From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):
The drought situation in San Juan County may not be unprecedented when compared to the challenges of the last 10 years, but it’s plenty bad, county commissioners were told during their June 15 meeting in Aztec.
Commissioners heard from a variety of county employees, led by emergency manager Mike Mestas, about the severity of the situation and how much worse it could get if significant moisture doesn’t fall from the sky soon. Mestas was on hand to seek a disaster declaration from commissioners because of the drought, a measure that passed unanimously when Mestas and his associates had completed their presentation.
Mestas said the declaration will allow government organizations to seek funding from state and federal sources, if and when it becomes available, to help offset some of the issues that are expected to arise because of the drought. According to drought.gov, most of San Juan County is designated as being in exceptional drought, the worst category, while the rest of the county is either in exceptional drought or extreme drought, the second- and third-worst categories.
Mestas noted that two of San Juan County’s neighbors — Montezuma County in Colorado and McKinley County in New Mexico — also had made disaster declarations because of the drought. The state of New Mexico filed a drought declaration in December 2020, he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has declared a disaster declaration in 14 counties in the state, he said, with San Juan County being one of those. That designation will allow farmers, ranchers and some other residents who qualify for financial assistance to receive it, he said…
[Michelle] Truby-Tillen recalled the issues Animas Valley Water users experienced in 2016 when their system became largely inoperative and water filling stations had to be established for Crouch Mesa residents in Aztec and at McGee Park…
She explained that San Juan County is not just in a drought, it’s in what she termed a snow drought.
“We get our water from the mountains,” she said. “If there’s no rain here, yeah, it’s dry, we have problems. But as long as there’s snow in the mountains, we’re good to go. The big problem comes when there’s no snow. We’ve been in a snow drought this year comparable to several years ago when there was no snow at all on the mountains.”
In practical terms, the mountain snowpack in southwest Colorado was gone by April of this year, she said, and the ramifications of that are likely to be felt for quite some time.
From The Durango Herald (Shannon Mullane):
Town outlines increased fines for periods of extreme drought
Bayfield has adopted the town’s first official drought management plan, creating a system of conservation restrictions and fines that would take effect during drought periods.
The board of trustees unanimously approved the drought plan during a board meeting Tuesday. The plan defines drought conditions and designates the corresponding response. In the most extreme drought conditions, the response will include strict conservation measures and increased fines.
No residents commented on the plan during the meeting, but several called Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington to express concerns about the fines, she said.
“Residents are just like, ‘Are you serious about these fines?’ They’ve always been there, but we’ve never really enforced them,” Tarkington said. “We do mean business. If we get that concerned about our water situation, we will go there.”
The plan outlines three drought phases: sustainable conservation, serious drought and extreme drought based on local conditions and water use.
Under sustainable conservation, the town restricts when households can use irrigation water. The restrictions include fines of $50 for the first offense, and $100 or $500 for second and third offenses.
During serious drought, the town helps high water users decrease use, discourages water-intensive landscape changes and initiates public awareness efforts. The same fines apply.
During an extreme drought, like 2002, all outside irrigation is reduced and all daytime irrigation is prohibited. Fines jump to $100 for a first offense and $200 or $500 for second and third offenses…
During six of the last 20 years, Southwest Colorado has found itself in a serious or extreme drought, according to criteria outlined by the plan.
Seven times over the last 20 years, Bayfield’s water allotment from the Los Pinos River has been restricted or cut off to ensure entities with more senior water rights could get their full allotment.
The town has water stored in Vallecito Reservoir, but increasing its use of the standby supply would lead to increased water bills for users.
The drought plan is meant to help town officials manage drought years like this one without increasing the water bill for residents, said Katie Sickles, town manager, in a previous interview.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Warmer than normal temperatures continued their hold this week on the northern tier of the Lower 48, particularly in the northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest. Across the north, widespread degradation of drought conditions occurred in areas where heavy rainfall missed. A few areas that received heavy precipitation and saw localized improvements were coastal Oregon and Washington, western Montana, and eastern Montana and western North Dakota. Widespread heavy rain occurred in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, where drought conditions improved or ceased in many locations. Scattered storms over the last few weeks in the southern Great Plains and eastern New Mexico led to isolated improvements to drought conditions, and a few degradations to drought conditions in western Oklahoma where heavier storms missed. Conditions improved after beneficial rainfall in eastern Puerto Rico. Continued drying in Hawaii led to degradation in drought conditions on many of the islands…
Precipitation across the High Plains region varied significantly this week, though very warm temperatures were consistent across the region. Notably, many places in the central and northern Great Plains have had warmer daytime high temperatures than much of the southern Great Plains, leading to potentially large losses of surface moisture to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration in the northern Great Plains. A few areas in the western half of North Dakota received enough rain from several thunderstorm events to improve their drought status, though this primarily occurred in areas with very heavy rain amounts (some locales received over 5 inches). For the most part, while welcome, the heavy rains have come after months of warm and dry conditions, and the widespread severe, extreme, and exceptional drought has been slow to improve as impacts to plants and livestock continue. In north-central and northeast South Dakota, and adjacent portions of North Dakota, moderate and severe drought expanded…
Three notable widespread precipitation events occurred in the northwestern United States this week, which led to limited improvements in northeast Montana, western Montana, and coastal regions of Washington and Oregon. Recent scattered rainfall from thunderstorms in the high plains and high desert of eastern and south-central New Mexico improved drought conditions locally, though widespread moderate-to-exceptional drought maintained its grip on most of the state. Northeast Montana received locally enough rain from severe thunderstorms for limited improvement from extreme to severe drought. However, similar to North Dakota and South Dakota, agricultural impacts and warm temperatures continued, limiting the rain’s benefit on conditions in the area. A swath of precipitation covered areas from southwest Idaho to the high country of western Montana, leading to a small area of improved conditions in western Montana. Finally, a late-season atmospheric river event delivered welcome precipitation to coastal portions of Washington and Oregon, which improved short- and long-term precipitation deficits enough for localized one- and two-category improvements in drought conditions. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the West received little to no precipitation, and warmer than normal temperatures plagued much of the region. Degradations to conditions occurred in northeast California and south-central Oregon, southern Montana, central and western Wyoming, far east-central Wyoming, and the high country of west-central Colorado. All of these locations saw short- and long-term precipitation deficits continue to mount. Most of the West region remained in moderate, severe, extreme, or exceptional drought. In central California, farmers have been warned about potential water cutoffs, while wildfire concerns and firework restrictions are prevalent in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico…
Scattered heavy rain fell across the eastern half of the region this week, while rains were much spottier (though locally heavy) in Texas and Oklahoma. Moderate and severe drought conditions shifted northwest in western Oklahoma in response to changing conditions after rain this week, leaving some areas improved and others degraded. Several areas in southwest Texas saw improvement this week after rain from the last couple of weeks improved conditions there. In southwest Texas, the Trans-Pecos, and along the Rio Grande to near Laredo, abnormal dryness and all drought categories continued…
As of June 16, the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center is forecasting two areas of significant precipitation through the evening of June 21. One area of forecast rain covers much of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions, and could be highly beneficial to southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois if it occurs. Large rain amounts are also forecast from the central Gulf Coast to Georgia, northwest Florida, and western South Carolina, in association with a tropical disturbance being monitored by the NWS National Hurricane Center as of the afternoon of June 16th. For more information on this system, please monitor forecasts from the National Hurricane Center, the Weather Prediction Center, and your local National Weather Service forecast. The NWS Climate Prediction Center forecast for June 22-26 favors above normal precipitation in the western Great Lakes, lower Missouri River Valley, and the Southeast (excluding South Florida), while below normal precipitation is favored in the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West, and North Dakota. During this period, warmer than normal temperatures are favored in the western Great Plains and West, while below normal temperatures are more likely from the Great Lakes to the central and eastern Gulf Coast). In Alaska, above normal temperatures are favored in the north from June 22-26, below-normal precipitation is favored in east-central Alaska, while above normal precipitation is favored elsewhere in the state.
Here’s the US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 15, 2021.
From The Associated Press (Anita Snow) via The Aurora Sentinel:
An unusually early and long-lasting heat wave brought more triple-digit temperatures Wednesday to a large swath of the U.S. West, raising concerns that such extreme weather could become the new normal amid a decades-long drought…
Scientists who study drought and climate change say that people living in the American West can expect to see more of the same in the coming years.
Metro Aurora is seeing consecutive days with temperatures above 100, which is abnormal.
“Overall, it has been fairly rare to have 2 consecutive days of 100 degrees or more (in Colorado). In fact, there have only been 14 occurrences since 1872,” National Weather Service officials said in a post…
A few clouds were holding the temperatures down slightly in the desert region of southwest Arizona and southeast California. But there was no real relief expected from the excessive heat warning in effect until at least Sunday…
Elsewhere in the West, triple-digit heat was forecast in Denver, which saw a record high of 101 degrees Tuesday. The weather service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of western Colorado, most of which is experiencing extreme drought conditions…
In Nevada, Las Vegas hit 116 degrees (46.6 Celsius), breaking the record of 114 degrees (45.5 Celsius) for the date set during a record hot spell on June 16, 1940…
In Montana, temperatures over 100 degrees (38 Celsius) have made it tougher to fight wildfires that have exploded in size, triggering evacuations and destroying an undetermined number of homes. Furious winds have stoked the flames and forced the crash-landing of a firefighting helicopter.
At least 14 new fires have been reported in Montana and Wyoming since Tuesday.
The dry weather was also being felt in Idaho, where authorities are preparing for what could be a challenging wildfire season.
Nick Nauslar, a meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center, told state officials this week that nearly 80% of Idaho is in drought and the rest will likely experience it in the coming months. He said Idaho had its second-driest spring in the last 126 years.
Click here to read the issue. Here’s an excerpt:
Since the 1970s, scientists have been interested in how runoff in the Colorado River Basin (CR Basin) would change as the climate warms. Many of these studies strongly suggested that the Colorado River (CR) would lose flow
with warming, but in the last few years, scientists have been able to analyze a de- clining 22-year flow record, the ongoing 2000-2021 “Millennium Drought”. Multiple studies since 2016 have now found human fingerprints on the nearly 20% loss in flow since 2000 and attribute up to half of that loss to the approximately 1.2°C or more warming that has occurred during the last century. This article summarizes six key peer-reviewed studies related to the topic of CR flow loss. These studies have found declines in runoff efficiency, investigated the causes of flow loss, and in some cases made projections about future flow declines based on the 21st-century climate model projected temperatures.
From The Colorado Sound (Jesse Paul):
Ken Salazar, a Coloradan who served as interior secretary and in the U.S. Senate, will be nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the White House announced on Tuesday.
Salazar’s nomination has been rumored for weeks. He’s a Colorado College graduate who has recently been working in the private sector at the Denver branch of the sprawling law firm WilmerHale.
In addition to his time in President Barack Obama’s administration and in Congress, Salazar served as Colorado’s attorney general.
Salazar grew up on a farm in the San Luis Valley where he spoke only Spanish at home. He is highly active in Democratic politics and in 2018 mulled a bid to become Colorado governor, ultimately deciding against launching a campaign, saying “my family’s well-being must come first.”
“President Biden has made a terrific choice in nominating Ken Salazar as the next ambassador to Mexico,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a written statement. “Ken is a tremendous public servant with a strong record of bipartisanship in the United States Senate. He has always led with integrity, and I have great confidence in his ability to represent the United States. We, in Colorado, are proud of him and grateful for his service once again.”
Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Colorado Department of Corrections joined the Governor and legislators today to celebrate legislation to invest $25 million in targeted wildfire risk mitigation and workforce development and $30 million in watershed restoration.
SB21-258, which marks a significant one-time, strategic investment to jumpstart work on wildfire mitigation in targeted locations that connect fuels treatments at landscape-scales to protect communities.
SB21-240 provides $30 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be used for critical watershed recovery efforts, and to ensure our watersheds are more resilient to the growing wildfire and flooding challenges that we face.
“I greatly appreciate the leadership of the Governor and legislators for their commitment to investments to protect Colorado communities, secure our water resources from wildfire, while creating new jobs and opportunities in Colorado’s rural areas. Colorado’s wildfire crisis is at a critical juncture and immediate decisive action is necessary to protect lives, homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Although Colorado has been and remains committed to taking meaningful action to mitigate wildfire risk, past efforts have lacked the coordination, landscape-scale focus, and robust state investment required to properly address the size and behavior of catastrophic wildfires. The legislation will quickly move resources to on the ground projects and mitigation teams with a focus on protecting communities, watersheds and improving forest health.”
The wildfire stimulus bills involve interagency cooperation and collaboration to quickly move resources and workers to shovel ready projects, as well as priority areas for planning. This effort addresses the need to assess risk, plan and implement wildfire risk mitigation projects, expands workforce capacity through investments in the Colorado Youth Corps Association and the Department of Corrections, invests in the development of the forest products industry, and enhances the capacity and flexibility of programs at the Colorado State Forest Service. This bill also creates the hazard mitigation fund in the Department of Public Safety to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.
“The individuals who work on these SWIFT crews have for many years provided a critical fire protection and prevention service during their incarceration,” said DOC Executive Director Dean Williams. “Being a part of SWIFT allows these individuals the opportunity to give back to the community while also learning skills that will help them successfully return to society once they are released. The bill signed today means that substantially more people can participate in this program. These individuals conducting fire mitigation services will be paid increased wages, providing them with some stability when they release, which in turn increases public safety. Many of these crew members have fought on the front lines of the largest fires that have happened in Colorado, and they find dignity and purpose in the work they do. We look forward to working with our partners at the Department of Natural Resources on implementing this legislation.”
Key components for the legislation include:
The deployment of a US Forest Service team to help identify the most critical landscapes in the state for fuels reduction and wildfire mitigation projects.
Increase the size of the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT) program to include up to 160 members and expand the focus of the program on forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work.
Support youth and veterans’ wildfire mitigation crews through a standing partnership between DNR and the Colorado Youth Corps Association.
The creation of a fund to support targeted fuel reduction and wildfire mitigation projects that would reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in priority areas.
Creation of a hazard mitigation fund in the Department of Public Safety to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.
Substantial investments in the Colorado State Forest Service’s most important programs, and increasing the flexibility and impact of the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation grant program. State funds can now support capacity building for local forest collaborative groups to develop forest management projects.
Supporting the forest products industry:
One time investment of funds to the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Business Loan Program provides lending capital to businesses to help retain forest-based businesses, maintain or increase local jobs, and enhance the stability of local economies.
This legislation builds on a number of other initiatives which have moved through the Colorado legislature related to the state’s wildfire mitigation and watershed protection efforts. An early bill allocated $6.0 million of one-time funding to the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation (FRWRM) program within the Colorado State Forest Service for grants this fiscal year. Legislation also increased the annual appropriation to the FRWRM grants to $8.0 million and provided an additional appropriation of $2.0 million to the Healthy Forests Vibrant Communities (HFVC) Fund.
Senate Bill 21-240, signed by Governor Polis, transfers $30 million from the General Fund to the Watershed Restoration Grant Program managed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). This funding will specifically be used for critical watershed recovery efforts following impacts from Colorado’s 2020 wildfire season. Funds will be used to match funding from the Federal Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to local communities facing fires, floods, and other natural disasters that impair watersheds.
“The stimulus funding through Senate Bills 258 and 240 are critical for helping our on-the-ground partners restore watersheds following one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in 2020. Healthy watersheds are absolutely the foundation to Colorado’s water supply resources,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
This bill also directs the CWCB to conduct a statewide watershed analysis to investigate the susceptibility of life, safety, infrastructure, and water supplies to wildfire impacts, to ensure that future funding is strategically awarded to areas that are at the greatest risk.
From the Colorado Agriculture Alliance (Lyn Halliday) via Steamboat Pilot & Today:
A new name has been coined for the prolonged drought condition in the Colorado River Basin: Mega drought. Water conservation in the home and business can be part of the solution.
Here are some basic water conservation practices worthy of remembering as we navigate through prolific drought.
General rules of thumb to improve efficiency, reduce waste in the home include:
Leak detection and repair: Even small leaks can add up to significant water loss. Look for and repair leaks frequently.
