Degrees of #warming: How a hotter, thirstier #atmosphere wreaks havoc on #water supplies in Pitkin County — @AspenJournalism #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Crystal River runs low outside of Carbondale on September 1, 2020. With average temperatures warming in summer months by as much as 3.5 degrees since the 1950s in Garfield County, streamflows are trending down as peak runoff comes earlier and more water is sucked up by evaporation and dry soils, stressing available water supplies in late summer and fall. Photo credit: Dan Bayer/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Catharine Lutz):

In November 2018, Marble Town Manager Ron Leach received a letter that he said was a wake-up call.

The letter was a notice from the Colorado Division of Water Resources that the town’s water rights had been “out of priority” for four weeks the previous August and September because of a call placed by a senior water-rights holder downstream on the Crystal River.

During drought years — and 2018 was an extreme one, with the Crystal running at less than 5% of average after peaking in May, several weeks earlier than usual — junior water-rights holders may have to curtail their water usage until the senior call is satisfied.

“Drought and water supply have been on people’s minds for a long time around here, but we’ve never gotten a letter like that,” Leach said.

The letter urged the Marble Water Company — the private company that delivers water to the town’s approximately 150 residents and a handful of businesses — to create a plan of augmentation, which is an alternate source of water such as a storage pond. Without augmentation, the letter warned, a call could subject Marble to a cease-and-desist order on its municipal water wells.

Several other neighborhoods that get their water from the Crystal also narrowly dodged a bullet that August. The same call put more than 40 homes in Carbondale at risk of not having water, according to Town Manger Jay Harrington.

“Firefighting capability was an issue, too,” Harrington said. “That’s where we had to scramble.”

Carbondale officials were able to make an emergency arrangement with another senior water-rights holder to temporarily borrow water to supply the homes. And they quickly set in motion plans to avoid the situation in the future. In essence, the town is shifting the supply for some of its water needs from the heavily irrigated Crystal to the more reliable Roaring Fork, which also carries a sizable water right that the town owns from Ruedi Reservoir.

Up in Marble, Leach doesn’t have multiple, redundant water supplies to serve his constituents. Noting that Marble’s water supply barely exceeds peak summer demand, an engineering firm’s preliminary recommendation was for an 11-acre-foot reservoir, which would require 3 to 4 acres of flat ground.

“The town of Marble doesn’t have cash to do anything like that,” said Leach, who added that space in the constrained mountain valley might also be a hurdle. “There’s no easy solution.”

Still, Leach is confident something will get figured out — a state-funded water study of the Crystal was recently approved, he said — but a very dry 2020 has underscored that the water issue is not going away anytime soon. During what’s now widely accepted as a two-decade-long drought in the Colorado River basin, temperatures have risen, summer rains can’t be relied on and streamflows have dropped, with earlier peak flows sometimes leaving little water in streams by late summer. The state’s letter to Marble noted that “it is reasonable to assume that this administration scenario could happen more frequently in the future.”

To those who deal with water day to day, there’s no question climate change is here and its impacts are being increasingly felt in the summer.

“It all starts with climate change — that’s the big picture,” said Leach. “What’s happening in Marble, this is the micro-example.”

Other Roaring Fork municipalities are also grappling with climate-caused water supply issues. The city of Aspen, which provides municipal water from free-flowing Maroon and Castle creeks and has seen Stage 2 water restrictions enacted two of the past three summers, is creating a 50-year water plan — driven in part by climate-change impacts — that may include expanded water storage. In Basalt, the 2018 Lake Christine Fire came close to cutting power supplies, which could have caused the failure of pump stations that deliver water to users. And after one of Glenwood Springs’ water sources was temporarily shut down during this summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire, debris, ash, mudslides and fire retardant pose lingering hazards.

“We need to continually work on our water systems as we continue to adapt to climate change,” said Harrington. “We are going to have to figure out how to slow it down, but in the meantime, we need to take climate change into our planning.”

“We need to continually work on our water systems as we continue to adapt to climate change,” said Harrington. “We are going to have to figure out how to slow it down, but in the meantime, we need to take climate change into our planning.”

Marble Town Manager Ron Leach is looking for ways to augment the town’s water supply, which comes from the Crystal River aquifer. In 2018, that supply was threatened when the river was running too low to satisfy all water-rights holders. Photo credit: Catharine Lutz/Aspen Journalism

The heat is on

Warming temperatures, linked to increased global greenhouse-gas emissions, are the catalyst that impacts other key conditions in the mountains, including lower snowpacks and streamflows; earlier snowmelt and runoff peaks; more precipitation in the form of rain than snow; more frost-free days; and lower soil moisture.

As average temperatures rise in all seasons, heat waves like the one that gripped Colorado during the summer of 2020 are becoming more common. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average temperatures from May to October in Pitkin and Garfield counties have risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s. Some months are warming faster than others. In Pitkin County, June, July and September have warmed by nearly 3 degrees since 1950, while in Garfield County, June and September are 3.5 degrees warmer.

A 2019 report prepared for the town of Carbondale hints that warming has accelerated in the 21st century, with three of the five warmest years on record over the past decade. Also, this past August was the hottest on record for Colorado. In Aspen, the average temperature of 66.9 degrees in August was 5.6 degrees above normal.

Marble Town Manager Ron Leach is looking for ways to augment the town’s water supply, which comes from the Crystal River aquifer. In 2018, that supply was threatened when the river was running too low to satisfy all water-rights holders. Credit: NOAA via Aspen Journalism

Noting that 12 of the hottest 14 years in western Colorado have occurred in the past 18 years, Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager Andy Mueller said at a recent conference that “the biggest change in temperatures has been occurring within our district and eastern Utah, which is a real problem when you look at the fact that we’re the area that produces the most-significant amount of water in the entire rivershed.”

Scientists are in broad agreement that as long as greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise — or even level off — temperatures will follow suit.

Projections for the region range depending on emissions scenarios, but nearly all of them forecast at least another rise of average temperatures of 3 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century and a rise of approximately another 10 degrees by the end of the 21st century. To put this into perspective, a warming Aspen could have the climate of Carbondale or Glenwood Springs, while Glenwood would look and feel like Grand Junction in a few decades.

This graph shows the range of average maximum temperature increases projected for Carbondale under both and high and low emissions scenario. Credit: NOAA via Aspen Journalism

The atmosphere taketh away

Local summer precipitation trends are less clear. Monsoon rains — or the lack thereof — drive great swings year to year in summer precipitation, which is usually dwarfed, in terms of volume, by winter precipitation in the form of snow. Historical data shows no clear trends. A report prepared for the town of Carbondale says that average precipitation in the 20th century and since 2000 are about the same.

Still, the summer of 2020 capped a decade of multiple dry summers. Colorado this year saw its third-driest April-July period, according to the National Weather Service, and the 2.5 inches of precipitation Aspen had from June through August was nearly 2 inches below normal. It was the fourth summer in a row with below-average precipitation and the driest in that stretch — even the summer of 2018 saw more rain.

Precipitation projections are also not very clear — although some experts suggest that precipitation could decrease in the summer and increase in the winter. But whether there’s a little more or a little less rain and snow in the future — and the latest models show a long-term decline in the Colorado River Basin — scientists say it doesn’t matter.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

“There’s more uncertainty in how much precipitation is going to change and less uncertainty about how much temperature is going to change,” said hydrology expert Julie Vano, who is research director at Aspen Global Change Institute. “And the effect of just having warmer temperatures means more water is leaving the system.”

Jeff Lukas, a researcher on NOAA’s Western Water Assessment team, put it this way: “A warming atmosphere is a thirstier atmosphere.” In the Roaring Fork Valley, he said, only about a third of all precipitation makes it into streams and rivers; the other two-thirds is reclaimed by evapotranspiration, which is the combination of evaporation from surfaces and what plants absorb then release. Since evapotranspiration is driven in large part by temperature, as temperatures rise, the amount of water in rivers declines.

“The atmosphere giveth and the atmosphere taketh most of it away,” said Lukas. “Warming is the factor — across all seasons and all water-cycle processes — that draws moisture away from the land surface before becoming runoff.”

A table showing hydroclimate trends from Western Water Assessment’s “Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology State of the Science” report.

The flow is low

After more than a century of diversions, dams, storage projects and other stream manipulations, it’s complicated to calculate trends in natural streamflow, the term for the amount of water in a river. But streamflow, also called runoff, has perhaps the most direct effect on water availability. And trends are not looking good.

Since 2000, according to a recent report, the average annual volume of water in the upper Colorado River basin, from its headwaters to Lees Ferry (just below Lake Powell in Arizona), has dropped 15% below the long-term average from 1906 to 2019. Published last April, the Western Water Assessment’s “Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology State of the Science” report synthesizes all of the recent studies and data on this massive topic. The report’s authors compiled ever-increasing evidence about how rising temperatures are contributing to less water in the Colorado River, which supplies the needs of 40 million people. Although precipitation is still an important factor, some research shows that warming accounts for up to half of the water loss. One study calculated that every 1 degree Fahrenheit of warming decreases runoff by 7.5%.

Jeff Lukas, a researcher on NOAA’s Western Water Assessment team, has calculated that between 2000 and 2018, the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs had 13% less water than the 20th century average, which in large part is attributable to declining peak flows, shown here in this graph. Credit: Lauren Lassalle/Aspen Journalism

Declining streamflows are also found up the Colorado’s tributaries. Taking into account water that would’ve been in the stream if it weren’t for diversions and ditches, Lukas calculated that between 2000 and 2018, the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs had 13% less water than the 20th-century average. Analyzing data on the Crystal River near Redstone, he calculated a 5% drop in annual mean streamflow since 2000, compared with the latter half of the 20th century, but a 10% decline during drier years.

In that same analysis of the Crystal, Lukas found that the date of peak streamflow had shifted one week earlier since 2000: from reliably arriving in June to sometimes coming in May. Multiple studies across the Colorado basin have similarly calculated a one- to four-week earlier runoff — which means that high-country snowpacks are melting earlier, so that the highest volume of snowmelt rushing down those streams is coming earlier in the spring.

But an above-average snowpack doesn’t mean an equivalent runoff, as this past year has shown. After a good winter followed by a warm, dry spring and summer, just 55% of the upper Colorado’s runoff made it into Lake Powell.

“The expectation that this amount of snow leads to this amount of runoff — we’re just not seeing as much as we did in the past,” said Vano, the hydrology expert.

Projections on how runoff will change in the coming decades from Western Water Assessment’s “Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology State of the Science” report.

Earlier peak runoff and lower flows mean less water (especially in drought years) in late summer and early fall, a critical time for irrigation, recreation and natural systems. From late July through October, the Crystal River upstream from Carbondale has been flowing below half of average, lower than the instream flow water right held by the state for that stretch of river — but since irrigation rights are senior to the conservation right, there’s often no recourse. For example, that is what happened in August on another tributary of the Roaring Fork, when the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which holds 1,700 instream-flow rights throughout the state, requested administration of its instream rights on Hunter Creek, acknowledging that it would likely be “a futile call.”

“A river is not a river without water in it,” said Heather Tattersall Lewin, science and policy director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

As with higher temperatures, declining streamflows and earlier runoff are certain into the future, but how much will depend on emissions. A 2006 report by the Aspen Global Change Institute calculated that by 2030, peak runoff for the Roaring Fork River at Woody Creek will occur in May rather than June. And by 2100, the lingering snowpack we see on the high peaks in June will no longer exist, which means less water in the stream all summer. Add in increased demand from growth and diversions, and future Roaring Fork River flows through Aspen could go below required instream-flow levels for nine months of the year.

Downstream in Glenwood Springs, the Roaring Fork’s late summer flows could decline by 30% to 50% by 2070, according to a 2018 analysis by Lukas.

“Changes to water will touch nearly everything,” he said. “All the risk is on the dry side.”

The Crystal River showing a fraction of its normal summer volume in September. Water supply challenges related to climate change have been evident along the waterway as warmer summer temperatures stress streamflows. Photo credit: Dan Bayer/Aspen Journalism

The underlying factor

Another important factor to consider is one we don’t really see: soil moisture.

One of the metrics used to calculate drought severity, soil moisture has been studied locally by the Aspen Global Change Institute since 2013. This short period of record may preclude discerning any trends about whether local soils are getting drier, but the data does show how moisture levels can have a domino effect season to season.

Elise Osenga, community science manager for the institute, likens the soil to a sponge. A dry sponge, like dry soil, absorbs more water than when it’s wet, while a wet sponge, like saturated soil, lets the excess run off. The water that the soil doesn’t absorb goes into streams.

“Climate change is more likely to dry soils in the spring,” said Osenga, who explained that peak snowmelt and peak soil saturation happen around the same time in the mountains. “When that happens, we’ll see soils dry earlier in the summer and become more dependent on summer rain — which is problematic when we don’t get those rains.”

The Aspen Global Change Institute has been tracking local soil moisture since 2013. In each of the past three years, soil moisture has dipped well under the 2013-2017 average for most of the summer.

Each of the past three years, soil moisture in Pitkin County has dipped well under the 2013-2017 average for most of the summer. The drought year of 2018 saw an early snowmelt and soil drying, but fall rains helped soils recover, auguring well for the next year. Most remember the record snows of late winter and spring of 2019, but the lack of rain that summer dried things up. And 2020 largely mirrored 2018, although 2020 saw slightly better soil moisture until late summer.

This year, things may have cooled off since August, but drought conditions have worsened, with all of Colorado, as of Oct. 22, in some form of drought and 78% of the state in extreme or exceptional drought. This doesn’t bode well for spring.

With soil moisture, said Osenga, “what happens in September and October is actually really interesting, because it plays a big role in determining whether we start the next spring already at risk of a drought versus in better shape.”

With multiple dry years over the past two decades, some scientists are wondering if we’re entering a period of megadrought, which hasn’t been seen in several hundred years.

“It might be a combination of natural variability plus climate change — a double whammy,” said Vano.

No single drought is evidence of climate change, Lukas said, but “what we’re seeing since 2000 is that climate change is stacking the deck. We’re more prone to the deep droughts, the ones that sneak out of left field like in 2020.”

And even with good planning, that’s sure to make water managers in Marble and Carbondale and throughout the Colorado River basin nervous.

“We do see changing conditions, whether attributable to increased demand/development by water users, drought or long-term climate change,” wrote Colorado water commissioner Jake DeWolfe in an email. “Any of them leads to the same problem: a shortage of water. We are involved in planning for the future likelihood that we will need to limit, if not curtail, uses in Colorado to meet the needs of downstream states.”

An abridged version of this story ran in The Aspen Times on Oct. 30.

#Snowpack news: Some accumulation from the past storm in SW #Colorado, a lot of water year to go

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS. The statewide basin-filled map looks great but it’s way early in the water year to relax. What a difference one storm can make this time of year.

From The Montrose Daily Press (Michael Cox):

The Sunday punch “storm” laid about 8 to 10 inches of snow in the Montrose area while dropping an equal amount or more in the high country. Or, so you would think.

I took a look through the SNOTEL reports for Monday and the snowpack on the peaks with measuring stations did not report great accumulations. Columbine Pass, on the Uncompahgre Plateau southwest of Montrose, has 3 inches on the ground. The Idarado station, near U.S. 550, reports 5 inches, Red Mountain has 4. Lizard Head, to the south, has only an inch.

These three SNOTEL stations are all in the San Juan Mountains and above 10,000 feet. By looking at the surrounding mountains, there appears to more white stuff on the major peaks. It is a start anyway.

A couple of observations. We normally have some kind of early snow event in October, which sort of gets us excited about the coming snow season. If you saw the year’s precipitation as a graph, you would see September and October as pretty much a flatline, with a littler (snow) bump somewhere along the third quarter baseline. Often, what snow we get in September or October runs off and becomes part of the instream flow after the irrigation system ends.

The second thought is a question about the accuracy of the readings and the possibility that the recorded snowpack numbers maybe be misleading.

This might be true for two reasons. One, is the fact that LIDAR, a newer laser/radar method of measuring snow depth, has proven that SNOTEL falls well short when it comes to accuracy that can be relied on as a water use forecasting tool. This is critical given the extreme importance of having a better picture of the snow resources that we have to work with in a given year.

If proposal “7A” passes next Tuesday, perhaps one of the uses for the income to the river district might be to make more use of LIDAR in monitoring the actual snowpack in our high country.

Unusual conditions make for ‘different year,’ Brush hay producer says — The #FortMorgan Times

From The Fort Morgan Times (Sara Waite):

A combination of conditions have made it “a different year” for agriculture, according to Brush-area producer Dan Kendrick.

Kendrick has plenty of experience to make that assessment. A Morgan County native, he grew up in ag and, after what he calls a “hiatus” from the industry after college, when he spend 14 years in the lending industry, he’s been a producer for the past 20 years. His operation includes growing hay and corn, some custom farming, and raising sheep and cattle. He also works in risk management for AgWest Commodities.

Kendrick said hot, dry and windy conditions in June impacted his crops, and there wasn’t enough water in the river to go around. It wasn’t the first drought the veteran farmer has experienced – he recalled 2012 was the last really dry spell — but “it’s never fun,” he said.

Drought conditions have been felt by farmers across the state.

According to a Denver Post article in August, this year’s wheat harvest was one of the smallest the state has seen in the past decade. The lack of water, and its impact on rangeland, was forcing ranchers in the state to consider cutting their herd sizes.

Fred Midcap, a Wiggins-area farmer, told The Denver Post he thought the northeastern plains had received about 14 inches of snow over the past winter, a steep decline from the 40 inches it usually gets. Yearly average rainfall is around 13 inches; Nick Midcap, Fred’s son and a partner in the family farm, estimated the area had seen just 6 to 7 inches of total precipitation.

The Post reported that wheat yield was also down, with the USDA putting Colorado at 30 bushels of wheat per acre this year, compared to 49 bushels per acre last year…

In northeast Colorado, most of the area is experiencing severe drought, with extreme drought in portions of Washington and Yuma counties. Northwest Logan County is under moderate drought.

Kendrick said that in addition to drought, another weather-related phenomenon impacted his hay production this year, albeit in a much less significant way. Smoke from Colorado wildfires have obscured the sky off and on over the summer and into the fall. It was especially hazy the week he did his mid-summer cutting, and the hay took longer to dry and “bleached out” during the process.

His experience was in line with what Dr. Joe Bummer, a forage specialist with the Colorado State University Extension, surmised could happen. He said unless smoke is extremely dense, it’s unlikely to affect the plant’s photosynthesis – the process plants use to absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into nutrients — but he could see it slowing the drying process a bit.

“The delayed drying would decrease the quality to some degree as there is still some respiration in the cut plants until they reach 40% or less water content,” he said.

The result, he thought, could be a slight decrease in quality, although he said the only way to be sure would be to test the hay and see how it compares to previous years.

West Drought Monitor October 27, 2020.

Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 400 CFS November 2, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Monday, November 2nd, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Platte River Power’s 100% goal — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Rawhide Energy Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Did Platte River Power just take a big step backward? Or was it big step forward?

