who can do this safely, and that we can still get on the snow. Our committed local field teams include students and researchers from many different government labs and universities, who deploy to their respective fields each week, on the same day as the overflights.”

    Most years, NASA and SnowEx partner with local schools and organizations to support citizen science efforts and educational opportunities, but this year, those activities will happen virtually, through blogs, videos, and remote data collection. SnowEx’s primary outreach partner is the Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool, a nationwide program with 70 sites that reaches 35,000 K-12 students. This year, they have developed virtual snow science activities to allow K-12 students to continue to learn about snow during the pandemic (https://winterwildlands.org/homeschool-snowschool/), as well as follow-on activities for schools that have been to Snow School in the past.

    “We’re excited this is happening,” said Vuyovich. “With all of these challenges, we’re excited that people are going to get out in the field and that we can continue to push forward. I may not see much snow here in D.C., so I’ll be living vicariously through these photos and blogs.”

    To follow SnowEx 2021 in the field, watch https://blogs.nasa.gov/earthexpeditions/.

    To learn more about NASA’s snow research, visit https://snow.nasa.gov/.

    Bison rising in #Colorado: From the prairie, heirloom species are slowly returning to native lands — The Tri-Lakes Tribune

    The Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd, a genetically pure, Brucella abortus-free bison herd is released in the City of Fort Collins Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Larimer County Red Mountain Open Space, November 1, 2015, National Bison Day.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Seth Boster) via The Tri-Lakes Tribune:

    Sometimes when Jennifer Barfield is having a bad day, she’ll drive north of her Colorado State University lab.

    “I’ll end up in a pasture,” she said — a pasture of bison that she helped bring here to this rolling, open canvas near the Wyoming border.

    Barfield, an assistant professor specializing in conservation biology and reproductive physiology, will stand at a distance and watch some of the 100 or so woolly members of this one-of-a-kind group in Colorado. Occasionally the bison come close, so close she can listen to them breathe and chew grass.

    “It’s no secret I’m pretty attached to the animals we have in our herd,” Barfield said. “So sometimes when challenges arise or things are difficult … it helps me just to go out and spend some time with them. They’re very calm and peaceful and reassuring.

    “And, yeah, I really feel like I draw a lot of my motivation and strength from reminding myself of what we’ve done, and that it’s a good thing, and being out there with the animals just really confirms that for me.”

    Jennifer Barfield, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says the growth of the herd has allowed them to share bison with tribal and conservation groups. Photos by William A. Cotton

    A multigovernment collaboration based in Fort Collins calls this a conservation herd, genetic flag-bearers of the original, once-proud bison that roamed the plains in the millions before being hunted to near extinction during white man’s westward expansion. Descendants of those indigenous bison have been largely confined to Yellowstone National Park. They reportedly occupy less than 1% of their historic range.

    But with assisted reproductive technologies steered by Barfield, a growing number of bison with those heirloom genes have set hoof again in Colorado and beyond — pure relatives, without cattle inbreeding.

    The extermination of the American Bison 1870-1889 via http://http://all-that-is-interesting.com/

    Five years ago, on the contiguous lands of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space, the conservation herd began with a male calf and nine adult females, some of which were the result of artificial pregnancies. Sperm and eggs from Yellowstone bison were cleaned by Barfield and her team preceding embryo transfer. This was to ensure the removal of the pathogen causing brucellosis, the disease notoriously plaguing that herd…

    The sperm and egg cleaning treatment was built upon decades of technological advancements at Colorado State. Assisted reproduction development was mostly for the sake of livestock; techniques are routine in the beef and dairy industries, similar to the in vitro fertilization process people know.

    It just so happened that land managers of Soapstone and Red Mountain had been looking for native herbivores. Grazing, managers knew, was important to soil and vegetation and overall ecological balance — balance that prevailed before these lands were bison kill sites in the 1800s, their bones left behind.

    But there was an even greater mission hatched here five years ago, said Meegan Flenniken, with Larimer County’s Natural Resources Department.

    “Our ultimate goal was really to create a herd that could act as a seed herd, to help establish bison with these heritage genetics elsewhere,” she said…

    The lineage late last year expanded to a nature preserve in southeastern Colorado, where 10 bison of the conservation herd were transplanted. In the coming months, a bigger group is due for protected prairie in Montana.

    Facebook’s news blockade in Australia shows how tech giants are swallowing the web — The Conversation


    Facebook’s decision to shut off sharing of Australian news made headlines across the nation.
    AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

    Jennifer Grygiel, Syracuse University

    When Facebook disabled Australians’ access to news articles on its platform, and blocked sharing of articles from Australian news organizations, the company moved a step closer to killing the World Wide Web – the hyperlink-based system of freely connecting online sites created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

    Though the social media giant has said it will return to the negotiating table and restore news for now, the company has shown its hand – and how it is continuing to reshape the web.

    As a social media scholar, I see clearly that the internet in 2021 is not the same open public sphere that Berners-Lee envisioned. Rather, it is a constellation of powerful corporate platforms that have come to dominate how people use the internet, what information they get and who is able to profit from it.

    Tim Berners-Lee
    Tim Berners Lee, the man who in 1989 invented the hyperlink-interconnected World Wide Web.
    Paul Clarke via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

    Paying for news

    The Australian government’s legislative efforts aim to support the news industry by helping to broker a deal whereby Facebook would pay Australian news organizations for content posted on its platform by users. Right now, Facebook isn’t required to pay for news in any way, and the company objected to this new potential cost of business.

    Berners-Lee warned the Australian government the proposed law could undermine free linking, which he called a “fundamental principle of the web.” Facebook’s own statement of self-defense focused on Berners-Lee’s argument, saying Facebook provides value to news organizations by linking to them. But their statements show that neither has acknowledged that Facebook has, for many people, effectively become the web.

