Water Congress will hold a virtual summer meeting beginning August 25 and will continue for 4 weeks. Sessions will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at noon with each one running 60 to 75 minutes. More information on specific topics and related workshops will be released in the upcoming weeks.
Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor August 4, 2020.
West Drought Monitor August 4, 2020.
Colorado Drought Monitor August 4, 2020.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
As Tropical Storm Isaias churned through the northern Caribbean and then northward along the east coast of the United States, an active pattern from the central Plains through the Midwest also brought precipitation with it. Temperatures were cooler through the center of the country, with departures of 6 to 8 degrees below normal in Kansas and Oklahoma while temperatures were well above normal in the Northwest, Southwest and from the Mid-Atlantic up into New England. Several areas broke or tied temperature records for the month: Phoenix had their all-time warmest month ever with an average temperature of 98.9 degrees and Tucson also had their warmest July ever at 91.5 degrees, breaking the previous warmest July by almost a full degree (90.6 degrees in 2005). Sitka, Alaska reached 88 degrees on July 31, tying an all-time record high originally set on July 30, 1976. Richland, Washington recorded 113 degrees on July 30, tying an all-time record high first achieved on August 5, 1961…
Cooler than normal temperatures helped to slow down some of the drought development in the region this week. Temperatures were generally 2-4 degrees below normal, with pockets in Kansas that were 6-8 degrees below normal. Precipitation was mixed as areas of eastern Kansas, eastern Wyoming, central South Dakota, south central and southwest Nebraska and far southwest Kansas all had above-normal precipitation for the week with thunderstorm activity. Improvements to the moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions were made in southeast Kansas and central Nebraska. Moderate drought was expanded in the Nebraska panhandle and northeast Colorado while abnormally dry conditions were introduced here as well. A new area of severe drought was added in eastern Nebraska in response to dryness that has lingered in the region since last fall. Moderate drought was expanded in southeast Wyoming and abnormally dry conditions were expanded in northwest Wyoming…
Well above normal and record-setting temperatures continued in the region, with many areas 2-4 degrees or more above normal for the week. Much of the region was dry for the week with only some spotty precipitation in places; the bulk of the precipitation was in eastern New Mexico and southwest Colorado as the monsoon brought some relief to this region. The hot and dry conditions allowed for a full category degradation over much of Arizona and into portions of southern Nevada and southern California. Even with the rains in New Mexico, the issues related to drought continued and further degradation was shown in the north and southeast portions of the state this week as a mix of both short and long-term issues continue…
In typical summer fashion, precipitation was spotty through the region, with Oklahoma and Arkansas and into northern Texas recording the most widespread precipitation this week. Portions of the Texas panhandle and central into west Texas as well as eastern Arkansas and into Mississippi remained dry this week. Temperatures were 2-4 degrees below normal in Arkansas, Louisiana, western Mississippi, east Texas and north Texas. Portions of central Oklahoma were 6-8 degrees below normal for the week while much of west Texas was normal to 4-6 degrees above normal. Almost a full category improvement was made from central Oklahoma into northwest Arkansas in response to both the cooler temperatures and above-normal precipitation. Areas of southeast Texas were improved with both abnormally dry and moderate drought reduced. Areas of central and west Texas had degradation with an expansion and introduction of extreme drought in this region. Continued improvement occurred over the panhandle of Texas where rains have helped local conditions while neighboring counties saw degradation. Abnormally dry conditions were improved in Louisiana but were expanded in northern Mississippi…
Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that the West remains dry with only light precipitation over portions of New Mexico and southeast Arizona and into the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest. The greatest precipitation is anticipated over the Midwest and areas from Florida north along the East coast. Temperatures during this time will be warmest over the West with departures of 3-6 degrees above normal widespread over the Southwest and into the Rocky Mountains. Cooler than normal temperatures are projected over the lower Mississippi Valley with departures of up to 3 degrees below normal.
The 6-10 day outlooks show the greatest likelihood of above-normal temperatures over the areas east of the Rocky Mountains, with the greatest probabilities over southern New Mexico and the Great Lakes. There are also above-normal chances of below-normal temperatures over the west coast and into the Great Basin. The greatest chances of above-normal precipitation are over the eastern half of the country, centered on the Midwest, and also over the Pacific Northwest. The highest chances of below-normal precipitation are centered over Colorado and New Mexico and dominating the Rocky Mountain states and into the Plains.
The race against time continues for farmers in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, with the state’s top water regulator warning that a decision on whether hundreds of farm wells will be shut off to help save the Rio Grande River could come much sooner than expected.
July 28, at a virtual symposium on the Rio Grande River, the state warned growers that they were running out of time to correct the situation.
“We’ll see in the next couple of years if we can turn around this trick,” said State Engineer Kevin Rein. “If we’re not turning it around, we need to start having that more difficult conversation.”
The valley is home to the nation’s second-largest potato economy and growers there have been working voluntarily for more than a decade to wean themselves from unsustainable groundwater use and restore flows in the Rio Grande. Thousands of acres of land have been dried up with farmers paying a fee for the water they pump in order to compensate producers who agree to fallow land.
The San Luis Valley, which receives less precipitation than nearly any other region in Colorado, is supplied by the Rio Grande, but under the river lies a vast aquifer system that is linked to the river. It once had so much water that artesian springs flowed freely on the valley floor.
As modern-day farmers began putting powerful deep wells into the aquifer, aquifer levels declined, and flows in the river declined too as a result, hurting the state’s ability to deliver Rio Grande water downstream to New Mexico and Texas, as it is legally required to do.
Between July 2019 and July 2020 the valley’s unconfined aquifer, which is fed by the Rio Grande River, dropped by 112,600 acre-feet. All told the aquifer has lost around 1 million acre-feet of water since the drought of 2002.
Through a plan written by growers in the valley and approved by the state in 2011, farmers had 20 years, from 2011 to 2031, to restore the aquifer. But multiple droughts in the past 19 years have made clear that the region can’t rely on big snow years to replenish the valley’s water supplies because there are fewer of them, thanks to climate change.
“So what is the future, the short-term future, if we can’t count on climate? And let’s admit we can’t,” Rein said. “If climate’s not cooperating the only thing that can be done is consuming less water.”
Adding to pressure on the region is a proposal by Denver developers to buy thousands of acres of the valley’s farm land, leaving some of the associated water rights behind to replenish the aquifer, while piping thousands of acre-feet of water northeast to the metro area.
Rein said drastic steps, like drying up more fields and sharply limiting how much growers can pump, are needed. But this could result in bankruptcies and could cripple the valley’s $370 million agriculture economy, which employs the majority of workers in the region. Worse still, though, would be the shutdown of all wells in the region, which is what could occur if farmers aren’t able to make progress toward aquifer sustainability.
While the deadline to restore the aquifer is set for 2031, if it becomes clear before then that growers aren’t able to restore groundwater levels, Rein will be forced to take action early by turning off all wells.
Rein said his decision likely won’t come as early as next year. But, he said, “Do we wait until 2031, the deadline? Probably not.”
The groundwater challenges and associated deadline stem from Colorado’s historic 2002 drought which led to more groundwater pumping than ever before and resulted in a falling water table, decreases in water pressure, and failing wells.
Groundwater declines have been so severe that they’ve affected surface water levels in parts of the valley. In 2004, state lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state to begin regulating the aquifer to make it more sustainable.
Landowners within the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) responded by forming a groundwater management district known as Subdistrict 1—that was just the first of what will soon be seven approved subdistricts.
Subdistrict 1 set goals and developed a plan of water management in late 2011 that spelled out how to reduce groundwater depletions and recharge the aquifer.
In 2012 they began paying a fee for every acre-foot of water used. That revenue helps pay irrigators who elect to participate in voluntary fallowing programs and other efforts to replenish the river and reduce stress on the aquifer.
And by 2017, irrigators had restored 350,000 acre-feet of water in the aquifer, halfway to their goal. But drought and disaster struck in 2018. With less surface water available and high temperatures, irrigators pumped heavily to maintain their crops. And by September 2018, farmers had lost about 70 percent of the groundwater gains they had worked so hard to recover.
“2018 was extremely frustrating,” said Cleave Simpson, manager of the RGWCD who is also a fourth-generation grower. ”It really kind of set us back to where we were when we started this in 2012.”
It’s not over yet. Some of that groundwater lost in 2018 has been recovered and this year participation in the fallowing program is higher than ever, with more than 13,000 acres enrolled, according to Amber Pacheco who manages the RGWCD’s subdistrict programs—that’s in addition to the 8,800 acres fallowed through the conservation programs that have been running since 2012.
Simpson and others, faced with another severe drought year, are deeply worried about the success of their conservation efforts, but dire times are also boosting motivation to solve the problem, Simpson said.
“There’s a sense of urgency from the board of managers that we’ve got to keep doing more,” Simpson said. “We’ve got to get back what we lost.”
Caitlin Coleman is the Headwaters magazine editor and communications specialist at Water Education Colorado. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Megan Holcomb/Tracy Kosloff):
On June 22, 2020, Governor Polis activated the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan and the supporting Drought- and Agricultural Impact Task Forces to respond to deepening drought conditions across the state. As of July 30th, dry conditions now cover 99.35% of the state with 83.72% in severe, extreme, or exceptional drought categories. To stay informed on the evolving 2020 drought season and response resources, please visit the Colorado Water Conservation Board drought website and submit questions on Twitter at @CO_H2O (observations, reports, or images can be tagged with #codrought2020).
The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (April 21 to July 21) continues to show slightly below average moisture for nearly all of Colorado with deeper shortfalls now more prevalent in north central and front range mountains in addition to NE and SW corners.
El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions now show borderline La Niña conditions, with the atmospheric response at weak La Niña or neutral. Sea surface temperature outlooks continue with equal chances neutral/La Niña in the fall and winter.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center’s three month outlook maps continue to show very high confidence for above average temperatures July through Sept. and a stronger chance for below average precipitation compared to last month.
The VegDri Index (a satellite derived product that looks at how well plants are photosynthesizing) shows a bullseye of severe drought conditions in the NE (see Aug 2 map to the right).
Reservoir storage, fell 7% over the last month (now 93% of average) with slightly better than average storage in northern CO and below average in southern CO. The Rio Grande basin-wide storage is only 55% of average for this time of year, the lowest in the state.
Several municipal water providers are reporting above average demands (10-30% above avg) and increased concerns around the lack of precipitation.
In response to decreasing flows and a hot and dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Friday, August 7th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1450 cfs to 1500 cfs on Wednesday, August 5th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.
There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 450 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Here’s the release from the Western Governor’s Association:
As the population of the West concentrates in metropolitan areas, rural communities face increasing challenges to provide the services, infrastructure and opportunities needed to thrive. At the same time, opportunity abounds for rural areas to respond to global economic trends and technological innovation.
How do we re-energize rural communities and help them tap into an increasingly technological world? That was the question WGA Chair and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sought to answer when he launched the Reimagining the Rural West Initiative in July 2019. The Initiative has since examined challenges and highlighted opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life organized around three major pillars:
Opportunity: Creating an environment in which everyone has the chance to prosper, whether as a first-time entrepreneur, seasoned business owner, recent graduate starting a career or a midcareer worker looking to learn new skills.
Connectivity: Ensuring that rural communities are connected by high-speed internet and safe efficient transportation networks, so that people in the rural West can plug into the global economy and take advantage of cutting-edge technology.
Community: Supporting community-led efforts to solve local challenges and building smart, healthy, vibrant communities.
The Initiative sought answers through several avenues, including regional workshops that attracted leading experts on rural development. WGA also developed a series of webinars to further explore ideas that arose from the workshops. And when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, WGA launched a dedicated webinar series to explore what it meant for the communities at the heart of the Initiative’s work.
The Special Report on the Initiative shares more than a dozen policy recommendations to support vibrant rural communities in the West. Highlights include:
Change the way we do economic development to focus on attracting workforce and building community assets that improve quality of life.
Develop policy and financial solutions that can bring broadband access to all rural communities, enabling them to take advantage of remote work opportunities, distance learning and telehealth, among other things.
Strengthen local leadership with the capacity to develop a shared vision for the future along with their community, and then leverage local resources to achieve it.
The report also includes additional details about the workshops, webinars, participants, and podcast series dedicated to the Initiative.
“This current megadrought began in the mid-1990s. So if you do the calculations, 25 years now,” said Dr. Kevin Murphy, researcher of Hydro-climatology at Arizona State University.
Megadroughts can run 10 to 30 years. Dr. Kevin Murphy from ASU looked at tree ring records and found our current one.
“This has been the most severe megadrought over 1,000 years; that’s what we found by looking at the records,” said Dr. Murphy.
A drought like this can put a significant stress on our water supply.
“The Salt River Project was formed in 1903. It was a direct result of the severe drought that occurred between 1898 and 1905,” said Charlie Ester, Water Manager for SRP. That project has kept the water supply flowing into the Valley ever since…
The Salt and Verde rivers rely on mother nature to keep them replenished, with 75 percent of the water coming from our winter storms.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):
Agricultural production is highly sensitive to weather and climate, which affect when farmers and land managers plant seeds or harvest crops. These conditions also factor into decision-making, when people decide to make capital investments or plant trees in an agroforestry system.
A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture focuses on how agricultural systems are impacted by climate change and offers a list of 20 indicators that provide a broad look at what’s happening across the country.
The report, “Climate Indicators for Agriculture,” is co-authored by Colorado State University’s Peter Backlund, associate director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability.”>Climate Indicators for Agriculture,” is co-authored by Colorado State University’s Peter Backlund, associate director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability.
Backlund said the research team started with the scientific fact that climate change is underway.
“We looked at the U.S. agricultural system and examined the climate stresses,” he said. “This report outlines data that farmers and land managers can use to understand how climate change is affecting their operations, and, hopefully, guide the development of effective adaptation.”
In the report, the authors outline how the changes taking place in agriculture affect the system that many people make their livelihoods from.
“We want to help farmers, ranchers and land managers adapt better under climate change, which requires understanding what is actually happening on the ground. These indicators offer ways to measure the impacts of change,” said Backlund.
20 climate indicators, based on robust data
The climate indicators described in the report are arranged in five categories, including physical (extreme precipitation and nighttime air temperature), crop and livestock (animal heat stress and leaf wetness duration), biological (insect infestation in crops, crop pathogens), phenological (timing of budbreak in fruit trees, disease vectors in livestock) and socioeconomic (crop insurance payments, heat-related mortality of agricultural workers).