Replace or retrofit appliances and fixtures: Install high efficiency plumbing fixtures and appliances. A large percentage of water is flushed down the toilet. Retrofit to code, 1.6 gallon toilets, or install ultra-low flow or dual flush units. Only run clothes and dish washers when full. Install on-demand hot water heaters or hot water circulating pumps.
Employ water-efficient landscaping practices: Only water between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. Use native grasses and shrubs or drought-tolerant plant species. Mulch plants, trees and shrubs. Plan landscaping based on sun, shade, and moisture. Consider xeriscape practices. Use drip irrigation instead of spray. Install rain shut off or moisture sensors on irrigation systems. Refrain from tree-planting and the seeding or sodding of new lawns from June 15 through Aug. 31. Avoid developing water-intensive landscapes. Sweep impervious surfaces such as driveways, parking areas, walkways instead of power washing or hosing down.
Pools and spas: Cover pools and spas with insulated covers when not in use to reduce evaporation. Detect and repair leaks. Minimize re-filling. Refrain from installing outdoor water features such as fountains. Track usage. Learn to interpret the water bill and compare to historic usage to improve water use management.
Water saving and associated cost saving ideas for businesses:
• Install water efficient equipment.
• Select water saving fixtures such as waterless urinals, low-flow and automatic shut off faucets in sinks.
• Recycle water. Check your local codes before implementing water re-use programs. Rainwater collection for irrigation is becoming common in certain locales. Re-use water from cooling towers, heating units, ventilation equipment, and air conditioners. Grey water can be re-used for toilet flushing.
• Identify and repair leaks. Leaking faucets, toilets, irrigation systems and other water conveyance infrastructure can waste many gallons of water a day. A schedule of checking for and repairing leaks will ensure that leaks don’t go unnoticed for long. Encourage staff to report any leaks or drips and repair them immediately.
• Make industrial process improvements with water savings in mind.
• Investigate various water conservation techniques tailored to your specific industry.
• Educate employees about water conservation.
• When cleaning with water is necessary, use minimal amounts.
• Minimize the water used in cooling equipment such as air compressors, in accordance with the manufacturer recommendations.
• Keep hot water heaters and pipes insulated.
• Avoid excessive boiler and air conditioner blow down.
• Consider dry carpet cleaning methods over wet or steam carpet cleaning.
• Instruct clean-up crews and contractors to be efficient when using water.
• Shut off air conditioning when and where it is not needed to reduce the load on equipment.
• Monitor the water bill monthly.
Tips for turf lawns:
• Only water before 9am or after 7pm every third day at 1-inch to 1 1/2 inches per week. If you have a controller, set it to avoid over-watering.
• Most area soils have a lot of clay and need slow water delivery for optimum infiltration; a maximum of 1/2-inch per hour. Select rotary nozzles that use stream spray with multi trajectory, slow delivery.
• Using a smart controller, ET based controller, wireless rain sensors, and/or adjusting timers properly saves water and results in healthier turf and plants.
• Cut your lawn no shorter than 3 inches to reduce soil moisture loss and to promote deeper roots.
• Avoid planting trees and shrubs or sodding new lawns during the drier, hotter months.
• Check your sprinkler heads. Are they broken? Clogged? Plugged? Overgrown with vegetation? Are there objects interfering with proper application? Make sure the spray heads turn properly. Adjust heads so that water does not reach streets and driveways.
• Check for uniform water distribution and infiltration. After a cycle, walk the property to determine if water evenly applied. Look for excessively wet spots or dry spots.
• Avoid watering if the soil is still wet.
• Check for obvious leaks and take immediate action to fix them.
• Does your system have optimum pressure? Too much pressure causes misting/atomizing, too little can cause dribbling.
• Change irrigated turf to native or drought tolerant plants and grasses and incorporate other xeriscape practices such as soil conditioning and mulching.
Other outdoor water saving tips:
• Use porous materials for patios and walkways to reduce runoff.
• Use a car wash that recycles water or wash your car on the lawn so you can simultaneously water your grass. Use a bucket instead of a hose.
• Being “water aware” can go a long way to achieving dramatic savings, both water and costs.
Lyn Halliday is an environmental scientist and consults locally on environmental issues. She was instrumental in the development of the first Water Conservation Plan for the city of Steamboat Springs and, as founder of the Steamboat Sustainable Business Program in 2006, has coached many local businesses to help them reduce their environmental footprint.
From The Greeley Tribune (Morgan McKenzie):
Responding to concerns from residents about the taste and smell of the town’s water, Johnstown officials have announced the planned installation of three new systems to help mitigate the issues.
The town is installing the three systems at the end of June with the goal to improve the water service, according to a June 14 news release. Residents can look forward to a new Granular Activated Carbon feeder system, a Powdered Activated Carbon filtration system and an ultrasonic buoy.
Residents of Johnstown should see difference in their water with the new installations, according to the release.
The GAC system, installed at the town’s water treatment plant, removes contaminant and controls taste and odor. The PAC system, located at Lone Tree Reservoir, will filter out organic components, which can contribute to taste and odor problems.
The last portion of the new systems is the ultrasonic buoy that will reside in the Johnstown reservoir. This system prevents algae’s growth in the surface of the reservoir, and reduces algae from impacting the water’s odor and taste.
This isn’t the first strive towards better-tasting water in Johnstown. At the beginning of this year, new water and sewer rates and fee schedule were created to provide better water service to residents.
From Denver Water:
Storage tanks at Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant taking shape.
The work started in the dark, at 2:30 a.m., continued through the dawn and lasted until noon on Friday, May 14.
Loaded concrete trucks trundled onto the site of the Northwater Treatment Plant, along Highway 93 north of Golden. A truck arrived every four minutes, delivering concrete that was pumped, then smoothed into place by an army of about 100 workers.
They shaped the round, concrete floor of what will be the first of the new treatment plant’s two water storage tanks. The tanks will hold clean, treated water to be delivered into Denver Water’s distribution system that sends safe drinking water 1.5 million people every day.
“It’s a big milestone day. Each tank can hold 10 million gallons of water — and to put that in perspective, that’s 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Bob Mahoney, Denver Water’s chief engineering officer.
“The project is going very well. It’s ahead of schedule and — in addition to pouring the floor of the new treated water reservoir — the overall project is about 38% complete.”
A look at the numbers behind the work:
23 feet, the height of the storage tank when finished, although most of it will be buried underground. 300-plus feet, the diameter of the tank, longer than a football field. 1,400 cubic yards of concrete were needed for the floor of the tank. 145 concrete trucks delivered the concrete. 100 workers were involved with the concrete placement.
The new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, being built next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir, is expected to be complete in 2024 and will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water per day. Concrete for the floor of the second water storage tank is expected to be put in place July 2, weather permitting.
The Northwater Treatment Plant is part of Denver Water’s $600 million North System Renewal effort, which includes a new pipeline to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.
The concrete work in mid-May drew a steady stream of curious onlookers, including workers building the new plant — and those who will run it when it’s finished.
“I had to come out. I really wanted to see how they do this,” said Nicole Babyak, a water treatment plant supervisor at Denver Water.
“The team and I, we’ve been involved in this project for years. We’re going to be running the plant and have seen parts of the facility being built from the ground up, but I haven’t seen a large concrete pour like this yet. It’s so neat to be here while they’re pouring the first tank.
“It’s just so cool.”
From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):
Humanity must solve the climate and nature crises together or solve neither, according to a report from 50 of the world’s leading scientists.
Global heating and the destruction of wildlife is wreaking increasing damage on the natural world, which humanity depends on for food, water and clean air. Many of the human activities causing the crises are the same and the scientists said increased use of nature as a solution was vital.
The devastation of forests, peatlands, mangroves and other ecosystems has decimated wildlife populations and released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are, in turn increasingly damaging biodiversity.
But restoring and protecting nature boosts biodiversity and the ecosystems that can rapidly and cheaply absorb carbon again, the researchers said. While this is crucial, the scientists emphasise that rapid cuts in fossil fuel burning is also essential to ending the climate emergency.
They also warned against action on one crisis inadvertently aggravating the other, such as creating monoculture tree plantations that store carbon but are wildlife deserts and more vulnerable to extreme weather.
“It is clear that we cannot solve [the global biodiversity and climate crises] in isolation – we either solve both or we solve neither,” said Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s climate and environment minister.
The peer-reviewed report was produced by the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts, who were convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, both which report to the world’s political leaders.
The report identified actions to simultaneously fight the climate and nature crises, including expanding nature reserves and restoring – or halting the loss of – ecosystems rich in species and carbon, such as forests, natural grasslands and kelp forests.
Food systems cause a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and more sustainable farming is another important action, helped by the ending of destructive subsidies and rich nations eating less meat and cutting food waste…
Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems was the fastest and cheapest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the scientists said. Cutting fossil fuel emissions was essential, but not enough at this point in the climate crisis, said Parmesan. “We cannot avoid dangerous climate change without soaking up some of the carbon that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and the best way to suck up carbon is using the power of plants,” she said.
“The science of restoration of ecosystems has really blossomed over the last 40 years. We are now able to efficiently and effectively restore complex systems, tropical rainforest, coastal wetlands, kelp forests and seagrass meadows, natural American prairie, and UK meadows back to their near historical diversity.”
Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, said the report was seminal: “The science is very clear that climate change and biodiversity are inseparable. To stabilise climate change we need massive rewilding and reforestation.”
The UK environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, said: “This is an absolutely critical year for nature and climate. With the UN biodiversity [and climate summits], we have an opportunity and responsibility to put the world on a path to recovery. This hugely valuable report makes it clear that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change together offers our best chance of doing so.”
Continuing the year’s warming trend, May 2021 tied with 2018 as the world’s sixth-warmest May on record, while the year to date (through May) ranked eighth warmest, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Here’s a closer look into NOAA’s latest monthly global climate report:
Climate by the numbers
The average global temperature in May was 1.46 degrees F (0.81 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average, tying with May 2018 as the sixth-warmest May recorded.
May 2021 ended as the 45th-consecutive May and the 437th-consecutive month with average temperatures peaking above the 20th-century average.
Regionally, Asia had its second-warmest May on record behind May 2020, and Africa had its sixth warmest. Meanwhile, Europe and North America experienced their coolest May since 2004 and 2011, respectively.
Season | March through May
The average global temperature for the three-month season, March through May, was 1.48 degrees F (0.82 of a degree C) above average, making it the eighth-warmest such season for the world on record.
The Northern Hemisphere had its sixth-warmest spring, while the Southern Hemisphere had its 11th-warmest autumn on record.
Year to date | January through May
The year to date (through May) ranked eighth-warmest on record and logged a global temperature of 1.39 degrees F (0.77 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 55.5 degrees F.
Africa had its third-warmest YTD on record, behind the same period for 2010 (2nd warmest) and 2016 (warmest). Asia and South America saw their eighth- and ninth-warmest YTDs on record, respectively.
More notable climate stats and facts from the May global climate report
Arctic sea ice retreated at a slightly slower rate: Sea ice covered about 243,000 square miles of the Arctic last month — an area roughly the size of Somalia — making it the ninth-smallest May ice coverage in the 43-year record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center offsite link.
Snow cover was quite sparse: The Northern Hemisphere’s snow cover in May was 1.08 million square miles below average — the third smallest for May on record. Only May 2010 and 2012 had a smaller snow cover. North America’s snow cover placed 11th smallest on record, while Eurasia saw its fifth smallest.
From The Produce News:
Spring Born, a 3.5-acre indoor hydroponic farm, is breaking ground in the CEA industry. The company is one of the first leafy green greenhouses in Colorado to undergo USDA Organic Certification. Spring Born products will be available for retail distribution starting August 2021.
“Spring Born combines innovative technologies and hardworking individuals that, when put together, provide fresh, healthy, quality greens better than anyone on the market,” said Charles Barr, president. “We care about the state of our environment and building sustainable practices that leave a lasting impact on our local community. Our company looks forward to supporting the community with nourishment but also economically with jobs and added business.”
Their advanced technology supports an efficient and sustainable environment for the greens and the local community. All products are grown and packed hands-free, pesticide-free, and use significantly less land and water than farm fields. The indoor farm grows, packs and distributes products directly from the greenhouse to support a long shelf life of 14 days at retail.
“Our greens are grown in a protected environment, not susceptible to the risk of harsh natural elements,” Barr said. “Spring Born promises unique varieties with consistent quality and supply year-round.”
With consumer preferences in mind, Spring Born currently offers four unique varieties available in standard retail and club-pack sizes. Spring Born will open its doors for tours and variety testing in July 2021. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more at http://www.springborn.us.
From The Salt Lake Tribune (Emma Penrod):
The following story was supported by funding from The Water Desk and was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Utah politicians and water officials have for years insisted that there is ample water in the Colorado River to fill its planned 140-mile Lake Powell pipeline to St. George in the southwestern corner of the state.
Despite impacts from climate change that have resulted in an 18% decline in river flows during the past two decades and a drop in Lake Powell’s level to just 35% of capacity, they might just be right.
Utah’s consistent argument that it has nearly 400,000 acre-feet (roughly 130 billion gallons) of undeveloped water in the river is disputed by hydrologists who say it’s using all its allotted share under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Even so, legal experts and engineers point out that there could be room for additional development — if the state is willing to buy or take the water from someone else.
“If there is going to be a new pipeline,” Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River District, said in an interview, “let’s not pretend that it’s going to be using new water. If they build a new pipeline, they’re going to get that from irrigation water.”
The most likely candidate is irrigation water from the Uinta Basin, said Kuhn, co-author of “Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.”
And that is exactly what Utah plans to do.
There’s one problem: The water the state plans to tap for the Lake Powell pipeline was previously promised to the Ute Indian Tribe, which is now suing to get back its water and asserting that the misappropriation is one of a decades-long string of racially motivated schemes to deprive it of its rights and property.
Pulling the plug on the Central Utah Project
The dispute dates to the 1950s and the origins of the Central Utah Project (CUP), a series of pipelines and reservoirs that channels Colorado River water over the Wasatch Mountains to Utah’s population centers in Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Utah water managers at the time leveraged Ute tribal water rights to cut a deal for construction of the CUP. In exchange for the destruction of lands and fisheries essential to the Ute way of life, state and federal governments agreed to extend the project to tribal lands.
But once the first phases of the project were complete, Utah and its federal partners abandoned plans to build dams and pipelines for the Utes, citing excessive costs and underwhelming benefits.
“It is unclear why the costs and benefits varied so significantly,” the tribe’s 2020 federal lawsuit said, referring to the completed CUP phases delivering water to the Wasatch Front compared to the originally proposed tribal phases. “However, it is clear that as an exclusively tribal project — that is, as a project for the delivery of the Tribe’s Reserved Water Rights — [the Bureau of Reclamation] found poor economics, but when non-Indians were included as part of the project, the economics drastically improved.”
These decisions significantly curtailed the tribe’s expected economic benefits from the project, guaranteeing it would not grow as quickly as other communities that received CUP water, the complaint said. It cited, for example, a 2018 attempt by the tribe to enter into a contract with an oil and gas development company, which ultimately fell through because the tribe lacked access to sufficient water to make the project happen.
Moreover, in what the tribe sees as an illegal betrayal and violation of its rights, the state has reassigned the promised water to a variety of other projects, including the Lake Powell pipeline.
Starting in 1996, the Utah Board of Water Resources divvied up the unused CUP water, awarding tens of thousands of acre-feet to the Uintah Water Conservancy District, the Duchesne County Water Conservancy District, and other public and private water developers. Two final divisions plan to split the remainder. Roughly 86,000 acre-feet will be assigned to the 140-mile Lake Powell pipeline — a $1 billion-plus project that still awaits federal approval — and the last 72,641 acre-feet of water has been allotted to a conservation and storage project called the Green River Block.
In a statement to The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, the tribe called the approval of the Green River Block a “sham contract” that lacks “any legal authority.”
According to the tribe’s 2020 federal lawsuit, which names the Green River Block specifically but does not include the as-yet unfinalized Lake Powell pipeline transfer, Utah appears to derive its claimed authority to execute these transfers from the Central Utah Project Completion Act of 1992.