    Back in the 1980s, Berners-Lee envisioned the web as a network of community-minded academic researchers sharing their knowledge quickly and conveniently across the world. The main mechanism for this was the hyperlink – text that, when clicked on, led readers to something they were interested in, or to supporting material on the actual source’s website. This meant information was freely exchanged, with attribution. The priority was helping users find the material they wanted, wherever it was online.

    Berners-Lee’s design serves the reader, but not everyone was as public-spirited: Companies like Facebook have been moving away from this principle since the web’s founding. These corporate platforms are designed to capture and dominate users’ attention – and turn it into money.

    A Facebook news post
    A Facebook post often includes key news content – not just a link.
    The Conversation screenshot of the Guardian’s Facebook page, CC BY-ND

    Keeping users on the site

    When a user posts a link on Facebook, it’s not just a hyperlink as Berners-Lee envisioned. It’s much more advanced, displaying information from the linked page, including, for news stories, a headline, a main image and sometimes a summary of the news users might see if they clicked the link. In this way, users can get a lot of the information without ever leaving Facebook, hurting news organizations’ revenues.

    On Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, users’ options are even more restricted. People can post photos and text, but cannot directly share links to other websites. The only active links in a post are internal, for tagging others on Instagram and hashtags.

    In my view, both cases show that Facebook doesn’t really want an interconnected web: It wants to keep its users on its own platforms. Facebook displays valuable information, but if people don’t click through, or there is nothing to effectively click on, then those who actually created the content will continue to have a hard time making money off their work.

    An Australian media company's Facebook page had no articles on Feb. 18.
    The Facebook page for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. had no articles visible to users on Feb. 18.
    AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

    Possible ways forward

    The situation in Australia is a significant opportunity to examine how much power Facebook has over the ways people can seek information online.

    News media may decide to bid farewell to Facebook, which provides about one-fifth of traffic to media sites in Australia, and not necessarily much revenue in other parts of the world. They might seek other options for digital distribution of their content. But in the near term they may need financial help from somewhere if they have become too dependent on Facebook.

    Or news organizations could negotiate with Facebook directly in deals and avoid restrictive laws, as the proposed legislation is not even final yet.

    News publishers could also ask regulators to help them gain more control over how news content is presented on platforms to increase link referral traffic, which is key to generating revenue. A return to simpler hyperlinks – and adding them to Instagram – could help more users click through on news stories while preserving the principles of the web. Just because advanced technology exists doesn’t mean it’s helpful in all situations or good. But then again, a basic old-timey solution may not work for those trapped in the “attention economy.

    Editor’s note: The Conversation U.S. is an independent media nonprofit, one of eight news organizations around the world that share a common mission, brand and publishing platform. The Conversation Australia has publicly lobbied in support of the Australian government’s proposal.The Conversation

    Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications (Social Media) & Magazine, News and Digital Journalism, Syracuse University

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

    #Drought news (February 25, 2021): Some improvements across S. and S.E. #Wyoming and parts of north-central and south-central #Colorado

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

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

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    After a frigid start to the period, especially throughout the middle third of the Nation where daily temperature anomalies were 30 to 40 degrees F below normal and readings dropped below -40 degrees F in Minnesota and 0 degrees F as far south as central Texas, temperatures finally moderated by week’s end. By Monday, highs had risen into the 40s & 50s degrees F in the Dakotas and 70s and 80s degrees F in Texas. Frequent Pacific storms battered the Northwest, and then tracked southeastward across the Northern and Central Rockies, dropping plentiful moisture on Washington, Oregon, northern California, Idaho, & western Montana, but missing most of the Southwest yet again. Storms also dropped widespread precipitation on much of the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and coastal New England while most of the Midwest saw light frozen (snow, sleet, freezing rain) precipitation. Dry weather was observed across much of the Plains except in south-central Texas. Weekly temperatures averaged below to much-below normal throughout the lower 48 States except for central and southern Florida. Readings in Alaska remained below-normal except in the southwest and Aleutians, and significant precipitation was limited to along the southwest, southern, and southeastern coasts. Meanwhile, Hawaii experienced increased shower activity, especially on Kauai where some flash flooding occurred. In Puerto Rico, light showers persisted across eastern sections while the northwest remained mostly dry, and dryness/drought increased.

    The ensuing 5 days (March 2-6) expects favorable odds for above normal precipitation across much of Alaska and in the Tennessee Valley and Carolinas. Subnormal precipitation should prevail across the North-Central States (northern halves of the Rockies and Plains and Great Lakes region) and along the western Gulf Coast, with Equal Chances (EC) elsewhere in the lower 48 States. Subnormal temperatures are likely in Alaska and the Far West, with above normal readings anticipated for the eastern two-thirds of the Nation (except EC for New England)…

    High Plains

    After several weeks of light to moderate snow events in the Central Plains, drier (but still frigid conditions, although moderating by week’s end) weather returned to the region. With the recent improvements in the Central Plains and subnormal temperatures, no changes were made there. Farther north, however, even though precipitation is normally low during the fall and winter seasons, it has been extremely dry during the past 3-4 months (less than 25% of normal), leading to a lack of any snow cover in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, and north-central South Dakota. Short-term indices (1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 6-months) were at D3 and D4 levels, thus D2 was expanded southward across south-central North Dakota and central South Dakota, and D1 added in north-central South Dakota. In contrast, additional precipitation in Wyoming and Colorado boosted mountain snow water equivalent (SWE) as of Feb. 23 at or closer to normal, thus some improvements were made across southern and southeastern Wyoming and in parts of north-central and south-central Colorado. A few areas in Wyoming had missed out on the recent snows, so some slight degrading was made to those areas…