The Sierra Club describes Platte River Power Authority as reneging on a commitment. Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who ran on a platform of 100% renewables by 2040, issued a statement applauding the electrical power provider for four northern Colorado cities with setting a new bar for electrical utilities.

Do you detect any dissonance?

Directors of Platte River representing its member cities—Fort Collins, Longmont, Loveland and Estes Park—in December 2018 adopted a goal of 100% renewable generation by 2030. The 2018 resolution was hinged to a long list of provisos: if a regional transmission authority was created, if effective energy storage became cost effective, if…

You get the idea.

Platte River in recent months has been engaged in a planning process similar to what Xcel Energy does when it goes before the Public Utilities Commission every four years with updated plans for how it will generate its electricity.

Looking out to 2030, Platte River’s planners can see how they can get to 90% or above by 2030. That is, hands down, as good as it gets in Colorado right now. Aspen Electric in 2015 was able to proclaim 100% renewable generation. But that claim is predicated upon purchase of renewable energy certificates. Platte River’s goal goes further.

Steve Roalstad, who handles public relations for Platte River, says utilities in the Pacific Northwest with easy availability of hydroelectric power or those utilities relying upon nuclear power, can claim more. Not so those utilities, like Platte River, that have traditionally relied heavily on coal.

Rawhide, Platte River’s coal-fired power plant, has historically provided 60% to 65% of electricity to customers in the four cities. It’s being used less than it was. Platte River expects coal to provide 55% of Platte River’s power generation this year but less than 40% by 2023. The utility also uses “peaker” gas plants, to turn on quickly to meet peak demands, for 2% to 3% of annual generation.

Platte River plans another 400 megawatts of renewable generation in the next three years.

Still unresolved is the combination of technologies and market structures that will allow Platte River and other utilities to get to 100%. As backup, it has adopted a plan that could result in new natural gas generation, a technology called a reciprocating internal gas engine. That’s not a given, though. When exactly that decision will have to be made is not clear. Presumably it must be a matter of years, conceivably toward the end of the decade.

The Sierra Club issued a statement decrying the decision to use gas-fired generation as a place holder in the plans for 2030. In a release, the organization said the directors had “voted to build a new gas-fired power plant” and this decision “derails the utility’s 2018 commitment to 100% carbon-free power by 2030.”

Wade Troxell, the mayor of Fort Collins and chairman of the board of directors for Platte River, dismissed the statement.

Platte River, he wrote in an e-mail, “is not pulling away from our 2030 commitment in any way.” He directed attention to the resolution passed by directors.

That resolution, beginning on page 169, insists that Platte River “will continue to proactively pursue a 100% non-carbon energy mix by 2030, seeking innovative solutions… without new fossil-fueled resources, if possible.” The resolution describes fossil-fueled resources as a “technology safeguard.”

In other words, Platte River thinks it can figure out a way to avoid this gas plant. But it’s impossible to know now.

That’s likely a realistic assessment. Nobody knows absolutely how to get to 100% today. Will cheaper and—very important—longer-lasting energy storage create the safeguards that Platte River and other utilities want?

Technology in the last 10 years has done amazing things in some areas. Solar prices dived 87% between 2010 and 2020 while wind prices plummeted 46%, according to FactSet. Battery prices are now following a similar trajectory, although nobody has solved the challenge of energy storage for days and weeks.

Other technologies—think carbon capture and sequestration—have yielded almost nothing of value, despite billions of dollars in federal investment.

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine. To get on the mailing list, go to BigPivots.com

In Boulder, advocates of a municipal utility have cited the progress of Platte River in arguing that a separation from Xcel Energy would benefit that city’s decarbonization goals. See, Boulder’s fork in the road.

In Denver, the governor’s office issued a statement Thursday afternoon applauding Platte River.

“This is the most ambitious level of pollution reduction that any large energy provider in the state has announced, and it sets a new bar for utilities. Today’s decision will save Platte River Power Authority customers money with low cost renewables while maintaining reliability, and this type of leadership from our electric utilities is a critical part of our statewide efforts to reduce pollution and fight the climate crisis,” said Governor Polis in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

Switching from fossil fuels to renewables to produce electricity is crucial to Colorado’s plan to achieve a 50% decarbonized economy by 2050. If electricity is decarbonized, it can then be used to replace petroleum in transportation and, more challenging yet, heating of homes and water.

State officials have limited authority to achieve this directly. Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, cited Platte River as the only utility in the state to voluntarily commit to a clean energy plan to achieve the state’s goals. Others, however, likely will also, he said.

Platte River is Colorado’s fourth largest utility, behind Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, and Colorado Springs Utilities.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

Major breakthrough reached in #FountainCreek case to settle clean water lawsuit — The #Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

After years of hard feelings in Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River valley about Colorado Springs’ degradation of Fountain Creek and the river, a resolution is on the horizon.

That city, government clean water agencies, Pueblo County and a lower valley water conservancy district have decided how to solve their dispute in order to improve the quality of water flowing in the creek from the city into Pueblo County and eastward down the river.

The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

On Thursday, they submitted a 169-page proposed agreement, known as a “Consent Decree,” to Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

The plan would require Colorado Springs to spend millions of dollars to improve its storm water sewer system in order to better control pollution discharges and excessive flows into the creek…

Meanwhile, Jay Winner, general manager of the water conservancy district, told The Chieftain the plan will benefit both Pueblo and the lower valley.

“This will be of great help in the lower part of the basin improving water quality,” Winner,said. “Water quality is the next great paradigm shift throughout the world.”

[…]

All of the litigants — the five parties to the case –negotiated for the past year what the city would do to remedy the violations.

The discharges damaged the creek bed and caused flooding, as well as creating a public health risk. Key agricultural regions of the lower valley have been affected by the polluted water and excessive volume.

The plan requires Colorado Springs to perform $11 million of mitigation to offset the environmental harm caused by its alleged violations, and pay the United States a $1 million civil penalty.

In addition, instead of receiving a civil penalty payment, the state “agrees that the city shall satisfy the state civil penalty through performance of a State approved supplemental environmental project valued at $1 million, to be performed” by the water conservancy district, according to a document filed Thursday in court…

Winner pointed to several benefits that the agreement would bring.

“The communities that have wells in the alluvium should get a much higher quality of water,” he said. The plan “should remove just enough silt so that the river stays in the channel and does not spread out due to an increased bed load, leaving more water in the channel as opposed to flooding areas such as North La Junta.

“This should keep more water in the ditches to help farmers,” Winner said. “When the river crests its banks that water belongs to farmers and they are unable to use it.”

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Southwest #Colorado ranchers battle #drought, development — The #Durango Herald #ActOnClimate #aridification #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Durango Herald (Emily Hayes):

Persistent dry conditions, rising land prices force change

After living out his dream of running 400 head of cattle on a ranch straddling Montrose and Gunnison counties, Barnes now works with ranchers in Montezuma County and beyond to help manage their rangeland and cattle with the new challenges and pressures ranchers face.

Cattle is Colorado’s top agricultural product, bringing in $4 billion per year. But with exceptional drought conditions and development driving up land prices, it is harder to be a rancher in this corner of the state.

In September, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expedite disaster aid payments to farmers and ranchers.

“We need to regard drought as the new normal,” Barnes said, but the “ranching community as a whole doesn’t accept climate change.”

[…]

In the bigger picture, subdivision development is increasing in Western Colorado.

Demographics are shifting, and agriculture has fallen behind the tourism and service industries as the leading employer.

The red indicates areas that have been converted from farmland and rangeland to residential land uses in Colorado. The bold green and yellow indicate good farm and rangeland for production, while the lighter green and yellow indicate land that is not productive. According to the American Farmland Trust, development “often claims the most productive, versatile and resilient land.” Courtesy of the American Farmland Trust via The Durango Herald

And in Southwest Colorado, rent is high – it is difficult to rent a place for less than $1,000 per month. So sprawling ranches have been subdivided into smaller parcels that can be developed to increase the housing stock and lower prices of rentals and single-family homes…

New generations not taking over

The changing landscape of the West is “one of the elephants in the room” for most ranchers, Barnes said.

Children are less likely to take over a ranch now.

By the time their parents retire and hand the ranch over, the children have developed a career and are making more money than they would in ranching, he said…

There are four times as many producers older than 65 in Colorado as there are younger than 35, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust.

In the ranching industry, the work doesn’t pay by the hour, and there isn’t much room for vacations. A century ago, this lifestyle worked because there “wasn’t much to compete with,” Barnes said.

Now, young Coloradans can get a construction job that pays more and is “less complicated,” he said…

Between 2001 and 2016, 112,400 acres of Colorado’s best land for farming and ranching was converted for development uses, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust. And the number of farms and ranches in Colorado in 2019 totaled 38,700, down 200 from 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (The data are not available for more localized regions such as Southwest Colorado.)

Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

But McAfee is working to replenish the land on his family’s ranch through regenerative grazing. With a combination of native and introduced grasses, there is little wind erosion and water runoff, he said.

Cattle graze the same paddock for a year and then move on to the next one, he said. The number of cattle ranges from 200 to 400 head on 100 acres at a time.

McAfee said ranchers in the area are hesitant to change their grazing system because there is a risk that it might not work. But old systems like summer fallow cause erosion and are hard on the soil, he said.

The transition for McAfee was “weird and scary,” but with the drought there wasn’t an alternative.

Adapting instead of succumbing

Most ranchers in Southwest Colorado do it because they enjoy it, which is partly why more outsiders are becoming involved, Barnes said.

“They are well-educated 20-somethings with a laptop in one hand and a shovel in the other,” he said.

Cachuma Ranch in Dolores raises Criollo cattle, which Barnes describes as the closest thing to wild cattle you can get in Southwest Colorado.

Criollo are descended from Spanish stock imported to the Americas. They weigh less, and calves are smaller than commercial Angus breeds, but they’re suited to the area.

They survive part of the year in Disappointment Valley, browsing for greasewood instead of depending on grass year-round, said Kathryn Wilder, mother of the family operation.

Drought also affects small desert shrubs, but Wilder said the Criollo cattle can forage a larger range of shrubs and grasses than commercial cattle, and they eat less of it…

Possible solutions

Kay and David James with the James Ranch north of Durango saw their children migrate back to the ranch to rear their families here and improve the land, according to their website.

Their direct-to-customer model and a demand for local food creates support for the ranch and positions it as a tourist attraction…

James Ranch has 400 irrigated acres along the Animas River, with early water rights. The James’ cattle are scattered in different parts of the Four Corners, but they run cattle on irrigated pastures in the summer when there is enough water. They finish about 175 head of cattle for slaughter per year.

But the drought still affects the ranch through higher hay prices, said Joe Wheeling, son-in-law of David James.

Less water means lower hay production, and the price for hay goes up. In the past five or six years, Wheeling said hay prices have escalated primarily because of the drought.

Land prices have gone up as well, especially near Durango, Wheeling said. The direct-to-customer model has been important to the family’s ranching legacy because it means more customers, he said…

Keeping it small and local

Andrew and Kendra Schafer shifted the focus of Cedar Mesa Ranch in Montezuma County from cattle to sheep in 2009. They also run goats because they eat things like weeds, shrubs, knapweeds and invasive Russian olive plants.

“Imports lost their ability to harvest from this land,” Andrew Schafer said. But his Navajo-Churro sheep, originally obtained by Native American nations during the Spanish conquest, are known for their hardiness and adaptability to extreme climates.

Kendra Schafer shears the sheep to make yarn for weaving and knitting, supporting a local textile industry as well…

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is mapping an increase in smaller farm plots in La Plata and Montezuma counties, with 30- or 35-acre plots dedicated to a variety of fruits, vegetables and animals. A push for local food systems can lead to smaller plots.

For the Schafers, a localized market is in the same frame of mind as their holistic grazing management. They are constantly moving their sheep and goats between quarter-acre sections of pasture. About 150 animals graze 1% of the land per day while the rest grows back…

“Think about it this way: If you’re out there with a lawnmower every day, it’s never going to grow back,” Schafer said.

There has to be animals on the land, he said, but the grazing system has to be viable for both the land and the animals in a time of drought.

#Drought news: Some small D3 (Extreme Drought) to D2 (Severe Drought) changes in central #Colorado due to beneficial storm totals in Huerfano and Costilla counties, and near #FortCollins and #Boulder areas

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

A blast of frigid Arctic air invaded the North Central States, producing weekly temperatures averaging 15 to 25 degrees F below normal in Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. The chill was accompanied by a slow-moving storm system that produced light snow across most of the Rockies, Plains, and upper Midwest. Although outdoor conditions were harsh, the storm and cold were welcome as it brought a halt to the abnormal warmth and dryness that had expanded and deepened the drought in the region. In the southern Plains, mixed precipitation (snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain) glazed portions of New Mexico, western Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, while beneficial moderate to heavy rains fell from southwestern Oklahoma northeastward into the eastern Great Lakes region. Heavy rains also were measured in the western Great Lakes region and south Florida. Scattered, light precipitation was measured across most of the Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Midwest, and western portions of the Northeast. Much of the Southwest and Intermountain West was dry, with wild fires still burning across California. In addition, little or no precipitation fell on the southern Plains, parts of the Southeast, and eastern sections of the Northeast. Above normal temperatures enveloped the Southwest, southern Plains, and eastern third of the Nation. At the end of the period, all eyes were on Hurricane Zeta in the Gulf of Mexico as it tracked toward yet another Louisiana landfall…

High Plains

A winter storm and frigid air dropped southeastward out of Canada and into the northern and central Rockies early in the period, bringing welcome snows to the mountains, and even at lower elevations of the northern and central Plains. Decent early mountain snows blanketed western and southern Montana, northwestern Wyoming, and parts of southeastern Wyoming, central Colorado, and northern New Mexico. Light to moderate precipitation (mostly snow) also fell on South Dakota and into Minnesota, and parts of western Nebraska. For the most part, the precipitation finally halted the downward deterioration (except for North Dakota) in the region, and actually provided some improvements to western and southern Montana, northwestern and northeastern Wyoming, western South Dakota, southeastern Kansas, and some small D3 to D2 areas in central Colorado where the snows were unusually heavy. In North Dakota, however, precipitation was very light (0-0.25 inches). With indices at 2-3 months and longer (6-months) at D2 or drier, plus field reports of shallow water holes dry, low levels in rivers and larger bodies of water, no regrowth of forages, and poor pastures, an expansion of D1 in the northeast and D2 in central sections was justified…

West

With precipitation limited to western Washington, northern Cascades, northern Idaho, and the Rockies (the Southwest and Intermountain West were dry), only some slight improvements were made. This included central Washington (very slight reduction of D0-D2 on west side), while some D0 was removed in northern Idaho and western Montana as underlying soils were moist, and impressive mountain snows have started the Water Year. No other improvements were done, except for some small D3 to D2 changes in central Colorado due to beneficial storm totals in Huerfano and Costilla counties, and near Ft. Collins and Boulder areas. In the Southwest, California, and Intermountain West, since October is normally dry, temperatures had dropped, and extensive deteriorations had already been made during the past several months, no degradations were made this week. Unfortunately, large wild fires continued to spread and expand in California thanks to gusty Santa Ana winds. As the southern Rockies storm continued past Day7, any additional precipitation and possible improvements after the Tuesday 12 UTC cutoff will have to wait until next week in New Mexico and Colorado…

South

A stalled front and the winter storm in the southern Rockies brought beneficial precipitation to portions of the south-central Plains and lower Missouri Valley. With temperatures dropping as the week progressed, light frozen precipitation (freezing rain, sleet, snow) coated parts of western Texas and Oklahoma and southern Kansas, with heavier rains (1.5-4 inches, locally higher) reported from southwestern Oklahoma northeastward into Missouri. Unfortunately, southern and eastern sections of Texas missed out on the rain, and short-term dryness (2-3 months) increased, with an expansion of D0 and D1 in southern and eastern sections, and D2 in south-central Texas. With the ongoing storm in the southern Rockies on Day7 and more precipitation expected, a wait and see approach was made, thus it was status-quo for western Texas and Oklahoma this week. In contrast, welcome rains fell from extreme northern Texas across central Oklahoma and into northwestern Arkansas, providing a 1-category improvement to most areas, and even some small 2-cat improvements in northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri where the rains were the greatest (3.5-5 inches). Elsewhere, the small D0 in southeastern Louisiana was expanded northeastward as the past 2-3 months have brought 25-50% of normal rainfall, creating 4-8 inch deficits. However, Hurricane Zeta is expected to inundate this area as it makes landfall near here, so the D0 should be a memory next week…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (October 29-November 2), WPC’s QPF precipitation focuses on Hurricane Zeta and the southern Rockies upper-air low as they both track northeastward. Heavy rains and strong winds are expected at Zeta’s landfall in eastern Louisiana, then as it weakens, moisture from Zeta will become entrained into the upper-air low, with a band of heavy precipitation (1-4 inches) expected from the south-central Plains northeastward into the mid-Atlantic, and in the southern and central Appalachians. Little or no precipitation is forecast elsewhere across the contiguous U.S., except for some lighter amounts in western Washington, the western Great Lakes region, and Florida. Temperatures will average near to below-normal in the eastern half of the Nation, but above-normal in the West, especially in the Great Basin.

The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (November 3-7) favors below-normal precipitation across the eastern half of the U.S. and along the southern coast of Alaska, with odds for above-normal precipitation in the Northwest and northern Alaska. Temperatures are anticipated to be above-normal in the West, Plains, upper Midwest, and western Alaska, near-normal in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, and subnormal in New England and southern and eastern Alaska.

Rifle City water, wastewater study aims to determine rates for the next ‘13-year period’ — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Railroad Avenue in Rifle, looking north. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57475531

From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Ray K. Erku) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Following Rifle City Council’s approval Wednesday to hire outside firm JVA, Inc. to conduct water and wastewater studies, which include analyzing potential capital improvements, utility maintenance and infrastructure needs, city manager Scott Hahn said it’s likely residential and commercial rates won’t see a heavy increase.

“I think you probably won’t see a decrease (in the water rate) unless the council chooses to do so,” Hahn told the Citizen Telegram on Friday. “We’ve got a nice, healthy balance in the water fund. It may need to be higher – I don’t know. But it all depends on the values.”

Over the next several months JVA will determine where water rates and reserves should be and do a full financial assessment of where city “water and wastewater stands,” Rifle civil engineer Craig Spaudling told city council on Oct. 21. According to the project’s timeline, a final presentation is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Among the certain areas of assessment, however, chances are wastewater rates will receive the most attention.

“We’ve got issues with copper that is going through the wastewater plant and going into the river that we need to try and mitigate,” Hahn said. “And I don’t know all the codes that we’ve faced over the last 15 years, but I know from my experience as city manager… that the EPA keeps handing down tighter and tighter restrictions.”

There are two major causes to certain levels of copper leaching into the Colorado River, Hahn said. One, typical household plumbing systems are made from the red-brown metal. Once water drains through the pipes, it carries small increments of copper, which then collects at the municipal wastewater treatment plant…

Another reason, natural copper ore is commonly found in the sedimentary rock in the river itself…

The city’s current water and wastewater master plan is based from 2006, according to JVA’s proposal. Residential and commercial rates have increased annually at relatively low increments – with city code stating no more than a 5% increase each year since 2006.

