Extreme weather? Yes, and the events were interrelated: The convergence of hot and dry, flash floods and bad air were manifestations of a fast-changing #climate in #Colorado and beyond — Big Pivots

From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

Heat waves in June and again in July. Monster wildfires on the West Coast that made the air in Denver, Salt Lake City and Cheyenne unhealthy. Then fast floods that produced debris flows, blocking Colorado’s major east-west artery, Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.

They’re separate but related, said Western Water Assessment’s Seth Arens in a Nov. 18 review of the year’s extreme weather events in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. He called them a convergence of climate hazards.

“These are related; they are not independent,” he said.

Arens described the concept of compound hazards, where the occurrence of one hazard can create conditions for another hazard.

“None of these climate hazards act in isolation and many of them occur with one another,” said Arens, a research scientist based in Salt Lake City.
For example, extreme temperatures and low precipitation lead to drought, which begets increased wildfire risk. The wildfires produce poor air quality. And after the fires, there’s an increased risk of flash floods.

We’re talking visions of Armageddon here—and, at least until the smoke disappeared in September, it seemed that Colorado had arrived in perdition.
Most of the attention about the heat dome of June focused on the West Coast, and rightfully so. Temperatures of 116 in Portland? People literally baked to death in uncooled apartments.

But it was hot in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, too. Arens said he narrowed his study of temperature records to places with records of at least 50 years. Even so, he found many all-time records and dozens of daily records. On just one day, June 15, Arens found that 79% of daily temperature records in Utah, 53% in Colorado, and 83% in Wyoming were broken. And so it went for two more days before the heat relented.

In July, more records were set, including an all-time record in Grand Junction of 107 degrees. Utah’s all-time record of 117 degrees was tied at St. George. Later in July, all-time high temperatures were set in three Wyoming tow and cities, the highest being 109 degrees in Weston.

Colorado Basin Forecast Center Drought Monitor map November 30, 2021.

Heat devoid of precipitation equals drought. These Western states have had that. Much of the focus has been on the Colorado River Basin.

Runoff in the Colorado River during water year ending October 2021 was 50% of average. Flows into Lake Powell were 28% of median.

In August, Powell reached the lowest elevation since it began filling after completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. It’s now less than 30% of capacity. That puts it at 157 feet below full pool.

The Bureau of Reclamation, in its two-year projections, estimates the river will drop another 20 feet by spring 2022. Already, there are questions of when the reservoir level will drop below what is called minimum pool, the least amount of water needed to be able to produce electricity. That could happen by early 2023.

Might a big snow year boost water levels in Powell, averting the chain reaction of problems? Perhaps, although Arens offered little encouragement. With the La Niña weather pattern, the odds again are for the Colorado River Basin receiving below-average snowfall.

Weather prediction has a big gap, Arens added. Weather can be predicted with some confidence beyond two weeks, and the climate can be predicted after about 9 years. But between, not much can be said with confidence.

Back to last summer: The air quality was again miserable, approaching the air quality index of 200 in Salt Lake City on July 12. In Denver it was 192. These are all levels where even healthy people are advised to stay indoors. It was marginally better that day in Cheyenne, at 119.

Along the Wasatch Front of Utah, Salt Lake City exceeded the EPA standard for ozone air quality 23 days and Ogden 16 days. In Colorado, Denver exceeded the limit 25 days, Boulder 28, and Colorado Springs 20.

Colorado Department of Transportation
CDOT crews continue clearing mudflow from Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon July 2021 — Colorado Department of Transportation

Then there were the flash floods and mudslides. The torrential rains were not everywhere, but in places they sent rocks and mud rushing and tumbling down onto highways. The most notorious was in Glenwood Canyon, where the hillsides were burned last year in the 32,631-acre Grizzly Gulch fire.

These big rains had some beneficial effect, too. Soil moistures recovered, meaning the melting snow next spring will not automatically get sopped up like an absorbent paper towel. Arens also noted that rainstorm had a satisfying result in a Glen Canyon side canyon where the receding waters of Powell had left 18 to 20 feet of silt.The storm sent all the silt downstream, revealing parts of the canyon that David Brower had known.

USBR launches new prize competition to improve #snowpack water forecasts

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

The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a new prize competition for improved snowpack water forecast techniques throughout the West. Developing better techniques to determine the amount of water stored as snowpack provides water managers more accurate information to make better water management decisions.

This competition is divided into two tracks. In track one, participants develop a model and calibrate it using historical information. The effectiveness and accuracy of the test model will be evaluated during the winter and spring using real-time snowpack measurements. For track two, models in the first track are eligible to submit a report that discusses their solution and approaches to solving the problem in track one.