    West

    Ample Pacific moisture and storms dropped decent amounts of precipitation on the Northwest, especially Washington, Oregon, northern California, Idaho, western Montana, and western Wyoming, with lesser amounts across northern Nevada, central Utah, northern and southern Colorado, and parts of New Mexico. The active Pacific storm track continued to benefit Washington, Oregon, and northern California, along with most northern and central mountains in the West. February 23 basin average SWEs continued to increase toward normal, with most basins in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, and northwestern Wyoming at or above normal SWE. Accordingly, some slight improvements were made where recent surplus precipitation fell and the basins had SWEs exceeding 100%. With improvements made last week in northern Nevada and central Utah, and these areas still impacted from the failed Southwest summer monsoon, no changes were made this week, although the basin SWEs were up to 70-80% of normal as of Feb. 23. The light precipitation in New Mexico and eastern Arizona was not enough for any improvements this week. In California’s Sierra Nevada, the Feb. 23 SWE stood at: North – 67%; Central – 72%; South – 50%; statewide summary – 65%. In contrast, central Nevada missed out on the recent storms, and with the failed summer monsoon, conditions have gotten worse, thus D4 was expanded to include central Nevada. In addition, the Impact Lines were adjusted to show that more of the drought in the West was long-term (L) since recent storminess had pushed the short-term indices into various wet categories, although the much drier in the short-term Southwest remained in SL…

    South

    Little or no precipitation fell on the Southern Plains except across south-central Texas, improving conditions there, while light to moderate amounts (0.5-2 inches) were measured in the lower Mississippi Valley (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee). Where enough precipitation fell to make a significant dent in the short-term deficiencies, a 1-cat improvement occurred (e.g. northern and eastern Mississippi, southern Tennessee). However, the greatest rains seemed to fall on non-drought areas. In contrast, little or no precipitation fell on south Texas and northeastern Texas into southeastern Oklahoma, expanding drought severity and area there. USGS 7-day average stream flows have dropped into the below to much-below normal levels…

    Looking Ahead

    During the next 5 days (February 25-March 1), storms will impact the Pacific Northwest, especially Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and then track southeastward, gathering Gulf moisture before tracking northeastward. A swath of 1-4 inches of rain should fall from northeastern Texas northeastward into the mid-Atlantic, with lighter totals in the New England and the Great Lakes region. Unfortunately, little or no precipitation is forecasted for the Southwest, California, the northern and central Plains, upper Midwest, and Florida. Temperatures will average below normal in the West, Rockies, and northern Plains, and above normal in the eastern half of the Nation.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending February 23, 2021.

    Ice Capades: @DenverWater edition — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    During deep freezes, our crews keep on fixing, plowing, ice breaking, measuring, sampling and caretaking.

    Cold weather makes for harder work, so when we experienced one of the coldest weeks of the last 30 years Denver Water crews did just that: worked harder.

    Last week dam supervisors, water quality trackers and pipe fixers pushed right on through the artic blast to keep the water stored, safe and moving in our system amid the harsh elements that wreaked havoc on so many across the country.

    A challenge many homeowners also faced as personal pipes froze and broke as the polar plunge ensued.

    Here’s a photo journey highlighting some of our dedicated and can-do colleagues doing their part to blow kisses at the Winter Warlock:

    Frosty valves at dams make for a laborious day of icebreaking

    On those super-cold weeks like last week, it’s common for ice to build up around valves. That means dam workers need to spend hours breaking ice off the valves, otherwise they could be damaged during operation. Said Andy Skinner, dam supervisor at Gross Reservoir: “I broke the ice away from a valve at night, and it was covered again just a few hours later. At these temperatures, it’s a twice-a-day operation.”

    Denver Water staff work through the elements, like recent below zero temperatures, to ensure 1.5 million people continue receiving the high-quality drinking water they expect. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Emergency Services – It takes tough folks to find and stop the flow when a water main breaks in frozen temperatures

    Members of Denver Water’s Emergency Services team, like Keegan May in this photo, are the utility’s first responders. They help shut off the water so crews can start their work to repair pipe breaks. (Read, “Breaking point: Temperature swings tough on water pipes,” to learn more about how the ups and downs of winter weather in Colorado impact water mains across Denver.)

    But turning off the water flowing through underground pipes can be much more complex than shutting off the water in a house.

    This image shows May, a utility tech at Denver Water, working through inches of ice created by below-freezing temperatures to find a shut-off valve.

    Keegan May, utility tech at Denver Water, chisels through inches of ice to access a water shut-off valve during a water main break. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    On this cold, winter day in 2019, once the cover was located, Denver Water’s crew chiseled through the ice. Then they used a mallet to loosen the cover. Only then could they access the underground shut-off valve to stop the flow of water and begin to make repairs.

    Clean water – critical year-round

    Thirty inches of snow and finger-freezing temps don’t stop our field crews from their appointed rounds. Last week a crew from Water Quality Operations gathered their monthly water samples on the Williams Fork River northeast of Silverthorne.

    One tributary stream was frozen over, so Nick Riney smashed through it with his shovel and worked with his colleague Tyler Torelli to scoop out water samples for testing, including assessments they conducted in the field using analytical equipment they set up on the back end of a Sno-cat. All this effort helps Denver Water understand what’s happening on the landscapes across 4,000 square miles of watershed and keeps the utility informed about any changes in high country water chemistry that we’ll be collecting, storing and ultimately cleaning to our high standards before distributing through the metro area.

    Each year, Denver Water collects more than 35,000 samples and conducts nearly 70,000 water quality tests. These efforts continually confirm that your drinking water is safe and meets or exceeds federal and state requirements. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Surveying the snow

    Our crews also strap on the snowshoes for frequent high elevation treks to take snow measurements, part of our multi-pronged efforts to get a read on the snowpack levels in our collection system in preparation for spring runoff.