Backlund said the research team chose these indicators based on the strength of their connection to climate change and availability of long-term data, which is needed to identify how impacts are changing over time and whether adaptive actions are having the desired effect.
“There had to be a measurement of a variable strongly coupled with climate,” he said. “As we go forward, we will better understand the impact of climate change by using these indicators.”
Researchers opted to include nighttime air temperatures as opposed to general temperature because nighttime temperatures have a big effect on the way plants develop.
Some of the indicators have national data, while others are more regional. Heat stress on livestock, a huge issue for feedlot operators, will be of interest to farmers and ranchers in states including Colorado.
“Heat interferes with the rate of reproduction and rate of weight gain,” Backlund said. “This presses on the whole operation; it’s not just that a few more animals will die from getting too hot.”
The crop insurance payment indicator offers insight on the repercussions of climate events.
“You can see if you have a big climate event, like drought, one region will be much more affected than another,” he said. “If farmers have good irrigation, they’ll be much more capable in dealing with periods of low rainfall.”
Backlund said the indicator covering weed range and intensity was also notable. As carbon dioxide concentrations increase, researchers are seeing extreme northern migrations and expanded ranges for weeds.
“Climate Indicators for Agriculture” was produced through a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research under an Interagency Agreement with the National Science Foundation and Cooperative Agreement #58-0111-18-015.
With scientists divided between hope and despair, a new study finds that the model projecting warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius is “actually the best choice.”
When scientists in the early 2000s developed a set of standardized scenarios to show how accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will affect the climate, they were trying to create a framework for understanding how human decisions will affect the trajectory of global warming.
The scenarios help define the possible effects on climate change—how we can limit the worst impacts by curbing greenhouse gas emissions quickly, or suffer the horrific outcome of unchecked fossil fuel burning.
The scientists probably didn’t think their work would trigger a sometimes polarized discussion in their ranks about the language of climate science, but that’s exactly what happened, and for the last several months, the debate has intensified. Some scientists say the worst-case, high emissions scenario isn’t likely because it overestimates the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the next few decades.
But a new study published [August 3, 2020] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that the high-end projection for greenhouse gas concentrations is still the most realistic for planning purposes through at least 2050, because it comes closest to capturing the effects “of both historical emissions and anticipated outcomes of current global climate policies, tracking within 1 percent of actual emissions.”
The scenarios, called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), roughly show how much warmer the world will be by 2100, depending on how much more fossil fuel is burned, and how the climate responds. The best-case scenario (RCP 2.6) is the basis for the Paris climate agreement and would lead to warming of about 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 Celsius) by 2100. In that scenario, about 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs could survive, and 20 percent of Alpine glaciers would remain.
The worst-case pathway (RCP 8.5) would result in warming of more than 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.3 Celsius) by 2100, probably killing nearly all the world’s reefs and definitely pushing vast areas of polar ice sheets to melt, raising sea level by as much as 3 feet by 2100.
Even though it’s unlikely that coal burning will increase as envisioned in the worst-case pathway, cumulative greenhouse gas concentrations are still racing upward toward a level that will cause extremely dangerous heating, said Phil Duffy, who co-authored the paper with two other scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center.
“For near-term time horizons, we think it’s actually the best choice because it matches cumulative emissions. What happened over the last 15 years has been about exactly right compared to what was projected by RCP 8.5,” Duffy said. “For those reasons, it’s still a plausible scenario.”
That holds especially true for medium-term planning through 2050, Duffy said, explaining that the study grew out of some work his research institution was doing with the McKinsey Global Institute exploring the socioeconomic consequences of global warming out to about 2040 or 2050.
“Those are the time horizons those guys care about because it affects things like home mortgages,” he said. “And what about out to 2100? Part of what I think about that is, we have different scenarios because we don’t know, and we shouldn’t characterize scenarios by saying, this one is right, this one is wrong. I think you have to be very careful about saying a scenario is wrong or misleading.”
Stanford Earth scientist Rob Jackson, chair of the Global Carbon Project, said it’s important to remember that RCP scenarios were always intended as an intermediate step on the path to developing more accurate projections that include not only the physical effects of greenhouse gases, but also how those effects could trigger amplification of warming, for example by thawing more permafrost that could unleash unexpected quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term.
“RCP 8.5 was never really ‘business as usual’ … though that’s what it’s called. It’s just an aggressive picture of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, we’re much closer to it today than anyone would have wanted. It remains a useful metric,” Jackson said.
But that usefulness may have been tarnished by widespread characterization of RCP 8.5 as a “business-as-usual” scenario, said Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project. For a while, “business-as-usual” seemed accurate because of a dramatic increase of coal burning in China, he added.
But Canadell said most of the research suggesting a continued rapid increase in coal use is now about 10 years old. In fact, “coal emissions have been coming down since 2013, when China peaked coal emissions. Somehow, people got stuck with papers published a long time ago, which caught the imagination of many,” he said.
Additionally, many scientists published papers about climate impacts like sea level rise and heat waves based on the worst-case outcome because they wanted to show the dramatic effects of extreme warning, he said. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s global climate assessments don’t suggest that carbon-climate feedback loops like increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from permafrost could lead to a worst-case outcome, he said.
On a hopeful note, Canadell added that the rate of carbon dioxide emissions have slowed over the last two decades, didn’t grow at all during the last two years and “won’t grow much over the coming years or longer. Even if we resume some growth, it will be modest,” he said. “We don’t know the future, but we are going to be hovering at stabilization of CO2 emissions for quite a few years, up to a decade, and by then renewable energy will be certainly meeting more than the excess energy demand.”
The discussion about the worst-case scenario may be distracting from more urgent matters, said Fredi Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.
“I think the scenarios are there because we cannot predict the future and thus need to explore a whole range of scenarios. What is not helpful is to choose just one scenario. And what I think is extremely unhelpful is to call it business as usual,” she said.
“All this discussion goes very much away from the scientific understanding we are actually trying to gain and implies every scientist would have to define publicly where they are on the spectrum between denial and doom,” she said, “and that is a very stupid point we seem to have arrived at.”
Much of Colorado continues to suffer through extreme drought, and nearly all of the state is experiencing drought, according to the latest data released by the U.S Drought Monitor, a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.
Climate change could make droughts more severe and more common and disrupt the state’s economy. And while this year’s drought isn’t the most severe of the past decade, it will take “years and years of heavy rain to get back up to normal,” drought monitor author Richard Heim said.
The red on the map below represents extreme drought, while orange represents severe drought…
A year ago, Colorado was pleasantly, surprisingly moist. The Western corners of the state were “abnormally dry,” shown in yellow, the lowest level of drought classification by the monitor. The rest of the state, shown in white, was drought-free…
But conditions deteriorated over the past year, and a combination of short-term dryness and long-term dryness in the state has led to drought. Heim says Colorado has been in a “persistently dry pattern, in general, for most of the state.”
Colorado has also been suffering from relatively warm temperatures and a high propensity for evaporation. When the air is evaporating water at a higher rate, there is lower humidity and less water in the soil, rivers and reservoirs.
The monsoon late last summer was lackluster, which put the state on the trajectory toward drought. The state was dry going into the winter, and a dry and warm spring contributed to the current conditions…
Another important factor in staving off dryness: snow melt. Colorado’s high country snowpack plays a critical role in maintaining moisture in the state. Alpine snow fields serve as a reservoir, and when the snow melts it feeds rivers and streams and percolates into the soil. The unusually dry spring disrupted this process, and the snow melted too quickly to feed water systems downstream.
The past few months have been particularly dry, with vast portions of the state — shown in red in the map below — suffering from precipitation levels well below average…
Though conditions have worsened in the northwestern corner of the state, they have improved in many other places, particularly in the southern portion of the state…
The improvement is explained at least in part by increasing rainfall in a large part of the state. “So far, the early parts of the monsoon season have been promising,” Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher said.
The drought-stricken southern portion of the state has had more rain in recent weeks, which has made a noticeable impact. Precipitation can temporarily lower fire danger and make a dent in dry conditions, but thunderstorms are not enough to lift a region out of drought…
The long-term outlook for Colorado this summer and early fall suggests the drought will persist. NOAA forecasts predict Colorado will be among the driest parts of the country, relative to its normal levels of precipitation. Most of the state, shown in dark brown, has a 40% chance of seeing lower precipitation than normal. Those are the worst odds in the country, the model shows.
Heat, too, will likely exacerbate the likelihood of sustained drought. Much of Colorado has a 60% likelihood of being hotter than normal in the coming months.
“If it remains warmer than average for an extended period, even if you have normal or above-normal precipitation, it doesn’t really end the drought in that situation,” said Schumacher, the state climatologist.
The heat projection shown above reflects recent trends, as much of the Southwest has become increasingly hot during the summer months in recent years. Experts say the western portion of the U.S. has grown hotter and hotter over the years.
The darker the red in the map below, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the hotter the area has been trending. According to the model, there is a “clear warming trend,” compared to previous summers.
Climate change is causing serious concern among scientists who study drought, because it could make droughts more severe and more common. The changing climate could stress systems necessary for staving off drought.
Colorado’s critical snowpack could be severely hit by climate change. The warming temperatures could shorten the snow season, lead to quicker melting and turn wintertime snow into rain. The high altitude of Colorado’s mountains insulates the state from some of those effects, but it’s not immune. As droughts this summer and in years past demonstrate, changes in snowpack can affect the climate year-round.
A warming climate could also lead to less overall precipitation and increase the rate of all-important evaporation.
“Climate change is water change,” Schumacher said.
Because Colorado already has an arid climate, changes in precipitation caused by climate change can have a major impact on the economy and people’s livelihoods. And while drought in Colorado is not a new phenomenon, scientists are increasingly confident that climate change is playing a role.
“What’s happening in the West is attributed to climate change,” said Heim, the drought monitor.
Paonia, a small town in western Colorado with a handful of mesas rising above it, wouldn’t green-up without water diverted from a river or mountain springs. The lively water travels through irrigation ditches for miles to gardens and small farms below. But this summer, irrigation ditches were going dry, and one, the Minnesota Canal and Reservoir Company, stopped sending water down to its 100-plus customers as early as July 13.
Drought was hitting the state and much of the West hard, but a local cause was surprising: Water theft.
Longtime residents who gather inside Paonia’s hub of information trading, Reedy’s Service Station, have a fund of stories about water theft. It’s not unusual, they say, that a rock just happens to dam a ditch, steering water toward a homeowner’s field. Sometimes, says farmer Jim Gillespie, 89, that rock even develops feet and crosses a road.
But this is comparatively minor stuff, says North Fork Water Commissioner Luke Reschke, as stealing ditchwater is a civil offense. Stealing water from a natural waterway, however, is a crime that can bring fines of $500 per day and jail time. That’s why what was happening to people who depend on the Minnesota Canal company for their fields or gardens was serious: Water was being taken from Minnesota Creek before it could be legally diverted for irrigation to paying customers.
Once the ditch company “called” for its water as of June 8, only holders of patented water rights could legally touch the creek. Yet during three trips to the creek’s beginning, starting in mid-June, and then in mid-July, I noticed that two ranches – without water rights — were harvesting bumper crops of hay. How could that have happened unless they’d illegally diverted water to their fields?
At first, no one would talk about the early-drying ditch except to hint broadly that it wasn’t normal. Then one man stepped up: Dick Kendall, a longtime board member of the Minnesota canal company, and manager of its reservoir. “On July 5,” he told me, “I saw water diverted from the creek onto one of the rancher’s land. And I wasn’t quiet about it.”
Kendall reported what he saw to Commissioner Luke Reschke, who oversees the area’s 600 springs, ditches and canals. Reschke dismissed it, he told me, because “The rumor mill is something else on Minnesota Creek. The only people who give me trouble are the new people who don’t know how the system works.” But locals say that four years back, Reschke’s predecessor, Steve Tuck, investigated when locals complained.
Though it may not be neighborly, stopping any illegal diversion is important, said Bob Reedy, owner of Reedy’s Station: “Without water, you’ve got nothing around here.” Annual rainfall is just 15 inches per year, and without water flowing into irrigation canals from the 10,000-foot mountains around town, much of the land would look like the high desert it truly is.
But it’s not just a couple of high-elevation ranchers dipping into the creek. The West Elk Coal Mine runs large pumps that supply water for its methane drilling and venting operations in the Minnesota Creek watershed.
Mine spokesperson Kathy Welt, said the diversion is legal, and that they only take early-season water when the creek water isn’t on call. That early water, however, is what begins to fill the Minnesota ditch’s reservoir.
In other ways, the mine has damaged the watershed by building a sprawling network of roads in the Sunset Roadless Area (Threats at West Elk Mine). A cease and desist order from the State Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety on June 10, sought by environmental groups, halted the building of an additional 1.6 miles of new roads this spring (Colorado Sun). Satellite images of the road network resemble a vast KOA Campground: Where trees once held back water and shaded snowpack from early melting, their replacement — gravel roads –- shed water and add to early runoff.
For all of Minnesota Ditch’s challenges, warming temperatures brought about by climate change could be the real challenge. Kendall said that this spring, when he plowed out the Minnesota Reservoir road, dust covered the parched ground beneath the snow.
Water — so precious to grow grapes, hay, organic vegetables and grass-fed beef, and to keep the desert at bay — had vanished early on Lamborn Mesa above Paonia. Farmer Gillespie summed it up, “there’s just no low-snow anymore — and it’s not coming back.”
David Marston is a contributor to Writers on the Range, (writersontherange.com), a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He lives part-time in Colorado.
After both fires, drinking water tests revealed a plethora of acutely toxic and carcinogenic pollutants. Water inside homes was not safe to use, or even to treat. Water pipes buried underground and inside of buildings were extensively contaminated.
We are environmentalengineers who help communities affected by disasters, and supported responses to both fires. As we conclude in a recently published study of burned areas, communities need to upgrade building codes to keep wildfires from causing this kind of widespread contamination of drinking water systems.
Wildfires and water
Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.
Firefighting can accelerate the spread of contamination. As emergency workers draw hydrant water, they spread contaminated water through the water pipe network.
Metal, concrete and plastic pipes can become contaminated. Many plastics take up these chemicals like sponges. As clean water later passes through the pipes, the toxic substances leach out, rendering the water unsafe.
