I’ve already cast my ballot for Amy Beatie, won’t you join me? The Colorado General Assembly will be well-served with a water attorney who knows how to work within the legal system and find environmental benefits. If you live on the Northside please cast your primary vote for Amy. If you know folks that live up here please let them know how important it is to vote for her.
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From The Vail Daily (Megan Webber):
Lake Powell is expected to drop to just 45 percent full by the end of 2018, says Andy Mueller, the new general manager for the Colorado River District based in Glenwood Springs.
The lake, which Coloradans rely on as a water source when the rivers are low, will not have enough water in it to supply all of Colorado and its surrounding states, such as Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico…
Locally, the Colorado River east of Glenwood Canyon was declared unboatable last weekend.
The Colorado River below the Roaring Fork River confluence dipped below 4,000 cubic feet per second this week, and hovered around 3,200 to 3,400 cfs on Thursday, June 14. That’s well below the historical 50-year mean of around 10,300 cfs for this week of June.
In this extremely low spring runoff season, the Colorado at Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park peaked at less than 7,000 cfs back in mid-May.
As temperatures rise upstream on the Roaring Fork River in Aspen and Basalt, particularly in July and August, the Parks and Wildlife Commission may prohibit fishing in the area due to overheated waters, which will endanger the fish.
Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is expected to release water on June 20, which will sustain boatable flows throughout Glenwood Springs for the rest of the summer, Mueller said.
From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):
As intense drought continues to plague southern and western Colorado, two more counties have received designations as primary natural disaster areas by the United States Department of Agriculture.
This week, Elbert and El Paso counties were added to the list of designated counties. Primary counties now account for 33 of the state’s 64 counties. Ten more counties are eligible for assistance as neighboring counties…
Since December, drought conditions have been increasing across the state, with over one-third of Colorado in extreme or exceptional drought – the two worst categories.
As counties have been designated in groups since early March, varying eligibility dates have been created as neighboring counties received designations at different times. For example, a county surrounded by four other counties could become eligible up to five times: four if each of its neighbors receives a primary designation on different dates, and once for its own primary designation.
Further confusion arises when a county receives a primary designation, and a neighboring county is designated later. In most cases, the more recent date – whether primary or as an adjoining county – will determine the deadline for assistance applications. Applications are due eight months after the most recent designation date.
KiowaCountyPress.net has developed the interactive map below to help sort through designation and eligibility dates. Red shading indicates a county which has received a primary designation, while yellow shading indicates a Colorado county that neighbors a primary county. Counties in other states that share a border with a Colorado primary county are also eligible to apply for assistance. Counties shaded grey do not currently have a designation for drought. San Juan county is shaded blue since it received an SBA-only primary designation.
Additionally, the USDA has designated a number of Colorado counties eligible for disaster assistance due to blizzard, fire and high winds that occurred earlier in the year. Separate maps available here show those counties.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Hotchkiss-area ranchers Dixie and Dion Luke raise hay and registered Angus cattle, and sell some bulls and bred heifers.
But they’d never sold cows before. Not until this year, with its woefully low snowpack. They have second-in-line water rights on a creek at the bottom of McClure Pass in the upper North Fork Valley, and the creek never had enough water to let them irrigate and raise hay on some 60 acres of pastureland that Dixie Luke’s family owns there. Less than usual irrigation water also meant the Lukes got behind in watering some of their hay acreage near Hotchkiss.
After initially telling someone looking to buy cow-calf pairs that she wasn’t selling any, Dixie Luke reconsidered, deciding to part with some late-calving and older cows to take some pressure off when it comes to feeding their herd…
This is the kind of calculation a lot of area agricultural producers are having to make these days after one of the driest winters in memory in much of western Colorado has robbed streams of spring runoff that is counted on by irrigators. They face choices ranging from selling cattle at a discount, to looking to buy hay at premium prices for feed because of poor hay-growing and range conditions, to leasing water to others and fallowing land.