#California Supreme Court refuses to review farmer Michael Abatti’s case against IID — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Mark Olalde):

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court declined [Michael] Abatti’s petition for review, leaving in place an appellate court’s decision that declared IID the rightful owner of a massive allotment of Colorado River water.

The legal tussle centered on the question of whether Imperial Valley farmers owned a constitutionally protected water right or were merely guaranteed water service by IID. The case’s outcome had the potential to shift the valley’s power dynamic to several families who own large agricultural interests in this rural slice of California, including Abatti’s.

The largest single user of Colorado River water, IID has a 3.1 million acre-foot yearly entitlement to the resource, although some of that is sold to other Southern California water districts under a 2003 agreement. IID serves a swathe of desert from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Salton Sea, and delivers nearly all its water to farm fields that cover roughly half-a-million acres…

Abatti’s legal team fought IID through multiple layers of state court, first winning at the trial level before seeing that ruling overturned by the appellate court, which then denied a request for a new hearing.

Abatti’s lawyers petitioned the state’s top court to take up the case, writing that the appellate court’s opinion “will have adverse consequences on water planning, water markets, and agricultural water conservation programs statewide, because they rely upon irrigating landowners possessing definable rights to water on their lands that may be transferred, sold, or credited.”

Unless farmers were granted the water rights they were promised at the trial court level, Abatti’s lawyers argued, irrigators would find it difficult to participate in potential statewide water markets and plans.

IID disagreed, claiming that, as long as the district fairly distributed water to all users, the rights remained with the district…

The case is now closed and has no additional recourse at the state level.

Throughout the winding legal process, Abatti was victorious in his attempt to get the Equitable Distribution Plan — IID’s roadmap for decreasing how much water its users receive in times of drought — thrown out by the trial court and again at the appellate level. IID repealed its plan in response…

Now, most of Abatti’s claims are settled. The main outstanding question is that of legal fees, and IID recently asked for a different judge to decide that point, citing a Desert Sun investigation that found ties between Abatti and the trial judge.

High marks and worries on home #water #conservation: Is #Colorado’s effort stalling? — @WaterEdCO

Castle Rock Water Conservation Specialist Rick Schultz, third from the right, inspects and tests a new landscape watering system in Castle Rock. In a Fresh Water News analysis of water conservation data, Castle Rock leads the state, having reduced its use 12 percent since 2013. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

The summer days of 2019 in Castle Rock were hot and endless. School teacher Kirsten Schuman, pregnant with her second child, wearily watered her suburban yard only to see it go brown almost immediately, week after week.

But then a friend told her about a new city contest to win an $11,000 yard makeover, one that would remove the beleaguered bluegrass and install an array of low-water use plants, trees and grasses.

Prospects for her lawn suddenly took an exciting turn. In a matter of minutes, the Schuman family mobilized.

She and her husband, a high school football coach, painted slogans on their cars. They posted on neighborhood message boards, and on Facebook and Twitter. They made a video of their oldest child in an empty plastic pool.

“It was intense,” she said. “My husband and I are both very competitive.”

That fighting spirit paid off. They won and now have a low-water use landscape that blooms freely and costs less.

Kirsten Schuman, her husband, Max Schuman, and daughters Mayla, 11, and Eleanor, 1, stand in their newly installed landscape in the front yard of their home on July 30, 2020 in Castle Rock. The family won the ColoradoScape Makeover contest, which resulted in the new water-conscious landscape. Credit: Jeremy Papasso, special to Fresh Water News

And that’s what it’s like to live in Castle Rock, a fast-growing community where water is scarce and the pressure to conserve runs high.

Conservation as buffer

Colorado water officials hope more communities follow in Castle Rock’s footsteps. The state wants to dramatically reduce water use in the next 30 years as a buffer against intense drought and looming water shortages caused by population growth.

But a new analysis of residential water use by Fresh Water News shows statewide savings in recent years may have stalled out, with some cities seeing conservation efforts pay off big, while for others use remains flat or is rising.

The analysis used data collected by the state from 2013 through 2018, the latest year for which complete data sets were available, and examined only metered, residential indoor and outdoor use. Under state law, data must be reported by water utilities and districts delivering more than 2,000 acre-feet of water annually, and who wish to borrow money from the state. Depending on the year, 40 to 45 communities report data. To see how much water your home town uses, click here.

Nine of those, including Denver, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Durango, and Grand Junction, among others, have succeeded in cutting residential water use since 2013. Castle Rock leads the state with a 12 percent reduction over the six-year period, while Denver saw its water use drop 8 percent. Grand Junction reduced its use 4 percent and Colorado Springs has ratcheted its use down 3 percent.

The struggle to conserve

At the same time, however, several communities, including ski towns and the fast-growing south Denver metro community of Parker, continue to struggle. Vail, for instance, saw its water use rise 17 percent between 2013 and 2018, while use at the Parker Water and Sanitation District rose 20 percent.

Statewide, when combining results for all 15 cities examined, per capita water use during that period showed virtually no reduction. Daily per capita use in 2013 registered at 73.66 gallons per person per day. By 2018 it was down to 73.13, a reduction of less than 1 percent.

At 73 gallons per capita per day (gpcpd), Colorado is likely the envy of other states, where that metric is often well over 100 gallons per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has tracked national water use data and reported on trends since 1950.

Tamara Ivahnenko, a water conservation researcher with the USGS in Pueblo, said Colorado has historically been a leader in reducing water use.

And she gives the state high marks for establishing the conservation database, something only a handful of states, such as Texas and California, have done.

“Especially in the West there are water-stressed cities. We really have to be careful,” she said.

Colorado’s data collection effort comes under a major conservation bill approved by state lawmakers in 2010. They sought to shed more light on water conservation practices and to encourage communities to reduce water as one tool in staving off shortages.

Bruce Whitehead, a former state senator from Durango, was a sponsor of that legislation. He said getting down to real numbers was and remains critical to successful conservation.

“Without having the law in place, the way things were being reported prior to that was inconsistent,” he said. “If you can start zeroing in on what these numbers are, it gives you a starting point.”

Xeriscaped gardens are a conspicuous feature throughout Las Colonias Park in Grand Junction, Colo., Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. According to state data, residential water usage in Grand Junction declined 4 percent between 2103 and 2018. Credit: Barton Glasser, special to Fresh Water News

Kevin Reidy, water conservation specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, oversees the state’s conservation programs and the database.

The more recent data could indicate that things have stalled, he said. But he said it’s also difficult to gauge how much conservation is occurring in such a short period of time because of the high variability caused by wet and dry years. The state started collecting the data in 2013.

A technical update to the Colorado Water Plan released last year examined an earlier time period, from 2008 to 2015, and used data based on river basin geography rather than town-by-town. That analysis showed statewide water use had dropped roughly 5 percent, Reidy said.

Uphill battles

Communities in Douglas County and other fast-growing areas are often served by water districts that have little if any control over how cities regulate development. That means that things such as lawn size and requirements for water-saving appliances are typically out of the water district’s control. Such is the case at the Parker Water and Sanitation District.

Billy Owens, who tracks the data for the district, said her district has worked hard to bring down water use, in part because it is fast-growing and it relies heavily on non-renewable groundwater. In addition to the town of Parker, the district serves parts of Lone Tree, Castle Pines and unincorporated Douglas County.

That 2018 was a hard-hitting drought year likely bumped up their use numbers, Owens said, as residents used more water on lawns and gardens. That same year the district also began serving several large new developments, where initial watering needs were high.

Reducing water use has also been a challenge for ski towns. Many have introduced elaborate conservation strategies, but the influx of visitors every winter and summer, and the prevalence of second homeowners who have lush landscapes to water and who may be less sensitive to high-priced water bills make it difficult to achieve savings, ski town officials said

All four ski towns in the analysis, Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat, have relative low per capita daily use, in part because their transient tourist populations are included in the equation even though tourists aren’t contributing year-round to those communities’ water use statistic.

But even at the lower per capita numbers, the analysis shows their water use has increased at varying levels since 2013.

For example, in 2013, the Vail region was using 77 gallons per person per day, according to the Fresh Water News analysis, a number that rose to 90 by 2018.

Jason Cowles, manager of engineering for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which serves the region, said the rise likely reflects the area’s ongoing struggle to manage second-home water use, climate change, and the dramatic influx in visitors every year.

In the region, more than 50 percent of homes are occupied by part-time residents, whose landscapes are watered even when owners aren’t in residence.

Because hot weather is arriving earlier and staying longer due to climate change, residents are turning on sprinkler systems in May and leaving them on into the fall, Cowles said.

The winning formula

Castle Rock has achieved significant savings with an innovative collection of initiatives, including aggressive water pricing, leading-edge construction technologies, and popular community outreach programs. The ColoradoScape Makeover, introduced in 2019, has helped lure hundreds of homeowners like the Schumans into the water-saving fold.

“When we bought our house, we realized we were dumping a lot of water into the front and back yards. But it didn’t look like we were doing anything and it was expensive,” Schuman said. “So the contest and makeover were amazing.”

Even more effective, according to Mark Marlowe, Castle Rock’s director of water, are the strict guidelines developers must follow if they want to build new homes. Lot sizes are sharply limited; bluegrass is no longer allowed; homeowners have custom water budgets; and development parcels that haven’t been grandfathered in must show how new technologies will reduce water use beyond existing baselines.

“We let developers tell us how they’re going to do better. We want them to be a little creative,” Marlowe said.

Castle Rock also offers generous rebates to homeowners who buy water-saving toilets and other appliances. But if they want a rebate, they have to go to special water conservation classes. And those routinely sell out, according to water conservation specialist Linda Gould. In recent years more than 3,300 people have gone through the city’s classes.

The city also takes a dim view of landscapes that don’t perform as promised. If a developer or homeowners’ association uses a registered landscaper and the system doesn’t perform properly, the landscaper can lose their license to work in the city.

Marlowe says the tight coordination between the planning department, the water resources division, and the city council are paying off.

“The council has been very supportive of everything we’ve been trying to accomplish, and our ratepayers are motivated,” he said.

Lawn sizes in Castle Rock are sharply limited to save water, with some homeowners opting to use artificial turf for convenience and to help keep water bills low. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Will Colorado reach its goal?

The Colorado Water Plan, an initiative coordinated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) aimed at making sure Colorado has enough water for its cities, farms and environmental needs, has set a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050.

That’s part of a wider plan that also envisions developing new water supplies, as well as reusing and recycling more water to make supplies last longer.

Heather Cooley is director of research at the San Francisco-based Pacific Institute. She said communities across the West are making healthy strides in conserving water, and new technologies, as well as leak detection initiatives, should allow states such as Colorado to do much more.

“We think there is still significant opportunity to reduce use even further,” Cooley said.

Castle Rock hopes to cut its overall water use number to 100 gallons per capita per day by 2050, down from its current level of 115 gpcpd. This number includes commercial and industrial uses, not just residential uses, which Fresh Water News examined.

To help cities hit their goals, the CWCB has also launched an ambitious program to help utilities plug leaks in their systems, a problem that is common and wastes millions of gallons of water a year. At some utilities, that loss can be as high as 10 percent of delivered water.

Jeff Tejral, manager of water efficiency at Denver Water, said the state as a whole is making good progress on the water conservation front.

“I think that there are things to be done that we haven’t actually worked on yet, like how to engage fully with our customers. But some things are working. I take these numbers as a win,” Tejral said.

Technical finesse

Cooley said technology is advancing rapidly as well, offering hope for even more savings. New devices continue to set low-use records. Clothes washers coming out this year are using even less water than those sold just five years ago. Homeowners can attach rain monitors to their houses that automatically shut down sprinklers when it rains. Almost anyone can now install an app on a cell phone that alerts them when their water use rises beyond a set level.

The CWCB’s Reidy said Coloradans are becoming more water savvy all the time.

“We’re definitely more engaged than we were a decade ago and way more engaged than we were 20 years ago,” Reidy said. “And we have 30 years to hit the goal. I think we’re on a good path.”

Former lawmaker Bruce Whitehead said he remains concerned, particularly about the ongoing disconnect between land used for new growth and water conservation plans.

He also thinks the pressure to conserve will continue to rise. And because Colorado sits at the top of the drought-stressed Colorado River system, the state needs to be able to demonstrate to its neighbors to the south that it can use each drop well.

“We need to know what’s actually taking place,” Whitehead said. “If we’re looking at taking additional water from the Colorado River [as some Colorado cities are], we should be doing everything we can statewide to put conservation practices in place.”

Data journalist Burt Hubbard contributed to this report.

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

A bold plan to protect 30% of Colorado lands and waters by 2030 — The #Colorado Sun

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

Conservation groups hope to corral lawmakers, land managers, tribes and private landowners in a mission to add 14 million acres to Colorado’s trove of 6 million protected acres.

The state is losing open land more quickly than it is protecting it. Since 2001, about a half-million acres in Colorado has been lost to development. That is reflective of a worldwide trend that has some lawmakers and conservationists galvanized to make the U.S. a global leader in slowing the loss of wildlife and rainforests.

The Global Deal for Nature movement calls for Earth’s residents to protect half the planet’s land, waters and oceans by 2050. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall have sponsored legislation — the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature” — to protect 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week made the 30-by-30 goal a formal state policy.

And now a coalition of conservation groups in Colorado has detailed a roadmap for how the state can reach the bold goal and protect more than 14 million acres of land in the next decade. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” proposal expands the definition of conservation, with state-level reforms to limit the impacts of energy development, executive orders, federal and state land manager policies and private landowner protection all included in the toolbox.

A bear walks through an aspen grove in Snowmass Village this past fall (2019). Bears are among dozens of animal species who use aspen communities. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

The report says conservation efforts in Colorado would benefit from passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act, or CORE Act, which would protect more than 400,000 acres in Colorado. The CORE Act wrapped together several land protection bills that had languished for more than a decade and marks one of the most ambitious public lands protection proposals for Colorado in 25 years. (Congresswoman Diana DeGette has proposed a wilderness protection bill 20 years in a row.)

[…]

Privately owned property accounts for nearly 60% of all the land in Colorado, ranging from single-family homes in cities to large ranches. A statewide coalition of land trusts called “Keep it Colorado” is developing a plan to guide private land protection — and incentivize conservation easements — over the next decade.

Banded Peak Ranch. Photo credit: Christine Quinlan via the Colorado State Forest Service

The overarching message in the 30-by-30 plan is that land conservation must dovetail policies to reduce the impacts of climate change.

“I do think this is the vision that shows the human impact on land and the human impact on climate are one in the same,” said Andre Miller, the western lands policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. “I think for a long time the climate effort focused on rightfully closing down coal power and shifting to a clean energy economy but I think a lot of scientists are realizing that lands and climate are one in the same and you need this wide-reaching approach to addressing the climate crisis.”

Miller sees growing support for large-scale conservation work in Colorado. Sen. Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse both are champions of the 30-by-30 movement. And this year’s State of the Rockies conservation poll by Colorado College showed 74% of Colorado residents support a national goal of protecting 30% of the land, water and ocean by 2030…

The biggest challenge for the plan is “political will,” Goad said.

The plan needs support in Washington,D.C., and among state and local leaders as well as private landowners. And that has happened before in Colorado, said Goad, pointing to clean energy initiatives that have made renewable energy in Colorado cheaper than coal in the last decade.

The impacts of climate change are driving the need for land conservation, Goad said.

“Look at this summer of wildfires,” she said. “For the first time, many of us in Colorado are checking the air quality index before we go outside every day and that is a real impact from climate change.”

#ColoradoSprings could spend $45 million to settle @EPA lawsuit — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

The lawsuit filed in 2016 claimed the city’s stormwater control efforts were underfunded and understaffed starting in 2009 and for years afterward. The suit also said the city’s failure to control stormwater degraded, eroded and widened Fountain Creek and its tributaries.

City officials stepped up stormwater control efforts in recent years after voters approved a stormwater fee in 2017.

But for years, poor stormwater control sent silt washing down Fountain Creek to the Arkansas River where it filled in the channels of both waterways and caused flooding in communities downstream, including Pueblo and La Junta, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

The proposed consent decree will also hold the city of Colorado Springs accountable to complete the stormwater projects needed to improve water quality, he said. The document outlines required audits, milestones the city must meet, and hefty fines if it fails to complete the required work.

The proposed consent decree is expected to be finalized soon. It must be submitted to U.S. District Court Judge John Kane by Friday, according to court records. The judge set a deadline for submission of the decree, after the parties were granted six requests for more time to reach an agreement…

U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Danielle Nichols said the proposed consent decree requires the city to spend $11 million on projects intended to mitigate the alleged violations of water quality standards in Fountain Creek and its tributaries. In addition to helping reduce the flow of silt, the work will help keep oil, grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers and bacteria out of the waterways, she said…

Fulfilling the requirements of the proposed consent decree could require $100 million in spending to improve stormwater control and associated projects, Nichols said. However, the city would have spent $55 million of the $100 million anyway on operating, personnel and other costs, said Travis Easton, Colorado Springs’ public works director.

The $45 million required to fulfill the consent decree is in addition to the $460 million the city is spending over 20 years to build 71 stormwater projects to meet its 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, he said.

The spending on the consent decree includes $2.1 million mostly in fines that the Colorado Springs City Council approved Tuesday. That money will come from the general fund, not stormwater fees, Mayor John Suthers said.

The federal government will receive $1 million in fines and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $1 million in state fine revenue to fund projects, according to the proposed consent decree. Pueblo County will receive $25,000 to cover lawsuit costs and the conservancy district will receive $100,000 for lawsuit costs, the document shows…

The fine revenue set aside for the conservancy district will help it fund projects across its five-county territory and help it secure additional grant money to meet the needs for water quality projects, Winner said. The district needs to put in projects, such as riparian zones and ditch lining, he said.

The district could put in $100 million in water quality projects and still have work to do, he said.

Stanford University researchers reveal U.S. corn crop’s growing sensitivity to #drought: “The results made clear soil’s ability to hold water was the primary reason for yield loss”

Corn field in Colorado. Photo credit Wikimedia.

Here’s the release from Stanford University (David Lobell, Rob Jordan):

Like a baseball slugger whose home run totals rise despite missing more curveballs each season, the U.S. Corn Belt’s prodigious output conceals a growing vulnerability. A new Stanford study reveals that while yields have increased overall – likely due to new technologies and management approaches – the staple crop has become significantly more sensitive to drought conditions. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature Food, uses a novel approach based on wide differences in the moisture-holding capabilities among soils. The analysis could help lay the groundwork for speeding development of approaches to increase agricultural resilience to climate change.

“The good news is that new technologies are really helping to raise yields, in all types of weather conditions,” said study lead author David Lobell, the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “The bad news is that these technologies, which include some specifically designed to withstand drought, are so helpful in good conditions that the cost of bad conditions are rising. So there’s no sign yet that they will help reduce the cost of climate change.”