In the Tubbs and Camp fires, chemicals in the air may have also been sucked into hydrants as water pipes lost pressure. Some water system plastics decomposed and leached chemicals directly into water. Toxic chemicals then spread throughout pipe networks and into buildings.
Limited water testing by state and local agencies showed benzene and naphthalene were present at levels that could cause immediate harm. These, as well as methylene chloride, styrene, toluene and vinyl chloride exceeded longer-term regulated exposure limits. Many of these chemicals cause cancer. All can cause vomiting, diarrhea and nausea after short-term high concentration exposure.
Anyone who drinks the water containing these substances could be harmed. And simply running a faucet could cause chemicals to enter the air. Hot showers and boiling water would vaporize the chemicals and increase the dose a person breathed in. Some of these substances can also be absorbed through the skin.
Dangerous contamination levels
Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer harm at levels as low as 26 ppb.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children’s short-term acute exposure to 200 ppb, and long-term exposure to less than 5 ppb. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is 500 ppb.
In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.
The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.
In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA’s recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed more than 280 days of flushing to make them safe again.
Building codes could make areas disaster-ready
Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.
Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.
Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.
Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.
The smell test doesn’t work
Under no circumstance should people be told to smell the water to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.
Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. “Do not use” orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, disaster after disaster, government agencies have failed to take this step.
While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may mistakenly think the devices can be used for that purpose.
To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.
Preparing for future fires
The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.
Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.
Click here to to the new website. Easy to navigate and find data:
Northern Water is proud to announce the launch of a new organizational website. The website offers a user-friendly experience with improved navigation and functionality.
With a modern, sleek design, the new website uses enhanced functionality, features and content to tell the story of Northern Water and its commitment to delivering water to more than 1 million people and 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Northeastern Colorado while protecting water quality on both sides of the Continental Divide.
Key features of the new website include:
Improved navigation that makes content easy to find;
A search engine that captures targeted results for visitors seeking specific information;
Mobile responsive design that allows website access from any device;
A new data portal that provides real-time data, water quality data and more;
A new customized water accounting portal that empowers water users to manage their portfolio, order and transfer water, and view important documents; and
A news blog to inform the public about Northern Water’s projects, programs and activities. New weekly content will ensure the public is kept up to date on the latest happenings.
The new website has been more than a year in the making with a primary goal of creating a user-friendly platform accessible from any device. Specifically, the goal was to make it easier for visitors to learn about the organization and its rich history, receive project updates and discover ways to more efficiently use water in their landscapes and daily lives.
Click here to score a copy of the paper (William J. Raseman, Joseph R. Kasprzyk, R. Scott Summers, Amanda K. Hohner, and Fernando L. Rosario-Ortiz). Here’s the abstract:
This paper introduces a novel decision-making framework for the optimization of water treatment plant operations. Managers at water utilities face increasing tensions between cost, public health risk, public perception, and regulatory compliance. Multi-objective optimization techniques have been developed to generate innovative solutions to environmental problems with competing objectives. By integrating these optimization techniques with water quality scenarios, water treatment modeling, and interactive visualization, our framework enables water managers to choose among an ensemble of optimal treatment operations. By automating the generation of treatment options, this paradigm represents a shift toward exploration and insight discovery in drinking water decision making. To illustrate this framework, we create a disinfection byproduct (DBP) management problem that incorporates the influence of competing risks and cost objectives on decision making. Using data from the Cache la Poudre River—a source water in Colorado with seasonally-varying water quality—and a hypothetical conventional treatment plant, we evaluate the impact of organic carbon increases on the performance of optimal treatment operations. These results suggest that the hypothetical utility should consider infrastructural improvements if organic carbon concentrations increase more than approximately 25% of maximum historical levels. An interactive exploration of the optimization results reveal to what extent there are tradeoffs between solids handling costs, chemical costs, and DBP exposure. A k-means clustering of these data illustrates that the utility can achieve compliance through a variety of treatment strategies depending on decision maker preferences for cost and risk.
FromThe High Country News (Jonathan Thompson) [July 23, 2020]:
By February, the spread of COVID-19 was already eroding the global economy. First, global travel restrictions depressed the oil market. Then, as the virus reached pandemic proportions, it began hurting even the healthiest industries, throwing the global economy into the deepest rut since the Great Depression.
The recession has been hard on clean energy, which was thriving at the end of last year despite unhelpful, even hostile, policies from the Trump administration. Between 2009 and 2019, solar and wind generation on the U.S. electrical grid shot up by 400%, even as overall electricity consumption remained fairly flat. Renewable facility construction outpaced all other electricity sources, but the disease’s effects have since rippled through the sector, wiping out much of its previous growth.
Global supply chains for everything from solar panels to electric car components were the earliest victims, as governments shut down factories, first in China, then worldwide, to prevent transmission of the disease. Restrictions on construction further delayed utility-scalesolar and wind installations and hampered rooftop solar installations and energy efficiency projects. The setbacks are especially hard on the wind industry, because new wind farms must be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of federal tax credits. Meanwhile, the general economic slowdown is diminishing financing for new renewable energy projects.
Clean energy, which has shed more than 600,000 jobs since the pandemic’s onset, is only one of the many economic sectors that are hurting. In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008. The impacts have reverberated throughout the Western U.S., from coal mines to tourist towns, and from casinos to dairy farms. Some industries, including clean energy, bounced back slightly in June, as stay-at-home orders were dropped and businesses, factories and supply chains opened back up. But a full recovery — if it happens — will largely depend on government stimulus programs and could take years.
In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008.
Infographic design by Luna Anna Archey; Graphics by Minus Plus; Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, BW Research Partnership, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, New Mexico Workforce Connection, Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More frequent, longer-lasting blooms can harm both wildlife and human health — and even kill. Can we learn to predict and prevent them?
From the fall of 2017 to the beginning of 2019, Florida endured a persistent and damaging algal bloom caused by the algae Karenia brevis, also known as red tide. The blooms formed in both Gulf and Atlantic waters, sickening people, killing birds, fish, dolphins, manatees and other marine animals, and driving visitors away from beach towns.
Scientists say it’s a problem that’s going to get worse — and not just in Florida. Harmful algal blooms, which can occur in both fresh and marine waters, are becoming more frequent, lasting longer, and occurring in more places. In recent weeks news reports have warned residents in western New York, Utah and California to stay out of rivers and lakes clouded with these microscopic organisms that can sometimes be fatal to people, pets and wildlife.
To be clear, not all algae are dangerous. In fact the vast majority are beneficial to ecosystems. They’re the base of the marine and aquatic food webs, providing nutrients for fish and shellfish, which in turn feed other animals — including people. They also produce half of our oxygen.
“But a small handful of these organisms are harmful,” says phytoplankton ecologist Pat Glibert of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
We spoke with Glibert about this tiny — but dangerous group — of algae, why they’re becoming more problematic, and what we can do to protect people and ecosystems.
When algae are deemed to be harmful, what is it that they’re harming and how?
Some algae can grow to levels that just create a nuisance. They can overwhelm the system and when they die, their decomposition uses up oxygen, causing dead zones in the sea or fresh waters.
In the case of red tides — named because they visibly color the water a red or sometimes brownish color — their growth reduces the light penetration in the water. So the organisms that live near the bottom, such as sea grasses, are harmed, and the organisms that depend on that bed of grass in the water are also harmed.
But some of these species actually make toxins that can cause fish kills or harm to other marine organisms. And they can also cause harm for humans when we consume the fish or shellfish that has consumed these organisms.
These harmful algal blooms can occur all over. What are the regional differences in the kind of algae and their potential harm?
In marine waters we are primarily concerned with a group of organisms called dinoflagellates. And in fresh waters, the major organisms of concern fall in a category called cyanobacteria. They make very different toxins and have very different effects both environmentally as well as with regard to human health.
The freshwater toxins are concerning for a number of reasons. On initial exposure one may have a skin rash or something uncomfortable that’s relatively mild. But they can get into drinking water and, over a long period of exposure, they are tumor promoters. We know liver cancer is associated with these toxins, and there’s increasing evidence that the freshwater toxins can also be associated with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or ALS. There’s a lot of work going in right now to understand that relationship.
In marine waters we’re typically exposed to toxins through shellfish. The shellfish themselves are not affected by these toxins because a lot of them affect the nervous system and shellfish don’t have a nervous system. But shellfish can accumulate the toxin. One of the diseases that we are very concerned about comes from saxitoxin, which is most common if one is eating mussels. It’s from the dinoflagellate Alexandrium and it can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning. It results in respiratory paralysis. With a high enough dose people do die.
A different toxin is the Florida red tide. That toxin can become aerosolized. If people breathe that sea spray at the beach it can cause respiratory distress, including coughing. Many people can end up going to the hospital, but people aren’t likely to die from it. The other thing that many of the toxins cause is an upset stomach that may take a couple of days to get over, but people do recover.
What about the effects on wildlife?
That depends on the species of algae. But some things like Karenia brevis in Florida are indiscriminate killers. Fish, turtles, manatees are all affected.
In California there’s a toxic diatom species, Pseudo-nitzschia, and it seems to affect sea lions and other large marine organisms. They tend to show symptoms very similar to epilepsy and disorientation. Death is one end point, but there are many other impacts on these organisms as well.
What’s driving the growth of these harmful algal blooms?
We certainly know that blooms are increasing in frequency, in geographic extent, and in duration in many parts of the United States and the world. A lot of this is due to the fact that we are polluting these waters with nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from the land.
Nutrient pollution can come from wastewater, whether it’s discharged from municipal sewage treatment plants or from septic systems. We don’t always do an adequate job, in many places, of removing those nutrients.
That’s one source. A second is runoff from fertilizer application, particularly from agricultural use, but we use a lot of these fertilizers on our lawns, golf courses and gardens as well.
And then there’s the waste from concentrated animal feeding operations, whether it’s chickens or pigs or dairy. A lot of that waste is either held in lagoons and ultimately spread on land. Or it goes into the atmosphere and then comes down with rain. So these operations themselves are highly concentrated sources of pollution that end up in waterways.
The other issue is that the climate is changing. Waters are getting warmer. Many organisms grow better when waters are warmer. That’s true for some of these [algae] species.
But because of climate change we’re also seeing changes in precipitation. We’re having more storms in some areas, more hurricanes, and because the atmosphere is now warmer, when those hurricanes do develop, they are often holding more moisture. So hurricanes become wetter. That means that the rain that comes with these storms washes more of these nutrients into the sea.
What can we do to reduce these blooms?
This is a very difficult problem to solve. The ultimate solution is to try to reduce nutrients that are winding their way into our fresh and marine waters.
At a personal level, we can reduce the amount of nutrient fertilizer we put on our own lawns, but the pollution that comes from the concentrated animal operations, from municipal sewage and from crop agriculture are the big issues that we have to solve. And they’re going to be very difficult to solve because we have to continue to grow our food.
There are approaches that people are taking to try to address blooms at the time that they occur, methods to apply various products to reduce the bloom. There is some success in applying clay to the surface of the water that causes the dinoflagellates to fall to the bottom of the bay or estuary. But those are very localized solutions.
The other approach that we are taking is to build mathematical models of when and why and where a bloom may occur and use that as an early warning system. So we may not be able to solve the problem, but at least we can protect human health or seafood resources before a problem occurs.
There are also a number of exciting areas of research. One is my own, which focuses on understanding these organisms from their physiology — how they obtain their nutrients, how they make toxins, why they make toxins. How is nutrient pollution related to not only growth of the algae but production of their toxin?
Also the other area that I think is so exciting is really pulling all of these factors together in building predictive models and using models to ask questions of “what if we did this, what would it show”? Or “what if we did that, what would be that effect”? We’re making great progress, but the problem is still a very large one.
Has our response to the problem matched the scale of what’s needed and the urgency of the issue?
It always seems to be in the forefront at the time there’s a bloom. And then as soon as that bloom subsides, the public interest and the interest in solving the problem go away.
Clearly we need more money to address issues of nutrient pollution. We need to upgrade sewage treatment plants. We need to address the fact that so much of the country still depends on septic systems or very small “package plant” [treatment systems] that do nothing to reduce nutrients.
The issue of concentrated animal waste is enormous because the animal waste isn’t treated and does make its way into the environment by land or sea or atmosphere, and ultimately gets discharged into waterways.
We need more attention on those issues. We need more attention on developing preventative measures. We need to have more approaches to protect human health from these events because they are going to be increasing.
The outlook is for more blooms and longer blooms in more places if we don’t address all of these problems of nutrient pollution and climate change collectively.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Andy Rossi now manages the conservation district following more than a decadelong tenure with the group. The change comes after the retirement of former manager Kevin McBride, who managed the district since 2009.
Rossi joined the group that same year as its district engineer. His knowledge of the district’s facilities and operations near the headwaters of the Yampa River, namely Yamcolo and Stagecoach reservoirs, was a major factor in the board’s decision to promote him, according to a news release. Before that, he worked at multiple consulting firms specializing in water resources…
Rossi also will oversee the implementation of the district’s new strategic plan. Among the plan’s goals include developing long-term financial sustainability, protecting local water from out-of-district transfers and improving watershed management.
With regards to that last goal, Rossi noted a need to utilize new technology and scientific-based studies for water management. For example, one of the panelists at a recent Yampa Basin Rendezvous discussion, snowpack researcher Dr. Jeffrey Deems, described his work with the Airborne Snow Observatory.
The observatory uses specialized aircraft equipped with sensors to collect data on snowmelt across entire regions of mountains and their waterways. The data has helped communities to better manage their water supplies.
According to Deems, the Kings River Water Association in California was able to avoid a flood declaration in 2019, which led to savings of $100 million, by basing its dam release policy on forecasts from the Airborne Snow Observatory instead of traditional measurements.
Rossi said he would like to incorporate some of the observatory’s data next year on a trial basis, which also would help the researchers receive feedback on the new technology…
These efforts have the overarching goal of preserving the health of the Yampa River for the people, plants and creatures that depend upon it. Rossi described the river as the most important natural resource in the area.
“It is the natural resource that defines this valley,” he said.
To that end, Rossi aims to maintain the district’s existing facilities, such as the dam at Stagecoach Reservoir, which not only helps to meet water demands for a growing community but also generates hydroelectric power.
The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District formed in 1966 following the passage of the Water Conservancy Act of the state of Colorado. Its mission has been conserving, developing and stabilizing supplies of water for irrigation, power generation, manufacturing and other uses.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
New grant program continues implementation of…Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposure
(July 30, 2020) — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new grant program to help protect children in tribal communities from lead in drinking water at schools and childcare facilities. With this action, the agency is continuing to make meaningful progress under the Trump Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures by engaging with tribes and working to protect childrens’ health in these underserved communities.