All the while, ranchers and farmers can only look to the skies for rainy relief this summer and hope for improved precipitation next winter so that what’s now a crisis doesn’t turn into a catastrophe…
[Bret Neal] said that irrigators will drain reservoirs on the Grand Mesa this year.
Jason Ullmann, assistant division engineer for state Water Division 4, based in Montrose, said that while it’s going to be rough for agricultural producers in the region this year, he thinks most will get through it. But it will be important to get adequate snowpack to refill reservoirs that will be drawn down this year, such as on Grand Mesa, or it could be hard for people to get through another such year, he said.
PERFECT STORM — OR LACK THEREOF
While snowpack levels held up better in northern Colorado basins this year, other river basins all had peak accumulation levels of less than 60 percent of normal, with southwestern Colorado faring particularly poorly, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has reported. The particularly low accumulations occurred as far north as Grand Mesa, resulting in paltry runoff in streams such as Surface Creek in the Cedaredge area and Plateau Creek in the Collbran area. And Ullmann noted that May and this month have continued to be dry and also have been windy, which exacerbates drought.
Ullmann said cumulative runoff flows in Surface Creek for April through July probably will end up around 26 percent to 29 percent of average. That would be less than in 1977, the driest in most people’s lifetimes in that area, he said.
While it’s hard to say how this winter fits in historically, “you hear some people say it was as bad as their grandparents said it was in the 1930s, back in the Dust Bowl years,” he said.
Ullmann’s office works as far south as the San Miguel River and Lower Dolores River region. He said some of the areas in the office’s jurisdiction are about as bad off for moisture as people have ever seen. The year 2002 was generally worse than 1977 in those areas in terms of snowpack and streamflows, “and we’re at or below 2002,” he said…
[Paul] Kehmeier irrigates some of the land he grows on with water from Surface Creek, but his allocation this year is less than half of normal, he said.
He said that in April, conditions were dry and there was no lower-elevation snow to melt to satisfy irrigators. At the same time, headgates were still frozen on reservoirs on Grand Mesa. State water commissioners later began belatedly releasing that reservoir water, Kehmeier said…
But Kehmeier was speaking early this week, and he said those water releases were expected to end by late in the week, leaving little water in the creek as it runs just on natural flows.
Kehmeier said a reservoir his family owns on Grand Mesa almost always fills but filled to only about a third of capacity this year.
Kehmeier has about 105 acres he irrigates from Surface Creek but decided to put water on just 20 of those acres, to get one cutting of hay. He has better water rights in the nearby Tongue Creek drainage, so the situation is better there, he said…
He said he could have used reservoir water to irrigate more land, but instead decided to lease some water to orchard owners. He said there are more serious consequences for orchard growers if their trees die than if he temporarily stops watering crops like alfalfa.
Kehmeier also is leasing water to Orchard City for domestic uses. His actions are partly a community service and partly a business decision because he can make good money leasing water, although it still will be a financially tough year for him, he said.
He’s harvesting far less hay than normal.
Still, “I’ve been selling hay for the highest price that I’ve ever sold it for, and the highest price my dad (Norman) has ever sold it for,” he said.
MAKING HAY ON HAY
Dixie Luke said that last year on July 4 they paid $120 a ton for hay.
“If you can buy hay now, it’s every bit of $250” a ton, she said…
[Carlyle] He said a lot less hay than normal likely will be raised in Plateau Valley this year, meaning people will have to either pay high prices for hay or sell cows. And cow prices currently aren’t that good, as cattle owners in Colorado and beyond have been moving to cull herds.
Currier said he culled heavily this spring, just this week sending to market cows that failed to have good calves. He didn’t want to buy hay for unproductive cows…
Kehmeier said he knows of cattle people who are trying to decide between selling cows before prices get worse, or hoping for rain that would improve range and hay-growing conditions. The decision is complicated by the fact that most ranchers have built up a good set of cows, he said…
Currier, who is involved in water policy as a member of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, said Vega Reservoir filled to about 85 percent of capacity, which was probably a bit better than he expected. But with low creeks in the Plateau Valley, even water for most senior water right owners has been curtailed, and everyone is relying on reservoir water, he said.