Reclamation is partnering with Bonneville Power Administration, NASA – Goddard Space Flight Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Center for Atmospheric Research, DrivenData, HeroX, Ensemble and NASA Tournament Lab.

To learn more, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/swe.html.

Reclamation conducts prize competitions to spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. In the past six years, it has awarded more than $4 million in prizes through 29 competitions. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

Snowcast Showdown

The message from scientists on #Colorado’s lack of snow so far: Don’t panic — Colorado Public Radio #snowpack #ENSO

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 7, 2021 via the NRCS.

From Colorado Public Radio (Corey H. Jones):

Last week, a blizzard warning was issued for the mountains — of Hawaii. But as the tropical state dealt with flooding and high winds, Colorado has been pretty bone-dry. Denver has set a modern-day record and gone nearly 230 days without any measurable accumulation. Fortunately, it seems like that record’s days are numbered with a winter storm expected later this week.

After nearly two weeks of mostly dry conditions, snow fell in the high country last night [December 6-7, 2021]…

What do we know about the potential for snow?

The reality is there’s no way to tell what’s in store for the rest of the season. Meteorologists aren’t able to forecast conditions month-to-month, however they do know we are experiencing a La Niña winter.

“That generally favors above-average snowfall for the northwest, from Idaho to British Columbia,” [Joel] Gratz said. “But La Niña doesn’t help or hurt us in Colorado much.”

That’s because we’re on the edge of that climate pattern. Big snowstorms along the Front Range — especially in the spring — are not common with La Niña. Gratz said those are more frequent during El Niño seasons.

But the state is also contending with the effects of climate change.

“While we will still get these winter storm patterns and we will still get snow and cold, we are just getting an increasing frequency of these warm anomalies as well,” assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger told Colorado Matters.

The good news is there’s still plenty of time for Colorado to catch up. Our state usually sees its deepest snowpack in April.

#Snowpack is off to a poor start in the West, bad news amid widespread #drought — The Washington Post

From The Washington Post (Becky Bollinger):

…the snow season usually starts in October in the Rocky Mountains. By the end of November, snow depth on the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and eastward to the interior Rockies typically ranges from 2 inches at lower elevations to over 20 inches on the highest elevations.

So what have we seen this year? Unfortunately, not much.

The lackluster snowpack is particularly worrisome amid widespread drought in the region — 94 percent of the West is experiencing drought, and many lakes and reservoirs are at historically low levels. A healthy snowpack this winter could help replenish water levels during the spring melt season -— but if snowpack is limited, deficits will grow.

West Drought Monitor map November 30. 2021.

Current conditions

Warm and dry conditions this fall have led to significant snowfall deficits across the western United States. November was warmer than average, and precipitation was below average everywhere except Washington state, which had a string of storms that caused major flooding.

The National Weather Service reported high elevation snowfall lagging behind by 10 to 20 inches last month…

Every basin in the west is below normal, ranging from as little as 2 percent of normal on the Lower Colorado in Arizona to 81 percent of normal for the Upper Columbia in Washington.

Every basin in the West is below normal snow water equivalent. (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service )

There’s still time

It’s a pretty bleak picture for the start of winter. The bad news is that early season snowpack is an important contribution to the peak snowpack. The good news is that 1) we’ve got a lot of time left, and 2) we can still make up these deficits…

One factor that can affect the region’s winter precipitation is the current La Niña, which is likely to continue through the winter and into the spring. While it’s not always a perfect relationship, we tend to see above-average snowfall in the northwest and below-average snowfall in the southwest during La Niña winters.

If this pans out, the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies are more likely to get average peak snowpack, but the southern basins would more likely peak below average.

One other challenge to contend with is the temperature outlook. The Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal outlook calls for a greater chance of above-average temperatures for Utah, Colorado and to the south. Above-average temperatures for the lower elevation areas would increase the likelihood of melting, and could also result in earlier and lower peak snowpack. The Pacific Northwest is expected to see below-average temperatures…

With the La Niña and temperature forecasts, the odds are better for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana to have a decent winter, even after a poor start. Northern California, the Great Basin, Wyoming, and the northern reaches of Utah and Colorado could also recover. The areas that are likely to be in the worst shape in the spring would be the central and southern mountains of Utah and Colorado and the rest of the Southwest.

It’s still early enough in the season for things to turn around, however, so let’s all hope for some holiday magic in the form of snowflakes!

Becky Bolinger is the assistant state climatologist for Colorado and a research scientist at Colorado State University.