“Protecting children in tribal communities from lead in drinking water is a priority for the Trump Administration and EPA,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This new funding helps tribes further reduce lead in drinking water by boosting testing for lead in schools and childcare centers. This, in turn, will increase the health and wellbeing of the coming generation.”
Authorized by the Water Infrastructure Improvements of the Nation (WIIN) Act, EPA is making $4.3 million available to support the Lead Testing in School and Child Care Program Drinking Water Tribal Grant Program. Grantees will use the EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water guidance to implement lead testing programs and develop monitoring, maintenance and/or sampling plans that protect children from lead exposure now and in the future. Beneficiaries of the program must be members of a federally-recognized tribe. EPA will host a webinar in August to provide more information about the 3Ts toolkit and an overview of the grant and its scope.
While the U.S. has made tremendous progress in lowering children’s blood lead levels, some children are still exposed to high levels of lead. In December 2018, EPA with other federal partners announced the Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures. Today’s announcement continues the agency’s significant progress in implementing this plan.
Most of the West has been experiencing drought this year. Bart Miller, with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, said that the water levels we are seeing this year are nothing new.
“It’s kind of slightly below average for Wyoming and even more below average for the rest of the Colorado River Basin states,” he said. “We’re part of a trend, or at least if you look over the last 20 years, there’s been consistent below average stream flow, snowpack and just water to work with.”
Miller said areas in Colorado and other more southern states are much drier this year compared to Wyoming.
This winter had an average snowpack, but that it melted fairly early or evaporated quickly, he said. The inflow into Lake Powell from states including Wyoming, Colorado and Utah is projected to be 61 percent of average this year…
“Much of the state, at least half the state, is in one form of drought or another. That’s having some impact, certainly on folks irrigating but also on folks who like to fish and recreate in the outdoors,” he said. “As stream flows get low and as we get more and more years of drought, we’re seeing some of those benefits and attributes becoming more challenging.”
Recent rains from a plume of monsoon moisture have led to drought improvements across southern Colorado according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Extreme drought – the second worst category – receded in Montezuma and Dolores counties. Extreme conditions also fully retreated from Otero County, and nearly disappeared from Bent and Prowers counties. Northern and eastern Baca County also saw improvements extreme drought. In each of the areas, severe drought replaced extreme conditions.
Northwest Colorado saw moderate drought overtake abnormally dry conditions in northern Moffat County, along with all of Routt and Jackson and most of Grand and Summit counties. The remainder of Eagle County also moved from abnormally dry to moderate drought, as did northwest Larimer County.
In northeast Colorado, severe drought reached northeast Logan and northwest Sedgwick counties, while slipping back to moderate drought elsewhere in the two counties. Severe conditions all but disappeared from Phillips County and much of eastern Yuma County. Northeast Cheyenne County in east central Colorado moved from severe conditions to moderate drought.
This week’s crop progress and condition report noted that non-irrigated crop and pasture areas continued to decline in the face of drought, with some spring crops about to fail without rain.
A drought-free area in Larimer, Weld, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson and Gilpin counties turned abnormally dry, while northeast Weld County became drought-free.
Many of the improved areas saw an inch or more of rain over the past week. In some cases, heavy rains caused flash flooding. Despite the improvements, the U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for August paints a grim picture for the state. Existing drought is expected to persist across Colorado, while remaining abnormally dry areas are predicted to move into drought conditions over the course of the month. Drought improvements are not forecast anywhere in Colorado. Above-normal temperatures are also expected throughout August.
Overall, just one percent of Colorado is drought-free, down from 3 percent last week. Abnormally dry conditions cover 16 percent of the state compared to 23 percent in the previous report. Moderate drought moved up 11 percent to 25, while severe drought also increased three percent to 32. Extreme drought shrank to 27 percent from 32 percent.
Moderate to extreme drought conditions cover 84 percent of the state. The total exceeds 100 percent due to rounding.
Here’s an in-depth look at the current flooding disaster in Bangladesh from SominiSengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik that’s running in The New York Times. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
The country’s latest calamity illustrates a striking inequity of our time: The people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.
Torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh, washing away the few things that count as assets for some of the world’s poorest people — their goats and chickens, houses of mud and tin, sacks of rice stored for the lean season.
It is the latest calamity to strike the delta nation of 165 million people. Only two months ago, a cyclone pummeled the country’s southwest. Along the coast, a rising sea has swallowed entire villages. And while it’s too soon to ascertain what role climate change has played in these latest floods, Bangladesh is already witnessing a pattern of more severe and more frequent river flooding than in the past along the mighty Brahmaputra River, scientists say, and that is projected to worsen in the years ahead as climate change intensifies the rains.
This is one of the most striking inequities of the modern era. Those who are least responsible for polluting Earth’s atmosphere are among those most hurt by its consequences. The average American is responsible for 33 times more planet-warming carbon dioxide than the average Bangladeshi.
This chasm has bedeviled climate diplomacy for a generation, and it is once again in stark relief as the coronavirus pandemic upends the global economy and threatens to push the world’s most vulnerable people deeper into ruin.
An estimated 24 to 37 percent of the country’s landmass is submerged, according to government estimates and satellite data By Tuesday, according to the most recent figures available, nearly a million homes were inundated and 4.7 million people were affected. At least 54 have died, most of them children.
The current floods, which are a result of intense rains upstream on the Brahmaputra, could last through the middle of August…
Poor countries have long sought a kind of reparations for what they call loss and damage from climate change. Rich countries, led by the United States and European Union, have resisted, mainly out of concern that they could be saddled with liability claims for climate damage.
It doesn’t help that the rich world has failed to deliver on a $100 billion aid package to help poor countries cope, promised as part of the 2015 Paris accord.
Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):
In the fight over Colorado River water, senior water rights dictate which direction the river flows: west on its natural route from the Continental Divide or east through tunnels to the Front Range. On the mainstem of the Colorado, the most heavily diverted of the river’s basins, two historic structures have much to say about providing water security for Western Colorado: the Shoshone Hydropower Plant in Glenwood Canyon and the Grand Valley Diversion Dam
in DeBeque Canyon.
The next program in the Colorado River District’s “Water With Your Lunch” webinar series on Zoom will explore the importance of Shoshone and the Grand Valley Roller Dam to all West Slope water users. The webinar is set for noon, Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Panelists for the discussion include Andy Mueller, general manager for the Colorado River District; Mark Harris, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Grand Junction; Fay Hartman, conservation director, Colorado River Basin Program at American Rivers and Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director of the Colorado River District.
The Shoshone Hydropower Plant holds the oldest, major water right on the mainstem of the river, 1,250 cubic feet a second dated 1902. When river flows ebb after the spring runoff, Shoshone contributes most of the Colorado River’s water in Glenwood Canyon. In turn, those flows support year-round recreation opportunities and the economic benefits that come with them on the mainstem of the Colorado. The Roller Dam is where most of a suite of old water rights called the “Cameo call,” are diverted. Much of this water today provides water for both abundant agriculture and municipal water users along the mainstem of the river.
Both structures command the river, pulling water downstream that might otherwise be diverted to the Front Range through transmountain diversion tunnels. Shoshone and Cameo water rights are filled before these diversions under the prior appropriation system. When either or both rights are calling, junior diverters must cease or replace the water they take out of priority, keeping our West Slope water flowing west and benefitting water users, recreation and ecosystems along the way, from Grand County to the Grand Valley.
“The Colorado River District was created in 1937 to protect West Slope water and keep water on the Western Slope,” says Andy Mueller, General Manager for the Colorado River District. “The Shoshone and Cameo calls play a vital role in that effort to keep our rivers flowing and our crops growing.”
The penstocks and main building at the Shoshone hydropower plant, which uses water diverted from the Colorado River to produce electricity. The Shoshone Outage Protocol keeps water flowing down the Colorado River when the hydro plant is inoperable. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Number of days the Shoshone outage protocol, or ShOP, was in effect, and stages of the agreement.
The penstocks feeding the Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
The blown-out penstock in 2007 at the Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant back in the days before I-70 via Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Falls hydroelectric generation station via USGenWeb
Shoshone hydroelectric generation plant Glenwood Canyon via the Colorado River District
In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Monday, August 3rd, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
Colorado begins conversation about how to crimp natural gas use in new buildings
Colorado has started talking about how to curtail natural gas in new buildings necessary to achieve the dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the next 10 to 30 years as specified by state law.
Agreement has been reached among several state agencies and the four distribution companies regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to conduct discussions about future plans for pipelines and other infrastructure projects of more than $15 million. The agreement proposes to take a long view of 10 to 20 years when considering natural gas infrastructure for use in heating, cooking and hot-water heating.
The four utilities—Xcel Energy, Black Hills Colorado, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas—altogether deliver gas to 1.73 million customers, both residential and business.
Unlike a toaster or even a kitchen stove, which you can replace with relative ease and cost, gas infrastructure comes with an enormous price tag—and expectation of a long, long time of use. For example, it would have cost $30,000 per unit to install natural gas pipes at Basalt Vista, an affordable housing project in the Roaring Fork Valley. Alternative technology is being used there.
Gas infrastructure is difficult to replace in buildings where it exists. As such the conversation getting underway is primarily about how to limit additional gas infrastructure.
“Given the long useful lives of natural gas infrastructure investments, the (Colorado Energy Office) suggests that this type of forward-looking assessment should include any significant upgrades to existing natural gas infrastructure or expansion of the gas delivery system to new residential developments,” the state agency said in a June 8 filling.
This is adapted from the July 23, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Subscribe for free to the e-magazine by going to Big Pivots.
Meanwhile, the three Public Utility Commission plans one or more informational session later this year to learn about expectations of owners of natural gas distribution systems by Colorado’s decarbonization goals and the implications for the capital investments.
HB 19-1261, a Colorado law adopted in May 2019, charged state agencies with using regulatory tools to shrink greenhouse gas emissions from Colorado’s economy 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
Utilities in Colorado have said they intend to close most of the coal plants now operating no later than 2030. The coal generation will be replaced primarily by renewables. That alone will not be nearly enough to meet the state’s ambitious decarbonization goals. Carbon emissions must also be squeezed from transportation—already the state’s leading source of carbon dioxide— buildings, and other sectors.
“No single strategy or sector will deliver the economy-wide greenhouse gas reductions Colorado needs to meet its science-based goals, but natural gas system planning is part of the silver buckshot that can get us there,” said Keith Hay, director of policy at the Colorado Energy Office in a statement.
“When it comes to gas planning, CEO is focused on opportunities to meet customers’ needs that will lead to a more efficient system, reduce overall costs, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.”
Roughly 70% of Coloradans use natural gas for heating.
While gas utilities cannot refuse gas to customers, several real estate developers from Arvada to Pueblo and beyond have started crafting homes and other buildings that do not require natural gas. Instead, they can use electricity, passive solar, and a technology called air-source heat pumps to meet heating, cooling and other needs. Heat pumps provide a key enabling technology.
A glimpse of this low-carbon future can be seen at Basalt Vista, a housing project in Pitkin County for employees of the Roaring Fork School District and other local jurisdictions. The concept employed there and elsewhere is called beneficial electrification.
In setting out to ramp down growth in natural gas consumption, Colorado ranks among the front-tier of states, lagging only slightly work already underway in California, Minnesota and New York.
In the background of these discussions are rising tensions. In California, Berkeley a year ago banned natural gas infrastructure in new developments, and several dozen other cities and counties followed suite across the country.
Protect Colorado, an arm of the oil-and-gas industry, had been collecting signatures to put Initiative 284 on the ballot, to prevent restrictions on natural gas in new buildings. The group confirmed to Colorado Public Radio that it was withdrawing that and other proposals after negotiations convened by Gov. Jared Polis and environmental groups.
Emissions of methane—the primary constituent of natural gas and one with high but short-lived heat-trapping properties—can occur at several places along the natural gas supply chain beginning with extraction. Colorado ranked 6th in the nation in natural gas production in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
In 2017, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States were the result of extraction, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. However, several studies have concluded that the EPA estimate skews low. One 2018 study 2018 estimated that methane emissions from the oil and gas supply chain could be as much as 60% higher than the EPA estimates.
Greenhouse gas emissions also occur when natural gas is burned in houses and other buildings, creating carbon dioxide. An inventory released in December 2019 concluded that combustion of natural gas in houses was responsible for 7.7% of Colorado’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Just how the shift from natural gas to electricity will affect utilities depends upon the company. For Atmos Energy, a company with 120,000 customers in Colorado, from Greeley to Craig, from Salida to Cortez, gas is just about everything.
Xcel’s talking points
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, sells both gas and electricity. In theory, it will come out whole. But it has been leery about moving too rapidly. Technology advances and costs declines have not yet arrived in the natural gas sector, observed, Jeff Lyng, director of energy and environmental policy for Xcel, in a June 8 filing with the PUC.
Still, Xcel is willing to have the conversation. Lyng pointed to efforts by Xcel to improve efficiency of natural gas use. The company is also participating in industry programs, including One Future, which are trying to limit methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain to less than 1%. For Xcel, he explained, that includes replacing older pipes with new materials that result in fewer emissions. It also means using the company’s purchasing power to push best practices that minimize emissions.
The company intends to offer options to customer, including incentives for electric water heaters programmed to take advantage of renewable energy when it is most readily available. That tends to be at night.
Xcel sees an opportunity to work with builders and developers to design all-electric new building developments to avoid the cost of installing natural gas infrastructure.
“This may require high-performance building envelope design, specifying certain appliances and, especially load management,” Lyng wrote in the filing. “Load management is key to ensuring these new electric devices interact with the power grid and are programmed to operate as much as possible during times when there is excess renewable energy or the lowest cost electricity on the system.”
Not least, Xcel conceded a role for air-source heat pumps, the crucial piece of technology employed in most places to avoid natural gas hookups. Heat pumps can be used to extract both cool and warm air from outdoor air as needed. Xcel sees the technology being an option when customers upgrade air conditioning units with spillover benefits for heating.
“Through this option, given the cooling and heating capacity of air source heat pumps, some portion of customer heating load can be offset through electrification, while maintaining their natural gas furnace or boiler as a back-up.”
Others think air-source heat pumps can have even broader application, especially in warmer areas of the state.