    Our surveying team braves the cold as well, heading to all points of our system to get elevation readings for a wide variety of projects, including recalibrating gauges at remote reservoirs. Pictured here was a Sno-Cat trip our surveyors took just a year ago to Meadow Creek Reservoir northeast of Fraser.

    Matt O’Malley, Denver Water survey technician, prepares to set up survey equipment near Meadow Creek Reservoir. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Running the plows to keep everything running

    Denver Water facilities from the mountains, to the foothills and plains all need to keep the roadways open so workers can do their thing unblocked 24/7.

    One of many challenging plowing jobs can be found at Strontia Springs Reservoir where staff not only has to keep clear the 6.5-mile service road that is Waterton Canyon, they need to plow the feeder roads leading to the dam – and the top of the dam itself.

    Plowing a 660-foot path across top of the dam is not for anyone with a fear of heights. The dam is 299 feet above the river. Slow and steady is the name of the game as there is no room for wrong turns or slipping.

    And sometimes it’s just overcoming the cold itself

    One of the coldest spots in Colorado and, indeed at times, the country: Antero Reservoir, on the high South Park plain, near Fairplay. Twice in the last two years, the site has drawn media attention for its bone-grinding readings around 50 below. Two caretakers save their inside work for those dates, but can’t avoid the daily duties outside, when as one of them, Eric Hibbs, puts it, “you can just see the cold, settled in there.” What does he do in face of Yukon-like conditions? “Put on a little heavier jacket.”

    And sometimes it’s just overcoming the cold itself
    One of the coldest spots in Colorado and, indeed at times, the country: Antero Reservoir, on the high South Park plain, near Fairplay. Twice in the last two years, the site has drawn media attention for its bone-grinding readings around 50 below. Two caretakers save their inside work for those dates, but can’t avoid the daily duties outside, when as one of them, Eric Hibbs, puts it, “you can just see the cold, settled in there.” What does he do in face of Yukon-like conditions? “Put on a little heavier jacket.” Photo credit: Denver Water

    In Canadian first, Quebec whitewater river declared legal ‘person’ with its own rights — CTV News #Montreal #rightsofnature

    Magpie river. Credit Boreal-River via The Conservation Alliance

    From CTV News Montreal (Selena Ross):

    A famous whitewater river in northern Quebec is the first place in Canada to be declared a person, legally speaking, under a new environmental strategy that’s taken off in some other countries.

    The Magpie River in Quebec’s Cote-Nord was given legal personhood through twin resolutions by the local Innu council and by the local municipality of Minganie.

    That united front, along with the river’s fame, makes it a “perfect test case” in Canada for the idea, according to a Montreal organization specializing in this legal tactic.

    As a legal person, the river has nine distinct rights and the possibility of having legal guardians, said the groups in a joint press release…

    The idea of treating parts of nature—places or animals—as persons under the law has become increasingly popular in some places, particularly in New Zealand, where Maori groups and that country’s federal government have together created the new status.

    In one example, in 2017, New Zealand’s parliament passed legislation declaring the Whanganui River a legal person in the first-ever such case in the world.

    It recognized the river, which is almost exactly the same length as the Magpie, as an indivisible, living being and conferred upon it the same rights and responsibilities as a human being.

    The act also ended a long-running claims process between the government and Maori.

    “It’s a shift of paradigm,” Yenny Vega Cardenas, one of the project’s leaders, told CTV News.

    Cardenas is the president of the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature (IORN), which is based in Montreal and drafted the legal resolutions along with the rest of the group.

    The idea isn’t just granting rights or protecting the river for future generations, she said, but “recognizing that… we are not the masters of the universe, over nature,” but that the relationship between humans and their environment is far more complicated and intertwined, she said.

    The other countries where the strategy has been most used, other than New Zealand, are Ecuador and the U.S., she said.

    The U.S. is also the one place where a high-profile effort recently failed: the town of Toledo passed a resolution declaring Lake Erie a person, in order to help them create stronger protections for the lake after toxic algae made the water undrinkable for a period in 2014.

    A federal court struck down that resolution last year, saying it was too broad.

    The river, almost 300 kilometres long, is famous for a series of rapids that have made it an international destination for whitewater enthusiasts—National Geographic ranked it among the world’s top 10 whitewater rivers.

    But that same energy has also put it on the radar of Hydro-Quebec, the province’s state-owned energy corporation that has harnessed huge swaths of northern Quebec and its powerful rivers for hydroelectricity.

    There is already one generating station on the Magpie, opened in 2007 by Hydro-Quebec and then sold in 2013 to smaller renewable energy company Innergex, which now owns it in partnership with the Minganie municipality.

    However, Hydro-Quebec has shown interest in the river since then, including the river in its strategic plan about a decade ago and sparking a long battle over the idea of new dams on the river. Hydro-Quebec plans abandoned those plans in 2017, saying it didn’t need the extra energy.

    In their press release, the groups involved said that their recent move is new way of trying to secure long-term protection for the river, given its appeal for energy producers.

    The need to protect the river “has received regional consensus,” the groups wrote, “but the plan to declare the river a protected area has been thwarted for years by state-owned Hydro-Québec, due to the waterway’s hydroelectric potential.”

    Hydro-Quebec told CTV that they have indeed “identified it as a river with potential,” and they would like to keep options open to be able to use it for hydropower, but there’s no simmering conflict over it right now.

    “We understand that these people made a clear statement about their intention to protect this river,” said Hydro-Quebec spokesman Francis Labbé…

    The leader of another Quebec environmental group said the personhood move comes after foot-dragging by the province.