Corn production in the U.S. is a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Despite concerns about resistant weeds, climate change and many other factors, the industry has set record yields in five of the last seven years. Likely drivers of these bumper crops include changes in planting and harvesting practices, such as adoption of drought-tolerant varieties, and changes in environmental conditions, such as reduced ozone levels and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that generally improve the water-use efficiency of crops.

As climate change intensifies, however, the cost to maintain crop yields will likely increase.

Using county soil maps and satellite-based yield estimates, among other data, the researchers examined fields in the Corn Belt, a nine-state region of the Midwest that accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. corn production. By comparing fields along gradients of drought stress each year, they could identify how sensitivity to drought is changing over time.

Even within a single county, they found a wide range of soil moisture retention, with some soils able to hold twice as much water as others. As might be expected, there were generally higher yields for soils that held more water. They found yield sensitivity to soil water storage in the region increased by 55 percent on average between 1999 and 2018, with larger increases in drier states.

The results made clear soil’s ability to hold water was the primary reason for yield loss. In some cases, soil’s ability to hold an increased amount of moisture was three times more effective at increasing yields than an equivalent increase in precipitation.

So, why have yields become more sensitive to drought? A variety of factors, such as increased crop water needs due to increased plant sowing density may be at play. What is clear is that despite robust corn yields, the cost of drought and global demand for corn are rising simultaneously.

To better understand how climate impacts to corn are evolving over time, the researchers call for increased access to field-level yield data that are measured independently of weather data, such as government insurance data that were previously available to the public but no longer are.

“This study shows the power of satellite data, and if needed we can try to track things from space alone. That’s exciting,” Lobell said. “But knowing if farmers are adapting well to climate stress, and which practices are most helpful, are key questions for our nation. In today’s world there’s really no good reason that researchers shouldn’t have access to all the best available data to answer these questions.”

The dry-up continues — The Telluride Daily Planet #drought #aridification #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado Drought Monitor October 20, 2020.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Leslie Vreeland):

The situation is worst by far on the Western Slope, where vast swaths of landscape are dubbed D4, the highest on the scale, for “exceptional drought.”

And the exceptional dry is spreading.

In just one week, between Oct. 13 to Oct. 20, the latest map reveals, the “exceptional” drought already blanketing much of Ouray, Montrose and San Miguel counties had gained ground to encompass much of Archuleta, Hinsdale and Mineral counties, as well. The latter trio, which were considered to be in “extreme” drought up until this week, are located just east of San Juan County (which is also under an “exceptional” drought, and is where this region’s most recent conflagration, the Ice fire, had burned one square mile and was 25 percent contained as of Thursday morning).

Curtis Riganti of the National Drought Mitigation Center — a team of climate experts at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln — produced the maps of Colorado these past two weeks. He recalled camping with friends at Ridgway State Reservoir in June of 2019, “right after a blockbuster year that you had in terms of snow,” as he put it. “The trouble (that produced the current drought) kind of started during the period of summer-into-fall of that year,” Riganti said. “We’re looking at a drought that goes back toward that period.” There wasn’t much in the way of moisture during the summer 2019 monsoon, Riganti noted, “and it didn’t help that precipitation this past spring, and the summer monsoon season, were pretty muted.” The result, according to Riganti: “We’re looking at both short-term and long-term drought conditions in southwest Colorado right now. Part of the problem you’re getting with all the fires is that it’s a tinderbox. And the warm and windy conditions haven’t been helpful.”

Riganti was out here not only in 2019, but again recently, hiking with friends above Telluride and in the Cimarron Range, overlooking Owl Creek Pass. “I noticed how full the Ridgway reservoir was in 2019, compared to how low it is now,” he remarked ruefully. “Exactly how much precipitation will be needed to recover from the drought is impossible for me to say. But one precipitation event isn’t going to do it.”

Peter Gobel, a Colorado Climate Center ‘service’ climatologist who splits his time between scientific research and public education, addressed the subject of the drought in an interview with the Planet on Thursday afternoon.

“The drought and the wildfires aren’t really separable from each other,” Gobel pointed out. “We’re in the throes of an unprecedented ecological drought: as soon as the wildfires start, they take off to beat the band. The East Troublesome fire (out of Granby) grew over 100,000 acres in a 24-hour period. Prior to this year, just three fires had grown to that size at all.”

Closer to home, “much of the San Juans have had their driest summer, and nearly their fall, on record. I suspect the fire danger is really quite high there, as well. We need snow, and a nice cold snap, where we can really press our advantage when it comes to these fires. We really need a good snow year to hit the ‘reset’ button. An average snow year would do a lot, but it wouldn’t get us all the way to recovery. We need two to three good snow years in a row.”

In some ways, Gobel added, “this year has rewritten the script when it comes to wildfire behavior. The 416 fire two years ago (out of Durango) started in June,” he pointed out. “We figured we had a good handle on why that was: we figured that because we get a lot warmer in June, and the sun is nice and high, conditions are dry, and things can become a tinderbox. We hadn’t seen a year where so many large wildfires started later; the ones this year have quickly gotten enormous. Typically, summer moisture, in terms of the monsoon,” eases dry conditions. “And by fall, you have cooler temperatures,” Goble added, “and after that, the snowpack settles in. And so the fire season, at least at higher elevations, comes to an end. We saw snow in early September, but then the weather pattern quickly reverted to hot and dry. Typically, we would have had one or two or more snow events by this point in Southwestern Colorado. This is right around the time that we start to see snow hang around on the ground. We’re hoping that this next event will start that process.”

Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 500 CFS October 27, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Tuesday, October 27th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

San Juan River. Photo credit: USFWS

#LaNiña brings below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures — The Fence Post

From The Fence Post (Amy Hadachek):

After fall harvest winds down, the big question for farmers and ranchers is what will La Nina bring for this winter in the Rockies and central Plains states?

“La Nina is here, and not going anywhere. Still looking very dry on the Plains this winter,” said Kyle Mozley, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colo.

The Climate Prediction Center’s early Winter Outlook issued Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, is forecasting cooler and wetter weather in the northern states, and largely warmer and drier weather in the southern states. However, being smack in the middle from Colorado to Wyoming, and into the central Plains the National Oceanic and Atmopheric Administration favors near to slightly below normal precipitation, and near to slightly above normal temperatures across the central Plains.

Looking at past moderate events, the upper pattern features ridging over the western U.S. and troughing over the east, with northwesterly flow across Colorado.

COLORADO

“Areas of the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley will likely do well this winter, while leaving Colorado and Kansas warm, dry and windy, typical for La Nina in the Rockies into the central Plains,” said Mozley, adding, “This matches up with the CPC forecast with warm and dry conditions across Colorado into Kansas, not good for our already drought stricken-rangelands.”

It has been exceptionally dry for the past six months across eastern Colorado and western Kansas…

While the climate pattern Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) will continue in a negative phase through the winter, likely enhancing warm and dry across Colorado, another climate driver the Madden Julian Oscillation forecast (an eastward moving disturbance that traverses the planet) has potential for a brief stormy pattern in late November to early December (around Nov. 24-Dec. 10). While the overall outlook is for dry, drought conditions into spring, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) could also bring surges of colder air to the Plains, Mozley said.

WYOMING

With temperatures already in the low 20’s and some snow already seen in parts of Wyoming, summer has been doing somersaults over autumn.

With drought reported to be occupying 45 percent of the U.S., largely over the western half of the country (but also in the northeast) many are anxiously hoping for moisture. However, currently most of Wyoming (almost 90 percent) is in one level of drought or another with the northwest part of the state being the only area in either pre-drought (D0) or no drought.

“Over 97 percent of Wyoming is impacted. Teton is the only county that has no drought or pre-drought in it. Given the precipitation expectations and with above normal temperatures expected for at least the next several weeks statewide (and for the upcoming months in the southwest) drought conditions, especially in the southern half of the state should be expected to continue and intensify,” said Tony Bergantino, interim director of the Water Resources Data System at the Wyoming State Climate Office and Wyoming Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow state coordinator.

In the short-term, after some brief cold and wet conditions continuing through October, Wyoming will be again looking at higher chances for above normal temperatures for November and for the November to January period…

Thankfully, for November through January, there are actually greater chances of above-normal precipitation for the northern half of Wyoming, which brings hope. The chances in the southern half are equally distributed between above normal, below normal, or normal.

NEBRASKA

A Nebraska meteorologist sees some positive signs for moisture, even during a La Nina winter. Instead of just cold and drier, that means Nebraska and the central Plains could expect a lot of ups and downs temperature-wise and the windy conditions those weather systems will bring. Then also, despite the relative confidence in the impacts of La Nina on the upcoming winter, the weather across Nebraska and Kansas may end up a bit of a mixed bag, especially in terms of temperature.

“Also, during La Nina influenced winters, temperatures often vary widely from above to below normal thanks to frequent weather systems rolling across the central Plains from the northwest. Long range precipitation outlooks are notoriously difficult, but the impacts of La Nina can be somewhat helpful in looking ahead. Typically, during La Nina winters, precipitation on the central Plains is no more than normal, and often below normal. La Nina also impacts precipitation timing, with wetter conditions in December and January, and the drier months during the second half of the winter (February and March),” said Michael Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS in Hastings, Neb.

Should warmer than normal temperatures and near or below normal precipitation occur, the winter ahead is likely to result in expanding drought conditions across the central and southern Plains, including Nebraska and Kansas. “NOAA expects drought conditions to worsen in areas already hit hard by drought, and for drought conditions to expand from Nebraska to Texas by mid-winter. With depleted soil moisture already, the impacts of drought could spill into next spring,” said Moritz.

It will really boil down to whether the La Nina dissipates next spring or is able to maintain itself for a second consecutive year. Right now, all of the models end La Nina by late spring…

KANSAS

Kansas Climatologist Mary Knapp points out that precipitation in November is critical to maintain and establish fall planted crops, including winter wheat, canola and cover crops.

“Even wetter than normal conditions are unlikely to improve the current drought conditions,” said Knapp, assistant state climatologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Kansas is expected to be on the dry side this winter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean quiet. “Strong (cold) fronts are still likely, bringing high winds without much moisture. This increases the likelihood of dust storms (such as last weekend), and high fire danger,” Knapp said.

Knapp’s other take-aways from the CPC Winter Outlook:

• It is dry and getting drier.

• Warm temperatures, low humidities and windy conditions are increasing evaporative demand, drawing down stock ponds at a faster rate than usual at this time of the year.

• Given the normally dry nature of winter even above normal precipitation may not reduce the drought.

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com

Northern Front Range water supply safe in spite of fires — for now — The #Greeley Tribune

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

…while a significant portion of the water supply that is held and accessed by the project that serves the northern Front Range communities is impacted by the fires, the water supply itself is not in danger.

According to Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or simply Northern Water — the near-term supply is fine.

The decision to close off a tunnel — which transports water pumped from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir before traveling by gravity through the tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Estes and elsewhere, before eventually settling in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Fort Collins and Loveland — will not impact the water supply that’s eventually drawn from those two reservoirs to supply much of Northern Water’s million-plus customers in Northern Colorado, including Greeley.

That’s because, Stahla explained, the system is proactive. While new water will not be replenished quite according to the normal schedule in the Horsetooth and Carter Lake reservoirs, that water is, in essence, paying down a future withdrawal that won’t happen for a year or more…

“The water coming out of your faucet now, if it’s this project’s water, was probably snow that fell in maybe 2018,” Stahla explained. “It ran off in spring of ’18 and filled up Lake Granby, and then around the end of 2018 into 2019, it would’ve been used to fill up reservoirs on the front range. That would’ve happened over winter of 2018-2019, and then it would’ve been in reservoirs all of 2019 and probably drawn out now in 2020. This project works on a multi-year cycle of gathering runoff, feeding reservoirs and serving the public.”

The water is still in Lake Granby, but temporarily won’t be pumped up to Shadow Mountain because of concerns that the fire will impact the power supply to the pump at Lake Granby…

However, that water is only a portion — a very sizable portion, close to half — of the water that is used by Greeley customers, according to city of Greeley water and sewer director Sean Chambers.

And, truly incredibly, the other major sources of water, four in total, from which the city draws its 20,000 to 25,000 acre feet-per-year supply are also being impacted by these unfathomable wildfires.

“We have water from four different river basins,” Chambers said. “We get water from the Poudre River Basin, that’s where the year-round treatment plan by Bellevue, northwest of For Collins is. The top of the Poudre is where the fire started. You go north and cross into Laramie River Basin — the Laramie flows north into Wyoming but we have a system of ditches and tunnels that brings water back into the Poudre. The fires burned a bit of the headwaters of the Laramie. We also get water from the Big Thompson Basin, and the Cameron Peak Fire spread southeast over the last ten days, blown over the ridge line and the divide into the Big Thompson Basin. And then the last basin is the Colorado River Basin, which is where the East Troublesome Fire comes from.”

Chambers, marveling, called this phenomenon the first time “in recorded history” that this has happened, where all four major water sources are affected by fires at the same time…

Further, while snow melt over burned land could well impact other water sources as well, there are plans in place, Chambers said.

“When the High Park Fire happened, that fire had these post-precipitation water-quality events in the river, where Fort Collins and Greeley and others, who take water directly off the Poudre River for municipal treatment, we turned off our intakes and let the bad water go by, let the water quality improve. We can do that because of the beautiful supplemental supply in the Colorado Big Thompson project.”

The flexibility requires planning, though, including, Chambers said, installing source-site filtration systems where snow runoff on its way the river systems are filtered prior to entering the water supply…

In the immediate moment, though, the water supply even well into next year is in good shape, regardless of the fires Stahla said.

“Not even just into early next year,” Stahla said. “Reservoirs are there for that kind of demand management that you can have some stocked away close to meet your needs. As of now, there’s no operational changes because of the wildfires to the water supply on the Northern Front Range. Those reservoirs will be refilled by next spring.”

As #Colorado wildfires burn, fears that #ClimateChange is causing “multi-level emergency” mount — The #Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The record-breaking forest fires burning in Colorado even as winter sets in are the latest sign climate warming is hitting the West hard, causing scientists to up their rhetoric and warn it is past time to move beyond planning and start aggressively acting.

“We’ve got to get motivated and stop turning the thermostat up. That is urgent, not a sci-fi thing. It is us turning up the thermostat. It does not readily turn down. The farther we turn it up, the worse it will get,” said Scott Denning, a Colorado State University atmospheric scientist…

The rising heat is depleting water and drying soil across the Colorado River Basin and other river basins. Last week, federal authorities classified 97% of Colorado in severe to exceptional drought.

Mega-fires including 2020’s Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch are burning hotter and longer, with record destruction this year of 700,000 acres in Colorado and 6 million around the West. The smoke that exposed tens of millions of people to heavy particulates, health researchers say, will pose an even greater risk to public health in years to come…

Yet efforts to help residents cope, and even draw down heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by re-greening farmland and cities, have barely begun. A Denver Post examination found a $4.2 billion backlog of forestry work identified by the Colorado State Forest Service as critical to protect people and property from fires…

Farmers are left largely on their own as water vanishes and crops wilt. Local governments still approve urban expansion despite water supply strains…

Colorado’s average temperature has increased since 1990 by 2 degrees, faster than the global increase, with temperatures in western Colorado increasing more, said Clay Clarke, leader of a four-member climate team in the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

“And we will see years hotter than what we’ve had,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said. “There’s very high confidence in the climate science community that this warming is going to continue… and because the atmosphere is thirstier in hot years, what moisture you have goes away more quickly.”

[…]

Across the Southwest, the rising temperatures are drawing down water supplies, especially in the Colorado River Basin, where the crucial Lake Mead reservoir has dropped to 39% full and precious precipitation vanishes before it reaches rivers.

Streams and rivers in the basin will lose about 4% to 5% of water for every 1 degree temperatures rise, said Jeff Lukas, author of the 2020 Colorado River Basin State of the Science report done for Denver Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other water agencies. By the end of the century, stream flow will decrease by 12% to 15% due to warming, he said.

A need to adapt became clear over the past 15 years as warming depleted water in the Colorado River by at least 6%, said Brad Udall, a CSU water center scientist who analyzes federal flow data.

What’s the rational response?

“Rationality means getting really serious about GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions. It also means planning for the worst with respect to water supplies and fires. We’re doing none of these things, although the water community at least realizes the threat and is making some efforts to think about it,” Udall said.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ game. To fix it you have to have pain now, and reap the benefits later. That’s never a good setup for political action.”

[…]

The bigger burning, in turn, worsens respiratory health as people inhale tiny particulates that lodge in their lungs and clog airways, straining heart and lung functioning.

Multiple weeks and even months of exposure to fire smoke in cities will lead to “increased respiratory infections and mortality,” said Emily Fischer, a researcher for CSU’s program on air, climate and health, who had just measured an Air Quality Index reading of 368 — hazardous — in Fort Collins…

Colorado has nearly completed a statewide inventory that estimates emissions from multiple sources of CO2, methane and other heat-trapping gases that drive climate warming. It will lay the groundwork for enforcing tougher regulations.

Lawmakers have ordered cuts below 2005 levels — 30% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Colorado’s emerging strategy would meet those goals by requiring a faster shift away from gas-power to zero-emission vehicles; closing coal-fired power plants; reducing methane pollution by the oil and gas industry; and making the heating and cooling of buildings more efficient.

@AuroraWaterCO inks $43.7 million in water deals on #SouthPlatteRiver — @WaterEdCO

The South Platte River runs near a farm in Henderson, Colorado, northeast of Denver. Henderson is the site of one of the possible reservoirs for the regional water project proposed by SPROWG. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Thirsty Front Range Colorado cities continue to drive the market for South Platte River farm water, with Aurora announcing two major deals to acquire farms and their associated water rights for $43.7 million.

One deal involves the $16.7 million purchase of a small ditch company near Merino, as well as 1,200 acres of land. The second purchase, for $27 million, involves water rights near Evans formerly owned by the Broe Companies, according to Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker.

“The South Platte is where the water rights are right now,” Baker said. “As farmers are looking at their future, as they get out of farming, if their kids don’t want it or another farmer doesn’t want it, this is their asset to sell.”

Together, Aurora estimates the deals will provide about 2,652 acre-feet of water to the city, water equal to the amount needed to serve some 5,300 homes.

Earlier this year in another major deal, Parker, along with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, announced it would claim a major new water right in the South Platte near the Nebraska border.

The Aurora purchases, first reported by the Sterling Journal Advocate, are raising concern among Northern Colorado water suppliers and agriculture interests, who fear the sales will limit the region’s own ability to grow and could perpetuate a practice known as “buy and dry,” where farm land is purchased and its water diverted for other uses.

Such water transfers off of farms have harmed other rural farm communities in Colorado that rely on agriculture for jobs and tax revenue.

Aurora’s water purchases “do cause me concern,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Berthoud-based Northern Water, which serves such communities as Greeley, Fort Collins and Broomfield, as well as hundreds of farmers. Like the West Slope, Northern Colorado communities want the water to stay local, although legally it can be bought, sold and moved.

Aurora officials said they haven’t decided what shape the water projects ultimately will take. But they hope to avoid buy-and-dry scenarios, relying instead on long-term leases and water sharing agreements with growers in the area.