A lot of years those senior water flows will last into late July or even August, he said. But this year, reservoir water that normally is being used later in the summer is being used now…
For now, Luke is glad that federal officials allowed Paonia Reservoir to begin filling Dec. 22 of last year because of forecasts for a below-average snowpack for the winter. That ensured it reached a full level now. Normally operators don’t begin filling it until the spring so it can play a role in flood-prevention during runoff…
She said that once the canal company begins pulling water from the reservoir, it will have about 45 days of supply, depending on factors such as wind and monsoon moisture. She said most farmers and ranchers have been cutting their first hay crop in anticipation of irrigating fields and growing a second crop, unlike the typical three crops in a normal year.
She said the drought is having other impacts on ranchers. Her nephew ranches on the Uncompahgre Plateau and has been hauling water up to a cow camp because of a lack of water there, she said…
That’s why Luke decided to sell some of her cows early.
“There will be a lot of cattle in the sale barn down here in Delta and in Loma the first of October if this thing doesn’t turn around,” she said.
From The Kiowa County News Press (Chris Sorensen):
A week after extreme drought expanded in southeast Colorado, conditions have also deteriorated in the northwest.
Jackson, Grand and Summit counties, which had been largely drought-free, shifted to abnormally dry. Moderate drought expanded to cover most of Moffat county and a larger portion of Eagle county. Severe drought expanded further into eastern Garfield county.
Slight improvements were observed in southeast Kit Carson and northeast Cheyenne counties…
Overall, 20 percent of the state is drought-free, down from 25 percent one week earlier. Abnormally dry conditions increased slightly to 12 percent, and moderate drought increased to 16 percent from 13 percent. Areas of severe, extreme and exceptional drought are unchanged from the previous week.
One year ago, 94 percent of the state was drought-free, while six percent was abnormally dry.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ellie Mulder):
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday designated drought-stricken El Paso County a primary natural disaster area, making agricultural producers eligible for emergency loans.
The agricultural producers “who suffered losses and damages caused by a recent drought” can apply for the Farm Service Agency’s emergency loans until Feb. 4.
Much of El Paso County is in severe drought, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. A northwest portion of the county is in moderate drought.
Producers in contiguous counties – Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, Fremont, Lincoln, Pueblo and Teller – also are eligible to apply.
“FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability,” a USDA news release says. “FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the emergency loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from the impacts of this disaster.”
From The Associated Press (Seth Borenstein and Nicky Forster) via US News:
On June 23, 1988, a sultry day in Washington, James Hansen told Congress and the world that global warming wasn’t approaching — it had already arrived. The testimony of the top NASA scientist, said Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, was “the opening salvo of the age of climate change.”
Thirty years later, it’s clear that Hansen and other doomsayers were right. But the change has been so sweeping that it is easy to lose sight of effects large and small — some obvious, others less conspicuous.
Earth is noticeably hotter, the weather stormier and more extreme. Polar regions have lost billions of tons of ice; sea levels have been raised by trillions of gallons of water. Far more wildfires rage.
Over 30 years — the time period climate scientists often use in their studies in order to minimize natural weather variations — the world’s annual temperature has warmed nearly 1 degree (0.54 degrees Celsius), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the temperature in the United States has gone up even more — nearly 1.6 degrees…
Warming hasn’t been just global, it’s been all too local. According to an Associated Press statistical analysis of 30 years of weather, ice, fire, ocean, biological and other data, every single one of the 344 climate divisions in the Lower 48 states — NOAA groupings of counties with similar weather — has warmed significantly, as has each of 188 cities examined.