The congressionally approved compact, which required ratification of the state and Ute Tribe, has never won approval of the Utes, rendering it null and void in their eyes. The state Legislature only recently endorsed it.
The act, while promising protection for the tribe’s water rights and future financial compensation for economic losses associated with the incomplete portion of the CUP, said the Bureau of Reclamation no longer would fund the construction of pipelines and dams needed to store and access the water — a provision unacceptable to the tribe.
State moves forward despite tribe’s objections
In 1996, even as the Utes were still trying to negotiate a deal to help pay for the needed infrastructure, the bureau determined that the pledged water had not been put to beneficial use and deeded it to the Utah Board of Water Resources. This transfer took place, the tribe told The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, “without any prior notice to, or consultation with, the Tribe.”
When Utah lawmakers in 2018 finally decided to officially ratify and put into statute the congressional compact, state leaders were aware that the tribe objected to it but chose to move forward with SB98 regardless, records show. A month before the final legislative passage, the tribe sent a letter to then-Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, the bill’s sponsor, to express its view that the terms of the compact were “unacceptable to the Ute Indian Tribe in that it was substantially amended without any input from the Tribe.” The only saving grace of the congressional action that created it, the letter said, was that Congress “made the compact contingent upon ratification by the Ute Tribal members before it became a valid document.”
“We therefore request that your bill be withdrawn until such time as the Ute Tribe and the state of Utah have come to a compromise on the water compact that can be approved by both the state of Utah and the Ute Tribe and its members,” Ute Tribal Business Committee Chairman Luke Duncan wrote to Van Tassell.
Van Tassell responded in a letter dated Feb. 27, 2018, saying he had asked the tribe for proposed amendments to the compact that would address its concerns and expressed disappointment that it had not done so. He said he intended to move ahead with his bill.
“Please know I’m happy to continue to work with you and the rest of the Ute Tribal Business Committee throughout this year to improve the statute and address your concerns,” he wrote the same day the bill cleared its first Senate vote.
A few days earlier, Christine Finlinson, assistant manager of the CUP, appeared before a Senate committee to endorse SB98. “We’re anxious,” she said, “to have this part of our history concluded.”
The bill passed the Legislature without a dissenting vote — and with no testimony from any member of the tribe…
Utes seek a seat at the table
After the Ute Tribe watched the Utah Legislature act unilaterally to try to solidify and codify the never-ratified compact of 1992, it decided to pursue another avenue for defending its rights on the Colorado River. A few months after SB98 passed and was signed by then-Gov. Gary Herbert, Chairman Duncan sent a letter to the Upper Colorado River Basin Commission seeking appointment of a tribal representative to the body.
“We have studied the law of the Colorado River and its management, and we conclude that there will never be effective management of the river unless the Commission establishes a relationship with the Ute Tribe,” Duncan wrote in the July 24, 2018, missive. “This relationship must recognize that the Tribe has a sovereign, governmental interest in its apportionment of water in the Colorado River Basin with senior, reserved water rights that are held in trust by the United States for the Tribe, as the beneficial owner of these water rights.”
The letter requested a meeting at Ute Indian tribal headquarters in Fort Duchesne. Amy Haas, executive director of the commission, subsequently forwarded the letter to other members, saying she was suggesting some alternative locales. She signed off with a sarcastic quip: “Good thing we have nothing else going on!”
Representatives from the tribe met in December of that year with commissioners in Las Vegas. In his report back to the Utah Division of Water Resources, Eric Millis, then-division director and Utah’s representative on the river commission, noted the tribe’s request for its own member but disagreed with its argument.
“The Upper Basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah — believe that any tribe within any of the states’ boundaries are already and best served by their state representative on the Colorado River,” Millis wrote to his colleagues. “For the Ute Tribe, that is Eric Millis, Utah’s Upper Colorado River Commissioner. This has been expressed to the Tribe.”
(Gene Shawcroft, who was appointed in January by Gov. Spencer Cox to replace Millis as Utah’s Upper Colorado River commissioner, did not respond to questions regarding his position on the tribe’s request.)
Not surprisingly, the tribe had a different view:
“State representatives are not in a position to represent tribal interests, which is largely why we continue to face issues related to Indian water rights recognition, development, and water management today. … Time and time again, we are made aware of situations and decisions where the Tribe is not involved in discussions which have direct implications for our most valuable tribal trust resource — water.”
Click here to access the study:
The operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead in this June 2021 24-Month Study is pursuant to the December 2007 Record of Decision on Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Interim Guidelines), and reflects the 2021 Annual Operating Plan (AOP). Pursuant to the Interim Guidelines, the August 2020 24-Month Study projections of the January 1, 2021, system storage and reservoir water surface elevations set the operational tier for the coordinated operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during 2021.
The August 2020 24-Month Study projected the January 1, 2021, Lake Powell elevation to be below the 2021 Equalization Elevation of 3,659 feet and above elevation 3,575 feet. Consistent with Section 6.B of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell is operating under the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier for water year 2021. With an 8.23 million acre-foot (maf) release from Lake Powell in water year 2021, the April 2021 24-Month Study projected the end of water year elevation at Lake Powell to be below 3,575 feet. Therefore, in accordance with Section 6.B.1 of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell will continue to release 8.23 maf through the remainder of the water year 2021.
Consistent with Section 2.B.5 of the Interim Guidelines, the Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) Surplus Condition is the criterion governing the ope ration of Lake Mead for calendar year 2021. In addition, Section III.B of Exhibit 1 to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) Agreement is also governing the operation of Lake Mead in calendar year 2021.
The 2021 AOP is available online at: https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/aop/AOP21.pdf.
The Interim Guidelines are available online at: https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/strategies/RecordofDecision.pdf.
The Colorado River DCPs are available online at: https://www.usbr.gov/dcp/finaldocs.html.
The Upper Basin Hydrology Summary is available online at: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/24Month_06_ucb.pdf.
Current runoff projections into Lake Powell are provided by the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and are as follows. The observed unregulated inflow into Lake Powell for the month of May was 0.543 maf or 23 percent of the 30-year average from 1981 to 2010. The June unregulated inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 0.750 maf or 28 percent of the 30-year average. The 2021 April through July unregulated inflow forecast is 1.800 maf or 25 percent of average. [ed. emphasis mine]
In this study, the calendar year 2021 diversion for Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is projected to be 1.087 maf. The calendar year 2021 diversion for the Central Arizona Project (CAP) is projected to be 1.359 maf. Consumptive use for Nevada above Hoover (SNWP Use) is projected to be 0.248 maf for calendar year 2021.
Due to changing Lake Mead elevations, Hoover’s generator capacity is adjusted based on estimated effective capacity and plant availability. The estimated effective capacity is based on projected Lake Mead elevations. Unit capacity tests will be performed as the lake elevation changes. This study reflects these changes in the projections.
Hoover, Davis, and Parker Dam historical gross energy figures come from PO&M reports provided by the Lower Colorado Region’s Power Office, Bureau of Reclamation, Boulder City, Nevada. Questions regarding these historical energy numbers can be directed to Colleen Dwyer at (702) 293-8420.
Runoff and inflow projections into upper basin reservoirs are provided by the Colorado River Forecasting Service through the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and are as follows:
The exceptional drought in the U.S. West has people across the region on edge after the record-setting fires of 2020. Last year, Colorado alone saw its three largest fires in recorded state history, one burning late in October and crossing the barren Continental Divide well above the tree line.
Those fires didn’t just feel extreme. Evidence now shows the 2020 fire season pushed these ecosystems to levels of burning unprecedented for at least 2,000 years.
That evidence, which we describe in a study published June 14, 2021, serves as a sobering example of how climate change is altering the ecosystems on which lives and economies depend. A previous study nearly a decade ago warned that by the mid-21st century, climate warming could increase burning past historical levels and transform some Rocky Mountain forests. Our results show such changes in fire activity are now underway.
Entering uncharted territory
We used to be able to look to the past when rare events like large wildfires occurred and say “we’ve seen this before and our ecosystems have generally bounced back.” In the last few years, however, it’s become increasingly clear that many ecosystems are entering uncharted territory.
Witnessing the exceptionally large fires burning in high-elevation forests in 2020, unusually late in the season, we wondered if we were experiencing something truly unprecedented.
In Colorado and Wyoming, the largest fires of 2020 were burning in a region where our research teams have spent over 15 years developing records of fire history and ecosystem change from materials preserved in the bottom of lakes. This work has centered on understanding how climate change might one day affect wildfires. We looked to those records for an answer.
Evidence of past fires preserved in lake sediments
When a fire burns a forest, it sends tiny bits of charcoal into the air. If a lake is nearby, some of that charcoal will settle to the bottom, adding to the layers that build up each year. By plunging a long tube into the mud and extracting a core, we can examine the history of the surrounding landscape – revealed in the layers of everything that sank to the bottom over thousands of years.
Carbon dating of tree needles and twigs helps us determine the age of each layer in a core. Pollen preserved in the sediments can tell us what grew nearby. And dense charcoal layers tell us when fires burned.
We used such records of past fires preserved in the sediments of 20 lakes in the central Rocky Mountains. In total, the dozens of researchers who helped analyze these cores counted over 100,000 tiny charcoal pieces, within the thousands of 0.5-centimeter layers of lake sediments examined. Identifying distinct increases in charcoal accumulation within the cores allows us to estimate when fires burned around a lake, and compare today’s patterns to those of the distant past.
The result: The extensive burning over the 21st century is unprecedented in this region in the past 2,000 years.
Burning nearly twice as often as in the past
We estimated that fires burned the forests around each lake once every 230 years, on average, over the past 2,000 years. Over just the 21st century, the rate of burning has nearly doubled, with a fire now expected to burn a given spot once every 117 years.
Even more surprising, fires in the 21st century are now burning 22% more often than the highest rate of burning reached in the previous 2,000 years.
That previous record was established around 1,100 years ago, during what’s known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly. The Northern Hemisphere at that time was 0.3 C (0.5 F) warmer then than the 20th century average. Subalpine forests in the central Rockies during the early Medieval Climate Anomaly burned on average once every 150 years. To put that period’s temperature into perspective, the Northern Hemisphere in 2020 was 1.28 C (2.3 F) above the 20th century average.
In an earlier study based on a subset of the same records, the Medieval Climate Anomaly stood out as a harbinger of what could happen as Rocky Mountain forests warmed. Research in the boreal forest of central Alaska has also documented unprecedented burning in recent decades.
Climate change is the culprit, with accomplices
Research clearly links recent increases in fire activity across the West to increasingly warm, dry summers and human-caused climate change. Our evidence shows that the rate of burning over the past 2,000 years also tracked smaller variations in the climate in the central Rockies.
Warmer, drier conditions make vegetation more flammable, loading the dice for the possibility of large fires. Human activities, a history of suppressing most fires and insect-killed trees all affect when, where and how fires burn. These influences vary across the West and each is layered on top of the warmer, drier conditions of the 21st century.
Adapting to a future unlike the past will be a significant challenge for land managers, policy makers and communities. Reducing the threats of increasing wildfires requires both combating climate change and learning to live in ways that help make our communities more resilient to our fire-prone future.
Philip Higuera, Professor of Fire Ecology and Paleoecology, The University of Montana; Bryan Shuman, Professor of Paleoclimatology and Paleoecology, University of Wyoming, and Kyra Wolf, Ph.D. Student in Systems Ecology, The University of Montana
Here’s a guest column from Jim Spehar that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
It’ll be hard to avoid the overwhelming desire for a tall glass of cool, refreshing water in the coming week while we’re flirting with record 100-degree plus temperatures here in the Grand Valley. In a broader sense, the daily blast of heat past the century mark will put another exclamation point on water issues along the Colorado River.
The first one came a few days ago. The water level at Lake Mead near Las Vegas hit its lowest level since filling in the 1930s. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the decline will continue until November, causing ripples upriver as agreements linking Mead and Lake Powell water levels come into play sooner than expected. Other recent alarms include massive drought-induced wildfires, resulting post-fire runoffs impacting water supplies, shorter irrigating seasons … the litany goes on and on while the Colorado River Basin is expected to post its second-driest year in more than a century of recorded history.
Before you complain about those fountains and golf courses in Sin City, consider what that desert community has done to alleviate its water use. Millions of dollars, as much as $3/square foot, is paid to residents to replace grass with xeriscaping. Building codes prohibit front lawns for new houses. A new state law will prohibit Colorado River water from being used to irrigate “non-functional turf” such as grass in office parks, at the entrances to subdivisions and in strips between sidewalks and streets.
That latest restriction, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, will save about 10% of the region’s Colorado River allocation, that 30,000 acre feet equal to the amount normally used by 60,000 homes. The Central Arizona Project is taking 30% less water from the Colorado River than in previous years. Further downriver, farmers in California and along the border in Arizona are being paid nearly handsomely to fallow cropland by cities clamoring for municipal water.
Here in Colorado, there are rumblings of what may become necessary steps for some communities in the not too distant future.
In Fountain, south of Colorado Springs, developers have applied for nearly 30,000 new water taps in the last year. The city currently serves 9,000 taps. According to Colorado Public Radio, Fountain is telling developers they need to support their applications with the millions of dollars necessary to obtain new water rights and storage and delivery infrastructure. Utilities Director Dan Blankenship is telling those developers “We can’t give you something we don’t have.”
Which spotlights the elephant (perhaps more appropriately the whale) in the room as water shortages are discussed — carrying capacity. It’s a question that’s been avoided for years but ultimately can’t be ignored. Is there a hard limit to how many of us can live, work, recreate in any one place along the Colorado River?
Of course there is. We just don’t want to acknowledge that, at least so far, though we live in an arid West where more than 40 million people in seven states and two countries depend, at least in part, on the Colorado River and its tributaries.
Twenty-five years ago, I worked for Gov. Roy Romer on his Smart Growth Initiative. One of his ideas was that developers wishing to build in the then-emerging area around Castle Rock ought to prove there was a 300-year supply of guaranteed water for their projects. That, of course, didn’t fly. Nor did a later 100-year proposed guarantee. But setting requirements like that, or such as Fountain is talking about, seems inevitable.
I’m both amused and frightened at suggestions the flawed 1922 Colorado River Compact needs to be renegotiated, hoping to keep more of “our water” in the Upper Basin. That’d take congressional action. Count the number of members from California, Arizona and Nevada and compare that total to those from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Shouldn’t reopening the Compact be the option of last resort?
“Water, water, water…. There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount , a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.” — Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”
Jim Spehar represented western Colorado communities for eight years on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Water Congress. Comments always welcome to email@example.com.
From TheDenverChannel.com (Mike Nelson):
Temperatures soared to 98 degrees in Denver Monday afternoon – way above the average high of 82 degrees for mid-June, but shy of the record of 102 degrees, set on June 14, 2006.
Colorado is on the eastern edge of a huge bubble of hot, dry air that covers all of the southwestern United States. This hot, dry airmass has little thunderstorm potential, just a few hit or miss storms to bring brief relief from the heat…
Western Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California are all experiencing extreme drought conditions. The drought exacerbates the heat wave as the sun’s heat is simply heating up ground as opposed to evaporating water. This compounds the cycle of heat and dryness and is not likely to break for most of the summer.
The hottest weather of the year is typically in mid-July, so this is an early heatwave. With global warming we are seeing hotter weather earlier, so this type of event will become more frequent…
If we reach 100 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be the earliest ever Denver has had two straight days of triple digits.
June 2012 had 6 days of 100 degrees or hotter, with 2 days reaching 105 degrees – the all-time hottest temperature for Denver. (It has been reached several different days in June, July and August.)
Our hottest weather is typically in July, but we are seeing heatwaves coming earlier in the warm season, while our mid-summer heatwaves are tending to become longer and hotter in recent decades.
The role of climate change cannot be left out of the equation in this weather pattern. As the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) increases in our atmosphere, our world is getting warmer. The effect of increased CO2 in our atmosphere is well understood and has been known for over 150 years…
The role of carbon dioxide (CO2) in determining the temperature of our planet is established science, regardless of efforts to discount the impact of CO2.
In 1825, a French mathematician — Joseph Fourier — calculated that given the distance from the Sun, the Earth should be much colder. He theorized that it was the atmosphere that trapped enough heat to make our planet habitable.