“Buying water rights in the South Platte does not mean that we’re going for a buy and dry,” said Dawn Jewell, a water resource planner for Aurora. “We need additional supplies for our build out.”

Aurora uses about 50,000 acre feet of water annually now, and could need more than twice that much to handle its growth through 2070.

“There are many unknowns right now but this gives us a prime opportunity to look at other options, such as ATMs,” Jewell said.

ATMs, or alternative transfer methods, typically involve water sharing and leasing between cities and farms and are being studied across the state as a potential tool for minimizing buy-and-dry water deals.

The South Platte River Basin, which spans from west of South Park north and east through Denver to the state line, is home to Colorado’s largest irrigated agriculture economy with roughly 1.3 million acres of irrigated farm lands.

It is also home to the state’s largest cities, whose populations are set to swell by 2050.

As a result of that growth the state estimates the South Platte’s irrigated farm lands could shrink dramatically as fast-growing, water-short cities such as Aurora, continue to search for new supplies.

The Colorado Water Plan estimates that the South Platte Basin will lose more than 100,000 acres of irrigated land due to urban growth in the next 30 years.

Urban water providers in the region will need to find at least 183,000 acre-feet of water in the next 30 years to ensure shortages don’t develop even after significant conservation occurs, according to state forecasts. That is equal to the amount of water needed to serve more than 360,000 new homes.

Some small communities along the Front Range already know exactly how much they can grow with their existing water supplies. Barbara Biggs, chair of the Metro Basin Roundtable and general manager of the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, said her district has enough water to supply its service area, but has already told landowners on the town’s borders that it has enough water to supply only another 124 homes.

“Once those are built, we’re done,” Biggs said. Her district’s water comes from a long-term water lease with Aurora that dates back to the 1970s. Biggs said that while her district eventually will use all of its water, stopping growth, such restrictions are much harder for big cities to adopt, in part because they cause housing prices to rise.

The recent South Platte water purchases come as a major collaborative water project in the basin was gaining momentum.

Now that project, known as the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, or SPROWG, is in pause mode, according to several participants. It was conceived to help numerous cities reuse water and to move water back and forth more easily between farms on the Eastern Plains and the urban areas farther south and west.

As competition for water in the South Platte heats up, talks are underway to see if smaller versions of SPROWG that could be brought on line more quickly are feasible and could provide opportunities for Front Range cities to collaborate, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Sterling-based Lower South Platte district.

“We are definitely concerned about [the Aurora purchases],” said Frank, whose district is collaborating with the Parker Water and Sanitation District on a major South Platte River project whose participants have said won’t involve buy and dry, but will rely instead on using alternative transfer methods.

“We’re not putting fault on anyone,” Frank said. “You can’t fault the farmers. Their water has value, and I’m not pointing fingers at Aurora. Their hands are tied. The problem is that there are not very many other options on the table.”

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

#Drought expected to worsen this winter — The Gunnison Country Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Gunnison Country Times (Sam Liebl):

If the forecast holds true, the effects would be “exponential” for Gunnison Valley ranchers already hard hit by a dry summer that reduced hay production and rangeland forage by 30%, said Dan Olson with the Natural Resource Conservation Service field office in Gunnison.

“One year of this drought is crippling,” Olson said. It would be “a real challenge if we had multiple years like this one.”

The weather service issued its winter outlook for the U.S. on Oct. 15 and pinned many of its predictions for the western part of the country on the continuation of a La Niña, a band of cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Central Pacific. Those cool waters began showing up on satellite images in August, and the service forecasts the pattern to continue through the winter.

La Niña years favor precipitation and cooler temperatures in the Northern U.S. Winter storms from the southwest, which tend to dump snow on the San Juans and can produce powder days in Gunnison County, are less likely to occur during La Niña. This is linked to the Pacific Jet Stream staying north of the Southwest U.S. during La Niña winters.

This jet stream pattern has been in effect for most of October, and is a main reason why Colorado has stayed mostly dry and Montana has been consistently snowy this fall.

The weather service splits Colorado in half with regards to its winter precipitation predictions. The northern half of the state is forecast to have equal chances of above-average or below-average snowfall. The southern portion of the state, however, is favored to have drier-than-average weather. Gunnison County sits on the dividing line.

Worsening drought and warmer-than-average temperatures are predicted for all of Colorado this winter. Drought in Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Texas will continue, worsen or develop, according to the winter outlook.

Blue Mesa Reservoir did not fill to capacity this summer, and unregulated flows into the reservoir were 64 percent of average this year. The water level in Blue Mesa dropped to 50% of capacity this month. The major water sources for the reservoir — the Gunnison River and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison — were flowing at about 53% of average as of Monday.

Construction to Begin on #UncompahgreRiver Improvement Project

Starting the week of Oct. 26, 2020 contractors working for the City of Montrose will begin a river improvement project along 0.65 miles (3,400 feet) of the Uncompahgre River.
(William Woody/City of Montrose)

Here’s the release from the City of Montrose:

Starting the week of October 26, contractors working for the City of Montrose will begin a river improvement project along 0.65 miles (3,400 feet) of the Uncompahgre River. The project will include the stabilization of riverbanks, restoration of a more natural stream system, improvement of aquatic and riparian habitats, and improvement of river access and fishing opportunities for the public.

Construction will start around North 9th Street and continue downstream within a 41-acre river corridor tract within the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority boundaries. The property was recently donated to the City of Montrose by Colorado Outdoors.

For safety reasons, public access to the Uncompahgre River within the project area will be closed throughout construction. However, the new recreation trail situated alongside the project, as well as boating access on the remainder of the Uncompahgre River, will remain open throughout the construction project. Through boaters are encouraged to take out at the West Main Trailhead upstream of the project. Although a temporary takeout will be constructed at the beginning of the project area, vehicular access to this area will be much more limited than at West Main. Project activities are expected to last until June 2021.

The river improvement project is being made possible largely due to approximately $785,000 in grants received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The remainder of the $1.6M project is being funded by the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority.

Designing batteries for easier recycling could avert a looming e-waste crisis — The Conversation


What happens to millions of these?
Kristoferb/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Zheng Chen, University of California San Diego and Darren H. S. Tan, University of California San Diego

As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.

These trends, coupled with a growing volume of battery-powered phones, watches, laptops, wearable devices and other consumer technologies, leave us wondering: What will happen to all these batteries once they wear out?

Despite overwhelming enthusiasm for cheaper, more powerful and energy-dense batteries, manufacturers have paid comparatively little attention to making these essential devices more sustainable. In the U.S. only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries – the technology of choice for electric vehicles and many high-tech products – are actually recycled. As sales of electric vehicles and tech gadgets continue to grow, it is unclear who should handle hazardous battery waste or how to do it.

As engineers who work on designing advanced materials, including batteries, we believe it is important to think about these issues now. Creating pathways for battery manufacturers to build sustainable production-to-recycling manufacturing processes that meet both consumer and environmental standards can reduce the likelihood of a battery waste crisis in the coming decade.

Spent batteries from electric vehicles can still power devices like streetlights, but there is not currently any requirement to reuse them. Recycling them is expensive and technically complex.

Hazardous contents

Batteries pose more complex recycling and disposal challenges than metals, plastics and paper products because they contain many chemical components that are both toxic and difficult to separate.

Some types of widely used batteries – notably, lead-acid batteries in gasoline-powered cars – have relatively simple chemistries and designs that make them straightforward to recycle. The common nonrechargeable alkaline or water-based batteries that power devices like flashlights and smoke alarms can be disposed directly in landfills.

However, today’s lithium-ion batteries are highly sophisticated and not designed for recyclability. They contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic lithium salts and transition metals, that can damage the environment and leach into water sources. Used lithium batteries also contain embedded electrochemical energy – a small amount of charge left over after they can no longer power devices – which can cause fires or explosions, or harm people that handle them.

Moreover, manufacturers have little economic incentive to modify existing protocols to incorporate recycling-friendly designs. Today it costs more to recycle a lithium-ion battery than the recoverable materials inside it are worth.

As a result, responsibility for handling battery waste frequently falls to third-party recyclers – companies that make money from collecting and processing recyclables. Often it is cheaper for them to store batteries than to treat and recycle them.

Recycling technologies that can break down batteries, such as pyrometallurgy, or burning, and hydrometallurgy, or acid leaching, are becoming more efficient and economical. But the lack of proper battery recycling infrastructure creates roadblocks along the entire supply chain.

For example, transporting used batteries over long distances to recycling centers would typically be done by truck. Lithium batteries must be packaged and shipped according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Class 9 hazardous material regulations. Using a model developed by Argonne National Laboratory, we estimate that this requirement increases transport costs to more than 50 times that of regular cargo.

Safer and simpler

While it will be challenging to bake recyclability into the existing manufacturing of conventional lithium-ion batteries, it is vital to develop sustainable practices for solid-state batteries, which are a next-generation technology expected to enter the market within this decade.

A solid-state battery replaces the flammable organic liquid electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries with a nonflammable inorganic solid electrolyte. This allows the battery to operate over a much wider temperature range and dramatically reduces the risk of fires or explosions. Our team of nanoengineers is working to incorporate ease of recyclability into next-generation solid-state battery development before these batteries enter the market.

Conceptually, recycling-friendly batteries must be safe to handle and transport, simple to dismantle, cost-effective to manufacture and minimally harmful to the environment. After analyzing the options, we’ve chosen a combination of specific chemistries in next-generation all-solid-state batteries that meets these requirements.

Our design strategy reduces the number of steps required to dismantle the battery, and avoids using combustion or harmful chemicals such as acids or toxic organic solvents. Instead, it employs only safe, low-cost materials such as alcohol and water-based recycling techniques. This approach is scalable and environmentally friendly. It dramatically simplifies conventional battery recycling processes and makes it safe to disassemble and handle the materials.

Diagram showing steps to recycle an all-solid-state battery.
A proposed procedure for recycling solid-state battery packs directly and harvesting their materials for reuse.
Tan et al., 2020, CC BY

Compared to recycling lithium-ion batteries, recycling solid-state batteries is intrinsically safer since they’re made entirely of nonflammable components. Moreover, in our proposed design the entire battery can be recycled directly without separating it into individual components. This feature dramatically reduces the complexity and cost of recycling them.

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Our design is a proof-of-concept technology developed at the laboratory scale. It is ultimately up to private companies and public institutions, such as national laboratories or state-run waste facilities, to apply these recycling principles on an industrial scale.

Rules for battery recycling

Developing an easy-to-recycle battery is just one step. Many challenges associated with battery recycling stem from the complex logistics of handling them. Creating facilities, regulations and practices for collecting batteries is just as important as developing better recycling technologies. China, South Korea and the European Union are already developing battery recycling systems and mandates.

One useful step would be for governments to require that batteries carry universal tags, similar to the internationally recognized standard labels used for plastics and metals recycling. These could help to educate consumers and waste collectors about how to handle different types of used batteries.

Markings could take the form of an electronic tag printed on battery labels with embedded information, such as chemistry type, age and manufacturer. Making this data readily available would facilitate automated sorting of large volumes of batteries at waste facilities.

It is also vital to improve international enforcement of recycling policies. Most battery waste is not generated where the batteries were originally produced, which makes it hard to hold manufacturers responsible for handling it.

Such an undertaking would require manufacturers and regulatory agencies to work together on newer recycling-friendly designs and better collection infrastructure. By confronting these challenges now, we believe it is possible to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of battery waste in the future.The Conversation

Zheng Chen, Assistant Professor of Engineering, University of California San Diego and Darren H. S. Tan, PhD Candidate in Chemical Engineering, University of California San Diego

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

#Colorado City may raise rates to patch up leaky system

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From KOAA.com (Spencer Humphrey):

… the Pueblo County town of Colorado City is at risk of having its water supply go dry within months…

[James Eccher] does have plans to help the issue long-term, which includes adding more wells to fill the lake since the city holds all of its groundwater rights.

“We’re looking at building a second dam,” Eccher said. “Which is gonna be another chunk of money.”

But none of that can’t happen right away.

“There’s a lot of forces out there and we’re not the only small town looking for money,” he said.

Eccher said he has reached out to several government agencies, including the Department of Local Affairs, to talk about funding, but hasn’t heard back.

In the meantime, he said in order to fix up the area’s aging, leaky infrastructure, they’re considering raising tap fees for water and sewer use.

@InsideClimate News: In Final Debate, [the President] and @JoeBiden Display Vastly Divergent Views—and Levels of Knowledge—On #Climate #ClimateChange #ActOnClimate

Boulder County Solar Contractor Residential Commerical. Photo credit: Flatiron Solar

From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):

The candidates’ discussion on climate change Thursday revealed, again, the significant gulf between a president who has spent the last four years rolling back climate regulations, placating the fossil fuel industry and mocking the climate threat, and a candidate who has called climate change “an existential crisis” and developed a plan to tackle the problem—though one that climate progressives say still falls short.

“This debate was historic: the first-ever general election Presidential debate with climate change as a pre-defined topic and the first debate where climate change was framed out of the gate by the moderator in terms of jobs, the economy, and what the candidates’ plans were—not if the existential crisis even exists,” said Evan Weber, political director of the Sunrise Movement, in a statement.

In the debate, the last before Election Day, Trump and Biden fielded questions about a range of topics, most prominently the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, though the biggest question lingering in viewers’ minds may have been whether Trump would adhere to the debate rules and focus on issues and policy.

Late into the hour-and-a-half debate, Welker asked the candidates how they would tackle climate change, while also supporting job growth.

Trump began by reprising what has been his stock response to questions about climate change, citing the “Trillion Trees Program”—in the previous debate he erroneously referred to the program as a plan to plant a “billion” trees—and adding, “I do love the environment.”

He went on to say,”We have the lowest number in carbon emissions,” an apparent reference to emissions falling during the Covid-19 pandemic, and seemed pleased with his mastery of the term, taunting Biden about whether he was familiar with the concept.

“I’m not sure he knows what it means,” Trump said.

The Trillion Trees Program has been broadly embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, but scientists have said the plan is inadequate for addressing climate change, that it will only put a tiny dent in emissions and is a distraction from a necessary shift away from fossil fuels.

Emissions dropped during the pandemic, but are now on the rise again, continuing an upward trend that has continued since the beginning of the Trump presidency. The most recent full-year figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, for 2018, show that fossil fuel emissions drove a 3 percent rise in overall greenhouse gas emissions in that time period.

As he has throughout his bid for the presidency, Biden emphasized a shift to renewable energy, saying his $2 trillion clean economy jobs program would create more than 18 million jobs.

“The oil industry pollutes,” Biden said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time…. I’d stop giving federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry.”

Trump, sensing an opportunity to appeal to voters in battleground states with strong fossil fuels ties, pounced on the comment.

“That’s the biggest statement,” Trump said, turning to look directly into the camera. “Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”

Trump also reiterated a trope of the fossil fuel industry, calling a shift to renewables a “pipe dream” and saying that wind turbines kill “all the birds.” In a muddled response, he misleadingly suggested that the construction of wind turbines “is more than anything that we are talking about with natural gas.”

Biden responded, “Find me a scientist who says that.”

Trump also attacked Biden’s climate plan, falsely saying it would cost $100 trillion.

“They want to take buildings down because they want to take bigger windows and make them smaller windows,” Trump said, referring to the proposal. “Little tiny windows and many other things.”

The proposal says nothing about shrinking windows.

Trump also attacked Biden on his statements on fracking and natural gas, falsely accusing the Democratic candidate of supporting a ban on fracking and changing his position to court voters in Pennsylvania, a natural gas-intensive and critical swing state, won narrowly by Trump in 2016.

Biden corrected Trump, saying he would only ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands, but supports fracking elsewhere as necessary while the country transitions to a clean energy economy—a position that has been criticized by some climate advocates in the progressive wing of the party.

Biden framed addressing climate change as an ethical matter and part of a broader shift to rejoining global peers

“We have a moral obligation to deal with it,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”

“We’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear,” Biden said, saying that he’d advance an economy “motivated” by clean energy. “We can grow this economy,” Biden said. “What’s on the ballot here is the character of our country.”

Environmental activists largely applauded Biden’s performance, even as many vowed to push him to take bolder steps.

“We are committed to holding a Biden administration accountable to stop fracking and protect our communities,” said 350 Action North America Director Tamara Toles O’Laughlin Black. “Indigenous, and communities of color continue to bear the brunt of Donald Trump and his fossil fuel lies. It’s time for a just transition for workers across the industry. The planet can’t take four more years of Trump’s deadly mismanagement and plain incompetence.”

Weak 2020 water year comes to a close — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Crystal River at the fish hatchery just south of Carbondale was running at about 10 cubic feet per second on Oct. 13, much lower than the state’s instream flow standard of 60 cfs. Rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed have seen below-average streamflows in water year 2020, which ended Oct. 1, despite a slightly above-average snowpack. Dry soil conditions threaten to bring a similar scenario in water year 2021. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

The blizzards of January and February seem like distant dreams to Colorado water managers. What started as a promising year for water supply — with above-average snowpack as of April 1 — ended Sept. 30 with the entire state in some level of drought.

The water-year calendar, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, is designed to account for the importance of snowpack in water supplies in the West. Every winter, precipitation builds in the mountains. Come spring, the snowmelt is stored for use throughout the summer.

Although snowpack levels have always been a critical indicator of the year’s water supply, other factors had a bigger role during water year 2020. Colorado had above-average levels of snowpack going into April, but below-average precipitation and high temperatures in spring quickly veered the state in the opposite direction. This year saw one of the driest April-May periods on record in Colorado, below the 10th percentile.

“When you get those hotter temperatures, it means the atmosphere wants to take more moisture out of the ground,” said assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger. “So the soils are drier and the stream flows got a bit lower. Then the vegetation was also a bit dryer and not able to keep the moisture that it did have.”

The dry, hot spring gave way to a dry, hot summer — and the results were striking. The water year ended with almost every part of the state in a precipitation deficit. The southwest corner of the state was hit the hardest, with precipitation levels below 30% of normal in April, May, August and September. Several sites in southwest Colorado — specifically, the Gunnison, Dolores and San Juan river basins — registered their driest Aprils on record. Statewide, reservoir levels were at 49% of capacity, which is 84% of the average for Oct. 1.

According to preliminary data from the Bureau of Reclamation, the total inflow into Lake Powell for the 2020 water year was about 6 million acre-feet, just 55% of average. This is the 10th-lowest recorded inflow into Lake Powell. Lake Powell finished the water year at 47% of capacity.

The low inflow to Lake Powell puts Colorado and the three other states in the upper basin of the Colorado River at risk in the future. Under the 100-year-old Colorado River Compact, the upper-basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) must be able to release 7.5 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to the lower-basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) every year. Failing to meet this obligation would trigger mandatory water cuts in the upper basin.

Every year that flows are low into Lake Powell, the upper basin relies on storage in Lake Powell to meet its flow obligations. So far, there has never been a compact call, even in drought.

“We’re 20 years into the worst drought in recorded history. Yet, in every year of the drought, the upper basin has met its river-flow obligation to the lower basin,” said Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Marlon Duke. “In fact, across all 20 years of the current drought, we’ve released an average of 8.73 million acre-feet from Lake Powell, even in the driest years when less than 5 million acre-feet flowed into the reservoir.”

