#Drought #Snowpack news: Still dry in Larimer County but D2 erased this week

Colorado Drought Monitor January 17, 2017.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 17, 2017.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

We’re not out of drought yet — the city and most of Larimer County remain in a moderate drought — but the new classification by the U.S. Drought Monitor is good news for Northern Colorado, which has been parched since June and officially entered drought territory in August.

A lot of factors go into the drought classification, including precipitation, soil moisture and stream flows, but it’s likely that recent snows in Northern Colorado and the Front Range were a big factor in the drought improvement. The monitor measures four stages of drought as well as abnormal dryness, the precursor to drought.

Thanks to big January snows, Fort Collins is right on the mark for average snowfall from November through mid-January and above the normal amount of precipitation, according to Colorado Climate Center data. The city has received 21.6 inches of snow since November and about 1.7 inches of precipitation, compared to 1981-2010 averages of 21.8 inches and 1.5 inches, respectively.

Meanwhile, several storms have hit the mountains that feed the South Platte River Basin, the main water supply for Northern Colorado, with 5 to 8 feet of snow since mid-November. That has the snowpack at 152 percent of normal for this time of year as of Friday.

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

Snow is piling up in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, but this year’s first official water forecast for the Colorado River still predicts Lake Mead will shrink enough to trigger a federal shortage declaration in 2018.

Federal forecasters expect the lake’s surface to drop by about 9 feet by the end of 2017, which would put it inches below the all-important shortage line of 1,075 feet above sea level. That would force Nevada and Arizona to cut their use of Colorado River water under rules adopted a decade ago…

The picture is much rosier — and whiter — in California’s drought-ravaged Sierra Nevada range, where snow accumulations are well above average for this time of year. The southern end of the range especially has received almost double its normal amount of snow so far.

While that precipitation doesn’t directly benefit Lake Mead or Southern Nevada, it could help reduce California’s need for Colorado River water by refilling reservoirs within the Golden State…

Nevada, California and Arizona are closing in on a drought contingency plan, under which the states would voluntarily reduce their use of Colorado River water to prop up the reservoir. Arizona and Nevada would bear the brunt of the cuts early on, but California would also accept reductions to its share of the river for the first time under the deal…

At the same time, water officials in the U.S. and Mexico are in talks to extend and expand a treaty that governs how the Colorado is managed across the international boundary.

The new agreement, known as Minute 32X, lets Mexico continue storing some of its annual river allotment in Lake Mead and allows U.S. water agencies to invest in water-saving projects south of the border for a share of the water that is saved. It also spells out Mexico’s share of any shortages that might be declared on the river.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

At this critical time of year for Colorado River snowpack, things are looking very good. For the first time this year, the April-July runoff forecast has climbed above 10 million acre feet.

The snowpack among the sites above Lake Powell where the federal government maintains real-time monitoring equipment is 57 percent above the long term median for this point in the year.

The amount of snow does not translate directly into river water because of a number of mediating factors – dry soils going into the season can soak up some of that, and warmer temperatures mean greater evaporation. That said, however, the latest model runs by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center put April-July runoff at 40 percent above average. That’s the 10maf runoff forecast.

But since a key thing in water management is to enjoy the best but be ready for the worst, the most important thing in the CBRFC forecast is the forecasters’ bad news scenario. They calculate not only the most probable runoff, but also a sort of “worst case”, something you would expect in the driest 10 percent of years. That worst case right now is for above average runoff in the Colorado River Basin.

Here’s how this translates to policy, and why this is especially good news for those in the Lower Colorado River Basin trying to cope with the decline of Lake Mead. The nominal required release (shut up lawyers, I know that’s a contested characterization, let’s just go with it) from Lake Powell to Lake Mead each year is 8.23 million acre feet per year. When there’s more water in Powell, we move “bonus water” downstream, and lately there’s enough for 9 million acre foot releases. The current snowpack pretty greatly increases the probability of 9maf releases for the next couple of years, which makes it much easier to keep Mead from slipping into shortage.

The 1-in-10 best case scenario is nearly 13maf. Under Mead-Powell operating rules, a year like that would mean far more than 9 million acre feet for Lake Mead, which combined with current conservation efforts would buy the Lower Basin years of cushion before shortage.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 21, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 21, 2017 via the NRCS.

Colorado-based rafters miss at record through the Grand Canyon

The U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team trains on its custom-built raft in December on the Colorado River. The team was on pace for a record descent of the 277-mile canyon [January 14-15, 2017] when a wave broke the frame and punctured a tube. Photo Special to The Denver Post by Forest Woodward.
The U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team trains on its custom-built raft in December on the Colorado River. The team was on pace for a record descent of the 277-mile canyon [January 14-15, 2017] when a wave broke the frame and punctured a tube. Photo Special to The Denver Post by Forest Woodward.