In 1856, Eunice Foote, an American researcher, filled glass jars with different gases and set them in the sun. The jar filled with CO2 warmed the most.
In 1863, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, did more elaborate experiments with carbon dioxide and discovered that CO2 was very effective at trapping long-wave or Earth energy.
In 1895, a Swedish researcher named Svante Arrhenius theorized that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause the Earth’s average temperature to increase by several degrees. The greatest impact would be in the far northern latitudes – which is exactly what we are seeing!
In the 1970s – CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who was famously known as the most trusted man in America, reported on the threat of global warming.
Even though CO2 is a TRACE gas in our atmosphere, it is highly effective at capturing infrared (Earth) energy from escaping into space. The CO2 molecule vibrates a little when infrared energy passes by, this tiny “wiggle” serves to trap that energy in the atmosphere instead of letting it pass through into outer space…
On timescales of millions of years, CO2 is mostly a balance between volcanoes that create it and “chemical weathering” (dissolving) of rocks that destroy it. The weathering of rocks creates calcium carbonate that returns the carbon to the soil, the oceans and the Earth’s crust.
When volcanic emissions exceed rock dissolving, CO2 increases and vice versa when volcanic emissions decline.
CO2 was extremely high (maybe 5 times current levels!) 55 million years ago (more volcanoes than dissolving rocks), and it fell steadily for 50 million years straight.
The main reason that CO2 dropped was that India crashed into Asia, raising the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. All that fresh rock dissolved fast, sucking down CO2.
When the CO2 got low enough about 2 million years ago (about 300 ppm), we started having ice ages. We have had at least 20 since then.
During ice ages, about ⅓ of all the CO2 dissolves into the oceans, so CO2 drops to around 200 ppm. Then, when the ice melts, it shoots back up to about 300 ppm again. It’s done this 20 times in 2 million years.
During the last great global warming, CO2 rose from 180 to 280 ppm between 18,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago. That’s a rise of 0.01 ppm per century.
Now, as we dig up fossil carbon and light it on fire, the CO2 rises 3 ppm per year, 300 times as fast as it during deglaciation! It is not just the fact that the world is getting warmer, it really is the rate at which the warming is occurring. Since 1800, the CO2 has risen more than it did in 100 centuries after 16,000 BC.
With things changing so quickly, the big concern is how will we deal with the rapid change and whether many species will be able to survive, as there is not time for them to evolve…
Even though an individual severe weather event cannot be blamed on Global Warming, a warmer climate adds energy to the system — “juicing up” the atmosphere and will cause more frequent and extreme severe weather events in the future.
We can expect more intense rain events, such as the Front Range Flood in September 2013, but also more wildfires as the changing climate creates stress on our forests.
Our Colorado climate will become warmer over the next 100 years. Denver will have temperatures more like Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The result will be less snowpack, lower reservoirs and more frequent droughts. We know the population will increase and therefore the demand for water – we need to plan ahead! We have been blessed to have a few big snow years recently, the long-term prospects may not be so rosy.
From The Colorado Sun (Jennifer Brown, Michael Booth, and Jason Blevins):
The Western Slope has suffered a drought three of the last four years, and by now, it’s taken a toll on farmers and ranchers that is both financial and emotional. VanWinkle choked up as she spoke of the “crunch” she hears with every step through the pasture.
“It’s truly the grass and the flora crumbling into a million pieces with every step you take,” she said. “It’s brutal.”
Ranchers and farmers in western and southern Colorado are shipping livestock to greener pastures or selling them off entirely, as fast as the stream flows past their property are dropping. Late-season snowpack was bad enough: Half of the historical median in the Yampa and White River basins in the northwest, 29% in the Upper Rio Grande of the San Luis Valley, 42% in the Gunnison…
Runoff into the streams, rivers and irrigation canals that supply Colorado cattle operations is so low that ranchers are seeing their water supplies reduced to historically low levels or cut off completely.
Soil parched for years by drought is sucking down vital farm water before it hits a reservoir. On the Yampa, the flow into Stagecoach Reservoir this time of year usually runs 400 cubic feet per second. This year, it’s at 16.
The losses accumulate downstream. The major Colorado streams join the Colorado River, which leaves the state to deliver snowmelt to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. The catch basin that is Lake Powell will see only [28%] of normal inflow this year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says. The next pool downriver, Lake Mead, on Thursday fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam gates were first closed in the 1930s.
Colorado water engineers are ordering groundwater wells shut down on some ranches for the first time in the history of the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District, said State Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, whose day job is head of the district. In Saguache County on the north end, one rancher refused to turn off groundwater pumps, and another rancher said the sheriff was sent out to cool tempers over the cease and desist order.
When ranchers can’t divert river water into irrigation ditches to flood pastures, or pump groundwater over hay meadows, their grass will stop growing by late June. Then, their choices are all money losers, and gut-wrenching ones at that. They can buy up other farmers’ land to get the water rights. They can put cattle in trucks to lease pasture in places where there is more water. They can buy hay at double or triple prices.
Or they can reduce their herds, selling cattle to market early in order to have fewer bovine mouths to feed. Those cuts are happening at nearly every ranch, from Mesa County to Mancos, from Saguache to the Flat Tops.
The San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande
Near Saguache, the cumulative drought means tangible consequences this summer, after decades of abstract debate over declining streamflows and whether pumping from wells depletes the aquifer…
[George] Whitten’s grandfather homesteaded the place in 1893, but his water right is still not all that senior. The ranch can flood pasture with Saguache Creek water when there’s enough to reach his priority level, which is 38th. As Whitten spoke Friday, during prime runoff season, there was enough water to reach only the 24th priority…
The pastures will produce 75% less hay than normal this year, he said. Across Saguache County, 22,000 acres of land are impacted by the well shutdown. Whitten will send some cows and finishing calves to other pastures, making cheap arrangements as often as possible with farmers who want the fertilizing from grazing cattle to regenerate fields.
He will try to avoid buying hay bales for $300 a ton, up from the usual range of $100 to $200. Selling high-quality beef directly to consumers means he can avoid some of the “fire sale” moves other ranchers will have to make this season. Selling live beef cattle into flooded markets by fall might bring only 30 cents a pound. One of the last options for desperate ranchers, Whitten said, is an organic dog food company that’s always willing to buy, at surprisingly competitive prices…
The Yampa Valley and the Flat Tops
On Bear River, a high creek that becomes the Yampa River below the Flat Tops, Andrea Schaffner’s family grows grass in flooded meadows at 8,500 feet. In a normal year, their 1910 water right lets them and six other ranchers take 30 cubic feet per second of river water for three to four weeks, through the Stillwater Ditch.
This spring, they got 3 cubic feet per second, for a total of 12 hours…
If the ranch is able to use some stored-water rights, and gets a little summer rain, they might grow 25 to 30% of their usual grass crop. The Schaffners also run about 30 cattle each year, which they graze on their son-in-law’s property. Their son-in-law is now on the hunt for grass for all the family’s livestock for the rest of the year.
The families have access to some federal grazing rights, but then they have to worry about potential drought-driven wildfires on those remote lands…
The North Fork Valley and Delta County
Fruit farmers and cattle ranchers in the North Fork Valley ran out of water early last year as they sipped from Paonia Reservoir in a dry July.
More than 220 farmers and ranchers rely on Paonia Reservoir and the Fire Mountain Canal. After three years of weak snow, broiling summers and high winds, the ground in the North Fork Valley is “just unbelievably dry,” said Dixie Luke, the president of the Fire Mountain Canal…
Many of those users have developed water-saving drip irrigation systems and built holding ponds to allow for late-season irrigation, which is critical for fruit trees…
Last year, Ed Tuft had about 21 acre-feet of water in his primary ditch — most of which he rented to augment his share of water from Paonia Reservoir — to irrigate the almost 400,000 fruit trees he’s growing on 400 acres above the North Fork of the Gunnison River. This year, he has only 7.5 acre-feet. He’s ripped out 5,000 to 7,000 trees from his Leroux Creek Farms.
“Anything that was not going to produce in the next few years is out,” he said…
A few decades ago, the valley had about 25,000 acres of apple orchards and now it’s closer to 3,000, he said. The apricot and cherry market in the valley has declined just as much…
The Eastern Plains from Limon to Wyoming
On the Eastern Plains, the grass is a lush green, tall and thick. Most of the rain that fell on Colorado this spring hit the ground in Denver and out to the east, on the farm and ranch lands around Fort Morgan and Limon.
But don’t think the ranchers there are expanding their herds based on the good fortune of two or three months of rain. They know better.
Technically, the drought isn’t over, said Kelsey Pope, who along with her husband manages her parents’ cattle operation, River Bend Ranch, just west of Limon. The ranch has been in a drought since 2017, and 2020 was the worst Pope has ever seen…
Back in 2017, River Bend had 1,200 head of cattle. This year, it has just 480, a downsizing that was the result of years of parched soil. Without steady rain, the buffalo and blue grasses don’t grow tall enough to shade the ground, and the soil is zapped of its biodiversity and nutrients.
From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):
The Geos Neighborhood packs dense, energy-smart homes against a forested creek in Arvada. Some of its green design elements are obvious. Unlike hulking mansions nearby, the units are long and narrow, so large windows can soak up winter sunshine. Each roof boasts a solar array. A herd of goats even grazes a shared open space…
Less noticeable is the complete lack of natural gas hookups. Klebl smiled as he opened the door to the utility closet in his townhome. Inside is an all-electric climate control system, which the Austrian-born engineer designed and perfected himself.
“Gas should be stopped in new developments,” Klebl said. “We have to learn to live in fully electric homes.”
Many energy experts have come to a similar conclusion. To meet international climate goals, a recent International Energy Agency report found almost all gas appliances must be replaced with electric alternatives. The thinking is electric stoves and water heaters can take advantage of renewable energy. Without rapid development of technologies like “renewable natural gas,” anything with a burner tip guarantees emissions.
Klebl said the Geos Neighborhood shows the transition is possible, but some recent events at the housing project show it won’t be easy. A divorce forced Klebl to sell the 25-acre site last year, where he has only built 28 of 282 planned homes.
The new developer has committed to carry out Klebl’s vision with one major exception. Despite objections from residents, the remaining units will likely include natural gas hookups.
An All-Electric Community
Jim Horan, a retired [fuel] cell researcher who lives in the Geos Neighborhood, said the concerns about natural gas hookups started after another resident spotted a worker with Xcel Energy. A conversation revealed the utility was looking for the best place to bring in gas lines.
Residents and Klebl quickly sought answers from the new developer.
Peak Development Group, a Denver-based housing developer, bought the land. In a press release last November, owner Chad Ellington said he planned “to build upon the project’s sustainability-driven vision” by building additional net-zero homes.
A group of residents wrote Ellington a letter last May to express their frustration. In correspondence shared with CPR News, Ellington explained he had conducted an “exhaustive process” to survey the market for home builders. All required natural gas to be part of the development.
He also noted the addition would not violate the design book used for the initial block of homes, which he had committed to follow. While it said the neighborhood should aspire to avoid fossil fuels, nothing in the standards forbids natural gas lines.
“The very passionate existing residents were apparently misled by the prior developer about what are ‘requirements’ vs. ‘goals,” Ellington later wrote in an email to CPR News.
Ellington added Dream Finders, a major national homebuilder, had been selected to build the remaining homes. Matt Childers, a vice president for the company’s Colorado division, declined to explain why the company had insisted on natural gas service but said it would include other green-building elements like solar panels and south-facing windows.
Many of the residents aren’t convinced all builders would require new natural gas hookups. In the last few weeks, they have pushed Ellington to consider some smaller local home builders, but he said those companies lack the “financial capacity” to take on the project.
Click here to read the report (Natalie K. Day). Here’s the abstract:
The Upper Yampa River Basin drains approximately 2,100 square miles west of the Continental Divide in north-western Colorado. There is a growing need to understand potential changes in the quantity and quality of water resources as the basin is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with stakeholders in the Upper Yampa River Basin water community, began a study to characterize and identify changes in streamflow and selected water-quality constituents, including suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate, in the basin. This study used streamflow and water-quality data from selected U.S. Geological Survey sites to provide a better understanding of how major factors, including land use, climate change, and geological features, may influence streamflow and water quality.
Analysis of long-term (1910–2018) and short-term (1992–2018) records of streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and tributary sites indicate downward trends in one or more streamflow statistics, including 1-day maximum, mean, and 7-day minimum. Long-term downward trends in daily mean streamflow in April (22 percent overall) at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, correspond to observed changes in streamflow documented across western North America and the Colorado River Basin that are predominately associated with changes in snowmelt runoff and temperatures. During the short-term period of analysis, decreases in streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and some tributary sites are likely related to changes in consumptive use and reservoir management or, at sites with no upstream flow impoundments, changes in irrigation diversions and climate.
Concentrations of water-quality constituents were typically highest in spring (March, April, and May) during the early snowmelt runoff period as material that is washed off the land surface drains into streams. Highest concentrations occurred slightly later, in May, June, and July, at Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir, Colo., and slightly earlier, in February and March at Yampa River at Milner, Colo., indicating that these sites may have different or additional sources of phosphorus from upstream inputs. Yampa River at Milner, Colo., and Yampa River above Elkhead Creek, Colo., had the highest net yields of suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus, and are likely influenced by land use and erosion as the basins of both of these sites are underlain by highly erodible Cretaceous shales.
Upward trends in estimated Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and loads were found at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colo. From 1999 to 2018, the Kjeldahl nitrogen concentration increased by 10 percent or 0.035 milligram per liter, and load increased by 22 percent or 26 tons. Total phosphorus concentration increased by 20 percent or 0.0081 milligram per liter, and loads increased by 41 percent or 6.2 tons. Decreases in streamflow and changes in land use may contribute to these trends.
During multiple summer sampling events at Stagecoach Reservoir, the physical and chemical factors indicated conditions conducive to cyanobacterial blooms, including surface-water temperatures greater than 20 degrees Celsius and total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in exceedance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment interim concentrations for water-quality standards. Local geological features (predominately sandstones and shales) and additional inputs from upstream land use likely contribute to the elevated nutrient conditions in Stagecoach Reservoir.
From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Shannon Marvel):
Water volumes along the Colorado River are 55% of average for the amount of volume that would normally be seen from April to July, according to Aldis Strautins, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
That’s due to drought conditions that have persisted over the last year.
The Eagle River’s water volume is also at 55% of the average, and the Roaring Fork River is at 51% of the normal average volume, Strautins said…
Paula Stepp, executive director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, said the drought will likely impact the Glenwood Springs area in many ways.
Stepp said there are concerns about how the drought and lower water volumes along the Colorado River will impact agriculture, recreation and aquatic habitat.
Water use by agricultural producers is already stressed by the drought, Stepp said…
Stepp said she’s already heard that there’s not a lot of water available and there’s a need to be conservative with water usage.
On the recreational side of things, Stepp said there could be a much shorter rafting season.
From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):
While Colorado east of the continental divide has shifted out of drought over the past three months, the western third of the state continues to suffer under extreme and exceptional conditions according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Northwest Colorado has been particularly hard hit, with exceptional drought increasing in portions of Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Grand counties this week. Earlier in the year, a similar expansion impacted Moffat, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties…
Thirteen of Colorado’s 64 counties have a least some area in exceptional drought, with most or all of their remaining area in severe conditions.
The coming week’s forecast offers no hope for relief. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for portions of west central Colorado for Monday through Friday. Such alerts are unusual for the state. Temperatures in the area – which includes Grand Junction in Mesa County – could reach 110 degrees, creating risks for heat-related illnesses, which can be deadly.
Along the continental divide, several central mountain counties, including Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, Fremont, Park, Summit and Clear Creek, saw moderate drought improved to abnormally dry conditions.
Abnormally dry areas also declined near the improvements in moderate drought and disappeared from Las Animas County in the southeast.
Improvements in the eastern Colorado began in mid-March as significant snow provided relief. During May, thunderstorms continued to bring rain to the state’s eastern plains, resulting in drought-free conditions for most northeast counties by the end of the month.
The first drought-free area in Colorado since mid-2020 appeared in late April.