The Roaring Fork Valley reported average snowpack levels this year but saw below-average streamflow in every month except May in data available through July. The river is currently about 27% below its seasonal average. Reservoirs in the upper Colorado River basin are 82% full as of Oct. 1, which is 101% of average for the date.

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

High-temperature, low-soil-moisture trend

Climatologists warn that the trend seen throughout the basin where high temperatures and low soil moisture wiped out healthy snowpack levels is likely to become more normal in the future. According to Bolinger, if high fall or spring temperatures shorten the typical snow season by even a short time, it can drastically alter the time frame for the melt season.

“Precipitation is pretty variable around our state, so we are always going to see droughts,” she said. “We are seeing a very clear warming trend, and I think it is likely that the warmer temperatures will contribute to making those droughts more severe.”

Although climatologists and hydrologists are still unsure of exactly how every variable of climate change will affect water supply in the future, repeated dry years are already taking a toll on the state. After severe droughts in 2012 and 2018, Colorado’s water managers were hoping for a string of good water years to recover. That did not happen in 2020.

“It’s been a miserable year from a hydrology perspective,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District General Manager Andy Mueller. “I would say that I think that we, as a state and as the West Slope, we need to be coming to terms with a new reality. We are seeing what used to be an every-one-in-30-year dry year coming every year instead.”

In an effort to deal with increased pressure on rivers, as well as a declining budget, the river district placed a question on the November ballot asking voters in its 15-county jurisdiction to raise property taxes that fund the district. If passed, the measure would raise nearly $5 million, most of which the district says would go toward projects supporting productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

A cyclist takes a break from their ride to wade in the Roaring Fork River near the Hooks Spur Bridge on Oct. 13. A U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at this location said the river was running at about 350 cubic feet per second, lower than the median of 395 cfs for this time of year. Water year 2020, which ended Oct. 1, was a “miserable year from a hydrology perspective,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District General Manager Andy Mueller.

Starting 2021 with a deficit

While policy across Colorado is still catching up to the dry conditions today, models for the upcoming year indicate that the state may need to brace for another poor water year in 2021.

“Soil-moisture conditions entering the winter can have an impact on the amount of runoff that occurs the following spring,” said Cody Moser, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. “Below-average soil moisture conditions have a negative impact on water-supply volumes because soil-moisture deficits are larger, leading to less-efficient snowmelt and rainfall runoff. It’s looking highly likely that soil-moisture conditions throughout western Colorado will be below normal entering the upcoming snowpack-accumulation season.”

The state also is experiencing La Niña conditions, which results in a dry fall. La Niña conditions are expected to persist into winter, which generally delivers the state a mixed bag in terms of precipitation. In a typical La Niña year, Colorado’s northern mountains see above-average snowfall, while the state’s Eastern Plains and the San Juan mountains in the southwest see less snow than usual. This could be disastrous for the southwestern corner of the state, which has experienced more-intense drought than almost any other part of the country in recent years.

Higher-than-normal temperatures also are expected to play a role in the 2021 water year.

“The climate prediction center is calling for a good chance of above-average temperatures in October,” said Bolinger. “That makes it harder for the snowpack season to start, and when you don’t start it right away, it makes it harder. You have less time to build up to your normal peak.”

This story ran in the Oct. 15 edition of the Steamboat Pilot and Today, the Oct. 17 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Oct. 21 edition of The Aspen Times.

#Mexico reaches deal to pay #water debt to US — The North State Journal #RioGrande

From The Associated Press (Mark Stephenson) via The North State Journal:

Mexico announced Thursday it has reached a deal with the United States to pay the shortfall in its annual contribution of water from border-area rivers by giving the U.S. Mexico’s rights to water held in border dams that normally supply cities and towns downstream.

The agreement announced Thursday allows Mexico to meet the Oct. 24 deadline which, if missed, could have endangered a cross-border water sharing treaty that greatly benefits Mexico. Mexican officials has also worried the water debt could have become an issue in the upcoming U.S. elections.

The deal transfers Mexico’s share of water held in the Amistad and Falcon dams to U.S. ownership. The amount of water transferred is enormous: [105,000 acre-feet].

Mexico said it still had enough water in other dams near the border to satisfy drinking water requirements for 13 border cities including Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. The United States also agreed to help Mexico if it faces a municipal water shortage.

Mexico says the agreement will leave it with some water in the border dams it can draw on — about a three-month supply — and more water in near-border dams to supply cities and towns, mainly in the state of Tamaulipas.

Under the 1944 treaty, the quantity of water Mexico ships north from the central section of the border is only a fourth of what it receives from the U.S. along the Colorado River to the west, and it has been worried about the possibility of losing that.

Mexico was embarrassed when, over the summer, angry farmers in the border state of Chihuahua has seized a key dam there and refused to allow any more water transfers to the United States, claiming they needed the water for their own crops…

The agreement “also establishes work groups to analyze and develop water management tools to provide for increased reliability and predictability in Rio Grande water deliveries to users in the United States and Mexico,” according to the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the implementation of the treaty.

The problem arose in part because of a lack of rainfall, but also because Mexico has long pursued a strategy of falling behind in water payments, hoping for a last-minute storm or hurricane that would fill border dams and streams and allow it to recoup shortfalls.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

2020 Annual Meeting of the #ArkansasRiver Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From email from the Arkansas River Compact Administration (Kevin Salter):

This is the preliminary notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings. The meeting specifics and draft agendas will be provided at a later date.

Please note that the meeting dates were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2019. And the location was changed at the ARCA Special Meeting held earlier this month (October 2020) to allow for virtual meetings.

The 2020 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. Consideration is being given to having the committee meetings start on the morning of December 8th. All meetings will be held on a virtual meeting platform. At this time, which virtual platform to be used has not been determined. Specific information on accessing the meetings will be provided along with the draft agendas later.

Meetings of ARCA are operated in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need a special accommodation as a result of a disability please contact Stephanie Gonzales at (719) 688-0799 at least three days before the meeting.

As information becomes available, it will be updated on ARCA’s website:
https://www.co-ks-arkansasrivercompactadmin.org/

Water symposium brings big speakers, national context — @ColoradoStateU

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):

In its third year as an offering of the future Denver-based CSU Spur campus, opening in 2022, the Water in the West Symposium on Nov. 18-19 will bring together diverse experts to discuss water issues in the West and beyond — a topic of increasing importance as fires and droughts top headlines.

The Symposium has always highlighted water solutions and collaboration; yet, the 2020 Symposium will take that a step further and focus on igniting action.

“To fashion the creative solutions needed to assure the future water demands in Colorado and the West, a powerful story needs to be told that motivates us all to action,” said Tom Vilsack, advisor on the CSU Spur project and former U.S. secretary of agriculture.

“The Water in the West Symposium this year focuses on how to weave that powerful story that reaches hearts and minds,” Sec. Vilsack continued. “Learning from both messaging successes and failures during this year’s Symposium will better equip all those who attend to create a powerful and persuasive story about why now is the time for action on water in the West.”

The keynote address from Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners — who previously led National Public Radio and Sesame Workshop — will focus on the power of storytelling. How messages are shared will continue with a panel titled “Moving Minds: How Social Movements, Campaigns, and Storytelling Shape Public Sentiment,” featuring speakers from TIME, Stonyfield Organic, and Stanford University. A full list of speakers is available at csuspur.org/witw.

The event typically sells out, but the Symposium’s virtual format this year provides an opportunity for a greater number of attendees and for all geographically dispersed audiences to attend.

The Symposium will eventually be held at the CSU Spur campus’s Hydro building, which breaks ground Oct. 27 and will be complete in 2022. Hydro will be open to the public with educational exhibits, have a backyard space with access to a restored South Platte River, and also will be home to research labs and Denver Water’s water quality lab. Hydro is a building meant to create understanding of and connection to water, and the Symposium is meant to be a distinct convening of that conversation — neither focus is new to CSU.

“CSU has been a global leader in water issues and education for more than a century, and our Water in the West Symposium leverages that expertise to get us talking about the most pressing water challenges facing Colorado and the planet,” CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank said.

“The beauty of Water in the West is that it brings together policymakers, practitioners, nonprofit and government leaders, academics, scientists, and students to really engage in depth around issues that are core to our way of life. It’s part of our CSU System commitment to convene conversations around important global issues — and inspire the next generation to get involved and take action.”

The 2020 Symposium is sponsored by Colorado Dairy Farmers, CoBank, Leprino Foods, Swire Coca-Cola, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Mighty Arrow Family Foundation, Denver Water, and High Line Canal Conservancy. Learn more about this year’s sponsors at http://csuspur.org/witw.

@USBR seeks ideas to make canals safer to reduce drownings and accidents

Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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

The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a new prize competition to improve public safety around canals throughout the United States. Reclamation maintains approximately 8,000 miles of canals in the Western United States and more than 1,000 of those miles are in urban areas. These canals in urban areas have higher risk of drownings.

“Canals look like an inviting place to cool off on warm sunny days, but they pose dangers that we may not be able to see,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “We are seeking innovative ideas that improve public safety.”

This competition seeks new concepts, methods and technologies to reduce public safety accidents and drownings in canals. Solutions involving ladders, ropes, signage and educational outreach have been used regarding canal safety. Additional innovative concepts beyond these strategies may further reduce the public risk around Reclamation-owned canals. Proposals that describe the sole use of fencing, ladders, buoys and signage as a solution are not eligible.

Reclamation is partnering with the Denver Water, Klamath Irrigation District, Pacific Gas & Electric, NASA Tournament Lab and Common Pool. To learn more about this prize competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/canalsafety.html.

#Drought news: Widespread expansion of extreme and exceptional drought occurred in #Utah, #Arizona, #Colorado, and #NewMexico

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

Over the past week, beneficial precipitation fell over the higher elevations of Washington and Oregon, in much of Montana (particularly the mountainous western half), in the Lower Missouri River and Ohio River valleys, and in New England, leading to improving conditions in parts of these regions. Meanwhile, the southeast United States (with the exception of the Florida Peninsula) was mostly dry. Dry weather also continued across much of the central and southern Great Plains this week, as well as most of the southwestern United States. With background dry conditions in many areas that did not receive rain, combined with high evaporative demand over much of the High Plains and western United States, widespread worsening of drought conditions occurred from the Great Plains to the Southwest…

High Plains

Weather in the High Plains region was generally cooler than normal this week. Temperature anomalies ranged from normal to 6 degrees below normal in Kansas to 6 to 15 degrees cooler than normal in North Dakota. Areas of light to moderate precipitation were scattered about Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and northeast Wyoming, though amounts exceeding an inch were uncommon outside of the Black Hills. Degradation of drought conditions in the region was widespread this week south of Interstate 80, where dry weather combined with recent warm, dry, and windy conditions, leading to continued loss of near surface moisture…

West

In the West this week, widespread precipitation fell in some of the mountainous areas of western Washington and Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. In some locations in western Washington, western Oregon, and northwest Montana, the recent precipitation was enough to improve drought conditions, due to lessened precipitation deficits. To the south, however, widespread expansion of extreme and exceptional drought occurred in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. To the west of the Rocky Mountains, temperatures were warmer than normal this week; readings of 9 degrees or more above normal were found in parts of California and Arizona. Meanwhile, central and eastern Montana were much colder than normal, as much of the eastern part of the state experienced temperatures 9 degrees (or more) colder than normal. Similar to much of the Great Plains, very high evaporative demand has gripped these states over the last several months and combined with the short- and long-term precipitation deficits to continue to worsen conditions. The wildfire danger has also continued across parts of the region as a result of these conditions, and portions of Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests in Colorado have been closed in response…

South

Except for northwest Tennessee and adjacent northeast Arkansas, dry weather occurred in the South this week. Near-normal temperatures occurred in most of Oklahoma, northern Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, while temperatures ranging from 3 to 9 degrees warmer than normal took place in southern Texas. Drought conditions generally worsened in the region, in particular in northwest Arkansas, Oklahoma, and central and western Texas. In the southern high plains, the lack of precipitation this week occurred in a region that has had very high evaporative demand over the last few months, leading to further loss of soil moisture in areas where winter wheat is planted…

Looking Ahead

A series of storm systems and cold fronts is forecast to affect the western two-thirds of the continental United States through Monday, October 26, bringing chances of welcome mountain snow to Colorado, precipitation locally exceeding a half inch to the northern tier of the continental United States, and heavier precipitation from central Oklahoma to the Great Lakes. By early next week, colder than normal temperatures are forecast to be entrenched across the western two-thirds of the continental United States, while above-normal temperatures occur in the east. From Tuesday, October 27 through the end of the month, colder than normal weather is favored from west of the Appalachian Mountains through most of the West, while warmer than normal weather is favored in the Southeast. The forecast also favors above-normal precipitation from southwest Colorado to the Great Lakes and East Coast, while below-normal precipitation is favored in the northern Great Plains, California, and the Pacific Northwest.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending October 20, 2020.

#Denver’s unique sales tax to fight #ClimateChange could be a blueprint for future action nationwide — The #Colorado Sun

Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

From The Colorado Sun (Evan Oschner):

Denver voters this year could give the city a unique tool for fighting climate change that is unlike strategies pursued by other U.S. cities. Across the nation, local authorities are taking on responsibility for fighting the warming planet amid gridlock at the federal level.

Denver’s idea is different because ballot measure 2A would use the proceeds from a dedicated sales tax increase to raise roughly $40 million a year to invest in renewable energy, clean transportation, energy efficiency and more.

If voters approve the tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, it could serve as a model for policy options in other cities. “We truly are pioneering this,” said Councilman Jolon Clark, who sponsored the measure to get the issue on the ballot. Clark said two other municipalities have reached out to Denver to talk about implementing a similar proposal themselves.

As fires torch the West and hurricanes slam the East, the threat of a changing climate has become more pressing, and cities are more urgently taking action. The situation is so dire that local governments are more likely to try to tackle this intractable problem, said Cooper Martin, an expert in sustainability policy at the National League of Cities…

Denver’s idea is inspired by action in some other cities, Clark said, pointing to Boulder. And action by cities, regardless of the strategy, is generally driven by the lack of federal action to address the climate crisis. President Barack Obama joined the Paris climate accords and put in place emissions cutting measures through executive action, but President Donald Trump has waged a yearslong campaign to repeal many of his predecessor’s environmental policies.

The inaction at one level has led to action at another. “Local effort is really what we’ve had for the last 10 years, and I think that it’s been valuable,” said Mark Smith, an economics professor who studies environmental policy at Colorado College.

For Denver, that means raising the sales tax to 8.56% from 8.31% to support green projects in the city. If approved, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The money raised would be divided among six categories covering a range of environmental issues.

The categories prioritize environmental justice and include training programs to empower people to work in clean energy as well as investment in renewable energy.

Other funds will be dedicated to making the city’s infrastructure cleaner by reducing reliance on cars and improving mass transit. According to the city, transportation is responsible for 30% of the city’s emissions. Another 50% of the city’s emissions are attributed to new and existing buildings, and the tax funds would be used to upgrade the energy efficiency of office and residential spaces.

Proponents say many of the elements of the bill are intended to offset a reality of the proposal: It is fundamentally a regressive tax. That’s because sales taxes are regressive, meaning they require lower income individuals to pay a higher proportion of taxes.

The bill that put the measure on the ballot says city officials must try to invest half of the funds it raises directly into the community and prioritize efforts to steer funds toward under-resourced communities.

Clark says these stipulations are designed to ensure lower income and marginalized communities receive more benefits from the tax than they pay into it.

Study: Water Use Dropping In Western Cities Even While Population Grows — KNAU

From KNAU (Melissa Sevigny):

Many western cities have been able to shrink their total water use in recent decades, even as their populations grew. That’s the finding of a new study published in the journal Water last week. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with lead author Brian Richter about how simple water conservation measures could be a cost-effective way to combat shortages in the Colorado River Basin.

How is this possible? How can water use drop while the population grows?

The explanation of that is that they have found ways to encourage people, to incentivize people, to use less water per person on average. What we found across the board in the western Cities that we surveyed—we looked at 20 different cities—we found their average rate of growth from 2000 to 2015 was about 21 percent, yet their average rate of reduction in their water use was 19 percent…

So how are they pulling this off, what’s happening that makes their water use per individual go down?

There were two things that really jumped out for us…. One, outdoor landscaping. It’s not uncommon for western cities to use half or more of their water outdoors, irrigating lawns, big commercial landscape areas and that sort of thing. That was the place the cities saw some of the biggest declines in use, because a lot of them had been financially incentivizing homeowners and businesses to reduce their outdoor irrigation…. The other big part of the story was indoors, on toilets… Back in 1992, we passed the Federal Energy Act—Energy Act, not Water Act. What was interesting about that was the framers, the architects of that energy act recognized that the movement of water, the cleaning of water to get it ready and make it potable for our use, was a very large portion of U.S. energy use. They said, if we can reduce water use, then we’re also going to reduce energy use…. What the Energy Act said was any new toilets sold in the United States from that day forward were going to have to be high efficiency ones. Overnight, the new toilets being sold were using half of the water that they did previously.

Historical traces of available water and actual use shown here refer to the natural supply of surface water from the Colorado River and the consumptive use of that water over time.

Paper: Tillage and residue management effects on irrigated maize performance and water cycling in a semiarid cropping system of Eastern #Colorado

Click here to access the paper (Joel Schneekloth, Francisco Calderón, David Nielsen & Steven J. Fonte). Here’s the abstract:

Residue removal from maize (Zea mays) fields offers an opportunity to increase farmer profits, but potential tradeoffs for water dynamics and crop performance merit further evaluation. This study, established in 2014, compared the effects of two tillage practices (no-till and conventional) and two residue management practices (harvested vs. kept in place) on maize grain yields, water infiltration, evapotranspiration, and soil physical attributes. On average, maize grain yields under limited irrigation increased with residue retention by 1.1 Mg ha year between 2016 and 2018, but tillage had no significant effect. Total infiltration (over 30 min) was higher with residue retention. Neither tillage nor residue management had a significant impact on evapotranspiration during the vegetative growth stage. However, there was a significant residue by tillage interaction where vegetative evapotranspiration was reduced by no-till and residue retention. Conversely, penetrometer resistance was significantly reduced by both tillage and residue retention. Volumetric water content in the soil profile at planting was higher with residue retention. These results suggest that plots with residue removal would on average require 60 mm year−1 of additional irrigation to attain the same yields as fields with residue retention. In summary, our findings suggest that high rates of crop residue removal under limited irrigation in a semiarid environment can negatively affect water conservation and yields, and that tradeoffs surrounding residue export need to be fully considered in land management and policy decisions.

Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

WEBINAR: Municipal Water Infrastructure for Tomorrow October 22, 2020 — @WaterEdCO

Click here to register.

