Summary: June 2, 2020
May in the Intermountain West Region saw the beginning of the summer precipitation pattern with the bulk of the precipitation showing up in eastern Colorado and eastern Wyoming. Less precipitation fell in the Upper Colorado River Basin, the rest of Utah and much of Arizona and New Mexico. Northeastern Colorado saw the best precipitation for the month with near normal conditions. Southeastern Colorado though, continued the dry pattern when precipitation should be increasing, which is not great for an already dry area. Western Colorado, most of Utah, and much of Wyoming are also continuing the dry trend.
Not helping the dryness in the IMW was the much above normal temperatures seen in May. Most of the IMW region saw 2-4 degrees warmer than normal and much of western Colorado and eastern Utah seeing 4-6 degrees above normal. There were a few spots with near normal temperatures, which include northeastern Colorado and northeastern Wyoming. The warm temperatures drove up evapotranspiration rates further drying out a region that has little water to give.
It appears streams and rivers in the Upper Colorado River Basin have seen their peak flow with flows starting to drop. The basin saw an overall drop in streamflows, with the number of streamgages seeing above normal flows dropping and the number of gages seeing below normal flows increasing. The three main sites in the basin appear to be peaking now or have peaked with flows in the Colorado and Green River fighting to stay in the normal range. The San Juan River seems to be fighting to stay in the below normal range.
As expected, soil moisture is dropping and vegetation health is mainly in the drought categories.
The outlook for the next week is hopeful for precipitation through Utah and western Colorado, with a nice bullseye in the parched San Juan Mountains. Little to no precipitation is in the forecast for eastern Colorado and most of New Mexico and Arizona. Unfortunately, beyond next week, it looks like the dry trend is back with increased chances of below normal precipitation through the IMW region.
From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Disturbing reports that Republicans plan to sow fears of climate change solution
Merchants of fear have already been at work, preparing to lather up the masses later this year with disturbing images of hardship and misery. The strategy is to equate job losses with clean air and skies, to link in the public mind the pandemic with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s as dishonest as the days of May are long.
“This is what a carbon-constrained world looks like,” Michael McKenna, a deputy assistant to Trump on energy and environment issues, told The New York Times.
“If You Like the Pandemic Lockdown, You’re Going to Love the Green New Deal,” warned the Washington Examiner. “Thanks to the pandemic lockdown of society, the public is in a position to judge what the ‘Green New Deal’ revolution would look like,” said the newspaper in an April editorial. “It’s like redoing this global pandemic and economic slump every year.”
What a jarring contrast with what I heard during a webinar conducted in Colorado during early May. Electrical utility executives were asked about what it will take to get to 100% emissions-free generation.
It’s no longer an idle question along the lines of how many angels can dance on a pinhead. The coal plants are rapidly closing down because they’re just too darned expensive to operate. Renewables consistently come in at lower prices. Engineers have figured out how to deal with the intermittency of solar and wind. Utilities believe they can get to 70% and even 80%, perhaps beyond.
Granted, only a few people profess to know how to achieve 100% renewables—yet. Cheap, long-lasting storage has yet to be figured out. Electrical transmission needs to be improved in some areas. Here in the West, the still-Balkanized electrical markets need to be stitched together so that electrons can be moved across states to better match supplies with demands.
This is from Big Pivots No. 11 (5.25.2020). To be on the distribution list, send you e-mail address to email@example.com.
This won’t cost body appendages, either. The chief executives predict flat or even declining rates.
Let’s get that straight. Reducing emissions won’t cost more. It might well cost less.
That’s Colorado, sitting on the seam between steady winds of the Great Plains and the sunshine-swathed Southwest. Not every state is so blessed. But the innovators, the engineers, and others, are figuring out things rapidly.
Remember what was said just 15 years ago? You couldn’t run a civilization on windmills! Renewables cost too much. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. You had to burn coal or at least natural gas to keep the lights on and avoid economic collapse. Most preposterous were the ambitions to churn vast mountains to extract kerogen, the vital component of oil shale. This was given serious attention as recently as 2008.
The economics have rapidly turned upside down, and the technology just keeps getting better along with the efficiency of markets.
As detailed in Big Pivots issue No. 10, Colorado utilities are now seriously talking about what it will take to get to 100% emission-free energy. Most of that pathway is defined by lower or at least flattened costs.
Now that same spirit of ingenuity has been turned to redirecting transportation and, more challenging yet, buildings. It will likely be decades before we retrofit our automotive fleet to avoid the carbon emissions and other associated pollution that has made many of our cities borderline unhealthy places to live. Buildings will take longer yet. Few among us trade in our houses every 10 to 15 years.
It’s true that we need to be smarter about our energy. And we are decades away from having answers to the heavy carbon footprint of travel by aircraft.
But run with fright from the challenge? That’s the incipient message I’m hearing from the Republican strategists. These messages are from old and now discredited playbooks of fear. People accuse climate activists of constantly beating the drum of fear, and that’s at least partly accurate. But there’s also a drive to find solutions.
Too bad the contemporary Republican Party dwells in that deep well of fear instead of trying to be a beacon of solutions.
Do you have an opinion you wish to share? Shorter is better, and Colorado is the center of the world but not where the world ends. Write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Via the Sky-Hi Daily News:
While a dry April and May hurt western Colorado runoff forecasts, Grand County’s remains above average for this time of year.