Overall, 55 percent of the state is drought-free, up from 51 percent last week, with an additional four percent in abnormally dry conditions, down from six percent in the previous week. Moderate drought covers six percent of Colorado, down from eight percent, while severe drought remains unchanged at six percent. Extreme drought dropped from 13 to 12 percent. Exceptional conditions expanded from 16 to 18 percent. Total does not equal 100 due to rounding.
From Aspen Journlism (Heather Sackett):
With the impending closure of coal mines and power plants in northwest Colorado, Craig officials and river enthusiasts are hoping a long-overlooked natural resource just south of town can help create economic resilience.
The city has applied for a $1.8 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency for the Yampa River Corridor Project, which will refurbish boat ramps, add parking areas and a whitewater park, in an effort to develop the Yampa River as a source of outdoor recreation and local pride. The project is part of a multi-pronged approach to help rural Moffat County transition from an extraction-based economy to one that includes outdoor and river recreation as one of its main pillars.
“(River use) has definitely grown in the last couple of years,” said Jennifer Holloway, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce. “Awareness that the river could be part of our future has grown. It had just not been on our radar as a town. We had the coal mines, we had the power plants. People tubed the river and fished in it sometimes, but it was not looked at as an economic asset until the last few years.”
An August 2020 preliminary engineering report by Glenwood Springs-based consultant SGM laid out the project components. The first phase of the proposed project would include improvements to Loudy Simpson Park on the west end of town, including a boat ramp, parking, a picnic area and vault toilet. The park is often a take-out point for tubers and boaters who float from Pebble Beach, just a few miles upstream. The project would also create better waves, pool drops with a fish passage, two access points and a portage trail at what’s known as the Diversion Park, as well as improve the city’s diversion structure.
The total project cost is roughly $2.7 million. A second project phase, which is still conceptual, would include bank stabilization and a trail connecting the river to downtown Craig.
Project proponents see the river as one of the town’s most under-utilized amenities and say it can add to the quality of life in the town of about 9,000.
Josh Veenstra is the owner of Good Vibes River Gear in Craig. The company rents paddle boards, rafts and tubes, runs shuttles on the Little Yampa Canyon and sells hand-sewn, mesh bags and drying racks, which are popular among the boating community. This is the fourth season for his company and Veenstra said the momentum is unbelievable.
“What it’s going to do is give Craig a sense of identity,” he said.
Transitioning from coal
Two of the region’s biggest employers and energy providers, Tri State Generation and Transmission and Xcel Energy, announced in 2020 that they would be closing their coal-fired plants and mines. Tri-State, whose plant is supplied by two local mines, Trapper and Colowyo, plans to close all three of Craig’s units by 2030. Xcel, whose plant is located in nearby Hayden, plans to close both its units by the end of 2028.
According to Holloway, the closures represent about 800 lost jobs.
“All of our restaurants survive off the power plant workers, all of our retail, all the rest of our businesses,” she said. “Most of our small businesses downtown are run by women whose husbands work in the mine. So I think we are going to see a mass changeover of people leaving.”
Holloway is focusing on ag-tourism, the arts and outdoor recreation as industries that can help replace lost jobs. Although she recognizes that tourism jobs generally don’t pay the high wages of extraction industries, outdoor recreation has been identified as an industry with a large potential for growth and is identified as a priority in Moffat County’s Vision 2025 Transition Plan.
In addition, the pandemic has shown that many white-collar workers can work remotely from anywhere that has internet. It has also increased interest in outdoor recreation. Project supporters say improving the river corridor could help attract a new demographic interested in the outdoors but who don’t want to pay the premiums of a resort community, like nearby Steamboat Springs.
“Entrepreneurs in the rec industry would be a great fit,” Holloway said. “A warehouse here would be so much cheaper than Steamboat. If we could get some of those entrepreneurs, that would attract those that have a remote job or business elsewhere but that want the rural outdoor lifestyle.”
Recreation water right
Although city officials are moving forward with plans to build the whitewater park, they are — for now at least — forgoing a step that could help protect their newly built asset and keep water in the river.
Many communities in Colorado with whitewater parks, including Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Durango, Silverthorne and Vail, have a water right associated with the man-made waves, known as a recreational in-channel diversion or RICD. This type of water right ties an amount of water necessary for a reasonable recreational experience to the river features.
A RICD can help make sure there is enough water in the river for boating, but it also has the potential to limit future upstream water development. Under Colorado water law, known as the prior appropriation system, older water rights have first use of the river and therefore, a RICD does not affect existing senior water rights.
“It’s something that we have had some discussion about and we are looking closely at; it can be kind of political,” said Craig City Manager Peter Brixius. “I have not personally heard from folks, but I know people are opposed to it.”
Brixius said the conversation about a RICD is on hiatus at least until the fall.
Without a water right, which would secure the whitewater park’s place in line, future upstream water development could jeopardize having enough water for the park.
Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said that while he can’t speak specifically for Craig, it makes sense for a municipality to protect its place in the prior appropriation system with a water right.
“If there may be some risk in the future that somebody is going to develop some water upstream that would either reduce or eliminate entirely the benefit of this expenditure, then yeah, you go to water court and try to protect this investment you have made,” he said. “Even if you don’t see anything on the horizon that is going to impact you, who knows what’s going to happen in 20 years.”
Looking to the future
The city expects to find out if it got the EDA grant in early fall. The project has also received funding from Moffat County, Friends of the Yampa, Trapper Mine, Northwest Colorado Parrotheads, the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, Resources Legacy Fund and the Yampa River Fund.
City officials are hoping the Yampa River Corridor Project will attract visitors, contribute to marketing efforts to rebrand northwest Colorado and build morale around the area’s economic future. For river gear shop owner Veenstra, that future can’t come fast enough. He hopes to hold swift water rescue courses and do environmental education using the new river corridor area.
“Craig is one of the coolest little towns,” he said. “The closure of the power plant, everybody says it’s going to be the downfall of Craig. It’s the best thing that could ever happen to us because it made people snap out of it and go, ‘oh, we need to do something different.’ That’s why the whitewater park is getting built. It was a blessing in disguise.”
This story ran in the Craig Press on June 11.
Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:
Timely information is now available detailing drought conditions, current emergency declarations and useful resources for affected areas
Governor Mark Gordon has announced the launch of a new website that will provide detailed, updated information on drought conditions in Wyoming. Developed through a collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, drought.wyo.gov will be a resource for multiple sectors that monitor drought conditions.
The site provides resources and information for specific sectors impacted by drought, including agriculture, tourism, recreation, municipalities and water utilities. It also offers information on federal and state resources and assistance available to those impacted by drought. Information on wildfire conditions and restrictions plus links to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) drought disaster designations for Wyoming are also available on the website.
“Our goal in developing this resource is to make relevant and timely information available in a single location,” Governor Gordon said. “This effort capitalizes on the collaborative partnerships already in place between state and federal agencies and allows us to better communicate program resources.”
The site is a cooperative effort between a state and federal drought conditions monitoring team comprised of State of Wyoming agencies, the University of Wyoming Extension, USDA, United States Geological Survey and the National Weather Service. Wyoming has been experiencing drought conditions since 2020 and this past winter’s average snowpack did not alleviate dry soil conditions that existed entering the winter.
From The St. George Spectrum (Joan Meiners):
According to the recent U.S. census, Utah was the fastest-growing state in the nation between 2010 and 2020, increasing its population at a blisteringly fast rate of 18.4%. And in its southwest corner, Washington County, with its stunning vistas, National Park access, recreation opportunities and warm, sunny climate led the state in that trend, attracting nearly 50,000 new residents over the last decade, a 36% increase over its 2010 population.
Those 50,000 new people are just the beginning of a growth pattern projected by the Gardner Institute to flood Washington County with 321,000 additional residents over the next 45 years, to reach a local population of 509,000 by 2065. That number of people — 80% of the current population of Las Vegas — will require a lot of water in this desert landscape, more than is locally available at our current rate of use.
The WCWCD, along with the Utah Division of Water Resources, saw this problem coming as early as the 1990s, and started making plans to import Colorado River water from Lake Powell via a buried pipeline that would stretch 140 miles through rocky desert terrain, crossing some tribal lands and sensitive habitats. The project has inched its way forward over the decades since, finally advancing its federally-required Environmental Impact Statement through the public review process during the Trump administration, which identified the pipeline as one of its infrastructure priorities…
What is most important to today’s Utahns?
Despite these sentiments about Utah’s cultural values driving water infrastructure decisions, there has never been a widespread, unbiased attempt to poll existing Washington County locals on their thoughts about the pros and cons of the Lake Powell Pipeline project and whether they are willing to bear its approximately $2 billion cost. So The Spectrum & Daily News, with funding from The Water Desk, designed and commissioned a survey to do just that.
Survey data were collected by the Utah-based market research firm Dynata, hired based on their reputation and reasonable cost quote. Employees of this company randomly selected residents of Washington County to contact for a phone survey and received responses from 400 of them. Respondents represented a balanced range of ages, gender, household income levels and length of time they had lived in Washington County. The results presented below have been weighted slightly by Dynata to best reflect the actual demographic makeup of the county.
Knowledge is lacking
Of the 400 people surveyed, nearly a quarter (22%) said they had never heard of the Lake Powell Pipeline, despite the fact that this is a decades-old project that will have major financial and lifestyle implications for all Washington County residents. 35% felt they “knew a little about it” and 12% felt they “knew a lot about it.” Only 52% of those surveyed said they felt they knew enough about the project to have an opinion on it.
Support is high
Support for the project outweighed opposition to it, with 59% expressing some level of support for it and 35% expressing some level of opposition to it. A majority held relatively mild views on the project, but 35% of all respondents were “very supportive” and 19% were “very opposed.”
But few want to pay
This high level of support, though, did not carry through to a willingness to help fund the project, which has been estimated to cost anywhere between $1.1 and $2.4 billion, to be initially bankrolled by the state and then repaid over 50 years by Washington County residents. In fact, some already-implemented increases in impact fees, property taxes and water rates are currently being put towards project expenses. The WCWCD estimates that the state has already spent around $40 million on planning costs and feasibility studies.
Only 40% of survey respondents answered yes to the question of whether, “knowing what you do about the project, and that the pipeline is proposed as a way to address potential water shortages in the future, are you willing to help fund it, either through increased water rates, higher taxes, or higher fees charged for new water hookups.” 44% answered no to that question and 15% declined to answer.
Among that 40% of people willing to help fund the project, just 8% said they would pay anything more than $50 per month in fees for it, though some estimates suggest the actual cost may be much higher than this. 22% of those who initially answered both that they supported the project and would be willing to help fund it then said that they would not be willing to contribute anything or refused to answer a question about specific amounts.
Overall, then, 50% of all surveyed residents indicated at some point — either in response to the initial funding question or when asked about specific amounts — that they would not be willing to contribute financially to the project at all, despite the fact that some fees are already being collected county-wide to support it. An additional 18% of all those surveyed said that they were unsure about contributing or refused to answer the question. Less than 1% were willing to pay amounts in the highest tier.
Instead, they show a willingness to conserve
In 2011, the Utah Division of Water Resources submitted a 256-page study to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission detailing how their water needs assessment justified pursuing the Lake Powell Pipeline project. In it, they outline how much water conservation they determined was “feasible for this area based on local conditions, development types, cost and public acceptance.” Conservation options that were considered but not deemed feasible to adopt included turf removal and some appliance rebates.
Survey results, however, indicate perhaps an increased willingness over the past decade to voluntarily adopt stricter water conservation measures.
When asked if they would be “willing to adopt any conservation practices in your own home or accept fewer amenities in your community if it would help avoid construction of the project,” 63% of survey respondents said they would, including 48% of those who had expressed support for the project. Only 26% said they would not be willing to conserve more water and 11% said they didn’t know.
Specific measures respondents said they would be willing to adopt included high levels of support for conservation measures previously ruled out by state and local officials as conflicting with Utah’s traditional cultural values:
75% of people who were amenable to conserving more water said they would reduce the size of their lawn. 88% were willing to take shorter showers. 75% were in favor of requiring desert-friendly landscaping in new housing developments. 67% thought we should stop building water features in parks and public places. 83% would support scaling back lawns in public places or on golf courses. 78% would be willing to update their home appliances. 76% supported increasing water rates/accelerating a tiered pricing structure.
Overall, results of our independent survey indicate that Washington County residents generally support the idea of the Lake Powell Pipeline project despite feeling that they don’t know much about it. But few want to contribute to it financially and instead they expressed a greater willingness to adopt new water conservation practices than has previously been recognized.
The people of Washington County have spoken.
Click here to read the discussion:
ENSO Alert System Status: Not Active
Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored through the Northern Hemisphere summer (78% chance for the June-August season) and fall (50% chance for the September-November season).
ENSO-neutral conditions continued during May, with near-average sea surface temperatures observed across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In the last week, the Niño indices were all at -0.2oC, except for the Niño-1+2 index, which was -0.4oC. Subsurface temperature anomalies remained positive but decreased slightly due to the weakening of above-average subsurface temperatures around the thermocline in the central Pacific Ocean. Low-level easterly and upper- level westerly wind anomalies extended across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. At the Date Line, tropical convection was mostly near average, and enhanced rainfall was evident over the western Pacific Ocean. Overall, the ocean and atmosphere system reflected ENSO-neutralconditions.
A majority of the models in the IRI/CPC plume predict ENSO-neutral to continue through the fall 2021. The forecaster consensus generally agrees with this model outlook, although lower probabilities are assigned to El Niño during this period (remaining less than 10%). By the late fall and winter, La Niña chances increase to near 50%, reflecting the historical tendency for a second winter of La Niña following the first, and also the predictions from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble. However, these cooler conditions are predicted to exist for a short duration (3 overlapping seasons) and these predictions are still over 6 months into the future. In summary,ENSO-neutral is favored through the Northern Hemisphere summer (78% chance for the June-August season) and fall (50% chance for the September-November season; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).
From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
To prevent waste and avoid sparking an interstate legal battle, Colorado has started cracking down on what may seem like a drop in the proverbial bucket — illegal ponds.
Martin Mendine recently found himself in the state’s crosshairs. His family ranch is a wide, grassy expanse near southern Colorado’s Spanish Peaks. A fork of the Purgatory River meanders through the land which supports about a hundred cattle, and herds of elk. Migratory sandhill cranes pass through each year…
It’s wet enough to support all this life in part because of a cascade of five small ponds, held in place by dams made of dirt. The ponds are more than 80 years old, Mendine said. They were built when his grandfather tended the ranch.
“So we’ve been running this water now for, you know, damn near (a) century and they’re telling me I can’t use it,” Mendine said…
He got a notice in the mail recently telling him the ponds have been identified as potentially illegal. It said the storage rights needed to create and sustain the ponds don’t exist. To be compliant, he either needs to drain them or come up with a state-approved plan to fill them from a different water source or replace any losses from evaporation…
“Our basin has been over-appropriated for a long period of time,” said Bill Tyner, Colorado’s division engineer for the Arkansas River basin, where Mendine’s ranch is located. The Purgatory River is a tributary to the Arkansas, and runs across an arid stretch of southeastern Colorado…
Using satellite imagery to build an inventory of human-made ponds in the basin, and then cross-referencing with water rights on the books, the state has identified about 10,000 illegal ponds just in the Arkansas basin, Tyner said. He likens it to a string of pearls. Each individual pearl isn’t that costly or consequential on its own. But when pulled together in a line, it’s highly valuable…
His office is now in the midst of a systematic review of all ponds in the Arkansas basin. Using the satellite data, water commissioners, the people who enforce water law on the ground, have been following up with pond owners, letting them know they’ve ended up on a list of potentially illegal ponds, and laying out their options to make them legal…
The ponds in question encompass everything from pools for livestock watering to decorative fountains in business parks to duck ponds scattered across the grounds of a mountainous mansion.
It’s not just the Arkansas basin that’s seeing increased enforcement. State officials have pursued illegal ponds in the upper reaches of the Colorado River basin as well.