The effects have been felt in cities from Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the yearly average temperature rose 2.9 degrees in the past 30 years, to Yakima, Washington, where the thermometer jumped a tad more. In the middle, Des Moines, Iowa, warmed by 3.3 degrees since 1988.
South central Colorado, the climate division just outside Salida, has warmed 2.3 degrees on average since 1988, among the warmest divisions in the contiguous United States.
When she was a little girl 30 years ago, winery marketing chief Jessica Shook used to cross country ski from her Salida doorstep in winter. It was that cold and there was that much snow. Now, she has to drive about 50 miles for snow that’s not on mountain tops, she said…
And then there’s the effect on wildfires. Veteran Salida firefighter Mike Sugaski used to think a fire of 10,000 acres was big. Now he fights fires 10 times as large…
In fact, wildfires in the United States now consume more than twice the acreage they did 30 years ago.
The statistics tracking climate change since 1988 are almost numbing. North America and Europe have warmed 1.89 degrees — more than any other continent. The Northern Hemisphere has warmed more than the Southern, the land faster than the ocean. Across the United States, temperature increases were most evident at night and in summer and fall. Heat rose at a higher rate in the North than the South.
Since 1988, daily heat records have been broken more than 2.3 million times at weather stations across the nation, half a million times more than cold records were broken.
Doreen Pollack fled Chicago cold for Phoenix more than two decades ago, but in the past 30 years night time summer heat has increased almost 3.3 degrees there. She said when the power goes out, it gets unbearable, adding: “Be careful what you ask for.”
The AP interviewed more than 50 scientists who confirmed the depth and spread of warming.
Clara Deser, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that when dealing with 30-year time periods in smaller regions than continents or the globe as a whole, it would be unwise to say all the warming is man-made. Her studies show that in some places in North American local — though not most — natural weather variability could account for as much as half of warming.
But when you look at the globe as a whole, especially since 1970, nearly all the warming is man-made, said Zeke Hausfather of the independent science group Berkeley Earth. Without extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, he said, the Earth would be slightly cooling from a weakening sun. Numerous scientific studies and government reports calculate that greenhouse gases in the big picture account for more than 90 percent of post-industrial Earth’s warming…
Others cautioned that what might seem to be small increases in temperature should not be taken lightly.
“One or two degrees may not sound like much, but raising your thermostat by just that amount will make a noticeable effect on your comfort,” said Deke Arndt, NOAA’s climate monitoring chief in Asheville, North Carolina, which has warmed nearly 1.8 degrees in 30 years.
Arndt said average temperatures don’t tell the entire story: “It’s the extremes that these changes bring.”
The nation’s extreme weather — flood-inducing downpours, extended droughts, heat waves and bitter cold and snow — has doubled in 30 years, according to a federal index.
The Northeast’s extreme rainfall has more than doubled. Brockton, Massachusetts, had only one day with at least four inches of rain from 1957 to 1988, but a dozen of them in the 30 years since, according to NOAA records. Ellicott City, Maryland, just had its second thousand-year flood in little less than two years.
And the summer’s named Atlantic storms? On average, the first one now forms nearly a month earlier than it did in 1988, according to University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
The 14 costliest hurricanes in American history, adjusted for inflation, have hit since 1988, reflecting both growing coastal development and a span that included the most intense Atlantic storms on record…
Climate scientists point to the Arctic as the place where climate change is most noticeable with dramatic sea ice loss, a melting Greenland ice sheet, receding glaciers and thawing permafrost. The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world.
Alaska has warmed 2.4 degrees annually since 1988 and 5.4 degrees in the winter. Since 1988, Utqiagvik (oot-GAR’-vik), Alaska, formerly known as Barrow, has warmed more than 6 degrees yearly and more than 9 degrees in winter…
The amount of Arctic sea ice in September, when it shrinks the most, fell by nearly one third since 1988. It is disappearing 50 years faster than scientists predicted, said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University…
The vast majority of glaciers around the world have shrunk. A NASA satellite that measures shifts in gravity calculated that Earth’s glaciers lost 279 billion tons of ice — nearly 67 trillion gallons of water — from 2002 to 2017. In 1986, the Begich Boggs visitor center at Alaska’s Chugach National Forest opened to highlight the Portage glacier. But the glacier keeps shrinking…
Ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica have also have shriveled, melting about 455 billion tons of ice into water, according to the NASA satellite. That’s enough water to cover the state of Georgia in water nearly 9 feet deep.