Short-term costs may be higher for electrified buildings. “This will improve over time as electric technologies decline in cost and as the electric system becomes cleaner,” Lyng said. Xcel, he added, favors a voluntary approach: pilot programs that expand.
Lyng, in his testimony, warned against trying to ramp up electrification too quickly. In 2019, he pointed out, the maximum daily demand for natural gas had the energy equivalent of 26,000 megawatts of electricity—more than three times the company’s electrical peak demand.
An unintended consequence may be adverse impacts to people of low income. The thinking is that as the demand for natural gas declines, the cost will actually go up per individual consumer.
“As a smaller and smaller pool of customers is left to pay for infrastructure costs, the large the cost impact will be for each remaining customer,” explained Dr. Scott England, from the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, in a filing.
Social cost of methane?
Xcel has also explored the opportunities with renewable natural gas. At its most basic level, renewable natural gas involves harvesting biogas from wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairies. In its first such venture in Colorado, Xcel last fall began getting 500,000 cubic-feet per day of methane from the treatment plant serving Englewood, Littleton and smaller jurisdictions along the South Platte River in metropolitan Denver.
A bill introduced in Colorado’s covid-shortened legislative proposed to create a renewable gas standard, similar to that first specified by voters in 2004 for electricity. SB-150 proposed targets of 5%, 10% and 15% for regulated utilities, encouraging greater use of biogas from landfills, dairies and other sources.
The sponsor, Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said he plans to reintroduce the bill the next session,
Hansen said he may also introduce a bill that would require the PUC to apply the filter of a social cost of methane to its decisions when evaluating alternatives. This would be similar to the cost of carbon, currently at $46 a ton, now applied to resource generating alternatives.
Longer term, Xcel wants to explore opportunities to produce hydrogen from renewable energy to blend into the natural gas distribution system at low levels or converted back to synthetic gas.
The Sierra Club may push back on efforts to convert to synthetic gas. The organization recently released a report that found significant problems with renewable natural gas, a phrase that is now being used by some companies—not necessarily Xcel—to include far more than the biogas from landfills. The Sierra Club estimates that there’s enough “natural” biogas to meet 1% of the nation’s current needs for natural gas. Other estimates put it far higher.
There will be implications left and right from this transition from gas to electricity. Lyng pointed out that solar energy will have lower value, because of its inability to replace natural gas on winter nights.
For the testimony of Jeff Lyng and Keith Hayes and a few dozen more, as well as the filings as of July 29, go to the Colorado PUC website and look up case 20AL-0049G.
Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:
[On July 28, 2020], The Conservation Fund, Colorado State Forest Service and USDA Forest Service announced the permanent protection of the 16,723-acre Banded Peak Ranch in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains. The protected land will connect a largely undisturbed forest landscape, prevent development in critical wildlife corridors and conserve an essential watershed that provides water to Colorado and New Mexico communities downstream. The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund played a critical role to permanently safeguard these private forestlands from the threat of development.
The completion of a conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch is the final phase of a 30-year effort by The Conservation Fund in the Navajo River Watershed – protecting a total of 65,000 acres that connect wilderness ranches in the upper reaches of the watershed to conserved working ranches at lower elevations on the Navajo, Little Navajo and East Fork of the San Juan rivers. Permanent protection of these lands is the product of public-private partnerships involving 10 different ranches. Over the years, the Navajo River watershed project area has attracted $37 million from federal, state and private partners, including private foundations, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the federal Forest Legacy Program, which is managed in Colorado by the Colorado State Forest Service, and private landowner donations.
These privately owned lands are surrounded by some of the most remote, expansive and undisturbed national forest and wilderness lands in Colorado. As the last, large unprotected property in the upper Navajo River watershed, Banded Peak Ranch completes the protection of a wilderness watershed and preserves one of the most important wildlife migration corridors for mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountain region.
“The headwaters of the Navajo River is one of the wildest and most pristine landscapes we have protected in Colorado. It is a majestic place that has inspired many others to join us in the effort,” said Tom Macy, Western Representative of The Conservation Fund. “If we are going to see grizzlies return to Colorado, it is likely to be here.”
Critical Water Supply, Wildlife Habitat, Working Forests
The watershed has critically important benefits for downstream users in Colorado and New Mexico, providing irrigation and drinking water for 1 million people in New Mexico, including 90 percent of Albuquerque’s surface water supply. Protecting Banded Peak safeguards 33 miles of streams on the ranch, including a 5-mile stretch of the Navajo River, along with 850 acres of riparian and wetland habitat.
Banded Peak Ranch – roughly 20 miles southeast of Pagosa Springs – hosts a premier deer and elk hunting program that provides stimulus to the regional economy, while the carefully managed timber operation supports regional wood processing mills. The ranch has been an active participant in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Ag program for two decades and manages its forests with the guidance of a management plan written in conjunction with the agency.
“Our family has been dedicated to land conservation and land stewardship in Colorado and elsewhere for many years,” said Karin Griscom, the family’s representative. “We were privileged to partner with The Conservation Fund, which has diligently worked with us to protect strategic lands and wildlife corridors in the Upper Navajo River watershed over the last 20 years. We also greatly appreciate the help of the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, elected officials and especially the Wyss Foundation that were all instrumental in the protection of this legacy ranch.”
‘Myriad of Ecological Values’
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs along the eastern border of the family’s properties for approximately 10 miles. Almost completely surrounded by 3.75 million acres of the San Juan National Forest, South San Juan Wilderness and Rio Grande National Forest, protection of the Banded Peak Ranch enhances the adjacent public lands by maintaining healthy forests, critical wetland and riparian areas, and crucial wildlife corridors. Fire modeling shows this ranch is the first line of defense in the watershed for reducing the risk and cost of wildfire.
The conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch will be held by the Colorado State Forest Service. The two adjacent ranches – Catspaw and Navajo Headwaters – are owned by members of the same family and protected through a series of conservation easements held by the Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Open Lands. These perpetual easements ensure that the natural richness and ruggedness of these lands will remain largely undisturbed, allowing ranch operations to continue while eliminating future subdivision for residential or commercial development.
“We’re proud to partner with The Conservation Fund, USDA Forest Service and owners of Banded Peak Ranch to conserve the myriad of ecological values on the ranch,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “By protecting Banded Peak and its forests from future development, we’re ensuring the public benefits that these forests provide – from clean air and water to habitat for our iconic wildlife – persist in Colorado for generations to come.”
Support from Colorado’s Congressional Delegation
The protection of Banded Peak Ranch was made possible by $7 million from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF uses offshore drilling revenue – not taxpayer dollars – to fund conservation projects across the country. The Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that has passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the President’s desk for signature, provides full and permanent funding for LWCF and future conservation victories like this one. Colorado’s Congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, is united in its support for this program and for the protection of the Banded Peak Ranch.
“The conservation of Banded Peak Ranch is excellent news for southwestern Colorado and a testament to the work of local leaders and landowners, The Conservation Fund, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to this decades-long effort, the Navajo River Watershed, and its valuable wildlife habitat, will now be protected for future generations,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, projects like this simply wouldn’t be possible. I’m glad to have supported this project throughout the process, and to have secured full funding for LWCF, so that Colorado can continue to invest in public lands, wildlife habitat and our economy.”
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of conservation programs and has played a critical role in protecting public lands in Colorado and across the nation,” said U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. “Protecting the Banded Peak Ranch completes 65,000 acres of protected wilderness and watershed which will help wildlife in the area flourish. Additionally, preserving the streams at Banded Peak Ranch ensures that communities downstream, including areas in southwest Colorado, have access to clean water for drinking and irrigation.”
“The addition of the Banded Peak Conservation Easement is a welcome expansion to safeguard critical wildlife habitats in southwestern Colorado,” said U.S. Representative Scott Tipton. “I am proud to have worked to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that important projects like this will continue benefitting communities in Colorado for years to come.”
Realizing the opportunity to protect this last piece of the headwaters of the Navajo River, the Wyss Foundation has played an essential role in the Banded Peak Ranch project, providing funds to match the LWCF dollars.
“Thanks to the determination of The Conservation Fund and support from Coloradans demanding more protections for their lands and waters, Banded Peak Ranch will be preserved forever,” said Wyss Foundation President Molly McUsic. “Collectively we must continue taking every opportunity to accelerate our conservation efforts, to safeguard imperiled wildlife and to ameliorate the worst impacts of a changing climate.”
Most of the wildlife species found along southern Colorado’s Continental Divide inhabit the Banded Peak Ranch. Elk, black bear, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, bald eagles, bighorn sheep and many others thrive in the area. Federally threatened Canada lynx also live on the property. The streams on Banded Peak Ranch support the recovery of the San Juan strain of the Colorado cutthroat trout, which was presumed extinct for 100 years, until it was rediscovered on the ranch in 2018. Grizzly bears were once present in this remote wilderness area until the late 1970s. In fact, this was the last place in Colorado to host the iconic and threatened species. Two books were written about the grizzly bears’ presence in this watershed, including Ghost Grizzlies: Does the Great Bear Still Haunt Colorado by David Petersen, and The Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado by Rick Bass.
From the Douglas Creek Conservation District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
Did you learn the definition of an alluvium this weekend? Or what estoppel means? If you attended the Douglas Creek Conservation District’s “Water Law in a Nutshell” class this weekend, presented by Mr. Aaron Clay, you now know the answers to both questions.
The Water Law in a Nutshell class covered numerous water topics pertinent to Rio Blanco County residents. Twenty-four individuals were able to take advantage of the class in-person or by Zoom.
Primary topics included water terminology, measurements of water, Prior Appropriation Doctrine, practical application of water law, and interstate compacts. Excellent questions and engagement from the 25 participants helped everyone have a much better understanding of Colorado water law and how it affects them directly.
One of many examples of valuable information is learning about “domestic preference” in the Prior Appropriations system. While domestic water use has preference over any other purpose, including agriculture and manufacturing, a Colorado Supreme Court case decided that provision does not alter the priority system. “However, it does give municipalities the power to condemn water rights, if the owners of those water rights are paid just compensation.”1
Another example is how important it is to verify water rights when purchasing property with water. If the water right is stock in a ditch company, the purchaser should verify with the ditch company that the stock certificate is recorded in the current landowner’s name and the amount. If not stock in a ditch company, it is important to verify the water right at the clerk and recorders’ office.
The seven-hour Water Law in a Nutshell class was recorded. If you are interested in viewing the class please contact the District office at email@example.com or 970-878-9838 to make arrangements.
A new report shows extreme drought throughout the Bighorn Mountains.
The latest data from the University of Nebraska’s National Drought Mitigation Center shows most of Wyoming is experiencing some level of drought. That ranges from moderate drought in the south and some eastern parts of the state to severe drought in the central region.
Interim Director of the Wyoming Water Resources Data System and State Climate Office Tony Bergantino said there is extreme drought in Sheridan, Johnson, Natrona, Washakie and Hot Springs counties.
“Precipitation pretty much just turned off. We had high winds and warm temperatures that just got things going dry really quick. Reports of soil moisture being really depleted up there,” Bergantino said of the factors that contributed to the drought.
Bergantino said that extreme drought is the highest level the state has seen since October 2018. According to the Drought Monitor, the impacts of D3, or extreme drought, is inadequate surface water for ranching and farming and a poor snow pack.
Bergantino said one of the first fires of the season occurred in Johnson County and there have been subsequent fires in the area. The snowpack had looked good early in the year and into May, but the weather shifted.
Even if rain does pick back up, it won’t be enough to reverse the damage, he said…
He said the agriculture industry will be the most impacted by the drought. The west and northwestern parts of the state are the only areas showing no signs of drought, and Bergantino said that’s because of precipitation they had early on.
The Nature Conservancy’s CEO Jennifer Morris shares why it’s time for radical collaboration on climate change & biodiversity loss—now more than ever.
As a lifelong conservationist and now CEO of The Nature Conservancy, I am an impatient optimist. I hear the clock ticking on climate change. I see the threats to biodiversity and loss of nature with clear eyes. I listen to the stories from vulnerable populations most directly and immediately affected by droughts, intense storms, and other increasingly severe natural disasters.
And yet, I am optimistic. I believe that the global community can come together and enact the right policies, shift industries toward a more sustainable path, and empower local communities to protect the resources that sustain them, for one, simple reason: I believe in the power of humanity to act.
The nature crisis is a human crisis
I’ve always been a nature lover. Even as a kid, I would spend my summers exploring the small forest near my family’s home in Atlanta, Georgia, scribbling in my notebook the species names of birds and trees I could identify. But, twenty-seven years ago, as an English teacher in a small rural community in Northern Namibia, I began to fully understand our capacity for building a better future by protecting nature.
After a day of helping women collect firewood and digging boreholes to access fresh water from the aquifer, my friend Ria and I sat outside under a full moon to look at pictures from her youth. She shared photos of her community surrounded by lush forests and told stories about fishing and harvesting fresh corn.
Her life as a grown woman was much different: her home was surrounded by drought-stricken fields, and she spent much of her day traveling far distances to collect water and firewood for her family—distances that continued to grow due to deforestation. These long journeys came with increased risk of violence, less time at home, fewer hours studying in my class, and no chance to find a paying job.
That night I began to understand on a deeper level how connected our health and economic wellbeing are to the health of our local environment. From that moment, I set out to devote my career to protecting nature and bettering the lives of all who depend on it.
And I can’t imagine a more urgent time to be wholly dedicated to this work than now.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the greatest threats the world faces. These twin crises pose enormous risks for communities and economies around the world. A failure to act on them is to be complicit in exacerbating the challenges we face as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention global conflict, income inequality, and other hardships that have persisted for generations. Action is not only a moral obligation, it is an existential imperative. And all paths to a better world depend on our ability to protect the lands and waters that provide us all with clean air and water, healthy food and a stable climate.
Collaboration is our strongest lever for change
Change at a meaningful scale cannot be achieved by any one organization alone. It cannot even be achieved by many likeminded organizations. Scientists, Indigenous peoples, and environmentalists have been shouting from the rooftops about the degradation to our ecosystems and changes to our climate for decades. We were warned about severe impacts to future generations. Well, those future generations are here now. And our efforts to date, while important and meaningful, have been insufficient to achieve systemic change.
For tangible, lasting results we need to engage in radical collaboration—across sectors, across beliefs, across knowledge bases.