    It’s “a way for us to take matters into our own hands and stop waiting for the Quebec government to protect this unique river,” said Alain Branchaud, director of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

    Temperature swings, entrenched #drought worry forecasters across #Colorado, Midwest — The Ag Journal

    Statewide snowpack basin-filled map February 25, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

    Traumatic as the recent Siberian Express was for some regions of the country, a bigger concern to Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher is the increasing frequency of extreme temperature swings that have hit the state recently in late spring and fall.

    “If something like this is going to happen, this is the time we would expect it,” he said of the recent arctic surge that plunged all the way to the Gulf Coast with disastrous consequences.

    “We had one of these in 1989,” he added during an appearance at the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association annual conference. “They are rare, but they do happen periodically.”

    More worrisome to him are the cold outbreaks that have occurred in months like April and October.

    “The last two years we’re had some incredibly unusually cold outbreaks in late October, which are very bad for wine grapes among other things,” Schumacher said. “Something similar to that is the big freeze last spring that devastated the peach crop. These are a little harder to sort out in terms of what’s happening, because they are happening amid really warm years.”

    He’d like to have a better understanding of why the state has seen single digit temps in October, which he called “a really exceptional thing.”

    “We are trying to get better answers as to how things might be changing in a changing climate,” Schumacher said…

    Shots of extreme cold are not unexpected at this time of year, [Brian] Bledsoe said. However, the problem is crops like winter wheat that are already stressed by drought are more vulnerable to injury…

    Both experts said the drought’s grip was not likely to ease for several more months…

    The current La Nina has deviated a bit from its usual pattern, the forecasters said, but now appears to be settling in and creating a stronger signal.

    Art Douglas, professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University, has described it as a “rebounding La Nina,” which he has said can be particularly calamitous for significant portions of the U.S., including the Corn Belt.

    Bledsoe’s forecasting models showed drought persisting across Colorado and spreading east and north across the Central Plains through the spring, with little sign of relief until August at the earliest…

    To this point, it’s the southern mountains that have picked up more winter precipitation, Schumacher observed, but that will likely change…

    Speaking as part of a water and weather panel that concluded the CFVGA meeting, deputy state water engineer Tracy Kosloff said the Rio Grande Basin was winning the snowpack lottery so far this year, while further to the south and west, the situation is dire…

    Stream-flow forecast for the Upper Rio Grande is 107 percent of normal, with snowpack close to normal. But stream-flow forecasts in parts of extreme southwestern Colorado are as low as 38 percent of normal, with snowpack currently at 86 percent of normal…

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    Mountain precipitation, critical for irrigation and reservoir recharge, is so important in Colorado that resource managers and planners are looking to boost information beyond what snow telemetry stations and stream-flow gages can provide. During the CFVGA meeting, Laura Kaatz, a project organizer with Denver Water, discussed the airborne snow observatory project, or ASO, a new flight program aimed at adding high-resolution snow depth imagery to the mix of tools.

    Such imaging would detail exactly how much snow is still left in the higher elevations at a specific point in time.

    Among them: when should flights occur? What will the data look like? Who houses it and how is it maintained and shared? What value does it have?

    A large coalition of industries and agencies are involved in the project and have already identified numerous potential applications, she said, from flood control to road maintenance to recreational applications.

    A working group is meeting monthly to discuss how best to advance the project, Kosloff said.

    #Thornton Moves Forward With Water Pipeline Construction — CBS #Denver

    From CBS Denver (Audra Streetman):

    The city of Thornton is building sections of a water pipeline in northern Colorado despite Larimer County’s decision to deny a building permit…

    Crews are working on the pipeline this week in Windsor. About five miles of pipeline is already in the ground, according to officials…

    The dispute with Larimer County is centered around how Thornton will move that water south to its residents…

    Thornton Communications Director Todd Barnes released the following statement to CBS4:

    “We are certainly disappointed and disagree with elements of the Larimer County District Court’s decision. Although, we agree with the court’s decision that the commissioners exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River. Thornton was hopeful to move forward in Larimer County with the process of bringing the quality water Thornton owns via pipeline to our residents. We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision we will determine our next steps.”

    Will the #climate crisis tap out the #ColoradoRiver? — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Nick Bowlin) [February 24, 2021]:

    Water availability is going from bad to worse in the seven states that rely on the drought-stricken river.

    Southern California farmers spend their winters watching the snowpack in the Colorado Rockies, and what they see is the climate crisis hitting hard. When it melts, the snow that falls on these peaks will, eventually, make its way into the Colorado River, which connects the Southwest like a great tendon, tying the Continental Divide in Colorado to Southern California’s hayfields, where the Imperial Irrigation District is one of the country’s largest, and pouring from the faucets of urban users in Los Angeles and San Diego.

    From California’s perspective, the view upriver is not encouraging. More than half of the upper part of the river basin is in “exceptional drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, while the Lower Basin is even worse off: More than 60% of it is in the highest drought level. In January, water levels in Lake Powell, the river’s second-largest reservoir, dropped to unprecedented depths, triggering a drought contingency plan for the first time for the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

    In a photo from 2020, a distinct line around the rocky shore shows how much the water level has decreased in Nevada’s Lake Mead. Photo credit: Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

    Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has seen a sustained period of less water and hotter days. This is, as climate scientists like to say, the “new normal.” But within this new normal, there have been exceptional drought years. One of them was 2020. Last year began with an encouraging snowpack in the Colorado Rockies. But a warm spring followed, and, then the seasonal summer monsoons never came to drench the Southwest. The lack of precipitation persisted into the fall and early winter, leaving the basin in a condition dire enough that water policy wonks — not a crowd known for melodrama — have begun using words like “scary” and “terrifying.”

    “In the 20th century on the Colorado River, nature was bent to human will,” the study stated. “Because we are now fully consuming its waters, and inflows are expected to decline, in the 21st century humans will be forced to bend to the will of nature.”