And it is enough — coupled with all the other melting ice — to raise the level of the seas. Overall, NASA satellites have shown three inches of sea level rise (75 millimeters) in just the past 25 years.
With more than 70 percent of the Earth is covered by oceans, a 3-inch increase means about 6,500 cubic miles (27,150 cubic km) of extra water. That’s enough to cover the entire United States with water about 9 feet deep.
From The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Rachel Woolworth):
A group of community stakeholders traveled part way up Mount Elbert last Wednesday to evaluate the logistics of installing a head gate and flume on Corske Creek.
The group, which included representatives from the Lake County Board of County Commissioners and Public Works, Parkville Water District, the United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the City of Aurora, examined potential sites for the flume, as well as environmental impacts.
In January 2017, the Colorado Division Two Water Court approved Lake County’s augmentation plan after approximately six years in water court.
The court decision granted Lake County administrative use of 34-acre-feet of consumptive use water, stemming from the water right associated with Derry Ditch No. 3.
Additionally, the augmentation plan changed the water’s use from solely agricultural to also allow for commercial and residential uses.
In order to start storing and leasing the 34-acre-feet of water, Lake County must measure and report the amount of water physically flowing through the area. To do so, the county must construct a head gate and flume on the creek.
Last Wednesday’s outing clarified that installation of a flume will have to wait until at least next summer.
Obtaining a permit for the installation of the flume would take between six to 18 months, representatives from the USFS said.
Depending on the location of the infrastructure, wetland and beaver habitat disruption are also potential concerns.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors, California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water levels in Lake Mead before they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level, the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by 320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1 million households in one year.
The task of charting a path around shortage hasn’t been easy. The state’s main water agencies — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), which runs the Central Arizona Project, and the statewide Arizona Department of Water Resources — have been unable to reach an accord regarding who should speak for Arizona before committing to a proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Their standoff — and particularly the Central Arizona district’s management of Colorado River water — has resulted in bruised relations between Arizona and Upper Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Still, there is an increased sense of urgency to get something done, with a record-low snowpack contributing to the driest 19-year period on record. A meager runoff this year from the Rocky Mountains into Lake Powell — the Upper Basin’s key reservoir — is expected to be 42 percent of the long-term average.
“It’s very important for us to start thinking about, what do we need to do to protect Lake Mead and to protect the water users?” Brenda Burman, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, told the Imperial Irrigation District board May 22. “We need to be talking about what does a drought contingency plan in the Lower Basin look like? And we need action. We need action this year. If you take one message from what I’m saying today, it’s that we face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now.”
From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):
A project funded by Pitkin County aims to keep more water in the Crystal River by improving the efficiency of Carbondale’s Weaver Ditch.
The Weaver Ditch Existing Conditions Assessment will survey the roughly three miles of ditch that flow through downtown Carbondale from its diversion point at the headgate just west of state Highway 133 near South Crystal Bridge Drive to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River.
From the survey will come a detailed engineering plan to pinpoint where improvements could increase efficiency, delivery and use of the irrigation water. Four gauges will be installed in the ditch to help measure and understand the flow pattern.
The Weaver Ditch (also known as the Weaver and Leonhardy Ditch) is mostly used for raw water irrigation of Carbondale’s open space, parks, golf courses, schoolyards and residents’ yards. The Weaver Ditch runs through Carbondale and Sopris Park, and residents can use it to water their lawns and gardens for free.