This spirit of collaboration is part of The Nature Conservancy’s DNA—and a big reason why I was drawn to lead this great organization. For 69 years, TNC has rallied people together around a shared vision to protect and care for nature. As our impact grew across all 50 states and 79 countries and territories, we brought even more partners to the table. TNC’s science-first, nonpartisan approach to working with government leaders helps drive policies that incentivize the protection of nature while balancing the economic and health needs of communities. Through corporate partnerships, we engage with large, influential companies, and leverage scientific insights to influence change up and down supply chains and across industries. And together with investors and lenders, we are unlocking new sources of capital to extend the impact of our conservation work.
Just as critical to the success of our work, and the health of our planet, is engaging and supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities who have stewarded their lands since time immemorial. Strengthening their agency and helping them manage natural territories in a way that enhances livelihoods will also drive conservation outcomes for a quarter of the world’s lands—areas rich in biodiversity that also store an immense 17% of the planet’s forest carbon.
Science-based conservation for a changing world
Underpinning these collaborations is rigorous science and innovation to keep pace with an ever-changing world—from launching world-class spatial mapping that helps monitor protected areas and study migration patterns, to leveraging our financial and deal-making expertise that drives private investment in nature, to scaling up the protection and restoration of forests, grasslands and wetlands that sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Our science-based, collaborative approach helps us identify where to work, how to do it, and who we need on board to get it done.
The current pandemic has made considerable impacts to our conservation efforts and the people we work with around the world. We’ve had to pause important field projects, like clearing invasive plants to avoid water loss and protect biodiversity in the watersheds of Greater Cape Town, South Africa—a job that provided income to more than 120 local people. In places like India, we are rethinking how we can support rural communities, as hundreds of thousands of migrants return to their villages after leaving locked-down cities. And what we had hoped would be the “Super Year for Nature” is now in flux, as major international forums, where we intended to push for big policy changes, have been postponed.
We can’t ignore these setbacks, but we can do everything in our power to focus on the long-term health of our organization, our communities, and our planet. That’s why we will be doubling down on the areas where we know we can have the greatest impact—protecting the planet’s lands, oceans, and freshwater and addressing climate change. Given the urgency of our mission we must increase our focus on these key areas, direct our resources to them to ensure results, and—in this data-rich era—strengthen our ability to measure our impact. And, just as important, we will hold ourselves accountable to our values in all we do, conducting ourselves with integrity beyond reproach and treating all of our colleagues, volunteers, and partners with dignity and respect.
The next decade of conservation will look different as society focuses on rebuilding our economies and communities in the wake of the pandemic, and this period ahead will be critical for determining the trajectory of our planet’s health. As we chart a new course forward, nature will matter more than ever—and we have the opportunity to highlight its crucial role in sustaining our health, our livelihoods and our well-being. At The Nature Conservancy, we will be shining a spotlight on nature-based solutions that are key to addressing climate change, filtering and cleaning air and water, protecting coastal communities from increasingly severe storms and sustaining local economies.
These are uncertain times, but around the world we are seeing now how quickly we are capable of responding to a global crisis when we work together. It’s a real source of hope. And it is this focus and scale of action that our other longer-term crises demand in order to create a more sustainable world for future generations.
This role is more than just a job for me—it is a calling. And I know I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by thousands of colleagues, supporters, volunteer leaders, and partners who have dedicated their life’s work to protecting and restoring natural places. I am so excited to join them, and all of you. Only together can we act on the level our planet demands.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust, et al. (Mark Harris, Mark Harris, Donald Anderson, and Scott McCaulou):
On Saturday, August 1, Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District will initiate their implementation of an agreement that will deliver 877 acre-feet of water to the Grand Valley Power Plant and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River above its confluence with the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colorado this summer. Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District identified available capacity in their water delivery system for Colorado Water Trust to deliver water decreed for power generation through the Grand Valley Power Plant, from where it subsequently returns to the 15-Mile Reach. This delivery will mark the second execution of an innovative agreement that Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District entered last year with assistance from the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Bureau of Reclamation.
The agreement furthers common goals of streamflow restoration for the 15-Mile Reach and takes steps toward unlocking a $425,000 grant from Walton Family Foundation to renovate the aging Grand Valley Power Plant. Thanks to donor support, Colorado Water Trust has purchased stored water from the Colorado River District. That water will be released from Ruedi Reservoir to the Colorado River for use in the power plant and to increase 15-Mile Reach flows to support four species of endangered fish including the Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, Bonytail, and Razorback Sucker.
“We are so grateful to Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District for coordinating with us to boost flows in the 15-Mile Reach. Seeing the project work for a second year in a row proves the lasting success of our partnerships, and it’s particularly important to the fish this year, with flows as low as they are.” says Kate Ryan, Senior Staff Attorney for Colorado Water Trust.
This is the second time in the past two summers that Colorado Water Trust purchased water stored in Ruedi Reservoir for release to the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River to help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperatures. Purchases since 2019 will result in delivering over 1200 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River. Colorado Water Trust works closely with Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District to identify when there is available capacity in the power plant. Colorado Water Trust also works closely with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to determine when the 15-Mile Reach needs supplemental water most to support the fish. When these two conditions overlap, Colorado Water Trust releases the water purchased out of storage for delivery to the power plant and then the 15-Mile Reach.
“Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association appreciate the Colorado Water Trust’s facilitation of this agreement–it benefits our two organizations at the Grand Valley Power Plant, and the many other water users who support flows through the 15-Mile Reach. We believe these kinds of collaborative efforts to be of great value to the people of Colorado, the Colorado River, and the fish,” says Mark Harris, General Manager of Grand valley Water Users Association.
“Maintaining adequate flows for endangered fish through the 15-Mile Reach is possible only because of the extraordinary cooperation our Recovery Program enjoys from multiple partners and stakeholders. We are delighted to add the Colorado Water Trust to that mix of cooperators. This year, in light of unusually low flow conditions in the Colorado River, the additional water made available through this leasing arrangement is especially welcome,” says Donald Anderson, Hydrologist and Instream Flow Coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy also helps to inform Colorado Water Trust of conditions on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers to so that releases will complement flows on the stream sections between Ruedi Reservoir and the Colorado River. This year, the water released from Ruedi Reservoir will serve a few purposes before it supports the health of endangered, native fish in the Colorado River in the 15-Mile Reach. The water will bring flows in the Fryingpan River closer to their average, and will cool water temperatures on the Roaring Fork River. Finally, on the Colorado River, the water will generate hydropower, helping to produce clean energy.
“Flowing rivers are an economic engine in Colorado, providing immense value to irrigators, drinking water providers, and recreation across the state,” says Todd Reeve, CEO of Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Director of Business for Water Stewardship. “It is for this reason that we are seeing more and more corporate funders step forward to invest in innovative projects like this one that help keep the rivers in Colorado flowing.”
Essential to the project’s success are dedicated donors: Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Coca Cola, Colorado Water Trust donors, and Daniel K. Thorne Foundation. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of local and state agencies, water releases to support the health of the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River would not be possible.
ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization that works collaboratively with partners all across Colorado on restoring flow to Colorado’s rivers in need using solutions that benefit both the people we work with and our rivers. Since 2001, we’ve restored 12 billion gallons of water to rivers and streams across the state.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
Electricity generation and consumption has changed rapidly over the last ten years, driven by steep price drops for generation and technological innovations impacting utilities and consumers alike. After decades of research and development, market development, and production efficiency gains, renewable energy is now a proven and cost- effective way to deliver electricity across the country.
There is concern that the COVID-19 pandemic could negatively impact current and planned renewable energy facility investments and construction. Indeed, the pandemic is creating challenges to both supply and demand. While the risk to current and planned projects from the pandemic is unclear at this time, existing facilities should not be affected. The expectation is that these facilities will continue to provide a steady source of jobs and tax revenue to communities across the eastern plains. These benefits will prove valuable to communities as the pandemic takes a toll on many other sectors including leisure and hospitality, retail, and health care.
For Colorado’s eastern plains communities, renewable energy and advanced energy technologies have brought thousands of jobs, and investment has supported communities across the region. The intent of this study is to profile the renewable energy industry in Colorado’s eastern plains and measure the economic benefits it provides in terms of construction, investment, employment, and business activity. For the economic benefits estimates, the study not only details construction and operations for the region’s existing renewable facilities but offers a prospective look at the benefits realized by 2024. The following bullets highlight key findings and estimates of the size and growth of these benefits.
In 2018, Colorado’s eastern plains comprised 5.5 percent of the renewable energy capacity in the state and represented all the state’s wind energy and about 55 percent of the state’s solar capacity.
Renewable energy capacity has expanded rapidly in Colorado’s eastern plains. In 2010, there was 1,253 MW of nameplate capacity in nine wind facilities in Colorado’s eastern plains. By the end of 2020, another 3,707 MW of wind and solar capacity is expected to be operable in the eastern plains. By 2024, the eastern plains’ renewable capacity is expected to expand by more than 22 percent, adding 1,109 MW and bringing the region’s wind and solar capacity to 6,069 MW.
By 2024, the state is expected to add its largest solar facilities and first utility-scale battery storage components with the construction of the 250-MW Neptune solar plant and the 200-MW Thunder Wolf solar plant.
Renewable and Advanced Energy Employment
From 2015 to 2019, renewable and advanced energy employment increased by more than 40 percent in Colorado’s eastern plains, growing to an estimated 6,334 workers in 366 business establishments.
Wind is critical to the eastern plains’ employment base, combined with wind facility installation, operations, and maintenance, wind technologies employ about 70 percent of renewable and advanced energy workers on the eastern plains.
Since 2015, job opportunities for solar installation have increased significantly in the eastern plains. Solar installation jobs have risen from an estimated 42 jobs in 2015 to 151 jobs in 2019.
Economic Benefits of Construction and Investment
Renewable energy development on Colorado’s eastern plains has brought significant investment to the state. From 2000 to 2024, there will have been an estimated $9.4 billion in construction and investment activity in the eastern plains. By 2024, investment will have increased by 75 percent since 2016.
Although many purchases for renewable energy facilities are made out-of-state, Colorado has benefited from local spending on equipment, construction materials, design, project management, planning, and local workers. As a result, the direct economic benefit in Colorado of construction and investment in the eastern plains’ renewable facilities will total an estimated $2.7 billion from 2000 to 2024.
By 2024, thousands of Coloradans will have benefited from work supported by renewable energy investments. An estimated 3,158 state workers will be directly employed in the construction of the facilities from 2000 to 2024. In addition, components for a handful of the eastern plains’ wind facilities have either been manufactured or will be manufactured at Vestas plants in the state. These purchases will directly employ another 2,386 workers by 2024.
Beyond direct output and employment, renewable facility construction and investment has supported many ancillary industries throughout the eastern plains since 2000. Combined, the total direct and indirect benefits of renewable energy development in Colorado’s eastern plains will be an estimated 5. billion in total output ($2.7 billion direct output + $3.1 billion indirect and induced output) produced by 12,819 employees (5,544 direct employees + 7,275 indirect employees) earning a total of about $706.9 million ($355.6 million direct earnings + $351.3 million indirect earnings) from 2000 to 2024
Construction benefits are temporary, occurring only during construction. Economic Benefits of Annual Operations by 2024
The ongoing operations and maintenance of renewable facilities on Colorado’s eastern plains support long- term employment opportunities for hundreds of people in the state. By 2024, renewable facilities will support the direct employment of an estimated 352 workers.
By 2024, wind energy facilities will provide farmers, ranchers, and other landowners on Colorado’s eastern plains with $15.2 million in annual lease payments, up from an estimated $7.5 million in 2016.
Renewable energy projects will contribute an estimated $23.1 million in annual property tax revenue throughout districts in the eastern plains by 2024, up from an estimated $7.2 million in 2016.
Therefore, the total direct and indirect benefits in Colorado of annual renewable energy operations in the eastern plains will be an estimated $388.6 million in total output ($214.6 million direct output + $174 million indirect and induced output) produced by 1,089 employees (352 direct employees + 737 indirect employees) earning a total of about $56.7 million ($21.9 million direct earnings + $34.8 million indirect earnings) by 2024.
These benefits are likely to occur annually assuming similar business conditions and project parameters.
All Colorado River basin states have the right to develop and use their water, in accordance with the compacts that form the basis for the Law of the River. They can do so whenever in time the need arises.
Utah is entitled to 23% of the water available to the Upper Basin. Unlike the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California), the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah) receive a percentage of available water rather than a set acre-foot volume so their water supplies are adjusted based on actual flows. Utah’s annual compact allocation is 1.725 million acre feet, but its annual reliable supply (or the amount of water available for development after considering climate variability) is approximately 1.4 million acre feet — or, 80% of what was allocated to the state in the compacts.
Utah currently uses less than 1 million acre feet of Colorado River water — well under its annual reliable supply. Utah’s rapid population and economic growth has necessitated that the state develop its available water resources. Utah’s development of its currently unused Colorado River water complies with the law and does not jeopardize other state allocations.
For nearly two decades, Utah has studied the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP), a $1.4 billion project that would deliver 6% of its annual reliable supply of river water to the state’s driest and fastest-growing region — Washington County.
Washington County has reduced its per-capita use by 30% while nearly doubling its population from 2000-2018. Additional conservation reductions are planned. County water use is comparable to other desert communities when calculated using similar methodologies.
The Bureau of Reclamation recently released its draft Environmental Impact Study on the LPP and determined that the project is needed, the water is available and there are few environmental impacts.
Individuals who suggest Colorado River basin states should “challenge” Utah’s use of its water fail to understand the Law of the River, which authorizes each state to develop and use its respective share.
Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought monitor.
US Drought Monitor July 28, 2020.
West Drought Monitor July 28, 2020.