NASA Researchers Help Analyze a Historically Powerful, Costly Storm

A team of NASA researchers used this satellite and radar imagery to help officials in Iowa better understand the effects of a derecho that ripped through the state in August.
Credits: NASA, University of Oklahoma, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, National Weather Service, and the Iowa Environmental Mesonet

From NASA (Joe Atkinson):

The powerful, fast-moving, line of thunderstorms known as a derecho, blasted across Iowa Aug. 10 with extreme winds. The derecho did catastrophic damage to corn and soybean crops, caused widespread utility and property damage, and resulted in fatalities. NOAA estimates damage totals to be $7.5 billion, making it one of the most costly severe thunderstorm events in U.S. history.

To help officials in Iowa better understand the scale and scope of the disaster, a team of NASA researchers, led by Kris Bedka, a severe storm expert at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and colleagues at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and the University of Oklahoma, analyzed the storm using data and imagery from multiple Earth-observing satellites and weather radars on the ground.

“We’re trying to understand and demonstrate how state-of-the-art satellite and radar data can be used to identify the most intense areas of the storm and the damage they produced,” said Bedka.

His team’s analysis is helping to reveal a layered picture of a storm that was historically intense — even for a derecho.

“There’s evidence based on damage patterns in pockets throughout the state of Iowa that they saw winds exceeding 140 mph, which is extremely uncommon in these derecho systems,” said Bedka. “I mean, 100 mph is usually kind of your upper end. When you get to 140, that’s just a whole new level.”

These winds weren’t sustained like they’d be in a hurricane, but even just a minutes-long burst of 140 mph wind is enough to do significant and lasting damage to vegetation and structures.

The imagery Bedka and his colleagues analyzed — visible in the compiled image series above, with the swath of the state that took the most damage outlined in white — showed remarkable agreement between what was happening in the clouds and the damage patterns the ground.

The first two images in the series are color composite synthetic aperture radar visualizations of ground vegetation taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite — the first before the storm, the second after. In the second image, the lighter green and some brown areas show large areas damaged by wind and, in some cases, hail, which can strip vegetation of its leaves.

The third image in the series superimposes ground wind reports, radar-detected swaths of possible hail and National Weather Service (NWS) wind estimates with the damage patterns visualized in the second image.

In the fourth image, which comes from several NWS NEXRAD Doppler weather radars, the maroon and pink represent areas of high reflectivity, a telltale signature of hail. Also, the pattern of the radar echoes changed as the derecho moved across Iowa, becoming more arc-shaped. The arc, often referred to by meteorologists as a “bow echo,” indicates where the strongest winds were occurring, which is aligned well with NWS estimates and damage evident in the Sentinel-1 data.

“Because of how the instrument aboard Sentinel-1 collects data, we were able to compare data acquired both pre- and post-derecho to understand how the structure of vegetation, especially mature agricultural crops, were impacted and changed,” said Jordan Bell, research scientist in the Earth Science Branch at Marshall. “Synthetic aperture radar is being used for more and more applications, so it was exciting to provide impactful analysis for this event.”

The cool blues in the next-to-last image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite East-16 (GOES-16) represent areas where tall, cold clouds that penetrated deep into the stratosphere were likely driving powerful wind downbursts. These are also areas where updrafts suspend water droplets long enough to form hail.

The warm yellows and reds in the final image, also from GOES-16, are areas of high lightning flash density, another indicator of storm intensity.

This layered analysis has been a valuable resource to Justin Glisan, state climatologist in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, as he continues to unravel what happened.

“The remote sensing products produced by the NASA team have given us a tremendous set of tools to study the agricultural damage produced by the Aug. 10 derecho event that impacted 57 of Iowa’s 99 counties, one of the most significant weather events Iowa agriculture has experienced,” said Glisan. “As state climatologist of Iowa, having these additional and remarkable products in the toolbox will provide excellent guidance as we continue analyzing this catastrophic event.”

The analysis has even been useful to officials in neighboring Illinois, which also experienced severe weather from the derecho as it plowed east into the northern part of the state.

“In the several days after the event I was reaching out to folks around northern Illinois to try to determine the extent and severity of damage. Unfortunately, that kind of search usually turns up photos and reports of the most severe damage, but no context as to the extent of that damage,” said Trent Ford, climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois. “The satellite data and analysis shared with me by Kris and his team were very valuable to both better understand the extent of derecho damage and confirm reports of severe damage in both northwest and northeast Illinois.”

This project was funded by NASA’s Earth Science Disasters Program.

Demolition of Molson Coors Coming Soon in #Colorado — ConstructionEquipmentGuide.com

From The Associated Press via ConstructionEquipmentGuide.com:

As part of its corporate farewell to Denver, Molson Coors Beverage Co. vowed last fall to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the company’s brewing plant in Golden, Colo., the second-largest beer-making facility in the world. Now the scope of that work is coming into focus, and heavy machinery is on the horizon in Jefferson County…

G150, scheduled to stretch into 2024, will completely overhaul the infrastructure between the company’s Golden brewhouse and the packaging facility at the massive plant. New, more-efficient fermenting, aging and filtration facilities will be built. The so-called “government cellars” where beer is stored prior to packaging will also be replaced with a state-of-the-art upgrade, Coors said. That building dates back to the 1950s…

The existing fermenting, filtering and storage facilities aren’t being removed as part of the work, Coors said. Instead, they will be abandoned in place. The new tank farms coming as part of the project will be replacing surface parking lots and ponds on the property…

New facilities will mean much greater efficiency, Peter J. Coors said, something he expects to benefit the business and the environment. When it’s all said and done, G150 should mean 25 percent less beer waste and 15 percent less energy usage on an annual basis. Water usage at the plant should decrease by 100 million gallons per year…

Golden Mayor Laura Weinberg lauded the focus on reducing energy and water usage at the plant through the project.

“The city of Golden is committed to a sustainable future and its wonderful to know that Molson Coors has that same commitment as well,” she said at the groundbreaking.

Coors Brewery in Golden Colorado. Photo credit: Molson Coors via Westword

Colorado’s record-breaking wildfires show “climate change is here and now” — CBS News #ActOnClimate

From CBS News (Jeff Berardelli):

The Cameron Peak fire, a few miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado, has engulfed over 200,000 acres and it’s still growing. It has now become the biggest wildlife in Colorado history.

What’s more astounding is that the Cameron Peak fire is the second fire in 2020 to hold the title of largest wildfire in Colorado history. The Pine Gulch fire near Grand Junction briefly held that title, but for only 7 weeks, having burned 139,000 acres in late summer.

Looking at this in a vacuum, you might think of it as mere coincidence. But zooming out, you need only look two states away in California to find evidence of more unprecedented fires. Six of the 7 largest wildfires in California history have all burned in 2020, and the largest, the August Complex fire, became the state’s first ever gigafire — meaning it burned over 1 million acres, scorching more acreage than the state of Rhode Island.

The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres (now >200,000 acres) and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun

This year Mother Nature has supplied us with smoking-gun evidence to prove what climate scientists have been warning about for decades. The scorched-earth impacts of climate change have arrived…

“Our 2020 wildfire season is showing us that climate change is here and now in Colorado. Warming is setting the stage for a lot of burning across an extended fire season,” says Dr. Jennifer Balch, professor of fire ecology and director of Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder.

According to Balch, Colorado in the 2010s saw a tripling of average burned area in the month of October, compared to the prior three decades of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. “We do see fall fire events in Colorado, related to fast, downslope winds. But to see multiple events start this late, in the middle of October, is very, very rare.”

Perhaps it’s rare, but as of Monday 10 notable fires are burning across the state. The Cameron Peak fire’s eastern extent is just 5 miles from Fort Collins and Loveland.

Locations of Colorado wildfires as seen October 19, 2020. Credit: GOOGLE MAPS

Two of the most concerning new fires are burning in Boulder County and forcing evacuations. The CalWood fire — the largest fire ever in Boulder County — and the Lefthand fire have both exhibited extreme fire behavior, shocking even seasoned climate scientists.

“Even as a scientist studying extreme weather & wildfire in a warming climate, I was shocked by how fast #CalwoodFire roared down the Colorado Front Range foothills,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, wrote on Twitter, posting video of a swirling vortex of smoke.

“This year was shocking”

While you can’t completely separate short-term variability from longer-term climate trends, as they are intertwined, a region’s most recent weather conditions are a big factor in how extreme a fire season is.

According to the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, for the first time since 2013 all of Colorado is experiencing drought. This is no run-of-the-mill dry spell — 97% of the state is in the “exceptional,” “extreme,” or “severe” drought categories. And it’s not just Colorado; much of the Southwest is bone dry.

West Drought Monitor October 13, 2020.

Brad Udall, the senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, said 2020 started out promising.

“This year was shocking because we had a decent winter and on April 1 we had 100% of snowpack,” he said. But things quickly turned disappointing. “With 100% of snowpack, you’d expect a decent runoff year. Instead, we ended up with 52% of what is normal.”

[…]

Udall says much of the poor runoff is a result of increased evaporation due to a very warm and dry spring and summer. Over the past few months there have been a number of significant heat waves in the West, two of which were of historic proportions. The extra added heat energy vaporizes spring snow cover, and the lack of new moisture provides nothing to buffer the loss.

In the Southwestern states, June through August rainfall was the lowest since 1895 and temperatures were the highest since 1895, according to NOAA. In Colorado so far, this year is the eighth warmest and second driest on record. Denver has experienced more 90-degree days than any year in its history.

“We’ve had next to no moisture over the last 3 months which is highly unusual. The Arizona monsoon often carries moisture to Colorado but this year it was a complete bust,” said Udall…

Udall says that while most of the droughts of the 20th century were caused by lack of rainfall, today’s droughts are mainly caused by increased evaporation due to warmer weather. But drought is usually referred to as a short-term issue, and what’s happening in Colorado is not temporary. He prefers the term aridification, because climate change, due to the burning of fossil fuels and the buildup of a heat-trapping carbon pollution blanket overhead, is systematically drying out the landscape.

To be sure, climate is not the only factor driving the explosion in burned area. Excess fuel buildup due to increased fire suppression in recent decades as well as increasing ignitions due to more human activity in forested areas do play a role. But experts say the marked increase can not be explained without longer-term warming and drying.

Climate change and “the recipe for large forest fires”

If you look back over the past century, parts of Colorado have been warming faster than anywhere else in the nation. According to data from NOAA and an analysis by the Washington Post, western and northern Colorado are warming at twice the average rate of the globe, having warmed about 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895.

A study published in September found that the frequency of combined heat waves and droughts — which are more impactful when they occur in unison — has increased significantly, especially in the western U.S. For example, the type of hot-dry event that would have been expected once every 25 years in 1950, now occurs five to 10 times every 25 years…

Colorado’s state climatologist Russ Schumacher agrees, telling Colorado Public Radio this is pretty well in line with climate predictions, “What we’re seeing here is indicative of the fact that when the hot, dry years come around, they’re hotter. … I think the frequency of these kinds of summers where we get in these hot, dry conditions is probably going to increase.”

Udall agrees, and warns we should get used to what he calls “the new abnormal.” “The climate system has a really good memory and the cycle of heat and dryness is hard to break,” he said…

The effects on the Colorado environment are apparent. Since the 1930s the water available from Colorado snowpack has decreased by 30%. As a result streamflow in the Colorado River has decreased markedly. In a 2018 study, Udall and co-authors found that 50% of the river runoff decline was due to higher temperatures.

And this more arid climate has huge impacts, with larger wildfires and a longer fire season. In fact, wildfire season in the West is now two to three months longer than it was in the 1970s. And since 1984, human-caused climate change has led to a doubling of the area burned in the Western states, with about 50%of the increase being attributed to increases in the dryness of fuel…

The unprecedented wildfires of the past few years have certainly illuminated just how vulnerable we are to a climate which no longer plays by the rules our parents and grandparents took for granted. And considering the warming and drying projected in the coming decades, scientists say the rules will just keep on changing, making it “unlikely that the records from 2020 will stand for long.”

Hick on Western Slope water: ‘Don’t divert … unless it’s absolutely necessary’ — Real Vail #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Real Vail (David O. Williams):

RealVail.com also checked in with Hickenlooper — a Democrat who’s leading incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in most polls in the Nov. 3 election – on the topic of transmountain diversions of water from the Western Slope drainages of the dwindling Colorado River Basin to the Front Range cities where most of the state’s people live.

The former Denver mayor, brew pub owner and oil and gas geologist said that, as much as possible, Western Slope water should stay on the Western Slope.

“When we created the Colorado Water Plan, one of the real focuses there was to make sure that we don’t divert water from one basin to another unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hickenlooper said. “One of the things we set up in the water plan is the process by which we debate that and when people get crosswise over water, you don’t just go to a fight.”

The context of the question was a proposal by Homestake Partners, comprised of the Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, to conduct test drilling in the Homestake Creek drainage near Red Cliff to determine the best site for a new dam for the proposed Whitney Reservoir, which would provide the cities up to 20,000 acre-feet in average annual yield.

Local towns, politicians and statewide conservation groups oppose even the test drilling, which was delayed in the U.S. Forest Service permitting process by the record wildfire season…

Climate Change Amplifies Colorado’s Water Diversion Debate

Nearly 5 million people live on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, along what’s known as Colorado’s “Front Range,” where communities established on semi-arid prairie land need more water to keep expanding.

Now a water battle is brewing over whether the booming population centers of Aurora and Colorado Springs, with nearly 900,000 residents combined, can claim water from a remote valley on the other side of the Rockies, collect it in a new reservoir and pump it across the Continental Divide.

For many residents of bucolic Eagle County on the “Western Slope,” where Homestake Creek meanders through mountain meadows, lush wetlands and ancient fens on its way to the endangered Colorado River, it’s time to end transmountain diversions once and for all as the climate warms and drought intensifies.

But officials in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and Colorado Springs, argue they can collect the water in a new reservoir and make use of it without drastically disturbing the surrounding wilderness. More to the point: they’ve owned the rights to 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield since 1952 and say it’s time to start exploring if they can use it—for drinking water and on suburban lawns.

“Because water is the lifeblood and it’s so important, we have been doing a relatively good job of having collaborative conversations that are getting us to a point, but the issue is growth and climate change are both happening now so fast and historically these collaborative conversations take a really long time,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.

“Are we going to be able to address that at the scale and speed that the problem is moving?” Scherr added. “So, you hate to see this end up being essentially a war for water, but if we don’t figure out how to do it in a holistic way, that could be our future.”

A #climate scientist’s up-close personal encounter with a nearby record-setting #Colorado wildfire — Yale Climate Connections

Wildfire smoke over Fort Collins. Photo credit: Yale Climate Connections

From Yale Climate Connections (Scott Denning):

Trees just can’t climb uphill to outpace fast-moving forest fires. Instead, they ‘just burn down.’

Where I live there’s a spectacular gradient of climate and vegetation extending from the semi-arid grassland around cities (5,000 ft / 1.5 km) where five-million people live to the tundra and snowfields along the Continental Divide (13,000 ft / 4 km) above sea level.

In the past decade, wildfire has burned up the whole damned thing!

In the sweltering summer of 2012, we were besieged by the High Park fire. My mother died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder that summer, her lungs ruined by a lifetime of cigarettes and weeks of wildfire smoke.

Now, in the upper reaches of the currently raging Cameron Peak fire scar, the stinging spindrift of the coming winter has begun swirling among the lichen-covered boulders. Tundra and krumholtz have frozen, and the landscape is shutting down for imminent burial in wind-driven snow. In the foothills outside the city, firefighters sweat through soot to clear brush, protect subdivisions, and hose down the dry summer grass.

Never before in my lifetime has the entire tundra-to-prairie burned like this. Compare the sizes of the recent fire scars to the ones on this map from earlier years.

Cameron Peak and High Park fire scars October 2020. Credit: National Interagency Fire Center

There are three necessary conditions for wildfire: fuel, ignition, and dry soil. Over the past 50-plus years in this region, fuel and sources of ignition – for instance lightning and campfires – have not been lacking. What’s changed is the weather.

Nearly all the soil moisture in our mountain forests comes from the melting of the winter snowpack, especially above about 8,500 feet. Rain provides precious little of the water.

Every single day from “mud season” until the snows start piling up again in October, the forest extracts water from what was stored during spring snowmelt. On hot days it extracts more, and on cold days less. The forest thrives only on the acres where tree roots stay damp until the weather turns cold.

The hotter the days, and the longer the warm season between snows, the more days there are at the end of the season when all that abundant fuel is susceptible to a lightning strike or a campfire gone wrong.

At the end of the last Ice Age, 18,000 years ago, the world warmed about 5 degrees Celsius (10 F) over 10,000 years. That’s a rate of 0.1 degree per century.

That 10 F of warming over 100 centuries caused the plant zones in our mountains to slowly creep about 5,000 feet uphill. The spruces and firs displaced the tundra. The Lodgepole displaced the spruces and firs. The Ponderosa displaced the Lodgepole and the grasses, and yucca displaced the Ponderosa.

Unlike the Ents in Lord of the Rings, our trees didn’t just get up and walk up the mountains. Rather, the poorly adapted ones slowly died out and were replaced by the seedlings of their better-adapted neighbors as the warming slowly crept up the slopes over many millennia. The cone doesn’t fall far from the tree.

By the time today’s toddlers in their 70s, our climate could very easily heat up just as much as it did in 100 centuries during the last great warming. That’s 100 times faster than the last warming. It’s less than the lifetime of a single tree, and way too fast for seedlings to displace their ancestors.

When the climate moves out from under the forest so quickly, the trees don’t just get up and walk uphill.

Instead they just burn down.

AUTHOR
Scott Denning for more than two decades taught as part of the atmospheric sciences faculty at Colorado State University. A frequent speaker and popular informal science educator, Denning says he “takes special delight in engaging hostile audiences” on climate change.

#Drought in western U.S. is biggest in years and predicted to worsen during winter months — The Washington Post #ActOnClimate

From The Washington Post (Matthew Cappucci, Andrew Freedman, and Jason Samenow):

The drought is exacerbating wildfires and taxing water resources

West Drought Monitor October 13, 2020.

The drought has already been a major contributor to record wildfire activity in California and Colorado. Its continuation could also deplete rivers, stifle crops and eventually drain water supplies in some Western states.

Nationwide, drought has expanded to its greatest areal coverage since 2013; 72.5 million people are in areas affected by drought. More than one-third of the West is in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the two most severe categories, according to the federal government’s U.S. Drought Monitor.
In its winter outlook issued last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cautioned drought conditions are expected to persist or worsen over large parts of the West during the December through February period, and expand farther east into the central United States.

Scenes of the CalWood Oct. 17, 2020 (Jivan West/CU Independent)

In recent months, drought has surged to extreme levels along parts of the West Coast, including Northern California, much of Oregon and the Cascades in Washington…

In Colorado, wildfires continue to rage along the Front Range, with evacuations west of Fort Collins and northwest of Boulder. The Cameron Peak Fire, which has torched more than 200,000 acres, is now the largest wildfire in Colorado history, and the CalWood Fire became Boulder County’s largest fire on record when it exploded in size over the weekend. That fire has burned at least 26 homes, though the toll is expected to increase.