Built over a century ago, the open (unpiped) and unlined Weaver Ditch could potentially be leaking water into the surrounding soil in some areas.
“Most of these ditches are pretty old, and the folks get in there and they clean them out and they do everything they can with them with the resources they have, but they were built and designed and created basically with the technology from the 19th century,” Ken Neubecker told the audience at a May 31 State of the River meeting in Carbondale.
Neubecker is associate director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers and a Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams board member.
Carbondale has three water rights that allow it to divert water from the Crystal River into the Weaver Ditch, a total decreed use of 12.36 cubic feet per second. The oldest of these rights dates back to 1885.
According to Carbondale Utilities Director Mark O’Meara, the town diverts on average about 3.5 cfs from the Weaver Ditch during the irrigation season and has not diverted its full decreed amount in quite some time.
Part of the reason, O’Meara said, is because there often isn’t enough water in the Crystal River, especially during the late summer irrigation season, for the town to divert its full decreed amount.
The survey is a collaboration between the town of Carbondale, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and American Rivers. Pitkin County commissioners approved $30,000 in funding for the project from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund at a May 8 work session.
The survey has a total cost of $40,000 and work is slated to begin this fall once the ditch has been turned off for the season. The remaining $10,000 in funding will come from private donors, according to Heather Tattersall Lewin, watershed action director at the Roaring Fork Conservancy.
Besides leaving more water in the river, another goal of the project is to serve as an example for other upstream irrigators on the Crystal, especially those who might be reluctant to participate in a ditch survey.
“This is a pilot project within the town,” Neubecker said. “Hopefully it’s something that we will be able to expand with the other ditches in the town, the ranch irrigators and other people around the Crystal and Roaring Fork valleys and get this to work.”
Not having enough water in the lower Crystal River has been a concern in recent years. The 2012 drought left a section of the Crystal between Thompson Creek and the state fish hatchery dry during the late summer irrigation season.
Leaving more water in the lower Crystal River — an additional 10 to 25 cfs during times of moderate drought — is a goal of the 2016 Crystal River Management Plan.
To accomplish this, the plan calls on the town of Carbondale to line its leaky irrigation ditches. It also suggests creating non-diversion agreements, or paying irrigators to reduce their diversions, and helping them improve ditches and install sprinkler systems.
According to the Crystal River Management Plan, converting an earthen ditch to a concrete ditch or pipeline conserves as much as 30 percent of diverted water because it reduces water loss to seepage and evaporation.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board holds a junior instream flow right of 100 cfs in summer and 60 cfs in winter, which is currently the only permanent mechanism in place to ensure there is water for ecological purposes. But during times of drought, the instream flow right is often not met due to the board’s junior status to most other diverters under Colorado water law.
The Weaver Ditch is downstream from where the worst dewatering takes place. But Lewin Tattersall hopes the Carbondale project will inspire upstream diverters to survey their own ditches.
“We know there are places upstream where efficiencies could be beneficial and having the town of Carbondale demonstrate that they bought into the process and be an example is great because anywhere on that lower Crystal River could use more water,” Tattersall Lewin said.
Fix the headgate
The Weaver Ditch also will see its headgate and diversion structure improved as part of the Crystal River Restoration and Weaver Ditch Efficiency Project. In March, the board approved $20,700 in funding for the project.
Currently, town staff adjusts the headgate manually, depending on demand, rainstorms and other factors. But the goal, O’Meara said, is for the system that opens and closes the headgate to eventually become telemetry-based and automated.
“It’s a demand-based system that can automatically make adjustments so that you aren’t wasting water,” O’Meara said. “We are constantly looking at areas where we can improve on the ditches.”
Ultimately, the Weaver Ditch survey is a first step toward addressing the potential of a future with less water. As climate change raises temperatures, that could mean longer growing seasons for crops and a greater demand for more water.
“Overall, the need for water is going to grow,” Neubecker said. “It’s going to come down to how efficiently can you use your water.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Saturday, June 16, 2018.