The problem with ponds, Tyner said, is evaporation. Water in a shallow pond evaporates more than when it’s flowing through a narrow stream. The state views evaporated water as wasted water…
Without money or access to new water supplies, a landowner’s options to make their ponds legal are limited. There are some exceptions for ponds used for erosion control or livestock watering, but they’re limited in scope. And because the Arkansas basin is one of the most over-appropriated in the state, there’s very little excess water to tap into…
A recent dispute over ponds went to the Colorado Supreme Court last year, where the state prevailed. The ponds in question aren’t allowed to be filled, and the owner was ordered to pay $92,000 in civil penalties, plus attorney’s fees. Machado’s takeaway from that ruling?
“Once the state finds an illegal pond and says you need to drain it, you better do it,” he said.
Click here to read the report. Here are the key points:
Extreme Summer Heat Amplifies Impacts of the Northern Plains Drought
Drought conditions continue to persist across the Missouri River Basin, most severely affecting North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Excessively early summer heat is now an added concern on top of the dry conditions that have been an issue since the fall of 2020. Record-high temperatures dominated the Northern Plains from June 3-5, with 100+°F temperatures in areas of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Drought impacts in the areas with extreme to exceptional drought are affecting many sectors through increased wildfire activity, decreased livestock forage and water availability, increased livestock heat-stress, reduced rural water supply and quality, reduced recreation and tourism, increased mental stress, decreased air quality, and ecological impacts due to reduced water levels. The recent extreme heat made drought impacts worse by increasing fire risk, inhibiting plant growth, and enabling harmful algae blooms. In the short-term, extreme summer heat is expected to return from June 18-24, with the peak of the heat occurring on June 18-22 when temperatures could reach the upper 90s°F to low 100s°F. Beyond the upcoming extreme heat, NOAA’s summer outlook (June-August) for the Northern Plains is currently leaning towards above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for much of the region throughout the rest of this summer. The extreme summer heat will continue to worsen drought issues by further increasing fire risk, limiting water supply for livestock and societal uses, intensifying water quality issues, and continuing to cause stress on farmers, ranchers, recreationists, vulnerable or disadvantaged populations, and others affected by the drought.
Here’s the release from Water For Colorado:
The Water for Colorado Coalition today celebrated the passage of HB21-1260, which allocates $20 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Basin Roundtables for implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan.
The bill, co-sponsored by House Speaker Alec Garnett, Rep. Marc Catlin, and Sens. Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, passed both the state House and Senate with unanimous approval, illustrating continued, widespread support for water funding in Colorado. The bill will provide the CWCB $15 million for grant projects — like the ones featured here — that will benefit water users and rivers through conservation and education efforts across the state. It also allocates $5 million to be distributed directly to Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables.
In response to the passage of HB21-1260, the Water for Colorado Coalition issued the following statement:
“We are thrilled by the unanimous approval of $20 million to support critical state water priorities, and applaud the Colorado General Assembly for their continued prioritization of water conservation needs. These funds will bolster ongoing water projects and programs and pave the way for new grants, allowing the state to increase resilience to climate change, safeguard flowing rivers, and support thriving communities. We look forward to working with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Basin Roundtables, and local communities as these funds are distributed to ensure that our rivers and water continue to meet the needs of all who rely on them.”
Click here to read the report. Here’s the forward:
Colorado River Basin Native American Tribal Leaders
This is a timely and much needed report.
Clean water is fundamental to life, but many of our people have never had an opportunity to experience this basic and essential service, one that is taken for granted in most American communities. Many of our family members, our elders, and our children have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic because clean and safe water was not available. The necessity and the urgency of having access to safe water sources has been starkly demonstrated during this trying time.
Helping to provide clean water to us, throughout Indian Country, benefits everyone, and its absence correspondingly jeopardizes the health of the entire United States of America. As the pandemic has made clear, any hot spot for the virus inevitably and inexorably spreads to other areas, both neighboring and far flung. With our homes in Indian Country many times more likely than homes in white communities to lack indoor plumbing, our nation’s resources must be quickly focused on addressing this inequity for the protection of all.
The United States government has long promised all Native American Tribes a “permanent homeland,” a “livable reservation,” and a home “conducive to the health and prosperity of the Indians.” But these promises are broken when we do not have clean water to drink, to cook with, and to wash as required to avoid the spread of this deadly disease. Both the Tribes and the United States envisioned our homelands as places where our people can thrive, as they had done from time immemorial. It is long past time to make that vision a reality. Access to safe and clean water must be made available now. Promises made must be kept and access provided to this most basic of human needs—clean water.
Tó éí iiná até [Water is Life],
Jonathan Nez | President, Navajo Nation
Paatuwaqatsi [Water is Life],
Timothy Nuvangyaoma | Chairman, Hopi Tribe
Payy new aakut [Water is Life],
Manuel Heart | Chairman, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Ten Tribes Partnership
Xa ‘iipayk [Water is Life],
Jordan D. Joaquin | President, Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe
From The Colorado Sun (Olivia Prentzel):
As drought conditions worsened on the Western Slope, the National Weather Service has issued its first “extremely critical” fire danger warning in 15 years for northwest Colorado.
The warning, in effect through midnight, covers parts of Moffat and Rio Blanco counties that also are in a state of “exceptional drought,” according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report.
About 45% of Colorado, all west of the Continental Divide, now is in some state of drought, with 17.5% falling into the category of exceptional drought, up from 16.4% last week. Most of western Colorado, stretching from the Wyoming border south to New Mexico, falls into the two most severe categories, making the region at risk for extreme damage to crops, blows to the outdoor recreational industry and large wildfires.
The weather service also issued a red flag warning for the Western Slope Thursday as wind gusts between 35 to 55 mph could make a potential wildfire difficult to control, especially in northwest Colorado…
Water levels at McPhee Reservoir north of Cortez, which is fed by the Dolores River, are at their lowest in 35 years…
Northeast of Palisade, crews are battling the roughly 500-acre Beaver Tail fire. Fire crews on Tuesday suppressed a wildfire on Cottonwood Pass on Forest Service land near Gypsum. Smoke from large wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico is spreading across the Western Slope.
From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):
The two leading science groups studying ecosystems and climate urged protection of carbon-rich habitats and warned against solutions to warming that lower species diversity.
Slowing global warming and stemming the loss of biodiversity have been viewed as independent challenges for years.
But a new landmark report concludes that climate change and the rapid decline of natural ecosystems are intertwined crises that should be tackled together if international efforts to address either are to succeed.
The report, released Thursday, was written by 50 of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity and climate change, representing two major international scientific groups collaborating for the first time: the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The findings emerged from a workshop held in December and months of subsequent research, and come as leaders gear up for two major upcoming United Nations conferences, one focusing on biodiversity and the other on climate change.
Until now, the authors of the report said, global collaborative efforts to address climate change, through platforms including the IPCC and the Paris climate agreement, have operated on a different track from efforts to address biodiversity, carried out through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and other international organizations.
“For far too long we’ve tended to see climate and biodiversity as separate issues, so our policy responses have been very siloed,” said Pamela McElwee, one of the report’s authors and an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University. “Climate has simply gotten more attention.”
Some key efforts can contribute to both the preservation of biodiversity and controlling global warming, especially stopping deforestation in the tropics, but also halting the degradation of other carbon-rich ecosystems, including mangroves, peatlands, savannahs and wetlands.The authors say that ramping up sustainable agriculture and forestry, while cutting subsidies to destructive industries, will also be critical.
“We are seeing multiple impacts of climate change on all continents and in all ocean regions. These increasingly add to the enormous human pressure on biodiversity,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist and previous IPCC author who co-chaired the steering committee of the collaborative workshop. “So far conservation efforts have not been sufficient. Human society depends on the services that nature provides, but climate change has caused loss in natural resources, especially those that are overused.”
Pörtner also pointed out that pandemics are linked to biodiversity loss because zoonotic diseases emerge from species that thrive when biodiversity declines. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening human well being as well as society. They’re closely interwoven and share common drivers through human activity,” he said. “They’re reinforcing each other.”
The authors warned that some efforts to address the climate crisis could be detrimental to biodiversity, and they urged policy makers, governments and industries to avoid solutions that could effectively backfire. These include planting monocultural, non-native trees or vast tracts of land with crops for bioenergy.
“There are a lot of things being done for climate change, especially around adaptation, and many of them can be negative for biodiversity,” said Paul Leadley, a professor of ecology with the University of Paris Sud-France. “There’s a real risk that biodiversity can die from a thousand cuts.”
Almut Arneth, one of the authors and a modeling expert at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, said that one of those adaptive efforts, planting bioenergy crops, could eventually require a land area twice the size of India. “On the other hand, we’re using much more than 50 percent [of the world’s land] for food and timber production,” Arneth said. “So as you can imagine planting those large bioenergy crops will put enormous pressure on existing natural land, which would be catastrophic for biodiversity” and for food security.
Nature-Based Solutions Are Not Enough
While the report pointed to solutions, including cutting deforestation, the authors stressed that “nature based solutions” could only go so far.
“An immediate conclusion is that maintaining biodiversity and its functions relies on phasing out emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,” Pörtner said. “Nature is offering solutions, which can be helpful if done in parallel with strong emissions reductions.”
Strong policy and action—executed quickly— will be essential to staving off the twin crises, the authors said. They intend the report to provide the current state of thinking on the issue and said they hope it prods policy makers to push for conservation efforts like President Joe Biden’s plan to conserve 30 percent of American lands. The report called for a global effort to conserve up to half the world’s ocean and lands.
“Positive outcomes are expected from substantially increasing intact and effectively protected areas,” the report said. “Global estimates of exact requirements for effectively protected and conserved areas to ensure a habitable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity and a good quality of life are not yet well established but range from 30 to 50 percent of all land and surface areas.”
Pörtner added that successful implementation “depends on rapid entry into action. Overall, every bit of warming matters, and every lost species and every degraded ecosystem matters.”
The private sector, especially financial institutions, will also be critical in the effort, the authors said.
McElwee noted the recent development of the Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, an effort to push banks to evaluate financial risk from the loss of natural systems, similar to the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which defines how banks should evaluate risk from climate change.
“The goal is for the private sector to think about how the loss of biodiversity actually creates risk and build that risk into decision-making,” McElwee said. “To tackle these crises we need all hands on deck.”
From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):
Colorado Springs is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Homes are getting more expensive and harder to buy. The boom is expanding into nearby cities — and the pressure is building…
There are currently fewer than 9,000 taps, or connections, to Fountain’s water supply. Over the last year, Blankenship said developers have applied for nearly 30,000 new taps to the city’s water system.
[Dan] Blankenship is telling developers, Fountain is tapped out…
To support that many new taps, the city would need to buy additional rights to use more water. They would also need a place to store that water, and the city would need to treat it and find a way to get it to homes.
That’s getting harder to make happen in a state like Colorado, where most of the people live on the Front Range but most of the water is on the Western Slope.
Where the city of Fountain gets its water from
Fountain gets most of its water from the Pueblo Reservoir, which is filled with water that would otherwise end up in the Colorado River. The reservoir project was built in the 1970s. It’s unlikely the city would be able to build something similar today, Blankenship said. It’s a lot tougher to do that now, just because of the environmental concerns…
Smith said it’s becoming more common for developers to have to secure water rights and pay for additional water infrastructure if they want to build a big project.
But he said the situation in Fountain is unusual…
Fountain hasn’t finalized any plans yet, but they say developers are going to need to help pay the millions of dollars to buy those new water rights, reservoirs, and pipes needed to support that kind of growth. Blankenship, Fountain’s utility director, said instead of the city paying for that upfront, he wants to shift that cost to developers…
No matter how a developer might have to secure water for a new project, the cost will get rolled into the price of a new home, said Kevin Walker, with the housing and building association in Colorado Springs…
Kevin Reidy, a senior water conservation specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said other water utilities are also worried about how to keep up with growth. Fountain is just the first to talk so openly about the issue…
A big part of Reidy’s job is to get water and land planners to work together, which he said have been too siloed. Reidy helps host training events to get water and land people in the same room to talk about these issues.
“I think we’re kind of hitting that point where people are kind of saying, ‘Okay wow, we’ve got to do things differently,’” Reidy said.
For Fountain, that means telling developers this town doesn’t have the water you need. If you want to build here, you’ll have to bring your own.
From Sustainable Waters (Brian Richter):
Lake Mead on the Colorado River is now nearly two-thirds empty
Seems like every day brings another news story about the water crisis in the Western US.
Never in my lifetime have I seen such an intense drought spanning such a wide geographic sweep: from West Texas to the Rio Grande to the Colorado River to the Central Valley of California to the Klamath River in Oregon.
It’s really important for this story to get a lot of media attention, because publicity can help provoke the big changes that desperately need to happen with water management in the West. But it’s also critically important that reporters get this story straight, so that their readers will understand how we got into this mess, and how we can move toward a more secure and sustainable water future.
Here’s a few key points, addressing some of the most common misconceptions about water scarcity.
#1. Droughts Don’t Cause Water Scarcity. People Do.
By definition, water scarcity is human-driven; it is a function of the volume of water consumed by humans relative to the volume of accessible, affordable water resources in a given area. As such, an arid region with very little water but no human water consumption would not be considered “water scarce,” but rather simply “arid.” Similarly, droughts do not in themselves cause scarcity; instead, scarcity and associated water shortages occur when human demands for water are greater than what is available at any given time. Simple supply and demand logic.
Your bank account is a very good analog. If you are always spending virtually all of the money you deposit, you are highly vulnerable to overdraft when (1) you aren’t depositing as much money, such as when you experience an interruption of your income; or (2) you have a need to spend more, such as to pay a hefty doctor’s bill. If you don’t have enough money in your savings account to cover your overdraft, you go bankrupt (or at least bounce a few checks).
Therefore, focusing only on the supply (deposit) side — the lessened availability of water during a drought — is only half the scarcity story. It’s very important to tell the other half, which is that our consumption (spending) has become too high relative to water availability.
From my analyses of the emergence of scarcity in many places around the globe, it’s quite obvious that a community’s vulnerability to water shortages increases greatly as human dependence on a particular water supply such as the Colorado River is allowed to grow to the limits of the natural, renewable water supply. A city or farming district might get by pretty well during normal or wet years, but when drier times eventually come, somebody doesn’t get the water they need and water-dependent ecosystems suffer.
The graph below illustrates this very well, and the map below shows the places in the world where water consumption has been approaching the limits of water supplies.
#2. Don’t Blame This on the Cities
Tim Egan of the New York Times, when writing about the Colorado River last month, got it right: “….Vegas, and other oasis metropolises like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson, are not the problem.”
He’s right for two important reasons: (1) urban water uses — including residential, commercial, and industrial uses — account for only 11% of all water consumption in the West; and (2) urban water use has been declining since the 1980s.
There are many examples of water-guzzling urban areas, particularly smaller towns and ‘exurbs’ of large metropolitan areas, but in general the big cities of the West have been doing a phenomenal job of actually lowering their water use even while their populations have grown rapidly. Our research, published last year in the international Water journal, documented that on average, Western US cities have grown by 21% while their water use has decreased by 19% during the past two decades.
Los Angeles is a terrific example of a high-performing water conservation city, as shown in the graph below.
#3. Water Scarcity Isn’t a New Story
Some communities in the Western US have been struggling with water scarcity — and experiencing water shortages — for more than 100 years. We developed the animation below (click to activate) to illustrate the fact that many areas around the world, including much of the Western US, have been bumping up against the limits of their natural renewable water supplies for a very long time. This animation highlights places where total water consumption nearly equaled (or exceeded) water availability in each year.
(Special thanks to Charles Wight of The Nature Conservancy for assisting with this animation.)
This animation and the scarcity hot spots highlighted here are based solely on agricultural water consumption — it does not include any additional water consumed by cities or industries. Irrigated agriculture has always accounted for the lion’s share of water consumption in the West; even today it accounts for 86% of all water consumed. Many Western rivers were being heavily diverted for irrigation by the latter half of the 19th century, when farmers needed to feed massive waves of new settlers rushing to gold fields in California, Montana, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, and federal Homestead Acts gave free land to those willing to farm it.
Yes, farming is a very water intensive industry but it would not be appropriate to blame farmers for our water scarcity either. It simply takes a lot of water to produce food for our families, our country, and people around the world.