There is no precedent for wildfires this severe igniting so late in the season in the Centennial State. It’s no coincidence that the entirety of Colorado is experiencing a drought for the first time since 2013. Fifty-nine percent of the state is enduring an extreme drought or worse.

2020 has been a particularly bad year for wildfires, obliterating records in California with more than 4.1 million acres scorched. This is more than twice the acreage burned during the previous record wildfire season.

An environment already parched from a lackluster monsoon

The Four Corners region is perhaps the one hit hardest, where prolonged, intense dryness has led to “exceptional drought.”

In New Mexico, an area one and a half times the size of the state of Connecticut is listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor as being in extreme drought. This includes Los Alamos and Santa Fe. Officials have noticed a dramatic decline in river flow rate feeding many aquifers, though there are no immediate drinking water supply concerns. The Drought Monitor includes the observation that “vegetation and native trees are dying” in parts of the state.

An exceptionally weak monsoon has been a major contributor to the ongoing drought in the Southwest…

In August, for example, Santa Fe picked up just one one-hundredth of an inch of rain. It averages 2.6 inches for the month. Since the start of the year, the city has had 5.44 inches of precipitation, less than half the 11.5 inches it would typically have by now.

It’s the second dud monsoon season in a row…

A large percentage of New Mexico’s rainfall — in some places more than half — comes from the monsoon…

Fontenon said that the rangeland in eastern New Mexico is suffering heavily, bringing shades of a drought early in the decade that plagued area farmers between 2011 and 2013.

Nearby in Arizona, Tucson hasn’t seen a drop of rain since August. Since the start of May, less than two inches has fallen. The year as a whole is 60 percent below average on rainfall.

Even farther north, the deficit has hit the Rockies and Intermountain West particularly hard. Grand Junction, Colo., has only seen 4.09 inches of rain this year; by now it should be in the double digits. Salt Lake City is at 7.86 inches. That’s five inches below average…

Extreme drought has also snaked its way into Wyoming, while moderate drought blankets most of Idaho and Montana…

The drought will only worsen

Forecasters at NOAA say that with a developing La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean, drought is likely to prevail and potentially worsen through the winter over large areas of the West…

Little relief in sight for most

But looking ahead, little to no wet weather whatsoever is expected in the Southwest, southern California, or the Four Corners region. And the drought will probably continue, if not intensify…

Climate change’s role

Human-caused climate change is increasing the likelihood of precipitation extremes on both ends of the scale, including droughts as well as heavy rainfall events and resulting floods. Studies consistently show that as the Southwest warms, the odds of drought are increasing.

According to the Federal National Climate Assessment in 2018, climate change intensified the severe drought in California and is worsening drought in the Colorado River Basin. Part of the reasons for this is that climate change makes such droughts hotter than they might’ve been just a few decades ago, which draws more moisture out of soils and vegetation, thereby worsening the drought in a positive feedback loop…

A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Southwest may already be in the midst of the first human-caused megadrought in at least 1,200 years, which began in the year 2000.

Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 650 CFS October 20, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs on Tuesday, October 20th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

The Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.Photo credit Mike Robinson via the University of Washington.

@CWCB_DNR Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing and Proposed Revisions to the ISF Rules

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has drafted proposed revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (ISF Rules). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Staff held two informal stakeholder meetings on August 3 and August 18, 2020 to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions. Staff also has drafted a Statement of Basis and Purpose for the revised ISF Rules.

On September 16, 2020, the CWCB authorized staff to initiate the formal rulemaking process. On October 14, CWCB staff filed a Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing and proposed revisions to the ISF Rules the Colorado Secretary of State, which will be published in the Colorado Register on October 25, 2020. The rulemaking hearing will be held on January 26, 2021. Applications for party status should be submitted to the CWCB’s Hearing Officer, Amy Beatie, by email to amy.beatie@coag.gov and will be accepted through November 13, 2020. For more details on applying for party status, see the Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing. For more information on this rulemaking process, contact Linda Bassi at linda.bassi@state.co.us or (303) 866-3441, ext. 3204.

Aquatic ecologist Bill Miller, left, shows chair of Pitkin County Healthy Streams Board Andre Wille the three samples of macro-invertebrates he collected from Castle Creek. Some say the instream flow water rights held by the Colorado Water Conservation Board don’t necessarily go far enough to protect stream health. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

#Colorado cutthroat restored to 23 miles of Hermosa Creek — The #Durango Herald

Connor Bevel, an Aquatic technician with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, holds one the 450 adult Colorado River Cutthroat trout released into the Hermosa Creek drainage October 9, 2020. Photo credit: Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks & Wildlife via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A decades-long effort to restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek has been completed, resulting in the largest continuous stretch of waterway for the native fish species in the state…

Jim White, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango, releases Colorado River cutthroat trout fingerlings into the East Fork of Hermosa Creek on Oct. 9. CPW released 4,000 fingerlings.
Courtesy of Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The Durango Herald

The upper reaches of Hermosa Creek were instantly recognized as an ideal place for a restoration project, both for its outstanding water quality as well as easy access through a Forest Service road that runs behind Purgatory Resort.

Over the years, barriers have been installed to isolate certain stretches of water and an organic poison known as rotenone has been used to clear out invasive species, like brown, brookie and rainbow trout.

All this to clear the path for cutthroat reintroduction.

Last weekend, CPW stocked an estimated 4,000 cutthroat fingerlings and an additional 475 mature cutthroats in the final stretch of the Hermosa Creek project, giving the waterway back to the native fish for the first time in 100 years.

And now, the project to restore 23 miles of cutthroat habitat is finally complete…

Hermosa Park

For the stretches of upper Hermosa Creek that have been restocked with cutthroats, populations are showing encouraging signs. White said there’s about 400 to 600 fish per mile, which he called a “nice, healthy population.”

Because the area is a popular draw for anglers, there is a strict catch-and-release policy. Local fish-guiding companies have said in the past that anglers come from all over the country to fish native cutthroats.

The Hermosa Creek project was a collaboration between CPW, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Report: Naturally Stronger — How Natural #Water Infrastructure Can Save Money and Improve Lives — @AmericanRivers #ActOnClimate

The Amy Joslin Memorial Eco-Roof on the Multnomah Building in Portland, Oregon is a 12,000 square foot green roof designed to control runoff, reduce pollutant loads, and add green space to the local community | Emily Hauth, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Communities in the United States are being threatened by sewage overflows, flooding, polluted stormwater, leaky pipes, and at-risk water supplies. These threats are a result of our nation’s outdated water infrastructure and water management strategies, and their impacts fall disproportionately on low-wealth neighborhoods and communities of color that are already suffering from a lack of investment and opportunity. To solve this problem, we do not just need more investment in water infrastructure. We need a new kind of water infrastructure and management, and we need it in the right places. The solution is the equitable investment in and implementation of natural infrastructure. Naturally Stronger makes the case that if natural infrastructure is used in a more integrated water system, we can transform and restore our environment, invigorate the economy, and confront some of our country’s most persistent inequities.

Natural water infrastructure protects, restores, or mimics natural water systems, working with traditional infrastructure, like pipes and treatment plants, and reducing the strain on those systems. Examples include protecting source water streams that provide drinking water to our communities, reducing water treatment costs; protecting natural floodplain areas to reduce flood damage; and restoring or increasing urban trees and green space to soak up and clean polluted stormwater, which reduces the surges in stormwater pipes and prevents flooding. These natural solutions add flexibility and resiliency to our water infrastructure due to their ability to complement and supplement existing infrastructure efficiently and the ease with which they can be adapted to changing community needs.

It is easy to overlook the extent to which we depend on natural infrastructure until catastrophe strikes. We take for granted that water will continue to flow from the tap, reliable and safe, that our homes are protected, and that our local waterways are healthy. We have been steadily losing the natural systems that provide communities with these benefits, and as we have lost this natural infrastructure, we have failed to adequately replace the lost services they provide. The result is decaying or outdated infrastructure that cannot keep pace with changing demand for water and wastewater treatment, growing populations, and increasingly severe storms. While these challenges affect all communities, the most severe impacts often fall on low-wealth communities and communities of color due to historic underinvestment and disinvestment in these communities.

Equitable investment in water infrastructure explicitly engages community voice, policy, planning, investment, hiring, contracting, and operations to ensure that historically underserved communities receive the water infrastructure investment they need, in a manner that improves public health, improves livability, and supports community cohesion. Since, historically, infrastructure investments have closely followed the geography of opportunity — higher income areas have high-quality infrastructure investments, and low income areas have suffered decades of underinvestment and disinvestment, and crumbling systems of transportation, schools, and, in particular, drinking water and waste water. These disadvantaged communities often lack adequate infrastructure, lack affordable water rates, and lack access to clean, safe water.

Disadvantaged communities are often located in floodplains, in drained wetlands, or adjacent to sewage outfalls, as a result of historic discrimination. Besides suffering damage to health and livelihood, their problems then flow downstream, affecting other communities and ecosystems. By addressing the infrastructure needs of vulnerable communities, we are addressing the water quality needs of everyone. New equitable water infrastructure investments can play a fundamental role in local and regional economies, and ensure that historically underinvested communities — where the greatest water vulnerabilities manifest — can both address water security and advance greater economic inclusion. To ensure equitable water infrastructure investments, vulnerable communities must have a voice in where and how investments in water infrastructure are made.

Water infrastructure and equity challenges can be effectively overcome together through a more holistic approach, particularly when natural infrastructure, with its flexibility, is included as part of the solution. This “integrated” or One Water approach to water management centers on breaking down ‘silos’ to create holistic, coordinated water systems that maximize economic, social, and environmental benefits in an equitable and sustainable manner. This integrated approach is achieved by bringing together city agencies, nonprofits, and other diverse stakeholders for collective problem-solving and decision-making that benefits all members of the community.

Natural infrastructure provides substantial economic and social benefits to the nation and to neighborhoods. The U.S. Water Alliance states in their Value of Water report that the U.S. needs to invest an additional $82 billion per year in water infrastructure — both natural and traditional — to meet projected needs. The same report states that by closing this gap over $220 billion in total annual economic activity would be added to the economy every year and would sustain approximately 1.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. In addition, investment in natural infrastructure creates local jobs.

According to a report by the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland, natural infrastructure often increases local jobs, since these practices rely more heavily on local workers for installation and continued maintenance, in contrast to traditional infrastructure, which often relies on larger firms that outsource the work. As the number and scope of natural infrastructure initiatives increase, opportunities for developing more jobs will increase as well. According to the Brookings Institute, green job growth outpaced traditional job growth at a rate of nearly 2-to-1 in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan centers from 2008 to 2010, providing diverse, career-starting opportunities in growth industries for communities that need them most.

Communities that have invested in natural infrastructure have not only reaped the economic benefits, but also have experienced other social benefits as well. Studies demonstrate that people with access to parks and green space live healthier, lower-stress lives. They have an easier time living active outdoor lifestyles, reducing medical expenses. And, of course, clean local waterways, improved by reductions in polluted runoff, mean higher-quality drinking water and safer places to recreate.

To address the significant water infrastructure needs of the nation, greater investments in both natural and traditional water infrastructure are needed. From major metropolitan areas to unincorporated rural communities — particularly those home to low-wealth communities and communities of color –investments are needed to address the consequences of long deferred maintenance, underinvestment, and disinvestment. And while infrastructure investments face budget restrictions at all levels of government, integrated water management approaches can often deliver overall cost savings by simultaneously addressing multiple issues and providing multiple benefits. Going forward, we will need to use existing water infrastructure funding mechanisms in order to implement natural infrastructure at the scale and scope needed to address our nation’s water infrastructure inequities. Funding mechanisms for natural infrastructure are diverse and include traditional mechanisms such as bonds, general funds, and state revolving funds as well as innovative approaches like public/private partnerships or incorporating water management in all types of infrastructure projects.

Naturally Stronger provides an overview and introduction to the water challenges we face and lays out the need for investment in water infrastructure and why natural water infrastructure is a necessary component of that investment. This investment comes with both economic and social benefits that can be optimized by planning, designing, investing, and implementing new water infrastructure in an intentional, equitable, and integrated fashion. But we cannot achieve these results by using the same water management strategies we have used in the past. To achieve more effective and equitable water infrastructure we must engage with multiple, cross-cutting stakeholders. Where our planning and decision-making tables are too small or exclusive, we must make them bigger and add more chairs, integrating communities and partners that have not always had a seat at the table. The water management sector must break out of the silos that constrain diverse and innovative solutions. The challenge before us is clear. The solutions are tangible. The moment to create a better future for clean water and communities is now.

After levee breaches during a large flood the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed two levee setback projects that reconnected over 1700 acres rather than rebuild the levees | United States Army Corps of Engineers

American Rivers would like to thank Brendan McLaughlin; Tania Briceno, Corrine Armistead, and Rowan Schmidt with Earth Economics; Kalima Rosa and Chione Flegal with PolicyLink; and Scott Miller with Resource Media for their involvement in the development and writing of Naturally Stronger. We would also appreciate the help of members of the Clean Water for All Campaign for their guidance.

Winter #Drought Relief Unlikely in Western U.S. — EOS

Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park. Death Valley, Calif., where temperatures exceeded 54°C this year, and much of the western United States will continue to see severe drought this winter. By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3115716

From EOS (Kimberly M. S. Cartier):

This year is still on track to be one of the hottest years on record around the globe.

This winter is likely to be warmer and drier than average for most of the continental United States, in line with the conditions of a typical La Niña year. This information is according to the most recent NOAA seasonal forecast released on 15 October.

Like the past 2 years, more than two thirds of the continental United States, northern and western Alaska, and Hawaii will likely experience hotter than average temperatures through January 2021. Southern Alaska and states along the northern U.S. border may see colder than average temperatures, and no confident temperature forecast can be made for the remaining regions…

Widespread Drought Persists

La Niña years don’t tend to summon historic winter snowstorms like El Niño years do, but they can instead worsen drought conditions. NOAA confidently predicts that the southern half of the country will receive less precipitation than average this winter in addition to experiencing hotter-than-average temperatures. Warmer and drier conditions are expected to persist in those areas through May 2021.

“This is the most widespread drought that we have seen in the continental U.S. since September 2013,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said during the 15 October event. “And the winter forecast doesn’t bode well for many of the areas around the nation currently experiencing drought with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and Hawaii and Alaska.”

Thanks to a weak monsoon season and record-high temperatures, drought will likely persist in much of the western half of the United States and develop in Southern California, central and southern plains states, and northern Florida and southern Georgia. People living in the western United States have dealt with persistent drought for the past few years, which has contributed to severe wildfire seasons and heat-related health issues.

The U.S. #drought vulnerability rankings are in: How does your state compare? — @NOAA

From NOAA (Alison Stevens):

If asked where in the United States is most vulnerable to drought, you might point to those states in the West currently suffering under hot and dry conditions and raging wildfires. However, according to a new NOAA-funded assessment, what makes a state vulnerable is driven by more than just a lack of rain: it’s a combination of how susceptible a state is to drought and whether it’s prepared for impacts. And the most and least vulnerable states could surprise you.

These maps show each state’s overall drought vulnerability (red) and how it ranks in the three individual categories that make up the score: sensitivity (blue), exposure (yellow-orange), and ability to adapt (purple). Darker colors show higher overall drought vulnerability and a greater degree of factors that increase the state’s vulnerability.

Sensitivity is the likelihood of negative economic impacts, which is based on the percentage of agricultural land, number of cattle, how much the state relies on hydropower, and recreational lakes. The exposure score reflects how often a state experiences drought and what assets, like the number of people and freshwater ecosystems, are at risk when it occurs. The ability to adapt score ranks how well the state can cope with and recover from drought, which depends on whether the state has a drought plan, how equipped it is to irrigate its land, and whether it is financially strong overall.

By this scoring system, the most vulnerable states are Oklahoma, Montana, and Iowa, while Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California are least vulnerable to drought. Oklahoma gets its high vulnerability score from having an outdated drought plan and limited irrigation (low ability to adapt), as well as extensive agricultural activities and cattle ranching (high sensitivity). Despite facing recurring multi-year droughts (relatively high exposure), California ranks very low in drought vulnerability. Thanks to a strong economy and well-developed adaptation measures, it’s better prepared for an extreme drought when it occurs than most other states.

On the East Coast, the region is generally less vulnerable than other areas, given its wetter climate and lack of farming—except for New Jersey. As the most densely populated state in the country (very high exposure), it gets the region’s highest vulnerability score.

By breaking down drought vulnerability into three components, this assessment can help decision makers identify what makes their state vulnerable for better planning. And, as the study shows, even states that receive lots of rain can still be vulnerable.

Though drought is one of the costliest natural hazards in the United States, there are actions states can take to become more resilient.

This research was led by Johanna Engström, Keighobad Jafarzadegan, and Hamid Moradkhani from the University of Alabama and funded in part by NOAA’s Climate Program Office through its Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projection (MAPP) program. The MAPP Program enhances our capability to understand, predict, and project variability and long-term changes in Earth’s climate system.

Bark beetle outbreaks benefit wild bee populations, habitat — @ColoradoStateU

A high-elevation spruce beetle-affected forest. Photo credit: Seth Davis via Colorado State University

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Karina Puikkonen):

When southern Rocky Mountain forests are viewed from a distance these days, it may not look like much is left. Large swaths of dead, standing Engelmann spruce trees tell the tale of a severe regional spruce beetle epidemic in its waning stages. But among those dead trees, researchers have found good news. Zoom-in to the ground cover of these forests and there is life, even more abundant because of this disturbance.

New research led by Colorado State University and published online in Scientific Reports suggests that spruce beetle outbreaks may help create habitat for pollinator communities in wilderness settings. The research team found significant increases in floral abundance and wild bee diversity in outbreak-affected forests, compared to similar, undisturbed forest. Lead author Seth Davis said it may seem counterintuitive that landscape-level damage by one type of insect could still benefit another.

“Disturbances from bark beetles are typically regarded as undesirable for ecosystem function and human use,” said Davis, an assistant professor in the Forest and Rangeland Stewardship department. “But there is conservation value in post-outbreak forests; they appear to be the areas supporting more robust bee populations.”

This is good news for wild bee communities, which have been declining in recent years. The different bee species identified in this high-elevation study are made for harsh, cold environments. The fact that a natural disturbance can boost their presence is a boon to these rare, endemic creatures not found in warmer habitats. It’s also a benefit for these forests, because wild bees perform essential pollination services in ecosystems with very short growing seasons.

A blue vein trap at one of the study sites. Photo credit: Seth Davis via Colorado State University

A serendipitous observation

Davis regularly works in high-elevation forests. A few years ago, during another research project with department colleagues, he noticed a correlation between the number and diversity of bees observed, and the structure of the forest. He has since opened up this new thread of bee diversity research by combining it with his training in bark beetles.

“Disturbance studies on bees have primarily focused on fire,” said Davis. “There hasn’t been a lot of research looking at bee responses to beetle outbreaks.”

For this new study, his team developed a natural experiment, collecting parallel data in 28 beetle-affected and undisturbed alpine sites in north-central Colorado. They collected bees for two years at three different times across each growing season, and also recorded standard tree measurements and understory, or ground cover, plant data at the collection sites.