    The current version of the Colorado River Compact — the legal agreement that governs the river — expires in 2026. It will be renegotiated over the next several years amid a patchwork of interests, including seven Southwestern states, myriad agricultural districts, the Mexican government, some of the nation’s fastest-growing urban areas, including Las Vegas and Phoenix, and many tribal nations, whose legal claims have historically been discounted. A compendium of policies, historic water rights, court rulings, laws and agreements, the Colorado River Compact allocates water for tens of millions of people and some of the most important agricultural regions in the country. The impending renegotiation will determine how that water is distributed as the demand for water outstrips the river’s dwindling flow. Meanwhile, according to numerous models, the impacts of climate change will only intensify. A recent study from the Center for Colorado River Studies predicted that the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona could be forced to reduce their take from the river by up to 40% by 2050.

    “It’s a red alert,” said Felicia Marcus, a fellow at Stanford University’s Water in the West Program and former chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. “Everyone knows the red alert is ringing, and we’ve known this is coming for a long time.”

    OF ALL THE VARIOUS METRICS available to measure this challenge, storage capacity at the Colorado River’s important reservoirs is one of the most useful. In January, a study by the Bureau of Reclamation estimated that Lake Powell could dip below a crisis threshold by 2022.

    This forecast is not the most likely one, but the study triggers a drought-planning process — an acknowledgement that the worst-case scenario could come to pass for one of the country’s most important water storage sites. In 2019, Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., hit its own version of this threshold, which led Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to voluntarily limit their Colorado River water use for the first time ever. Put together, both Mead and Powell are on track to reach their lowest recorded levels ever in 2021, KUNC reported. Water levels in Mead and Powell languish at about 40% capacity, according to the most recent figures.

    This future complicates the amalgamation of treaties, policies, laws at various levels of government, court decisions and agreements that make up the governance of the river, stretching all the way back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the original interstate agreement. To give just one example, the Upper Basin states have long planned increased water use — water that the over-allocated basin can’t afford — thereby increasing the likelihood, according to the study, of a situation where the Lower Basin states would not receive their fair share of water. The result would be a “call” on the river, with the Lower Basin states demanding more water and legally mandated cutbacks for more junior water users higher on the river, including the city of Denver. The ensuing legal fights would be ugly.

    This grim future hangs over the next several years, as both the Upper and Lower Basin states renegotiate the Colorado River Compact [ed. the parties to the Colorado River Compact are not renegotiating the compact] and work to reduce the water they use and keep crucial reservoirs filled. But these negotiations are difficult and political, with self-interest competing against the need to do right by the basin as a whole. Meanwhile, sensing profit in scarcity, Wall Street and hedge funds are pushing to privatize Colorado River water and allow markets to trade the resource as a commodity, according to a recent New York Times investigation.

    The problem with vast water negotiations like the Colorado River Compact, said Marcus, the Stanford water policy expert, is that every entity, from governments down to people watering their lawns, come to expect the current amount of available water — even if that availability is an outlier or set to change. “Farmers can’t expect that they can plant whatever they want or not expect water to be expensive,” she said. “Urban areas need to get way more efficient, people need to ditch way more lawns.”

    Nick Bowlin is a contributing editor at High Country News. Email him at nickbowlin@hcn.org.

    New poll: Slim majority supports spending more to protect #Colorado’s #water — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    A majority of Colorado voters believe the state should spend more money on protecting and conserving its water resources, but they’re not willing to support new state taxes to fund the work, according to a series of bipartisan polls conducted over the past 18 months.

    “Roughly 55 percent of voters said the state should spend more money,” said Lori Weigel, a pollster and principal with the firm New Bridge Strategy.

    Though the polling also showed some support for such potential tools as a new statewide tourism tax or a bottle tax, that support eroded quickly when likely voters were asked about a new statewide tax, with 39 percent of likely voters saying they were skeptical the state could be trusted to spend the money wisely, Weigel said.

    Her comments came Tuesday at a meeting of the Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC), a statewide group charged with helping develop consensus-based solutions to the state’s water issues, including funding.

    The bipartisan polling was conducted before and after the elections of 2019, when Colorado voters narrowly approved a sports gambling tax whose proceeds will help fund the Colorado Water Plan, and again before and after the elections of 2020. In those contests voters in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District overwhelmingly approved new taxes for local water projects.

    Funded by For the Love of Colorado, a nonpartisan coalition that includes environmental groups, water utilities and industry groups, the polling was designed to help policy makers and lawmakers decide how best to raise an estimated $3 billion over the next 30 years to help cities and farmers cope with looming shortages, while ensuring streams have enough water for fish and kayakers.

    That’s the amount of money estimated to be needed from new sources to fully fund the Colorado Water Plan. But to date, lawmakers and other sources have only been able to provide between $5 million to $30 million annually. And though the new sports betting tax is likely to bring in $6 million to $11 million dollars annually, it will still fall short of the needed revenues.

    State officials hope to build on the recent modest, but still significant, 2020 election wins to create a more stable, permanent source of funding.

    “For the first time in a long time we’ve had success,” IBCC Chair Russ George told the group on Tuesday.

    But the wins and the recent polls show the state must build broad coalitions and work harder to dispel distrust among voters over how any new statewide tax revenues would be spent if they were approved, officials said.

    Aaron Citron, a member of the IBCC and a policy analyst with The Nature Conservancy, said the funding shortfall is likely to become more dire without a permanent statewide funding source because traditional sources, such as oil and gas tax revenues, are plummeting as production declines.

    “The situation is likely to get worse,” Citron said. “Yes we should emulate what was done so successfully in the Colorado River and St. Vrain districts and figure out how to build that [statewide] trust. It’s possible but it’s going to be tough.