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

In the pitch black of night on the Colorado River’s burly Lava Falls rapid, an aluminum bar had snapped and punctured a 4-inch hole in the inflatable beam of the custom-built craft. The air hissing from the punctured tube wasn’t just the sound of trouble. It signaled the dissipation of a dream to paddle the 277-mile length of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon in record time…

In the roiling eddy below Lava, the sleep-deprived paddlers — they had been rowing non-stop for more than 20 hours — boiled water to heat a patch. It was dark and raining. The patches weren’t sticking. The tube wouldn’t inflate to the hard pressure needed for speed…

The six members of the U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team — the Eagle River Valley’s Jeremiah Williams, John Mark Seelig, Robbie Prechtl and Kurt Kincel, Seth Mason of Carbondale and Matt Norfleet of Breckenridge — spent more than a year building this mission. The team before them — the world champion Behind the 8-Ball rafting team — had set a 24-hour record in a similar vessel in 2006, paddling from the Upper Colorado below Gore Canyon to Moab.

#ColoradoRiver: #Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 32x unfinished #COriver

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

From The Desert Sun (Ian James):

Two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell laid out a game plan for averting serious water shortages along the Colorado River.

Jewell’s 10-page directive underscored the importance of concluding deals this year between California, Arizona and Nevada, as well as between the U.S. and Mexican governments, to share in reduced water deliveries to prevent reservoirs from falling to critical lows.

Her announcement accompanied a separate accord in which the Interior Department pledged to coordinate with California officials to manage the shrinking Salton Sea – where one agency’s demands for a detailed plan to keep the lake from turning into a dust bowl have become a sticking point in the talks toward a three-state Colorado River deal.

The new administration isn’t bound by Jewell’s order. Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke hasn’t yet made clear how he intends to deal with the complicated and interconnected issues of the Colorado River, which is severely overallocated, ravaged by a 17-year drought and threatened by global warming. But there has been widespread agreement during the past year among the states, water suppliers, scientists and environmental advocates that the status quo isn’t working in dry times, and everyone would benefit from preventing a crash in water supplies.

Jewell said before leaving office that all the parties, from states and tribes to her agency’s Mexican counterparts, have made tremendous progress in working toward agreements…

Jewell’s directive appears to stress the nonpolitical nature of a water-supply imbalance that must be addressed, said Jennifer Pitt, who leads the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River Project.

From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via Tucson.com:

The report release came the same week that outgoing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell warned that key drought contingency plans aimed at reducing the risk of water shortages in seven Western states remain unfinished as a new U.S. president takes office.

One issue involves a binational share-the-pain pact reached in November 2012 with Mexico that is set to expire. It lets Mexico store water in Lake Mead, which helps keep the lake above a trigger point where the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would cut water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada.

The lake level on Friday was 8 feet above the line — down about 130 feet since 2000. The lake was last at full capacity in 1983…

In 2011, the river flow into the Lake Powell reservoir east of the Grand Canyon was 47 percent above normal, Davis said. Projections this year, so far, are for a 12 percent bump.

The bureau says there’s still about a 50-50 chance that a water shortage declaration will be made in August to trigger cuts in supplies to Arizona and Nevada in January 2018.

Arizona could lose 11 percent of its annual allotment, and Nevada could lose about 4 percent. The amount of water at stake could, combined, serve more than 625,000 homes. But deliveries to farms in Arizona would be affected first.

Nevada water managers say the effect would be felt less in and around Las Vegas, which draws 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, because conservation and reuse programs have in recent years cut the amount of water the area uses.

#Snowpack news: Good snow expected in mountains today and into next week

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From The Durango Herald (Jim Mimiaga):

Above-average snowpack in the Dolores Basin bodes well for McPhee Reservoir, farmers and recreational boaters on the Lower Dolores River.

Snotels in the basin show snowpack at 136 percent of the average as of Jan. 18, and more storms are on their way.

According to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, spring runoff into the Dolores River will fill McPhee and allow for whitewater boating release below the dam.

“Snowpack has record-setting potential already. We do feel comfortable that the reservoir will fill, and irrigators will get their full amount of water,” said Ken Curtis an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

The forecast center’s latest most probable runoff outlook shows 285,000 acre-feet inflow into McPhee to start the 2017 irrigation season. The fact that the reservoir ended last irrigation season with 143,400 acre-feet of active carryover storage, makes the situation favorable.

