State Health Officials Have Sent A Clear Message: #Colorado Needs Better Air Quality Monitoring — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Natural gas flares near a community in Colorado. Colorado health officials and some legislators agree that better monitoring is necessary. Photo credit the Environmental Defense Fund.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

The message from a forum on air quality and climate change Thursday is clear: Colorado needs to do more to accurately measure emissions from oil and gas wells.

That means better technology is needed, state health officials said. And that requires more money, which is a big hurdle.

In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency downgraded the Front Range’s air quality rating to “serious.” CPR News has also found that Colorado’s records of how much methane is in the air contain potentially flawed data.

A lot has been made of compounds released into the air by oil and gas operations that contribute to ozone pollution and health problems. The panel, with state officials, researchers and health professionals, zeroed in on this and also considered how to reduce emissions from cars. Many agreed that the state needs to improve air quality monitoring…

Air quality is a priority during this legislative session, said Democratic State Senator Steve Fenberg, who attended the panel.

“We’re going to be looking at all kinds of things,” he said. “One is simply making sure we’re regulating the right emissions. One is making sure that the fees that are put on emitters are appropriate.”

Higher fees would bring in more funding, Fenberg said. So to start, he’s drafting a bill that would bring in more money by raising the cost of air pollution permits.

Some local governments, like those in Boulder County and Broomfield, have already upgraded monitors to improve air quality measurements around oil and gas production.

South Platte River Salinity Workshop recap: “Change is mandatory” — Mike Petersen

Map via Water Education Colorado.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jeff Rice):

Stop plowing.

That’s the first instruction from Mike Petersen, a retired soil scientist and agronomist. Petersen was a presenter at Wednesday’s South Platte River Salinity Workshop presented by the Centennial, Morgan and Sedgwick County Conservation Districts.

Petersen manages the Orthman Research Farm near Lexington, Neb., and consults with growers regarding strip-till system technology, fertilizer, crop development, root development, and water management.

The agronomist addressed misconceptions about salinity in the South Platte Valley during Wednesday’s program. Chief among those misconceptions is that a good rainfall or snowmelt, along with cover crops and no-till practices will solve the problem…

Phil Brink of Colorado Cattleman’s Ag Water Network led off with an overview of the issue, which he said has been followed in the Colorado River basin for several years. Brink said salinity levels below Hoover Dam are about 723 milligrams per liter, or about what is in the South Platte just below Denver…

By the time the river gets to Sterling, however, that salinity has skyrocketed to 1,275 mg/l, almost twice as salty as the Denver reaches.

While much of the problem stems from treated wastewater discharged by municipalities and industries upstream, agriculture is compounding the problem. The re-use of return flow water from upstream irrigation is concentrating salts from cropland and leaching it into the river, where it’s diverted or pumped onto crops and the cycle starts over.

There are things that can be done to mitigate the damage, however. Petersen said no-till cultivation and leaving residue on the soil surface is the first step farmers need to take. Better water management, crop rotations and alternative crops are other methods producers can use to minimize salinity in the soil and, thus, in return flow to the river.

“That’s the good news, but it’s going to cost everyone something,” Petersen said. “And there’s just no option. Change is mandatory.”

Graphic via

#Snowpack news: Farmers, ranchers, and water providers in the West are hoping for a good water year (as always)

Westwide SNOTEL January 16, 2020 via the NRCS.

From (Rick Worthington):

Farmers and ranchers in the west are wondering if 2020 will offer enough water.

That’s because this winter has not been wet enough for many states, so far. Recently, a series of storms may help improve that, but as the USDA’s Brad Rippey explains, more is needed…

Heavy precipitation, including mountain show, fell in many of the higher elevation portions of the West this week, with the exception of the Sierra Nevada and mountainous regions of Arizona and New Mexico. Cooler than normal temperatures prevailed in southwest Colorado and eastern Utah and adjacent parts of Arizona and New Mexico, while near or above normal temperatures were commonplace elsewhere in the West. In the Four Corners region, recent precipitation in higher elevation areas improved conditions, such that severe drought lessened to moderate drought around the Chuska Mountains. Lower elevation areas, however, are still suffering from severe precipitation deficits due to the paltry rainfall from the 2019 North American monsoon, and severe drought conditions remained in some of the lower elevation portions of the Four Corners region. Moderate to large snow packs in the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Ranges in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado led to improvement from severe to moderate drought in the high country, though the San Luis Valley and other lower elevation areas in southern and western Colorado and northern New Mexico remained in severe drought.