There are certainly too many farmers that use water wastefully, but the same can be said for city-dwellers. If there’s anyone to blame here, it should be directed at those that were entrusted to manage water on our behalf.
#4. Water Scarcity is a Failure of Governance
Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 in large part for her insightful work on “Governing the Commons.” Ostrom resisted the premise that shared (‘common pool’) resources would always fall victim to the tragedy of the commons, i.e., become over-exploited. Ostrom highlighted examples of communities, such as the Philippine irrigation farmers known as zanjeras, that manage their shared resources in communal fashion, such as by allowing each farmer to take a proportional share of the available water each year.
When I was writing the governance chapters of my Chasing Water book in 2014, I looked very hard to find other examples of successful communal water governance. In my book I wrote about the acequia irrigation systems brought to Mexico and the American Southwest by the Spaniards. But there are preciously few other good examples, and none at the scale of a large river basin.
Instead, most state and federal governments have taken a regulatory approach to water governance, specifically the prior appropriation system managed by state governments in the Western US. Under this system, state governments hold the water in trust and issue rights to use water to individuals, companies, water utilities, electricity producers, irrigation districts, and other water users.
The fatal flaw in this approach was that states issued far more water rights than the water flowing in their rivers. California, for example, has issued five times more rights than the mean volume of river water available! And as I pointed out in the graph above of the Colorado River, state regulators continued issuing more and more water rights even after the river had been almost completely drained by the mid-1950s.
It is a treacherously difficult and politically contentious challenge to try to get the cows back in the barn after they’ve busted loose. It takes strong courage for a politician or water regulator to take back some of the water that people have become accustomed to, and are financially dependent upon.
But some hopeful signs of leadership are emerging. In 2014, California passed a Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that requires sufficient reduction in pumping to stabilize aquifer levels; SGMA could result in 20% of farmland being taken out of production unless farmers can find other ways to reduce their water use. In 2019, the ‘Lower Basin’ states of California, Nevada, and Arizona that share the Colorado River agreed to curtailments in water use by as much as 20% of their current use, as needed to stabilize Lake Mead.
#5. It’s Time to Start Talking About the Long Game for Water in the West
Taking bold political steps to set a limit, or a cap, on the volume of water that can be taken from any particular river or aquifer is a very important place to begin the journey toward a secure and sustainable water future.
However, it is a far more daunting challenge to figure out how to live within those limits.
It’s understandable why reporters are drawn toward sensational stories of pain and loss during a water crisis like the one the West is experiencing. But crisis brings extraordinary opportunities as well. Let’s not squander this opportunity to begin vigorously designing a more sustainable and secure water future. I hope that media reporters will increasingly feature stories about the ways that cities and farmers and industries are adapting to water scarcity and climate change in progressive ways, rebalancing their overdrawn water budgets. What are the innovative ideas and practices and changes that we need to implement to get us out of trouble?
Stay tuned. I intend to continue telling some of those stories myself.
From NOAA (Emily Becker):
ENSO-neutral conditions are present in the tropical Pacific, and NOAA forecasters think they’re likely to continue through the summer. Neutral is slightly favored through the fall, although it’s a close call between continued neutral and re-developing La Niña for the late fall and winter.
I often start my top-of-the-month blog posts with a detailed review of the current conditions in the tropical Pacific, but I think I’ll just breeze through that and get to the forecast today. Currently, sea surface temperatures in the ENSO monitoring regions are still slightly cooler than average, but within the neutral range of +/- 0.5°C from the long-term (1991–2020) average.
Neutral conditions are likely through the summer: there’s a 78% chance that the sea surface temperature in the Niño3.4 region of the Pacific ocean will be close to the long-term average—within the neutral range—during June–August. The sea surface temperature in the Niño3.4 region is our primary ENSO-monitoring index.
The chance of neutral drops, and La Niña chances rise, through the fall, until the probability of La Niña overtakes neutral in October–December and reaches 53% for November–January. As Nat discussed last month, La Niña has a tendency to appear in consecutive winters. Meanwhile, the official forecast summary emphasizes neutral. NOAA has an ENSO Alert System for when La Niña (or El Niño) is expected to develop… why hasn’t it been activated for La Niña? There are a few reasons! Let’s noodle on this.
A La Niña Watch is issued when “conditions are favorable for the development of El Niño or La Niña conditions within the next six months,” and we’re still more than six months from the November–January season (we count by the center month). Also, many climate models predict neutral will continue through the fall and winter, and there is no consensus among the models that the Niño3.4 sea surface temperature will remain more than 0.5°C cooler than average for more than a few months. By January–March, neutral is again the most likely category. This is important, because ENSO is a seasonal system, requiring sustained conditions to impact global weather and climate.
In summary, there just isn’t enough evidence yet to tip the scales definitively between neutral and La Niña for this coming winter. One thing we can say with confidence is that chances for El Niño next fall/winter are low—less than 10%.
Tuna neutral casserole
We care about ENSO prediction because it can provide an early picture of potential climate conditions months in advance. (Also because it’s a super-interesting geophysical phenomenon, but that might just be us geeks!) One important aspect of ENSO is its influence on hurricane activity.
NOAA’s recent Atlantic hurricane outlook predicts an active season, with a 60% chance of above-average activity. The low chance of El Niño (which tends to suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic) was an important component in this outlook. Other factors, such as predicted warmer-than-average tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures, bolster the outlook. On the other hand, the Central and Eastern Pacific are expected to have normal or below-normal tropical storm seasons. El Niño tends to enhance storm activity in those regions.
Another reason to care about long-range ENSO prediction is its relationship to rainfall in the southwestern US. La Niña is linked to reduced late-fall/winter/early-spring rain and snow in this region, while El Niño tends to enhance rain in the southwest. During La Niña 2020–21, much of the Southwest US and Mexico was indeed below average.
A huge portion of the western US is now in extreme drought, and the seasonal drought outlook predicts drought conditions to continue through the summer. Mexico is also experiencing widespread and intense drought. Second-year La Niña has been linked to more pronounced drought, another concern if La Niña does re-develop.
La Niña is also usually related to increased winter rain and snow in the Pacific Northwest, which did not materialize this past year. Since apparently I’m just linking to all of Nat’s posts today, here’s the one about the unexpected conditions we saw during the 2020–21 La Niña.
Finally, let’s take a look at the global sea surface temperature pattern from May, where we can see that much of the North Atlantic is already warmer than average.
Although La Niña conditions have ended, there are still regions of cooler-than-average surface waters to in the eastern Pacific and southwest of the US. What I’d really like to point out here, though, is the re-emergent blob in the north Pacific. According to NOAA’s Blobtracker (official name: California Current Marine Heatwave Tracker) this marine heatwave formed in late April and has tripled in area since then. It formed in the same spot as a powerful marine heatwave that dominated much of 2020 and was the 2nd-largest on record (their record starts in 1982). Yet another ocean feature that bears watching.
Next month, Tom will be updating you on all things ENSO! His puns are much better than mine, so you have that to anticipate.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
Citizen groups Save the Poudre and No Pipe Dream are suing to stop the city of Fort Collins from processing an application for Northern Integrated Supply Project infrastructure in city limits.
The two groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise over Northern Water’s SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for the controversial Poudre River reservoir project. The complaint argues that SPAR is the wrong way for the city to review NISP infrastructure and seeks to terminate the SPAR application. It also seeks to cancel the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board review of the application set for June 30…
At the heart of the dispute is whether NISP, which seeks to divert flows from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for two new reservoirs, is an appropriate fit for the SPAR process. SPAR is a type of development review intended for “improvements to parcels owned or operated by public entities,” according to the city’s land use code.
SPAR, compared to the more commonly used development review process, puts the city’s P&Z board in an advisory position rather than giving Fort Collins City Council the final say on a proposal. The governing board of a SPAR applicant can override P&Z’s vote and proceed with the development over the city’s wishes.
The P&Z board must review a SPAR application within 60 days of the city accepting it. The city deemed Northern Water’s SPAR application complete on May 21.
The city directed Northern Water to submit a SPAR application for components of NISP within city limits: the Poudre intake diversion structure, a river diversion that would be located in Homestead Natural Area northwest of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue, and a 3.4-mile length of pipeline running from the river diversion to the southeast, passing through Fort Collins and unincorporated Larimer County land as well as three city natural areas (Williams, Kingfisher Point and Riverbend Ponds)…
The complaint also argues that Northern Water doesn’t meet the state’s legal guidelines for an entity that can overrule a municipal body’s decision on a development. The state gives that authority only to “the city council of a city … the board of trustees of a town, or any other body, by whatever name known, given authority to adopt ordinances for a specific municipality,” the complaint states…
City attorney Carrie Daggett said the city is still reviewing the complaint and declined further comment. Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla affirmed that the water district will continue to pursue SPAR review for NISP as city staff directed…
Fort Collins’ review of NISP is not the last step for the project. The project is awaiting a crucial record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers that’s expected to come this year. An affirming record of decision would likely trigger another legal appeal.
Two additional lawsuits filed by Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo related to Larimer County’s approval of NISP infrastructure are also working their way through the courts.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Carson Lake, a popular spot on Grand Mesa, has been drained in anticipation of maintenance work that will start this month.
The Carson Lake dam, which is part of the city of Grand Junction’s water supply system, was reclassified as a High Hazard Dam in 2015 because of developments occurring in the lower Kannah Creek basin and a dam safety evaluation was completed.
There have not been capacity restrictions placed on the dam or any critical safety issues identified, but maintenance projects are being implemented.
The current timeline has work beginning June 28 and being completed about Oct. 31.
The project includes the construction of new inlet and outlet structures, the lining of existing outlet pipe, spillway renovation, installation of an impact basin in the spillway channel and the installation of remote monitoring system.
The US Forest Service is encouraging trail users to access trails in the Kannah Creek basin at either the Deep Creek Trail Head or the Carson Lake Trail Head, which is on the rim south of Carson Lake, on the way to Flowing Park Reservoir.
From AZ Central (Ian James):
Lake Mead has declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s following the construction of Hoover Dam, marking a new milestone for the water-starved Colorado River in a downward spiral that shows no sign of letting up…
The lake’s rapid decline has been outpacing projections from just a few months ago. Its surface reached a new low Wednesday night when it dipped past the elevation of 1,071.6 feet, a record set in 2016. But unlike that year, when inflows helped push the lake levels back up, the watershed is now so parched and depleted that Mead is projected to continue dropping next year and into 2023.
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, now stands at just 36% of full capacity.
In the past month, Mead has already fallen below the official threshold of a shortage, which the federal government is expected to declare in August. That will trigger major cuts in water allotments for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico next year. And even bigger water reductions could be forced upon the Southwest if the reservoir continues to drop, which government estimates show is likely…
The reservoir’s continuing decline, [Felicia] Marcus said, should ring “alarm bells” across the West that the days of business-as-usual approaches are over and that “we need to accelerate everything we can to use less water.”
That includes speeding up efforts that cities and water agencies are already undertaking in parts of the Southwest, such as investing in recycling wastewater, capturing stormwater or cleaning up polluted groundwater, Marcus said. And it also includes promoting conservation and more efficient water use in a variety of ways, she said, from investing in water-saving technologies on farms to offering homeowners cash rebates to removing grass and replacing it with drought-tolerant landscaping.
With shortage measures set to take effect next year, Arizona is in line for the biggest water cutbacks.
That will shrink the amount flowing through the Central Arizona Project Canal to farmlands in Pinal County that produce alfalfa, cotton, wheat and other crops. Farmers in Pinal plan to pump more groundwater from newly drilled wells, but they’ll still be short with the loss of Colorado River water and are planning to leave some farmlands dry and unplanted over the next couple of years.
In a first-level shortage, the water supplies of Arizona’s cities will be spared from cutbacks. But that could change over the next two years if Lake Mead continues to decline.
In the Las Vegas area, people are already conserving enough each year that their water supplier will be able to contribute its portion of the reductions from its unused allocation. But that hasn’t stopped Nevada’s leaders from pushing for more water-savings by getting rid of grass on medians and outside businesses and subdivisions, as required under a newly enacted law that bans “non-functional turf” in the Las Vegas area…
The watershed has been ravaged by one of the driest 22-year periods in centuries. Scientists describe the past two decades as a megadrought worsened by climate change, and say the Colorado River Basin is undergoing “aridification” that will complicate water management for generations to come.
In 2000, Lake Mead was nearly full and its surface was lapping at the spillway gates of the Hoover Dam. Since then, the reservoir has fallen nearly 143 feet. And it’s now at the lowest levels since 1937.
Two years ago, representatives of the seven states that depend on the Colorado River met at Hoover Dam to sign a set of agreements called the Drought Contingency Plan, which laid out measures to take less water and share in reductions during a shortage to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels.
But the declines have continued and the drought has intensified over the past year, with much of the watershed baking through the driest 12 months in 126 years of records. The river and its tributaries have dwindled, shrinking the flow into Lake Powell at the Utah-Arizona border, and in turn driving the receding water levels at Lake Mead…
Arizona’s plan for managing the shortages involves deliveries of “mitigation” water to help temporarily lessen the blow for some farmers and other entities, as well as payments for those that contribute water. The state and CAP approved more than $100 million for these payments, with much of the funds going to the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community for water they contributed…
Over the past year, the declines in water levels have accelerated, outpacing previous estimates due to extremely parched conditions across the watershed in the Rocky Mountains, where much of the river’s flow originates as melting snow. Hotter temperatures have made the whole watershed “thirstier,” as climate researchers put it, eroding the flow of the river as vegetation draws more water and as more moisture evaporates off the landscape…
In just 12 months, the [Lake Mead’s] level has dropped nearly 20 vertical feet…
Officials from Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico have been talking about other ways they might work together on long-term projects to shore up water supplies. One idea they’re studying would be for Arizona to work with Mexico to build a desalination plant on the shore of the Sea of Cortez and trade some of the drinking water that’s produced for a portion of Mexico’s Colorado River water.
Officials from Las Vegas’ Southern Nevada Water Authority have offered to invest in a water recycling project in Southern California, which would enable the agency to use some of the Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River water in exchange. Arizona water officials are also considering joining the other agencies and taking part in the project.
When representatives of the seven states signed the Drought Contingency Plan on a terrace overlooking Hoover Dam in 2019, some of them described the deal as a “bridge” solution to temporarily lessen the risks of a damaging crash and buy time through 2026, by which time new rules for sharing shortages would be negotiated and adopted.
The agreement establishes a series of progressively larger water cutbacks if Lake Mead continues to drop below lower trigger points in the coming years.
If the reservoir drops about 26 more feet to below elevation 1,045 feet, California would start to take cuts.
And if the water level falls below 1,025 feet, which is a scenario the deal aims to avoid, the largest reductions would take effect for all three states and Mexico.
Increasingly, some researchers are voicing concerns that even the major cuts contemplated in the deal might not be enough. Some have suggested that with extremely dry conditions persisting in the watershed, the region’s water managers might need to take bigger steps before 2026 to prevent Mead’s levels from continuing to plummet.
“We really have seen this coming all along on some level,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University. “And we in some ways aren’t ready for it, despite all the things we’ve done to make us feel good that we were ready for it.”
Udall said the network of people who work on Colorado River issues have made great strides in collaborating on adaptation strategies, including through the 2019 deal. But he said he’s not convinced that adequate measures are in place to quickly scale up the more aggressive steps if the contemplated cuts turn out to be insufficient — other than the possibility that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland could convene the states’ representatives and determine what steps to take, which is also included as a sort of backstop measure in the deal.
“This thing could spiral out of control pretty quickly,” Udall said, if more years of severe drought desiccate the region as they did in the early 2000s.
He said he also worries about the fact that some of the water in Lake Mead is reserved for specific water users based on prior conservation, which has been encouraged under the deal and previous agreements.
Concerns about that banked water also have been voiced by others, including Margaret Garcia, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who focuses on water infrastructure and management. She said this system of banking water, technically called “intentionally created surplus,” poses concerns because it means some water in Mead is already spoken for beyond established allocations, and this stored water can still be withdrawn unless the reservoir hits critical lows.
As Garcia put it, “a savings account full with IOUs is not the same as a full savings account.” And Lake Mead’s account is far from full.