Colorado Drought Monitor July 28, 2020.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
High pressure dominated the southern half of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) again during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. Upper-level weather systems tracked across the U.S.-Canadian border, dragging surface lows and fronts along with them. The High brought hot temperatures to much of the South, East, and West, with daily maximum temperatures exceeding 90 degrees F every day. The fronts brought cooler temperatures to the Upper Midwest at the beginning of the week, but maximum temperatures began to exceed 90 degrees across the Plains and eastward as the week wore on. The hot temperatures increased evapotranspiration (ET) which dried soils and stressed crops and other vegetation. This was seen in ET models such as the EDDI and ESI and several soil moisture models, satellite observations of soil moisture, and agricultural field reports. As noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on July 27, 50 percent or more of the topsoil moisture was short or very short (dry or very dry) in states across the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, southern Plains, southern to central Rockies, and Far West. For the nation as a whole, 37 percent of the topsoil moisture and 35 percent of the subsoil moisture was short or very short, and 30 percent of the pasture and rangeland was in poor to very poor condition. Drought or abnormal dryness expanded or intensified across parts of the West, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast where little to no rain fell and 30- to 90-day precipitation deficits mounted. But locally heavy rainfall was generated by the fronts in parts of the Plains, Midwest, and East. Heavy rain also fell across southern Texas when Hurricane Hanna struck, and Hurricane Douglas graced parts of Hawaii with beneficial rain. Where the rain fell on drought or abnormally dry areas in these regions, contraction occurred…
Areas of 2+ inches of rain occurred over parts of Nebraska and Kansas and a few parts of the Dakotas, while parts of Colorado had an inch or more of rain. But little to no rain fell in a few areas of Kansas, across parts of Nebraska and Colorado, across even more of the Dakotas, and across most of Wyoming. Contraction of abnormal dryness and moderate to extreme drought occurred across Kansas and parts of Colorado; abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought contracted in parts of Nebraska; and abnormal dryness and moderate drought were trimmed in parts of the Dakotas. But abnormal dryness or moderate drought expanded in parts of Colorado and the Dakotas, and abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought expanded in Nebraska. Wyoming saw expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate to extreme drought. Moderate to extreme drought covers most of Colorado and Wyoming…
The Southwest Monsoon sparked some showers over New Mexico, with a few showers making an appearance over parts of Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Montana, but most of the West received little to no rain this week. Severe drought disappeared from southwest Montana, but the rain that fell in New Mexico was not enough to improve conditions there. Severe to extreme drought expanded in New Mexico; moderate to extreme drought expanded in Utah, and Nevada; moderate to severe drought grew in Arizona; abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought added acres in Montana; and moderate drought expanded in northeast California and adjacent Nevada…
Central Oklahoma was inundated with heavy frontal rain while Hanna brought heavy rain to the Gulf Coast from southern Texas to Mississippi. Rainfall exceeded 3 inches in these areas, with locally heavier amounts. Parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, and northern Texas received an inch or more of rain. But little to no rain occurred in a large swath from southwest Texas to western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Abnormal dryness and moderate to extreme drought contracted, especially in central Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. Abnormal dryness contracted in parts of Tennessee and Louisiana. But abnormal dryness expanded in parts of eastern Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Abnormal dryness and moderate to extreme drought expanded in other parts of Texas…
For July 30-August 3, the ridge of high pressure shifts to the West with a trough setting up in the upper atmosphere over the eastern half of the CONUS. Little to no rain is forecast for most of the West, with half an inch or less across parts of the Rockies and only a couple inches stretching across the middle of New Mexico. But an inch or more of rain is expected from the central Plains to southern Appalachians and southern Great Lakes, with heavy rain (4 inches or more) widespread from Missouri and northern Arkansas to Kentucky, Indiana, and western North Carolina. A tropical system is predicted to sideswipe the East Coast, dumping an inch or more of rain across Florida to the Mid-Atlantic states, 3 or more inches over southern Florida, and up to 2 inches over eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. Half an inch or less of rain is expected from Texas to southwest Georgia, and across the northern Plains to wester Great Lakes. In the Northeast, predicted precipitation amounts range from nearly 2 inches in western New York to a tenth of an inch along coastal New England. The ridge will keep temperatures warmer than normal in the West while the trough brings cooler-than-normal temperatures to much of the CONUS east of the Rockies. The outlook for August 4-8 calls for a greater than average chance of wetter-than-normal conditions along the East Coast, in the northern Plains, across Deep South Texas, and most of Alaska. Odds favor drier-than-normal conditions across most of the West, the southern Plains, the central Gulf of Mexico coast to the Great Lakes, and over northern Alaska. Warmer-than-normal temperatures are likely across the Southwest and along the immediate East Coast, while cooler-than-normal temperatures are likely to dominate from the Plains to Appalachians, in the Pacific Northwest, and across most of Alaska.
Historically Navajos have lived off the land. But decades of assimilation, forced relocation and dependence on federal food distribution programs changed that.
Navajo farmer Tyrone Thompson is on a mission to help people return to their roots. He’s even taken to social media to teach traditional farming techniques.
In a recent video he demonstrates how to layer organic matter to turn dry clay into rich fertile soil.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the Navajo Nation a food desert. People travel up to 40 miles to get their groceries. But Thompson says they don’t have to.
“As we see the shelves emptying of food and toilet paper we kind of reconnect to our roots,” Thompson says. “Some of the tools that were given by our elders and our ancestors — our planting stick and our steering sticks — those are our weapons against hunger and poverty and sickness.”
The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2020 water year.
The meeting will be held on August 5, 2020, from 6:30-8:00 pm using Webex (Webex is a web-based platform that hosts online meetings with HD video, audio and screen sharing.)
To join from a mobile device (attendees only):
Dial: 1-415-527-5035, 1992510741## US Toll
To join by phone:
Dial: 1-415-527-5035 US Toll
The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2020 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District and Garfield County leases of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.
For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 290-4895, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Energy policy expert Leah Stokes explains who’s pushing climate delay and denial — it’s not just fossil fuel companies — and what we need to do now
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14% in April. But the drop won’t last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7% this year.
After that, unless we make substantial changes to global economies, it will be back to business as usual — and a path that leads directly to runaway climate change. If we want to reverse course, say the world’s leading scientists, we have about a decade to right the ship.
That’s because we’ve squandered a lot of time. “The 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were lost decades for preventing global climate disaster,” political scientist Leah Stokes writes in her new book Short Circuiting Policy, which looks at the history of clean energy policy in the United States.
But we don’t all bear equal responsibility for the tragic delay.
“Some actors in society have more power than others to shape how our economy is fueled,” writes Stokes, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We are not all equally to blame.”
Short Circuiting Policy focuses on the role of one particularly bad actor: electric utilities. Their history of obstructing a clean-energy transition in the United States has been largely overlooked, with most of the finger-pointing aimed at fossil fuel companies (and for good reason).
We spoke with Stokes about this history of delay and denial from the utility industry, how to accelerate the speed and scale of clean-energy growth, and whether we can get past the polarizing rhetoric and politics around clean energy.
What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?
What a lot of people don’t understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8% every single year from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.
So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that every single year.
It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We’ve been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.
Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?
A lot of people think renewable energy is growing “so fast” and it’s “so amazing.” But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It’s losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the best year grew by only 1.3%.
Right now we’re at around 36-37% clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren’t growing. Nuclear supplies about 20% of the grid and hydro about 5% depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we’re at about 10% renewables, and in the best year, we’re only adding 1% to that.
Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we’ve been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the narwhal curve.)
How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?
We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That’s the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.
We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn’t extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn’t extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.
And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up dying fossil fuel companies and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.
So we are moving in the wrong direction.
Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?
What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they’ve done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don’t agree with them.
Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can’t hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.
It’s not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that’s because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.
And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?
Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves and they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.
There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?
Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.
They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.
But that’s not the only dark part of their history.
Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.
The other thing they’ve done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They’ve resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They’ve tried to roll them back. They’ve been successful in some cases, and they’ve blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.
You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?
Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the Justice Democrats is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don’t care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.
The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.
So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I’ve shown in other research, politicians don’t know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.
I think the media has a really important role to play because it’s very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.
But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody’s going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people’s lived experiences to climate change.
With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?
I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans’ health.
We know that breathing dirty air makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that’s more just for all Americans.
But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
From email from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (James Heath):
This is a notification that the Shoshone Power Plant is going down to one unit and their call will be released from the stream. The Shoshone Outage Protocol will not operate due to the target flow of 1250 cfs being insufficient to maintain flows in the Grand Valley to prevent a call from the irrigation water rights. Therefore, the call will be placed tomorrow morning at Cameo under a junior swing or bypass right.
Starting at 8:00 am on Thursday, July 30, 2020 the calling location will be the Grand Valley Canal (WDID 7200645), with the Con-Hoosier Tunnel water right (Admin Number 35927.00000).
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) received a water court decree for an instream flow water right on Himes Creek, located in San Juan National Forest, to protect a rare population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. This lineage of trout is native to the San Juan River Basin and was previously thought to be extinct.
“This instream flow water right on Himes Creek is one of the most significant that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has appropriated in the program’s history,” said CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “CWCB staff, along with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, consulted with leading researchers and scientists for the past two years to develop a strategy to best protect this extremely rare and at-risk species.”
When this instream flow recommendation was initially brought to CWCB in 2017, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was interested in protecting flows on Himes Creek to support a genetically pure population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. During data collection, genetic testing confirmed that the fish in Himes Creek have the same genetic markers as the San Juan lineage once thought to be extinct. Researchers estimate that the total number of San Juan lineage trout in all known populations is estimated to be as few as 1,000.
The CWCB approved the Himes Creek instream flow recommendation in March 2019, and the water court issued a decree for the Himes Creek instream flow water right on July 27, 2020.
“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, said in a recent statement…
At the same time, Denver Water has its own case with Boulder County, which initially denied the utility’s request to be exempt from a local review of its plan. A Boulder district judge ruled in December that Denver Water must go through the county’s review process. Denver Water has appealed that decision through the Colorado Court of Appeals and must file an opening brief by Aug. 4.
This means that ultimately county officials could have a say over approval of the expansion. Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said they have that power thanks to a series of Colorado statutes referred to as 1041 Regulations.
Boulder County could also request another hearing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Hughes declined to say whether his office will do so.
After receiving that federal approval, Denver Water said it plans to finish the design phase of the expansion next year, followed by four years of construction.
“The FERC order is an important advance for the project,” a Denver Water spokesman said in an email to CPR News. “From here, related to legal matters, we’ll need to take some time to evaluate our options and the appropriate next steps.”
The sound of revving chain saws and crackling tree limbs filled Palisade’s Riverbend Park on Monday morning as Western Colorado Conservation Corps crews sawed through invasive Russian olive trees and ripped up tamarisk…
The work to restore the native habitat along the Colorado River in the park is thanks to a partnership between the Town of Palisade and RiversEdge West, which is working to remove the invasive species.
RiversEdge West is using a grant to fund the Conservation Corps work, which will continue for four days this week, moving east of the boat ramp. Costigan explained how the non-native plants harm the river ecosystem.
“They out-compete with the native plants, and they don’t let the native willows and cottonwoods grow how they’re supposed to,” Costigan said. “They also grow in so thick, it blocks wildlife from accessing the water. So there are a lot of reasons that we want to remove these invasive plants.”
Troy Ward, Palisade director of Parks, Recreation and Events, said the collaboration with RiversEdge began last year and is expected to continue for some time to fully restore the riverbank in Riverbend Park…
As part of its grant, Rivers- Edge West will also help Palisade plant native vegetation in the area.
It has already planted several cottonwood trees in the bank it had previously cleared. In addition to cottonwoods, Ward said it will plant willows and native grasses…
The town also has a new wood chipper it was able to purchase with grant funds, which will allow it to reuse the wood chips elsewhere in its parks. This will keep the town from having to dispose of the plant material in a less useful way, Ward said.
“Instead of us having to send this to the landfill or burn it, we can now chip it and then we can create mulch that we can use to augment some of our soils on the badlands, if you will, out in the disc golf area,” Ward said. “If citizens want some of this mulch, we can make it available to them as well.”
The CSU System is excited to announce Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners, as its keynote speaker for the 2020 Water in the West Symposium.
Prior to joining National Geographic in 2014, Mr. Knell served as president and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), and CEO of Sesame Workshop. At the 2020 Symposium, Mr. Knell will share his perspective on the role of storytelling in connecting a broad range of water-related issues.
This year’s Symposium will be hosted virtually on Nov. 18-19 and will include dozens of diverse speakers focused on water issues and solutions. Additional details will be released in the coming months. Register today to reserve your spot.
In response to increasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Tuesday, July 28th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Travis Duncan):
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has awarded $650,000 to eight Fishing is Fun (FIF) projects, all geared to improve angling opportunities in the state of Colorado. The approved projects include improved angling access, habitat improvement, and trail and boat access. Funding recipients include projects in the San Luis Valley, on the Yampa and Crystal rivers, and in the northern Front Range in Denver and Mead.
“The angling opportunities that Colorado waters provide are part of what makes this state so special,” said Dan Prenzlow, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Not only does the Fishing is Fun program help revitalize aquatic ecosystems across the state, it also ensures that residents and visitors will continue to have improved angling access for years to come.”
Among the projects approved for funding are:
Wolf Lake in El Paso County
Angling access will be significantly improved with the construction of two fishing piers on a newly constructed reservoir in a rapidly growing area on the northeastern side of Colorado Springs. The project will increase angling access on a 12-acre reservoir in a part of El Paso County that currently has limited angling options. “It is great to have a project like this that local kids can use to get introduced to the sport and that experienced anglers can use to stay engaged,” said Jim Guthrie, CPW’s Fishing Is Fun Program Coordinator.
Conejos Meadows in the San Luis Valley
In-stream habitat improvements will occur on 1.75 miles of the Conejos River downstream from Platoro Reservoir in the San Luis Valley. The project will address low-flow conditions during droughts and winter reservoir operations and will protect conditions for the existing self-sustaining brown trout population.
“The Conejos Meadows Resilient Habitat project is a model for projects that benefit fish habitat and wild self-maintaining trout populations, while also providing benefits to irrigation water users below a working reservoir,” said Kevin Terry, Rio Grande Basin Project Manager for Trout Unlimited. “Partnerships on the Conejos River between Trout Unlimited, CPW, and the Conejos Water Conservancy District ensure that each project identifies and maximizes benefits for the entire water community and the environment at the same time.”
Uncompaghre River in Montrose
This grant will restore quality angling conditions along a 0.65-mile section of the Uncompaghre River in the heart of Montrose. The multi-year project will cover 1.6 miles of river and develop in-channel habitat, stabilize river banks and connect to a major new GOCO-funded trail system.
“This project delivers on the Montrose community’s desire to see stewardship of the city’s natural resources, which was identified as a top priority during the city’s comprehensive planning process,” said City of Montrose Grant Coordinator Kendall Cramer. “The restoration of our river enhances aquatic and wildlife habitat, provides new opportunities for anglers and other recreationists, and will serve as a catalyst for economic growth, particularly in the outdoor industry sector in Montrose.”