West Drought Monitor January 14, 2020.

#Drought news: High elevation areas of #Colorado, #Wyoming, N #Utah received precipitation this week, while lower elevation locations generally stayed dry

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

Warmer than normal temperatures were common this week over the eastern half of the continental U.S., while temperatures were primarily near normal over the western half, with a few exceptions. Moderate to heavy precipitation was common this week along and east of the Interstate 35 corridor, excepting parts of the Northeast and the Florida Peninsula. In the West, moderate to heavy precipitation also fell in some of the higher elevation areas. For more details on the geographic distribution of precipitation and temperature anomalies, please see the regional paragraphs below. The only exceptional drought occurring in the United States, on Maui, was removed this week after a major precipitation event in Hawaii, where other improvements were also made. Heavy rainfall in northern and eastern Puerto Rico also ended the moderate drought there. In the central and eastern continental U.S., drought conditions generally improved in areas that received heavier precipitation, while some degradation occurred in locations in Texas and Oklahoma that remained drier. The depiction of moderate drought and abnormal dryness also changed in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, where recent precipitation (or lack thereof) affected mountain snowpack and short-term precipitation deficits. For more details on changes made to the drought depiction, please see the regional paragraphs…

High Plains

Across the High Plains region, primarily dry and near normal or cooler than normal conditions occurred, with the exceptions of south-central and eastern Kansas, where warmer than normal temperatures occurred and over a half inch of precipitation fell. Temperatures mostly ranged from 5 to 10 degrees cooler than normal in South Dakota and North Dakota this week. Moderate and severe drought continued in south-central and southwest Kansas, respectively, and no changes were made to the drought or dryness depiction in the region…


Temperatures varied across the West region over the past week. Eastern Utah and north-central Montana had temperatures 5 to 15 degrees cooler than normal, while western Utah was 5 to 10 degrees warmer than normal. Warmer temperatures continued in the eastern and southeastern plains of New Mexico, and abnormally dry conditions were expanded where high evaporative demand combined with lower recent precipitation amounts. Heavy mountain snow occurred in the Cascades, where abnormal dryness and moderate drought slightly improved as short-term precipitation deficits slightly lessened and snowpack grew. High elevation areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, northern Utah, and northern California received precipitation this week, while lower elevation locations generally stayed dry. Moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions shifted in Idaho in response to changing snowpack and precipitation deficits over the past week…


Most of the South had warmer than normal temperatures this week, though widespread rainfall led to reduction in drought conditions in parts of the region. Temperatures ranged from 10 to 15 degrees warmer than normal in Mississippi and Tennessee to generally 5 to 10 degrees above normal in Oklahoma and Texas. Excluding south Texas, moderate to heavy rain fell across the portion of the region to the east of the Interstate 35 corridor. The highest rain amounts, with some locations exceeding 3 inches, fell upon north-central Texas, southeast Oklahoma, Arkansas, far northeast Louisiana, and northern Mississippi. The heavy rain in east Texas and adjacent portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, and southeast Oklahoma led to improvement in drought and abnormally dry conditions in these areas, where short-term precipitation shortages were lessened, and streamflow improved. In areas west of the more widespread precipitation in Texas and Oklahoma, some of the drought and abnormally dry areas were expanded where short-term precipitation deficits grew…

Looking Ahead

Another winter storm system is forecast to traverse the Central Plains, Midwest, and eastern continental U.S. from Thursday, January 16 into the weekend of Saturday the 18th, delivering widespread rain, snow, and a mix of winter precipitation types. For January 16-21, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting over three-quarters of an inch of precipitation in a widespread area from coastal central and northern California northward through the high elevation areas of western Washington and Oregon. Precipitation is also forecast in the central and northern Sierra Nevada, and in some of the high elevation regions of the Rocky Mountain Front Ranges and Intermountain West. Widespread precipitation is forecast from West Texas northeastward along and north of the Interstates 44 and 70 corridors and in the Ohio Valley and Northeast, where amounts may exceed an inch in some areas. Temperatures will vary in the High Plains and West during this period, while generally warmer than normal conditions over the eastern continental U.S during the first half of the weekend are forecast to be replaced by colder than normal weather afterward. For January 21-25, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting mainly warmer than normal temperatures from the High Plains westward, and below-normal temperatures in the South, Southeast, and Northeast. Below-normal precipitation is favored during this period in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, while above-normal precipitation is favored in the Pacific Northwest, the Central and Southern Great Plains, and areas in between.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 14, 2020.