    “The assumption [when the Colorado Water Plan was being developed] was that we would be able to have severance tax revenues into the future. But we can expect them to continue to be unstable and continue to decline because of global market pressures, and state and federal greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals,” Citron said. He was referring to state commitments that call for oil and gas and fossil fuels to gradually be replaced with cleaner energy sources, a process that will phase out oil and gas production and the associated tax revenue it generates.

    Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said voters in his district were willing to raise their property taxes last fall to help fund local water projects, but there was no local support for using those new taxes to make up for missing state funds.

    “The state has an obligation to fund water projects,” Mueller said. “This is a much bigger issue at $100 million a year than the $4.2 million my district was able to raise. It doesn’t get us anywhere if it can’t be leveraged against additional state and federal funding.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    #ColoradoRiver Futures – “#Climate & the River” Edition — @AmericanRivers #COriver #aridification

    The “bathtub ring” at Lake Powell evidences lower flows coming into the reservoir. According to preliminary data from the Bureau of Reclamation, the total inflow into Lake Powell for the 2020 water year was about 6 million acre-feet, just 55% of average. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle and Page Buono):

    Over the last few weeks, we’ve focused our attention on the recent study published by the Center for Colorado River Studies about the future of the Colorado River, given some alarming new data synthesized by the Center. You’ll likely recognize the authors—Kevin Wheeler, Jack Schmidt, Eric Kuhn, Brad Udall and others—who are no strangers to ongoing dialogue about the river. In our first post, we covered the broad takeaways, the potential ramifications of the study’s finding on water management in the West, and on the importance of the inconvenient science it elevates. In the second post, our “Changed River” edition, we let the line “The Colorado River has been profoundly altered from its highest reaches to its delta” percolate and came out even more committed to the preservation of the river and inspired to consider and address new challenges revealed by the study that will demand even more aggressive action on behalf of the river.

    In this, our “Climate & the River” edition, we’ll highlight findings from the study that underscore how important it is that, as we look to the future, we model future hydrology not only by understanding the past, but by looking ahead to the impacts of back-to-back and longer-term droughts paired with warming temperatures that precipitate aridification. As climate scientist Brad Udall likes to say, it’s a “hot drought,” where warmer temperatures are leading to less water in the river, even if precipitation is actually remaining roughly the same.

    December 4, 2015
    Credit: Sinjin Eberle
    UT, Lake Powell

    The stakes of including, or ignoring, the likelihood of a hotter and drier future in our decision making are high. Authors open their study with this quote for a reason:

    “The likelihood of conflict rises as the rate of change within the basin exceeds the institutional capacity to absorb that change.” Wolf, A. T., S. B. Yoffe and M. Giordano (2003).

    If you’re eager for the takeaways, you can skip to the bottom of this post. If you’re curious about how they arrived there, and why, read on!

    The assumptions we make to inform future management are critical, and when it comes to predicting future hydrologic conditions that answer the questions: “How much water will be available? In what form? And when?”, it is irresponsible not to model and plan—to the greatest extent possible—for the conditions climate science predicts.

    Shot of the North Fork of the Gunnison River, Paonia, Colorado. Photo credit: Sinjin Eberle

    To that end, the authors compiled diverse sets of data to represent a range of past and future conditions and applied them to the management alternatives that we highlighted in the first blog of this series. The findings of their analysis underscore discrepancies between projections that look solely to the past, those that ground themselves in recent hydrologic regimes, and those that forecast to the future based on various climate projections.

    Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation utilizes two different hydrologic model sets, one called the Direct Natural Flow (DNF) and the other called Stress Test hydrology. Each model is derived from the average flows across different periods in history. The DNF model relies on estimated natural flows from 1906-2018. Authors of the study point out that this 113-year period includes what’s referred to as the “20th century pluvial period” from 1906-1929, an unusual, bountifully wet period, from a hydrologic perspective. According to Udall, the patterns represented by the DNF data are unlikely to re-occur in current management timeframes. The Stress Test hydrology skips this period and jumps to a 31-year range between 1988-2018, which includes both high flow years, and years of drought beginning in 2000 – what the authors refer to as the ongoing “millennium drought.” In addition to those, authors integrated or developed the following forward-looking data sets:

    Graphic credit: American Rivers

    Now, if that looks super technical, it’s because it is! These detailed and diverse data sets allowed the authors to model unique scenarios, including three different scenarios of extended drought, all of which have occurred in the past, and for decreases in runoff associated with the anticipated effects of aridification. They chose these hydrology sets to test alternative management strategies under long periods of low runoff, and the kind of runoff we might see under increasingly warmer temperatures, both of which the authors describe as “…plausible futures that should be considered in planning purposes.” The range of futures hydrology predict average flows at anywhere from 14.76 million acre feet (maf), the flows modeled under the DNF hydrology scenario, and down to 9.71 maf a year under the RCP 8.5_100 data set.

    The authors integrated these hydrologic scenarios alongside multiple scenarios for consumptive use and management in an attempt to better understand possible future impacts to the Colorado River, and those who depend on it. As the study points out: there is more work to be done here, and the authors hope this inspires future studies that imagine more management scenarios. But even though they aren’t comprehensive, the overall observations the authors make after running these scenarios are prescient, and compelling.

    In a nutshell, the authors state that “climate change is causing flow declines, and additional declines are likely to occur,” and point to the following as both evidence and inspiration for more creative thinking as we plan for the future:

  • Between 2000-2018, flows in the Colorado River were approximately 18% less than from 1906-1999.
  • The ongoing drought and low-flow years that we’ve seen since 2000 are, quite likely, not going away any time soon. And even they may not be accurate representations of the future because as temperatures rise and catalyze further aridification of the region, more dramatic declines in flows are likely.
  • Given the unpredictability of the future paired with the immense likelihood of less, not more water, is it incumbent upon water managers and users to plan and think proactively and creatively.
  • The DNF hydrology predicts approximately 2 maf/year more than we’ve seen the last 20 years, while the RCP 8.5_100 hydrology predicts nearly 3 maf/year less than we’ve seen in the last 20 years. As Udall says, that 5 maf range is, frankly, enormous.
  • Authors warn that these conditions paired with unrealistic aspirations for development of future flows will “result in a difficult, basin-wide reckoning.” Incremental tweaks to the management of the river may no longer work, and the study calls upon us to think now about a drier future, not to wait until we’re there. And perhaps to acknowledge that, in many ways, we already are.