Fishing alone contributes $2.4 billion dollars in economic output per year, supporting over 17,000 jobs in Colorado according to CPW’s 2017 economic study.
For over 30 years, FIF has supported more than 375 projects in nearly every county in the state, improving stream and river habitats, easing public access to angling waters, developing new angling opportunities for youth and seniors and more.
The program typically provides up to $400,000 annually from the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program (SFR). This year the program awarded an additional $250,000 from revenue generated through the wildlife sporting license plate. “Sportsmen and women who have signed up for the license plate have helped make more projects possible. That is a big boost to making angling accessible to many more people,” said Guthrie. The $650,000 total was met with more than $2 million in local support for the eight projects approved in 2020 (matching funds are required for the program).
EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles are likely to reach sticker price parity sometime in the next decade. The timing hinges on one crucial factor: battery cost. An EV’s battery pack accounts for about a quarter of total vehicle cost, making it the most important factor in the sales price.
Battery pack prices have been falling fast. A typical EV battery pack stores 10-100 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. For example, the Mitsubishi i-MIEV has a battery capacity of 16 kWh and a range of 62 miles, and the Tesla model S has a battery capacity of 100 kWh and a range of 400 miles. In 2010, the price of an EV battery pack was over $1,000 per kWh. That fell to $150 per kWh in 2019. The challenge for the automotive industry is figuring out how to drive the cost down further.
The Department of Energy goal for the industry is to reduce the price of battery packs to less than $100/kWh and ultimately to about $80/kWh. At these battery price points, the sticker price of an EV is likely to be lower than that of a comparable combustion engine vehicle.
Forecasting when that price crossover will occur requires models that account for the cost variables: design, materials, labor, manufacturing capacity and demand. These models also show where researchers and manufacturers are focusing their efforts to reduce battery costs. Our group at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a model of battery costs that accounts for all aspects of EV battery manufacturing.
From the bottom up
Models used for analyzing battery costs are classified either as “top down” or “bottom up.” Top-down models predict cost based primarily on demand and time. One popular top-down model that can forecast battery cost is Wright’s law, which predicts that costs go down as more units are produced. Economies of scale and the experience an industry acquires over time drive down costs.
To build a bottom-up cost model, it’s important to understand what goes into making a battery. Lithium-ion batteries consist of a positive electrode, the cathode, a negative electrode, the anode and an electrolyte, as well as auxiliary components such as terminals and casing.
Each component has a cost associated with its materials, manufacturing, assembly, expenses related to factory maintenance, and overhead costs. For EVs, batteries also need to be integrated into small groups of cells, or modules, which are then combined into packs.
Our open source, bottom-up battery cost model follows the same structure as the battery manufacturing process itself. The model uses inputs to the battery manufacturing process as inputs to the model, including battery design specifications, commodity and labor prices, capital investment requirements like manufacturing plants and equipment, overhead rates and manufacturing volume to account for economies of scale. It uses these inputs to calculate manufacturing costs, material costs and overhead costs, and those costs are summed to arrive at the final cost.
Using our bottom-up cost model, we can break down the contributions of each part of the battery to the total battery cost and use those insights to analyze the impact of battery innovations on EV cost. Materials make up the largest portion of the total battery cost, around 50%. The cathode accounts for around 43% of the materials cost, and other cell materials account for around 36%.
Improvements in cathode materials are the most important innovations, because the cathode is the largest component of battery cost. This drives strong interest in commodity prices.
Nickel cobalt aluminum oxide has the lowest cost-per-energy-content and highest energy-per-unit-mass, or specific energy, of these three materials. A low cost per unit of energy results from a high specific energy because fewer cells are needed to build a battery pack. This results in a lower cost for other cell materials. Cobalt is the most expensive material within the cathode, so formulations of these materials with less cobalt typically lead to cheaper batteries.
Inactive cell materials such as tabs and containers account for roughly 36% of the total cell materials cost. These other cell materials do not add energy content to the battery. Therefore, reducing inactive materials reduces the weight and size of battery cells without reducing energy content. This drives interest in improving cell design with innovations such as tabless batteries like those being teased by Tesla.
The battery pack cost also decreases significantly with an increase in the number of cells manufacturers produce annually. As more EV battery factories come on-line, economies of scale and further improvement in battery manufacturing and design should lead to further cost declines.
Road to price-parity
Predicting a timeline for price parity with ICE vehicles requires forecasting a future trajectory of battery costs. We estimate that reduction in raw material costs, improvements in performance and learning by manufacturing together are likely to lead to batteries with pack costs below $80/kWh by 2025.
Assuming batteries represent a quarter of the EV cost, a 100 kWh battery pack at $75 per kilowatt hour yields a cost of about $30,000. This should result in EV sticker prices that are lower than the sticker prices for comparable models of gas-powered cars.
Abhinav Misalkar contributed to this article while he was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.
The water running through the Whitney Ditch is from the Cache La Poudre River. Seller of the water shares, which have an average yield of 1,629 acre feet of water — or about 531 million gallons, is BCI Waterco LLC, a company at 252 Clayton St. in Denver. The address is shared by The Broe Group and Great Western Railway, owners of the industrial park.
The purchase is part of an effort that began in 2003 to buy water rights in the South Platte basin, dry up the land that had been irrigated by the water and bring the water to the thirsty urban developments within Aurora, Colorado’s third largest city behind Denver and Colorado Springs.
While the proposed purchase agreement includes a pipeline easement for land within the industrial park, getting the water to the Denver metro region is not included in the deal, nor is the required amendment of water court decrees to specify where the water will be used.
“We have had high level concept discussions” about getting the water to Aurora, but the city does not have a specific plan, [Dawn] Jewell said.
Jewell said Aurora has purchased other water shares in Northern Colorado, but none from the Poudre. It has water rights from the South Platte main stem and some in the Greeley area, she said.
The city may choose to place the water in a reservoir in the region — it has one already west of Platteville — and seek an opportunity to exchange shares with someone else.
The deal is expected to close Aug. 31, according to city council documents.
The vast Ogallala Aquifer has been on the minds of growers in many states but it certainly has been on the minds of growers in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska who share the crucial resource with differing regulations. We all share a common bond to try to preserve it for future generations.
Timothy Pautler became involved with water conservation district matters with the settlement of the Arkansas River Compact dispute between Colorado and Kansas. The state of Colorado was in litigation with Kansas and Nebraska on the Republican River Compact. The state decided to approach the defense of this conflict differently than the Arkansas River Compact, so through legislation, Colorado created an entity to assist the state in achieving compact compliance and in August 2004 the Republican River Water Conservation District was formed.
The board members represented, at the time, seven counties, seven Ground Water Management Districts and one member from the Colorado Ground Water Commission. Pautler was appointed by the Kit Carson County Commission.
“My understanding of what was happening to the Ogallala Aquifer in my area of the basin was the driving force behind my desire to participate in the decision to assist the state,” he said. “The economy that was created by the state, in its determination to allow the mining of the Aquifer, and the resulting decline, was a concern.”
In 2019, the boundary for the RRWCD was expanded, to include all the irrigated acres that are actually contributing to the compact issue. This change affected folks in the southeast part of Kit Carson County and the northern part of Cheyenne County and in the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District. This change created two more board member positions, representing those two new entities. This expansion added approximately 45,000 new irrigated acres to the RRWCD fee assessment.
The RRWCD assists the state in reaching compact compliance on the Republican River Compact that was signed in 1942. In the beginning, the state told growers that if they retired 30,000 acres from irrigation the state would be in compliance. To fund the required budget that was going to be needed, the RRWCD assessed all irrigated acres a fee of $5.50 per irrigated acre. At that point in time, the basin did not have meters on any of the wells, so a per acre charge was really the only option and was easy to do, using county assessors’ records. The RRWCD worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency, to create programs that would financially compensate producers for voluntarily retiring some of their irrigated lands.
Over time the district has been actively involved with purchasing surface water rights on the Arikaree and the North and South Forks of the Republican. It was involved with the Pioneer and Laird ditch rights. When they were purchased by the Yuma County Water Authority, the RRWCD leased those rights from the YCWA for $5 million for 20 years. This transaction leaves water in the North Fork of the Republican, and is accounted for at the gauging station located just east of Wray, Colorado
“We are continually working with surface water folks, in order to acquire their rights, this practice is ongoing,” he said. “Because of the way surface water irrigation is accounted for under the compact the retirement of these water rights is very helpful in achieving compliance.
He noted the 15-member board showed tremendous leadership in helping stakeholders understand what was at stake.
“As we moved through time, the collective efforts started to bring results for the basin. We were well on our way to retiring the 30,000 acres of irrigated land. The programs were working rather smoothly, and the process was a success,” Paulter said. “But then our general manager, Stan Murphy, and our engineer, Jim Slattery, started to look at the numbers and realized that the retirement of acres alone, was not going to get us where we needed to be, in order to be in compliance.”
The acreage retirements were coming so far from the three streams—the North Fork, the Arikaree, and the South Fork—to achieve the goal. The retirements were still a good concept and leaving water in the hole is always a positive, the producer and board member said. But the lagged depletion effect that existed in the aquifer was not allowing the impact of acreage retirement to result in immediate stream flow. The lagged depletion, describes the impacts that distant well pumping has on stream flow. As a result of the lag effect, the impact of present day pumping will have negative effects for 30 to 50 years, according to the engineers, even though a well has been retired. The effects that those distant retired wells created, prior to retirement, continued to haunt the long-term goals of the RRWCD.
In 2002, the Republican River settlement had been signed. The final settlement stipulation agreed that Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado would not fight about water use that was in the past, but only work toward achieving future compliance with the compact that allocates how much water each state is entitled to use, he said. As part of the stipulation between the states, the accounting for all three states started at zero, it also allowed that any one of the states could use a pipeline to get additional water to the river in order to get into compliance.
So that became the next challenge for the board. Where do we get enough water to make a difference?
“We started looking at an exhausting list of possibilities, including The Dakota formation below the Ogallala, areas of the basin that were under appropriated, and imports from the South Platte at the time we left no stone unturned. Every idea had issues that came along with it,” Pautler said.
The Dakota was going to be too salty and too costly to bring to the surface and not enough water. The unappropriated area was going to require too many easements and a pipeline of extreme length. The South Platte was too expensive.
“In the end we were able to make a deal with one family. Their water rights were located northeast of Wray. This area of the basin has absolutely the greatest amount of saturated thickness.”
It was far enough away from the North Fork to minimize effect on stream flow, but yet close enough that the pipeline length was a doable deal, approximately 13 miles, he said. About 13,500 acre feet of historical consumptive use, from 62 permits, were acquired.
The Colorado Ground Water Commission then approved the RRWCD application, allowing it to consolidate the 62 existing wells into 15 wells to be used for compact compliance, without any injury to surrounding water rights. Along with the water purchase, the district negotiated easements from the landowners for the pipeline route. The cost of the water and easements was $50 million. The engineers designed a pipeline system that cost $20 million.
Informational meetings were key because a $70 million project was not an easy sell, especially when budgets were compiled. The $5.50 per acre assessment needed to go to $14.50. This created a budget of $7 million. A loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the $60 million, at an interest rate of 2% was secured and the 20-year note will be paid off in 2028. “The public acceptance of the concept, came with a lot of questions,” Pautler said. “As their understanding of the entire compact issue increased, so did their support.”
Not so fast
Even with the pipeline it did not mean going back to old practices, Paulter said. Wells in every county and management district that once pumped 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute had diminished to 200 to 500 gpm.
When the pipeline was completed and functioning, the board started to hear comments like, “now we can pump it till it is dry.”
“The pipeline did give us all a false sense of security that nothing else has to change; the perception was the economies of the communities can now continue as always; the threat of shut downs is taken care of,” he said. “But in reality, our small communities are changing so slow we don’t even see it happening, especially in areas of the basin that never did have sufficient saturate thickness, to expect life to go on as usual, or forever.”
A safe statement would be, “most wells in the basin, do not have the yield they originally had.” Conservation has always been an underlying effort, but the urgency to get into compact compliance was paramount and trumped conservation.
The fee assessment has been a problem for the basin, in terms of conservation. For $14.50 per acre, a producer can pump all he wants, up to his permitted amount. Paulter said a per acre foot charge would have been better formula to achieve conservation. The meters did not come into existence until about 2010. Meters alone will not create conservation, although the irrigators, today, do pay more attention to the amount pumped. They are required to stay within their annual appropriation.
What has worked
Conservation has been attained in the areas where irrigated acres were retired. That unused volume assures more water for domestic and livestock use. That is vital for those areas long term. Travel west of the RRWCD boundary and there are large ranches with very limited water resources. Pipelines have been installed with USDA cost share dollars to move the water for miles. And now, even those pipelines are in jeopardy of not having enough water for livestock numbers to adequately make an economic enterprise work.
When the pipeline was completed, the RRWCD’s Conservation Committee started looking at ways to encourage meaningful conservation. They formed a subcommittee made up of members from all the Ground Water Management Districts.
The basin is very different north to south and east to west. Saturated thicknesses vary from having very little left to those areas that still have a 40-year supply left. Soil types very vastly as well.
“We have good heavy soils that will support dry land farming, to sugar sand that without water becomes rangeland. It is a classic case of the ‘haves and the have nots,’ depending on where you are located,” Pautler said. “We are all human, and no one wants to limit their neighbor’s ability to have an economic gain. Admittedly, a tough issue to struggle with.”
Another problem is the fact that the RRWCD has no statutory authority to impose water use restrictions on the basin. That is under the authority of the GWMD. By design, when the RRWCD was given statutory authority to help the state get into compact compliance, GWMDs were very outspoken and insisted that the RRWCD should not be allowed to take over the authority that the management districts already had. These are some of the challenges in trying to achieve meaningful and measureable conservation.
“I would hope that we in the Republican basin can come up with a fair and equitable solution that fits the needs of all water users in the basin. The list of water users has to include discussion with the municipalities, domestic users, commercial interests, and livestock folks. Finding agreement affects everyone, not just the ag irrigators,” he said. “We all have economic interests that are effected by the discussions moving forward. The emotional part of the discussion, kind of stems from the fact that, if we do nothing, ever so slowly, the water passes by our neighbors and we don’t care until it is our turn. A restriction that imposes conservation on all water users happens immediately. The economic impact is immediate.”
This was edited by Dave Bergmeier who can be reached at 620-227-1822 or email@example.com.