The potential total exceeds the benchmark of 270,000 acre-feet needed to fulfill water obligations for irrigators in Montezuma and Dolores counties, the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch operations, local municipal needs and the downstream fish pool.

With more storms to come, managers expect to fill the lake and also provide a whitewater boating release below the dam lasting up to a month or longer, says Vern Harrell of the Bureau of Reclamation.

And here’s the Westwide basin-filled SNOTEL map from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 20, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 20, 2017 via the NRCS.

@wradv report: Arizona’s Water Future: Colorado River Shortage, Innovative Solutions, Living Well With Less

wra-arizonas-water-future-vfinalcover01202017

Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates:

Western Resources Advocates (WRA) released a new analysis today that shows Central Arizona’s cities, suburban growth in significant areas, and agriculture face substantial cuts in Colorado River water supplies if Lake Mead levels continue to fall. Analysis of data from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Central Arizona Project (CAP) identifies who could face a reduction of Colorado River supplies, and at what level, within Arizona as Lake Mead levels continue to drop.

The report, Arizona’s Water Future: Colorado River Shortage, Innovative Solutions, Living Well with Less, finds:

  • Phoenix and Tucson suburban growth that uses the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District to prove there is renewable water to cover development will be cut first in a shortage declaration under existing agreements;
  • Four important Central Arizona Irrigation Districts could also lose a substantial portion of their CAP water, including Maricopa Stanfield, Central Arizona, Hohokam, and Harquahala; and
  • Major cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, could face a reduction of Colorado River supplies within this decade if Lake Mead drops below the 1,025’ level.
  • These cuts are looming because Arizona’s ”bank” for 40% of its water supply, Lake Mead, is being drained faster than it can be filled. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a nearly 50% chance of a federal shortage declaration, that would cut 320,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water deliveries to Arizona, happening as soon as 2018 under business as usual. This level of cuts could harm agriculture, lead to over-drafting of nonrenewable groundwater, reduce hydroelectric power, and provide a lot less water for Arizona cities and the environment.

    “Arizona is facing perhaps its greatest challenge since the settlement of the region and development of modern cities, agriculture, and industry,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager, Western Resource Advocates. “The time is now for ADWR and CAP to put in place longer-term solutions that prevent significant water shortages and stand the test of time. One cannot put Band-Aids on an ill patient, while failing to address the underlying illness.”

    Arizona has already taken important action by implementing interim measures to keep more water in Lake Mead to help stave off federally mandated cutbacks of Colorado River water. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has also been working with California, Nevada, and key water users within Arizona on plans to keep Lake Mead from falling to critically low levels.

    Western Resource Advocates and conservation partners at American Rivers and Environmental Defense Fund have developed seven policies and actions to protect groundwater and help Arizona’s agriculture, cities, Indian tribes, economy, and environment thrive in a future with less Colorado River water supplies.

    Three of the seven proposed policies and actions are:

  • Water providers and farmers, with support from ADWR, should adopt next-generation water conservation and efficiencyfor our homes, business and agriculture.
  • The Central Arizona Project should expand its support of system conservation programs allowing municipalities and other water users to dedicate conserved water to stay in Lake Mead to prevent water levels from dropping farther.
  • Water providers, cities and agriculture, with support from CAP and ADWR, should increase the number of innovative water sharing arrangements between themselves,like the Phoenix-Tucson water sharing agreement.
  • “System Conservation Programs have proven to be a great success along the Colorado River, putting more water into Lake Mead and keeping the lake from falling to drastically low levels,” said Jeff Odefey, Director, Clean Water Supply, American Rivers. “Innovative water sharing agreements, like that between Phoenix and Tucson, are an ideal example other water interests should adopt, demonstrating the collaboration and flexibility we will need to stabilize Lake Mead levels for the long term.”

    “We are all in this together in the Colorado River basin. ADWR is on the right track with increasing the level of collaboration and proactive actions with all Arizona water stakeholders. Now ADWR and stakeholders need to also adopt longer-term solutions,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director, Colorado River Program, Environmental Defense Fund. “In the end, the strategy which has served Arizona and the Lower Basin states the most is to focus on collaboration and ongoing water management innovation that benefit both current and future generations.”

    The two-page Arizona’s Water Future Executive Summary is downloadable here and the thirty-page full report is downloadable here.

    26th Annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture, Feb. 22, 2017

    Young farmers
    Young farmers

    From the website:

    The Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program is proud to host the 26th annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture,​ titled “Label it: Agriculture,” and focusing on a future built by collaboration. This innovative and informative program will bring together producers, consumers, experts and other ag stakeholders to peel back the polarizing rhetoric often found in today’s society.