    #Centennial Water joins others to address potential #drought — The #HighlandsRanch Herald

    From Centennial Water via The Highlands Ranch Herald:

    Fourteen Front Range water utilities met this month to collaborate about the locally dry conditions and the potential drought situation ahead. Centennial Water & Sanitation District — the water and wastewater provider for Highlands Ranch and Solstice — was at the table, according to a news release from the district.

    “The Drought Coordination Group reconvenes when drought conditions worsen, as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor,” said Swithin Dick, water resources administrator for Centennial Water, according to the release. “The objective is to coordinate and offer cooperation around local water utilities sharing ideas, tools and messaging.”

    Colorado Drought Monitor February 16, 2021.

    According to the latest drought monitor (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/), released [February 16, 2021], Douglas County is currently experiencing exceptional drought conditions. When looking at Colorado, the entire state is experiencing some level of drought from moderate conditions to exceptional, according to the release.

    “As part of our annual planning we look at our water resources including water storage in reservoirs, groundwater supply, and estimating potential runoff from snowpack,” said Dick, according to the release.

    Centennial Water’s storage capacity is below average going into March. Over the last five years the district’s average at this time of year has been 8,489 acre feet and it is currently at 5,750 acre feet. To put that in perspective, the average demand annually by Centennial Water customers is 16,500 acre feet.

    “April is when we find out where we are at,” Dick said in the release. “Things do not look good at this point. We are beginning to plan now for a low runoff year, which puts us on a drought watch.”

    Centennial Water relies on spring precipitation and runoff to boost its water storage, but the reality is that might not come this year, according to the release.

    “Centennial Water staff are working diligently in case the dry conditions continue,” said General Manager John Kaufman, according to the release. “We are in a drought and we are taking steps now in anticipation of a dry summer. We are asking customers to start conservation planning and taking steps at home to use water more efficiently.”

    Small things that can be done at home include checking for leaks throughout the home and being patient with outdoor watering, according to the release.

    “Water budgets for outdoor irrigation begin in April; there is no reason to turn on irrigation before then,” added Kaufman, according to the release.

    Water conservation tips, information and the latest news from Centennial Water are available through the monthly Water eNewsletter. To sign up, customers can send an email to info@highlandsranch.org.

    Highlands Ranch

    Eagle County #snowpack improves, but a lot more snowfall still needed — The #Vail Daily #runoff

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 24, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

    Long-range forecast calls for continued drought

    Here’s the good news: February was a good month for snowfall in the area. Here’s the bad news: It wasn’t enough to break us from our current drought conditions.

    A more-snowy February managed to provide a good bit of catch-up moisture to local snow measurement sites. The “snow water equivalent” at those sites is currently close to normal, as measured by 30-year median snowfall.

    But heading into March and April, the area’s snowiest months, it’s easy to fall behind.

    For instance, the Feb. 18 snow water equivalent on Vail Mountain was at 89% of normal. Even after a cool weekend with some snow, the Feb. 22 figure had dropped to 86% of normal.

    Diane Johnson, a spokesperson for the Eagle River water & Sanitation District, said at least some snow needs to fall just about every day for the snowpack to keep up with normal levels.


    The Feb. 22 “snow water equivalent” on Vail Mountain was 86% of the 30-year median. That isn’t enough to break us out of the current drought. Graphic credit: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District

    The winter of 2020-2021 is so far better than the record-low season of 2011-2012. That year, the snowpack peaked on March 4. The usual peak in the area comes April 25. A warm March and April also quickly evaporated Vail Mountain’s snowpack in 2012, which at the measurement site was gone by the first week of April.

    Little help on the horizon

    While this season is at least close to seasonal norms at the moment, there may not be much help coming in the immediate future…

    To break our current drought, snowfall and cold temperatures will need to be sustained “over a long period of time.” That isn’t in the forecast.

    The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s 30-day forecast, issued Feb. 18, is calling for both above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation for Colorado…

    That long range forecast has Johnson concerned.

    “We’re preparing for drought this summer,” Johnson said, adding that the district is urging its customers to invest in efficient irrigation systems and outdoor plants that don’t require much water.

    “Of course we’re stoked for the snow, but it just doesn’t change the trajectory of this year right now,” Johnson said.

    Assistant State Climatologist Becky Bolinger is also concerned about this year’s snowpack.

    “We need above average peak snowpack to start chipping away (at the drought),” Bolinger said. Current snowpack is better than it was, she said, but it’s “unlikely” we’ll see the kind of recovery needed.

    Almost as important as the snowpack itself is the moisture content of the ground covered by that snow.

    Dry soil hurts streamflows

    In the spring, soil moisture is the first thing replenished by melting snow. Thirsty ground means less runoff for streams. That means less water flowing to reservoirs and for those who irrigate crops. The Eagle River Valley relies mostly on streamflow for domestic water supplies.

    Bolinger added that complicating the deficit in soil moisture has been a four-year stretch in which the area’s summer monsoon rains in July and August haven’t developed. Those rains help keep the ground moist and help maintain streamflows.

    Losing those monsoonal rains has also dried out plant life…

    The current pattern has been “painful,” Bolinger said. “It’s going to be a tough year in terms of irrigating, and I’m very concerned about the wildfire season. Keep your fingers crossed for the monsoon.”