The heart of the issue, Udall said, may be developing new ways of quickly adapting to a river that’s yielding less water as the West grows hotter and drier.
“We may need to take this next big step, which is how do you permanently reduce demands?” Udall said.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Rob Manning):
The Bureau of Reclamation selected three Canal Safety Challenge finalists to test their proposed prototypes that reduce accidents and drownings around canals. The Greenfields Irrigation District, Isotope LLC, and WGM Group, Inc will each receive $50,000 for testing at the Reclamation Technical Service Center’s Hydraulics Laboratory in Denver, Colorado.
The Canal Safety Challenge is a public competition focused on developing solutions to improve public safety and reduce drownings in canals throughout the United States and make egress from canals easier or allow for safer rescue and recovery efforts.
The three finalist’s proposals are:
The Greenfields Irrigation District’s proposed solution includes a unique ramp that would use the force of the water to help the individual get to safety. (Fairfield, Montana) Isotrope LLC’s proposed solution includes a partially submerged deck that will allow people to walk, crawl or be rescued from the current. (Medfield, Massachusetts) WGM Group Inc.’s proposed solution includes a unique scoop designed to capture floating objects at a pipe entrance and allow a person to get out or be rescued. (Missoula, Montana)
“Reclamation maintains more than 8,000 miles of canals throughout the West, and more than 10% of those are in urban areas.” Chief Engineer David Raff said. “These innovative proposals have the potential to increase public safety in and around canals throughout the Western United States.”
In addition to the three finalists, Reclamation recognizes two submissions with an honorable mention for their novel solutions, Northern Water in Berthoud, Colorado, and Peltonen & Sardi of Bellevue, Washington.
Reclamation is partnering with the Denver Water, Klamath Irrigation District, Pacific Gas & Electric, NASA Tournament Lab and Carrot. To learn more about this prize competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/canalsafety.html.
Update Status: NIDIS and its partners release these updates every 4 weeks December through June. This update will be the last for the 2021 Water Year as snowpack and snowmelt are past peak values. Updates will resume in the 2022 Water Year.
Snow drought impacts have intensified as snow melted weeks early this spring.
- Remaining higher-elevation western snowpack is well below normal with the exception of Washington, parts of Montana, and the South Platte Basin that drains the Front Range of Colorado.
- The 2020–2021 snow drought was initially caused primarily by a lack of precipitation and storminess, and intensified after April 1. A huge, and in some cases record breaking, decline in snow water equivalent percent of normal was observed throughout April due to warm and dry conditions.
- Much of the western snow melted one to four weeks early, including three to four weeks early in the Sierra.
- Low snowpack, rapid melt out, and poor runoff efficiency have led to significant water supply concerns going into summer of 2021. Click here to learn more about the impacts of snow drought.
Water Year 2021 Conditions Across the West
Water Year 2021 Snow Drought Conditions Summary
Higher-elevation snowpack that remains throughout the West is well below normal with the exception of Washington, parts of Montana, and the South Platte Basin that drains the Front Range of Colorado. In the Sierra Nevada, snowpack is just about gone at SNOTEL elevations. For example, Mount Rose Ski Area, Nevada, on the northeast side of Lake Tahoe in the Carson Range, melted out on May 14, and the median melt out date was June 10. Melt out three to four weeks early was common throughout the Sierra. Throughout Utah, the Upper Colorado, and northern Rockies states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, many sites melted out one to three weeks early.
Alaska mountain snowpack was generally typical for early June in the Chugach and Kenai mountains of south-central Alaska. A cool and wet spring has maintained higher-elevation snowpack in much of southeast Alaska except the far south, where precipitation and temperatures have been closer to normal.
Snow drought conditions developed early in the winter throughout California, the Great Basin, parts of Oregon, the Lower Colorado, and the Upper Colorado, with the most severe conditions initially in the Lower Colorado. Lack of precipitation and storminess was the initial driver of this snow drought, although temperatures throughout the West were above normal much of the winter and spring, particularly during the long dry spells. Strong storms in January brought some improvement to California, the Great Basin, and the Lower Colorado, but most basins still remained about 60%–80% of normal snow water equivalent (SWE) at the end of January. A series of atmospheric rivers in February brought a brief recovery from snow drought through heavy precipitation and snowfall to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon into the northern Rockies. March was a very dry month except for parts of Utah, eastern Colorado, and Wyoming.
April 1 is a critical date for Western snowpack as it is often near peak SWE and, more importantly, is used as input for spring and summer water supply forecasts. Much of the West had below-normal SWE on April 1, although the severity of the snow drought was not nearly as bad as the benchmark 2015 snow drought when huge areas of the West were below 50% of normal SWE by April 1. Large river basin (HUC2) April 1 SWE percent of normal was at 75% for California, 77% for the Great Basin, 58% for the Lower Colorado, 87% for the Upper Colorado, 93% for the Rio Grande, 110% for the Pacific Northwest, and 90% for the Missouri. A huge, and in some cases record breaking, decline in SWE percent of normal was observed throughout April, and snow drought conditions intensified rapidly in just one month. By May 1, all of the HUC2 basins except for the Pacific Northwest and Missouri were between 15% and 61% of normal SWE. Temperatures soared to well above normal the first week of April, and dry conditions persisted throughout the whole month, leading to rapid snow melt rates. The dry and warm conditions allowed rapid melt to occur even in higher elevation basins like the Upper Colorado that typically have peak SWE several weeks after April 1.
The 2021 snow drought in the West highlights the need to track these events from the beginning of the snow accumulation season throughout the melt season. If April 1 or peak SWE was used as the snow drought indicator this year, the severity and downstream impacts that occurred throughout April would be lost. Low snowpack, rapid melt out, and poor runoff efficiency have led to significant water supply concerns going into the summer of 2021. The two biggest reservoirs in the U.S., Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are nearing historic lows, and a Colorado River water shortage is looming; many reservoirs throughout California are as low or lower for early June than during any of the 2012–2015 drought years. Click here to learn more about the impacts of snow drought on water management, ecosystems, recreation and tourism, and more.
April 2021 Precipitation: Western U.S.
HUC2 River Basin Snow Water Equivalent
Maximum Temperature Departure from Average: April 1–8, 2021
Reservoir Storage for the Western U.S.
Reservoir storage percent of capacity for the Western U.S. as of May 1 and June 1, 2021. Graph from the USDA.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
Join the Colorado River District for the White River State of the River webinar on Tuesday, June 15 at 6 p.m.! Our experts and special guests will be presenting on the issues that affect your water supply throughout the White River Basin.
Learn more about the river’s hydrology and water level forecasts as we enter another drought year. Hear updates on management plans to provide water for endangered fish species and learn about current efforts to study the impact of algae blooms in the river.
If you cannot attend the webinar live, register to receive an emailed webinar recording to watch later!
Welcome – Colorado River District Staff
The Community Funding Partnership – Amy Moyer, Colorado River District, Director of Strategic Partnerships
Water Supply and Drought in the White River Basin – Becky Bolinger, Colorado Assistant State Climatologist
Measurement and Abandonment on the White River – Erin Light, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Division 6 Engineer
Water Management Planning in the White River Basin – Callie Hendrickson, Executive Director, White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts
Algae Issues on the White – Natalie Day, Biologist, Colorado Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Update – Alden Vanden Brink, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, District Manager
Fish Tales: The White River Basin and the Endangered Fish Recovery Program – Jojo La, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Endangered Species Policy Specialist
Jun 15, 2021 06:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)
Click here to read the briefing:
Latest Briefing – June 10, 2021 (UT, WY, CO)
During May, much above average precipitation removed drought conditions across Colorado east of the Continental Divide and in southwestern Wyoming. Regional drought conditions persist west of the Divide where D3 and D4 drought cover 90% of Utah and much of western Colorado. Streamflow forecasts for much of the region are among the five driest on record and the forecasted April-July inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 25% of normal. May yielded drought-busting precipitation amounts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado, especially southeastern Colorado where precipitation was over 200% of normal.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Slightly above normal precipitation fell in northwestern Wyoming. Utah was extremely dry in May; nearly the entire state received 50% of normal precipitation and two-thirds of the state received less than 25% of normal May precipitation. Most of Wyoming and western Colorado received slightly below normal precipitation. Temperatures during May were slightly below normal in eastern Colorado and the northeast two-thirds of Wyoming.Western US Seasonal Precipitation In Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming, May temperatures were 1-2 degrees above normal. Regional snowpack conditions were below to much-below normal except for the South Platte River basin in Colorado and Wyoming river basins east of the Continental Divide.Western US Seasonal Precipitation On June 1st, snow was completely melted in southern Utah and almost gone along the Wasatch Front and the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains. Snowpack lingers west of the Continental Divide in Colorado, but is less than 50% of normal. Western Wyoming snowpack conditions are a mix of much below normal to slightly below normal. June 1st streamflow volume forecasts from the CBRFC were less than 50% normal for nearly the entire Upper Colorado River and Great Basins.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Streamflow volume forecasts in the Upper Colorado River and Great Basins are mostly among the five driest on record. Nearly all of the major reservoirs of the Upper Colorado River basin are forecasted to have less than 50% of normal inflow with Lake Powell forecasted to have 25% of normal inflow (1.8 MAF), a 3% decrease from the May forecast. Streamflow forecasts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado are higher than the rest of the region, but still below normal in the South Platte and Arkansas River basins.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Drought conditions during May were very different east and west of the Continental Divide. An extremely wet May completely removed drought conditions east of the Continental Divide in Colorado and in southwestern and north-central Wyoming.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation Below average temperatures and much above average precipitation drove drought removal. At the end of April, drought conditions covered 89% of Colorado and 85% of Wyoming. By June 1st, drought conditions improved significantly, covering 49% of Colorado and 68% of Wyoming. With the exception of northwestern Wyoming where drought conditions improved by one category, drought persisted west of the Continental Divide and conditions remained largely unchanged. D3 and D4 drought continues to cover 90% of Utah.Western US Seasonal Precipitation La Niña conditions, present throughout winter 2021, ended during May as eastern Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to 0.3° C below normal. Neutral ENSO conditions are expected to continue at least through July.Western US Seasonal Precipitation The NOAA seasonal forecast predicts an increased probability for above average regional temperatures during June, except for the Eastern Plains of Colorado. There is also an increased probability for below average June precipitation in Wyoming and northern Colorado and northern Utah. On the three-month timescale, NOAA seasonal forecasts predict an increased probability for above average temperatures across the entire region Western US Seasonal Precipitation and below average precipitation except for southwestern Utah. Western US Seasonal Precipitation Significant May weather event. An unexpectedly wet May led to dramatic improvements in drought conditions in eastern Colorado and central Wyoming. Drought was completely removed from Colorado east of the Continental Divide and in southwestern Wyoming. The NOAA seasonal forecast for May projected an increased probability for below average precipitation in Colorado and Wyoming, but many areas east of the Continental Divide received 150-300% of normal precipitation. Large areas of eastern Colorado and central Wyoming experienced a two-category improvement in drought conditions during May with isolated areas improving by three drought categories.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Since mid-February, above average precipitation caused a five-category improvement to drought conditions in parts of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas Counties, Colorado.Western US Seasonal Precipitation A large swath of eastern Colorado experienced a four-category improvement in drought conditions over the same time period.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Warm and dry conditions dominated the West while the southern Plains and South recorded the most precipitation for the week as well as cooler than normal temperatures. Temperatures were 3-6 degrees below normal over much of the southern Plains, and into the lower Mississippi Valley. Warmer than normal temperatures dominated from California to the Dakotas with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal and even higher in the northern Plains. With the active pattern continuing over the southern Plains, conditions have flipped over the last several weeks from one of drought to ample precipitation. A reassessment of conditions in several places in the West and northern Plains led to improvements, in light of some of the wetter conditions recently…
A mostly dry week for the region, with some late precipitation in the period over North Dakota that will be addressed next week when the full extent of the rains can be taken into account. Some areas of Colorado had above-normal precipitation for the week. Temperatures were well above normal in the Dakotas where widespread areas of 12-15 degrees above normal were observed, with several places over 100 degrees F. Farther south in the region, the temperatures across Kansas were below normal. Portions of southwest North Dakota and northwest South Dakota were reassessed this week to take into account the wetter pattern lately. Improvements to the severe and extreme drought conditions were made based upon this reanalysis of data. In Nebraska, moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions spread over the northeast to central portions of the state, with some severe drought being introduced in the far northern counties. Southeast South Dakota had drought expand and intensify, with more moderate and severe drought being introduced. The plains of Colorado remained wet and further improvements were made to the abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions in the central portion of the state. Degradation took place in Wyoming where extreme drought was introduced in the northeast and moderate and severe drought expanded in the central and southwest portions of the state, with just a small pocket improved in the southwest…
A very dry week for the region, with only areas of New Mexico, northeast Arizona, western Colorado and northwest Washington having above-normal precipitation. Temperatures were well above normal with most areas 3-9 degrees above normal for the week. A reassessment of conditions in eastern New Mexico took place after the most recent rains, and this led to improvements in the region, with some being multi-category for the week. Eastern Washington saw conditions continuing to decline, and an expansion of moderate, severe, and extreme drought took place this week. Oregon was similar with widespread areas of degradation in the state and expansion of exceptional, extreme, severe, and moderate drought. Idaho also had widespread degradations with expansion of extreme, severe, and moderate drought and also a new introduction of exceptional drought. California continued to see the impacts of drought increase, and there was expansion of extreme and exceptional drought in the northern and central areas as well as along the coast of central California. A small area of exceptional drought was expanded in central Utah. As with the conditions in the northern Plains, some areas of eastern Montana were reassessed this week and a large area of extreme drought was removed while other areas of the state had an expansion of severe and moderate drought. Some of these same areas improved in Montana received rain after the cut-off for this week and could see further improvements next week…
With a continued wet pattern, temperatures were well below normal, with departures of 6-8 degrees below normal in portions of Texas and Oklahoma. The greatest rains fell from east Texas into the lower Mississippi Valley, but there were pockets of heavier rain from south Texas into the central portions of the state. As in past weeks, the wet pattern of the current week as well as a reassessment of conditions over the last 6-8 weeks allowed for continued and multi-category improvements over portions of Texas. The only extreme and exceptional drought left in the state is in the Trans-Pecos region…
Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that the best rains will be over the South, Southeast and into the Mid-Atlantic with some relief continuing in the northern Plains. Most all of the West remains dry, especially in the southwest, with some rain possible in the northwest. Above-normal temperatures will dominate the country with most areas from the West into the Midwest anticipating above-normal temperatures. Near-normal temperatures in the Southeast as well along the West Coast are expected.
The 6-10 day outlooks show the high probability of above-normal temperatures over most of the country from the Midwest and southern Plains to the West. Cooler than normal temperatures are anticipated in the East and to the Gulf Coast as well as into the lower Mississippi Valley and Texas. Below-normal precipitation is anticipated over most of the country, with the highest probabilities in the Midwest, northern Plains, northern Rocky Mountains and into the Great Basin. The highest probabilities of above-normal precipitation are along the Gulf Coast, northern Alaska and in Arizona.
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Major funding shortfalls and bureaucratic barriers between state, federal and private entities are hobbling efforts to clean up watersheds and protect drinking water for more than 1 million Coloradans this summer.
Berthoud-based Northern Water is Colorado’s second-largest water provider, behind Denver Water. It operates the federally owned Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which serves a number of Front Range cities as well as hundreds of farms, and its collection systems were devastated last summer by the massive East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires. It estimates that it will cost more than $100 million over the next three to five years to clean up some 400,000 acres of its mountain system, which spans the Continental Divide in Grand County and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Federal funds that have been used in the past have been depleted as states across the American West have turned to the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for help restoring burned forest lands.
Colorado lawmakers this week stepped in to help, approving SB21-258, which creates two new grant funds totaling nearly $30 million designed to help utilities and local governments do more to address forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation.
And while agencies like Northern say the cash is critical, it’s only a down payment on what is going to be needed to restore mountain water collection systems embedded in national forests.
“We’re very worried,” said Esther Vincent, Northern Water’s manager of environmental services. “The runoff season is upon us and we’re starting to see the black water.” She’s referring to the water laden with sediment and toxins entering streams from burn areas.