    Stories can create divisive boundaries in agriculture between organic and conventional; urban and rural; large-scale and small-scale. The Forum will instead focus on the powerful history of collaboration and cooperation that has made agriculture in the state of Colorado the second largest driver of our economy. It will challenge and equip attendees to seek out novel alliances and ideas ​to benefit their own operations, the industry statewide, and beyond.

    Registered attendees of the Forum are also invited to a pre-Forum reception, taking place from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion (400 E 8th Avenue, Denver, CO 80203).​

    From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

    Joining a myriad of other speakers at the 2017 Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown will each be stepping up to the podium at the event.

    Gov. Hickenlooper and Commissioner Brown will help lead a Forum that this year is titled “Label It: Agriculture,” focusing on how collaboration and cooperation have made agriculture in Colorado the state’s second-largest driver of our economy, and how similar efforts will be critical moving forward.

    Other presenters and panelists at this year’s Forum – taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel – will include:

    * Krysta Harden, former U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture, and current vice president of public policy and chief sustainability officer for DuPont

    * Gregory Graff, ag-economics professor at Colorado State University

    * Keith Belk, animal sciences and public health professor at Colorado State University

    * Holly Butka, global consumer engagement lead at Monsanto

    * Norm Dalsted, professor and extension farm/ranch management economist at Colorado State University

    * Tom Lipetzky, director of marketing programs and strategic initiatives at the Colorado Department of Agriculture

    * Tom Kourlis, Colorado rancher

    * Stephanie Regagnon, CEO of FieldWatch Inc.

    * Dawn Thilmany McFadden, professor and agribusiness extension specialist at Colorado State University

    * Virginia Till, recycling specialist and regional lead for EPA Region 8’s Sustainable Food Management

    How unusual is 2016’s record-temperature three-peat, and will the hot streak continue in 2017?

    From NOAA (http://Climate.gov):

    Looking back on Earth’s global temperature over the past three years…2014: record warm—wow! 2015: record warm—wow!! 2016: record warm—holy cow!!!

    In 2016, the annual global temperature reached a record high for the third year in a row, a remarkable occurrence rarely seen in the 137-year NOAA record and one not seen since the streak of record warmth (at the time) of 1939, 1940, and 1941.

    Each year's global surface temperature compared to the twentieth-century average from 1880-2016. The three hottest years on record (2014–16) are colored red. The last record-warm "three-peat" was the period from 1939–41. Due to global warming, those years don't even rank in the top 30 warmest on record. Graph by NOAA Climate.gov, based on data from NCEI's Climate at a Glance.
    Each year’s global surface temperature compared to the twentieth-century average from 1880-2016. The three hottest years on record (2014–16) are colored red. The last record-warm “three-peat” was the period from 1939–41. Due to global warming, those years don’t even rank in the top 30 warmest on record. Graph by NOAA Climate.gov, based on data from NCEI’s Climate at a Glance.

    Those years, which ranked as third warmest, second warmest, and warmest, respectively, in 1941, now rank as 64th, 50th, and 38th warmest today. But back to the current streak…how did this happen?

    If you guess long-term climate change—Yes! If you guess El Niño—Yes! Also correct. If you guess supermoons—umm, sorry, not so much.

    The Background
    First, Earth’s temperature has been rising at an average rate of 0.13°F each decade since the start of the record in 1880 and more than twice that rate (0.31°F) if you consider the past half century alone. That increase is due to long-term warming.

    Second, natural climate cycles, the biggest player being the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), cause global temperatures to temporarily rise (El Niño) or fall (La Niña). Generally, the stronger the El Niño or La Niña, the greater the impact will be on the average global temperature. Over time, the effects of El Niños and La Niñas balance each other out, so the net effect on long-term warming is negligible.

    Monthly temperature departures from average color coded by the warm (red, El Niño) and cool (blue, La Niña) phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern influencing the climate at the time. El Niño and La Niña months tend to be warmer or cooler, respectively, than their close neighbors. NOAA NCEI graph by Deke Arndt.
    Monthly temperature departures from average color coded by the warm (red, El Niño) and cool (blue, La Niña) phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern influencing the climate at the time. El Niño and La Niña months tend to be warmer or cooler, respectively, than their close neighbors. NOAA NCEI graph by Deke Arndt.

    The Story
    Near the end of 2014, one of the strongest El Niños since at least the mid-20th century, and the strongest since 1998, emerged in the eastern Pacific Ocean and lasted through late spring 2016. So not only was this a strong El Niño, it was the longest-lasting one since the Climate Prediction Center began tracking the phenomenon in 1950. This extreme intensity and duration led to the fall of lots of annual and monthly global temperature records. And when they fell, they fell hard.