According to the Colorado River District, a winter of near-average snowfall withered prematurely and West Slope runoff has suffered.
The hot, dry summer and fall of 2019 set a poor stage for whatever snow was to come because of the dry soil that absorbs snowmelt before the streams can benefit.
“We are now in year 20 of an extended dry period that we should start accepting as the new normal,” Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said in a news release. “Warmer temperatures, dry soils and disappointing spring and summer moisture are defining how we look at future policies to determine how best to protect Western Colorado water security.”
The Colorado River District did mention that Grand and Summit counties continue to be bright spots for the West Slope water supply.
Snowpack peaked in Grand at above average in mid-April and continues to be above average for this time of year. This is good news as the county’s water feeds the Upper Colorado River and important reservoirs.
The Colorado River is expected to peak this week at Cameo at 12,900 cubic feet per second, aided by upstream reservoir releases to support endangered fish habitat.
Granby and Green Mountain reservoirs are expected to fill, the river district said, while Wolford Mountain Reservoir is already full.
The situation is much different to the west and the south, which have below normal snowpack and seasonal runoff forecasts at half of what is normally expected. Western Colorado contributes about 70% of inflows to Lake Powell, where the runoff forecast has now fallen to 56% of normal.
The river district expects the drought that began in 2000 to continue through 2020.
From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office and town of Silverthorne have temporarily closed the Blue River from the base of the Dillon Dam to the Sixth Street Bridge in Silverthorne, according to a press release. The closure is due to high water caused by snow runoff being released from the dam.
Denver Water notified the town and Sheriff’s Office that water in the Upper Blue north of the Dillon Dam had reached 1,000 cubic feet per second on Monday, June 1. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor agreed there was a risk of serious injury or even death presented by the high water.
The closure will remain in place until water levels are low enough that recreational boaters can safely pass under the Sixth Street Bridge.
From OutThereColorado.com (Breanna Sneeringer):
As the snowpack melts “faster than usual,” warmer and drier conditions have contributed to an increased risk of wildfires across parts of the state – despite statewide snowpack levels being reported “higher than normal” at the beginning of April. At that time, snowpack was at 102% of the norm statewide…
This increased lack of snowpack comes after a hopeful start to the year when it came to reducing drought risks…
The shrinking snowpack is concerning for wildfire season, especially in the southwestern corner of the state where several weeks of dry weather and early snowmelt have been observed. These conditions are similar to those…which resulted in several large wildfires including the West Fork Complex Fire and the 416 Fire.
From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):
The White River National Forest opened a public comment period last week concerning the next phase of a would-be reservoir project dubbed the Whitney Reservoir. Water authorities in Colorado Springs and Aurora plan to divert water near the Vail Valley — normally destined for the Colorado River — to the Front Range by way of pumps and tunnels.
Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said in November the Whitney Reservoir could eventually hold between 9,000 acre-feet and 19,000 acre-feet of water.
For comparison, Cherry Creek Reservoir stores more than 134,000 acre-feet.
Aurora Water and its southern counterpart, Colorado Springs Utilities, applied for a Special Use Permit to do so. Geologists would conduct ground-level seismic analyses of the ground below and also drill up to 150 feet below the surface. Currently, the operation proposes ten drilling sites.
The water could help Aurora meet the needs of a rapidly-expanding city while capturing water rights Aurora already holds, Baker said. He estimated the reservoir could be completed in 25 years if key steps were met, including a geological analysis.
The Whitney Reservoir project drew early attention from Colorado River conservationists and a fishing association concerned for the health of local fish habitats and the river system. Prolonged drought and existing diversions have already diminished Colorado River flows in recent decades.
The project could also impact pristine wetland ecosystems and would also require cutting near 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness.
Members of the public can find more information about the project on the U.S. Forest Service website. Comments can be made any time but will be “most helpful” if submitted before June 30, 2020, the Forest Service said in an information release…
To comment on the project, or propose a different course of action, submit a comment online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=58221.
From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):
The water rights behind the proposed Lake Powell pipeline are not actually coming from the project’s namesake lake, but rather from the major reservoir upstream on the Green River.
Now, Utah water officials’ new request to overhaul those rights has handed opponents a fresh opportunity to thwart the proposed pipeline just as federal officials are about to release a long-awaited environmental review of the $1.2 billion project, which would funnel 82,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to St. George.
The request, known as a change application, seeks to shift the the water rights’ “point of diversion” from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to a spot 400 miles downstream behind Glen Canyon Dam. The change, which also keys into where and how the water would be used, is needed to fit the goals of the pipeline, which is to bolster water supplies for Utah’s mushrooming Washington County.
The application was filed now because the timing made sense at this stage in the project’s development and has no bearing on whether the pipeline gets built, according to Joel Williams, assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.
Environmental groups hope to block or at least delay the project’s approval if they can persuade Utah State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen to deny the change application filed April 13. Exhibit A in the many protests filed is the Colorado River system’s chronically diminishing flows in the face of climate change, long-term drought and overallocation…
A 1922 interstate compact divvies up water flowing in the Colorado River and its many tributaries among seven basin states and Mexico. For decades, Utah has underutilized its share, pegged at 23% of the Upper Basin’s flows above 7.5 million acre-feet, while the three Lower Basin states have historically drawn water in excess of their allocations, largely to fuel urban growth and corporate agriculture.