#Snowpack news: SW #Colorado basins = 116% of normal

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

[San Juan River Basin] Snow water equivalency (SWE) is 16.4 inches this week. Last week it was 15.5 inches.
SWE median increased from 16 inches to 16.3 inches this week.

This week, SWE data is 110.6 per- cent of median. Last week, it was 96.9 percent of median.

Precipitation data has slightly increased from last week, going from 16.5 inches to 16.6 inches.

The precipitation average has increased 1.5 inches from last week, going from 17.6 inches to 18.9 inches this week.

Precipitation data is 87.8 percent of median this week, a drop from last week when it was 93.8 percent of median.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 16, 2020 via the NRCS.

Del Norte Riverfront Project update

Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.

From the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (Emma Reesor) via The Alamosa News:

The reach of the Rio Grande running through North Park has seen a lot of change in the last two months. Workers and machinery from Robins Construction have braved the elements as part of a plan to improve access to one of Del Norte’s most valuable natural resources.

North Park is one of the few public parks in Del Norte, situated on the Rio Grande just west of Highway 112. While featuring a fishing dock and riverside trail, the community thought more could be done to better connect residents to the river.

From this need arose the Del Norte Riverfront Project a community-led effort to improve access, create recreation infrastructure, and enhance wildlife habitat on the Rio Grande adjacent to North Park. Project partners, including the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project,

Town of Del Norte, Del Norte Trails Organization, Riverbend Engineering and Trout Unlimited have worked with the public over the past five years to plan and fundraise for the DNRFP.

Phase 1 of the DNRFP was completed during the winter of 2018 and included a new boat ramp and parking area located on the north side of the river.

In March of 2019, the DNRFP was selected to receive funding from Great Outdoors Colorado’s Local Parks and Outdoor Recreation grant program.

It was one of 22 projects chosen to receive funding in a highly competitive pool of projects.

This grant, along with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Gates Family Foundation, SLV Conservation and Connection Initiative, Del Norte Bank, Rio Grande County, and community donors, helped realize Phase 2 of the project, which includes the in-stream construction of a boating Play Wave, fish habitat improvements and passage, and river access points.

Work on these structures began in November 2019 and will be complete in early 2020.

Still yet to come this spring is an ADA accessible picnic area, as well as other park amenities. All these improvements will help promote a deeper connection to the river for residents and visitors alike.

Emma Reesor, Executive Director of the RGHRP, has been integral in the planning and fundraising for the project, and is excited to see construction in full swing. “It’s been a joy to work with the community of Del Norte to make this vision a reality” Reesor said, “Improving connectivity between people and rivers will have a positive effect on the community as a whole”.

Marty Asplin with the Del Norte Trails Organization has been a part of the DNRFP from the very beginning and worked hard to bring partners together to benefit Del Norte. “The addition of access to the Rio Grande was part of the Del Norte Trails Master Plan which was adopted by the Town of Del Norte and Rio Grande County in 2007,” said Marty Asplin, “accomplishing this is a large piece of the plan.”

If you’d like to check out the progress of the project, the fishing dock is a great place to view the construction.

To learn more about the DNRFP, contact Reesor at or visit

Report courtesy of Emma Reesor, Executive Director, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

#LakeMead at its highest elevation since 2014, shortages still loom #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

Intake towers for power generation at Hoover Dam December 13, 2019.

From The Boulder City Review (Celia Shortt Goodyear):

The water at Lake Mead is projected to be at its highest level in years, but the drought is still not over, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Mead’s elevation is around 1,092 feet, which is the highest it has been since May 2014, but it is still only 42% full, said Patti Aaron, public affairs officer for the bureau’s Lower Colorado Basin Region.

“Drought isn’t determined by the amount of water in Lake Mead,” Aaron said. “We would need to see at least two to three back-to-back years of above-average hydrology, hopefully more, to say we are out of the drought. There isn’t a set definition of when drought ends.”

There have not been two back-to-back good years since the late 1990s.

Aaron said the higher water levels are due to a wet November and December, causing an above-average inflow into the lake.

“Regarding the rising lake levels, this is part of the normal seasonal trend in which cooler weather reduces water orders from Lake Mead,” she said.

She added that the water level will decline by nearly 20 feet in the spring and summer because water orders will increase before the elevation rebounds later in the year.

The higher water levels are also due to conservation by the lower basin states and Mexico. The Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which took effect on Jan. 1, requires water savings contributions by the United States and Mexico.

Aaron said voluntary conservation activities added about 9 feet to Lake Mead’s elevation last year.