    Annual temperatures

    With a couple of months in the El Niño phase at the end of the year—but still weak at this point—2014 broke the annual record set in 2010 (another year with El Niño by the way) by 0.07°F.

    El Niño continued to strengthen throughout 2015 and was among the strongest on record by the end of the year. (Side lesson: there are a lot of complicated dynamics between the ocean and the atmosphere, but to simplify here, a strong and long-lived El Niño exposes a lot of warm water to the atmosphere. If you take away some of the details, it’s like adding a subtle temporary floor furnace to the atmosphere.) With all the extra heat pumped into the atmosphere from the ocean, 2015 broke the annual record set in 2014 by an incredible 0.29°F, the widest margin on record.

    Global surface temperatures by percentiles (record coldest to record warmest) for 2014, 2015, and 2016. Despite each successive year setting a new global record, different places experienced different levels of warmth each year. NOAA Climate.gov image based on NCEI maps.
    Global surface temperatures by percentiles (record coldest to record warmest) for 2014, 2015, and 2016. Despite each successive year setting a new global record, different places experienced different levels of warmth each year. NOAA Climate.gov image based on NCEI maps.

    El Niño began to weaken around the beginning of 2016, officially ending in late spring. Often, the effects of the phenomenon continue to impact global temperatures for up to a few months after the event has ended because all of that added heat in the atmosphere doesn’t immediately go away. And as sometimes happens, a La Niña event emerged a few months after El Niño’s demise, bringing its cooling effect with it.

    Because of its strength and lingering effects, the 2016 annual global temperature was influenced more by El Niño than by La Niña. And so, with the global temperature already elevated at the beginning of the year, 2016 set yet another annual global temperature record, albeit by a slimmer margin of 0.07°F.

    But how does the 2016 temperature stack up against 1998, the year of the last strong El Niño? If we were comparing apples to apples, we would expect the temperatures to be roughly close to one another. But it’s not apples to apples: this is where the effect of long-term global warming can clearly be seen. Although each year started with a strong El Niño and ended with La Niña, 2016 was more than half a degree (0.56°F) warmer than 1998. That matches up well with the average decadal rate of warming. Even 2014 beat out 1998 by 0.19°F.

    The monthly records

    While three record warm years in a row is pretty incredible, monthly temperatures during these three years were equally astonishing. Lots of records were broken, several in dramatic fashion.

    In the 28-month span between May 2014 and August 2016, 24 monthly global temperature records were broken. That includes 16 in a row (s-i-x-t-e-e-n!) from May 2015 to August 2016. Fourteen of the 15 largest all-time monthly temperatures departures were set during 2015 and 2016, with the highest in March 2016 (January 2007 tied for 10th warmest, and yes, El Niño was involved here too).

    Monthly temperature anomalies (difference from average) from 2007-2016. Orange bars indicate months that set a new temeprature record at the time they occurred. During the past three years, 24 months set new records for warmth. In some cases, monthly records set in 2014 were broken in 2015, and again 2016. NOAA Climate.gov graph, adapted from NCEI original by Deke Arndt.
    Monthly temperature anomalies (difference from average) from 2007-2016. Orange bars indicate months that set a new temeprature record at the time they occurred. During the past three years, 24 months set new records for warmth. In some cases, monthly records set in 2014 were broken in 2015, and again 2016. NOAA Climate.gov graph, adapted from NCEI original by Deke Arndt.

    El Niño is over. What now?
    El Niños and La Niñas and other natural climate patterns are really difficult to predict far in advance. It is unknown exactly when they will occur, how long they will last, and how intense they will be. So it’s not really possible to know exactly how warm or cool next year, or the year after, or the year after that will be.

    But underlying this uncertainty is the certainty that the annual global temperature record has been broken five times since the beginning of the 21st century and the certainty that the global temperature has been increasing around 0.3°F per decade over the past 50 years.

    Although we don’t know when, the global annual temperature record will be broken again. Monthly global temperature records will be broken again. We will not see new global high temperature records every year, nor do we expect to. We probably won’t see a new record in 2017, but we probably will see one in the not so distant future.

    Finally, it’s important to remember that the average global temperature is just that – an average. Different parts of the world will set new records at different times, and yes, we expect to see some records this year too. We expect a few of these will even be cold records. In some regions of the world, like the Arctic, temperatures are rising at a much higher rate than most other regions of the world. Increasing temperatures manifest into impacts, like melting glaciers and ice sheets that lead to sea level rise, among countless others. That won’t change—new record annual global temperatures or not.