Douglas County considering Renewable Water Resources plan to export San Luis Valley #water: RWR needs to find a customer to move its proposal forward — The #AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

FOR an initial payment of $20 million Douglas County can become a partner of Renewable Water Resources in its plan to export approximately 20,000 acre-feet of water per year from the San Luis Valley, according to an RWR proposal to the Douglas County Commissioners.

In its proposal to Douglas County, RWR said it currently owns approximately 9,800 acres in the San Luis Valley and has options to purchase an estimated 8,000 additional acres. “The Parties will enter into one or more agreements (the “Contract(s)”) governing the adjudication of approximately 22,000 acre feet of water per year (the “Water Rights”) in Water Division No. 3 (the “Water Case”),” according to the terms of agreement presented to Douglas County.

Download the proposal.

The proposal establishes terms of value for the water rights that Douglas County would own and how it would get a fixed per annual acre-foot rate below current water market rates that other Front Range communities are paying.

“In consideration for the Initial Payment, the Purchase Price for the water rights will be fixed at $18,500.00 per annual acre foot. At that Purchase Price, the Water Rights would be substantially below their current market value, especially for trans-basin water that can be used to extinction. Currently, metro districts and other water service providers in the Colorado Front Range are acquiring water rights for more than $40,000-$50,000 per acre foot for senior rights. With an early investment in RWR, the County can take a leadership role in securing renewable water rights at a significant discount.”

The three Douglas County Commissioners are split on the proposal, based on interviews Alamosa Citizen conducted Tuesday with the county commissioners…

Douglas County has been seeking community input on how to spend $68.2 million of federal funding received through the American Rescue Plan Act. Securing additional water rights to meet its growth is one of the priority areas Douglas County has identified for the federal funding.

Douglas County will host a Town Hall on Thursday to hear from residents on how to prioritize spending of the American Rescue Plan Act. The water rights proposal from RWR is one of the proposals expected to be discussed at the meeting…

Renewable Water Resources needs to find a customer like Douglas County to move its proposal forward. The plan relies on drawing water from the Upper Rio Grande Basin and exporting it to the Front Range. Without an identified end user for the exportation and sale of the water, RWR can’t file its plan in Colorado Water Court.

If Douglas County moves ahead with RWR, State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa said RWR would need to acquire the water rights and then file in district water court a change to the water rights decree to go from agricultural use to municipal use. He said land RWR owns doesn’t have irrigation well water rights and that RWR would need to buy wells and well permits for its exportation plan…

Simpson has met with the commissioners. He said that Douglas County thinking it can use money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act for the RWR proposal is a twist he didn’t see coming.

“I think it’s unconscionable to use those federal dollars to diminish one community in support of another community,” he said. In addition to representing the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Senate, Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which is leading the opposition to the RWR plan.

Read more of Alamosa Citizen’s journalism on the Rio Grande Basin and the RWR project:

DAY 1: The threats ahead
DAY 2: A battle over water exports
DAY 3: Water-saving alternative crops

October aquifer reading causes concern

Drought, land development take toll on the Valley’s natural habitats

Valley water use in a delicate balance

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

The butterflies are back! Annual migration of monarchs shows highest numbers in years — #National Public Radio

Monarch butterfly on milkweed in Mrs. Gulch’s landscape July 17, 2021.

From National Public Radio (Michael Levitt and Christopher Intagliata):

Every year, monarch butterflies from all over the western U.S. migrate to coastal California, to escape the harsh winter weather. In the 1980s and ’90s, more than a million made the trip each year.

Those numbers have plummeted by more than 99% in recent years.

“The last few years we’ve had less than 30,000 butterflies,” biologist Emma Pelton said. “Last year, we actually dropped below 2,000 butterflies. So really an order of magnitude change in a short time period.”

Pelton works with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and says pesticides and habitat loss play a role in that decline.

But this year, the numbers are starting to pick up. Biologists and volunteers across California have already counted more than 100,000 monarchs.

Richard Rachman is the coordinator for the Xerces Society’s annual Thanksgiving monarch count in Los Angeles County, and has been buoyed by the numbers.

EPA Invites 39 New Projects to Apply for #Water Infrastructure Loans

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

Here’s the release from the EPA:

[December 3, 2021], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that 39 new projects are being invited to apply for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans and four projects are being added to a waitlist. The agency anticipates that, as funds become available, $6.7 billion in WIFIA loans will help finance over $15 billion in water infrastructure projects to protect public health and water quality across 24 states.

“Far too many communities still face significant water challenges, making these transformative investments in water infrastructure so crucial,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The WIFIA invited projects will deliver major benefits like the creation of good-paying jobs and the safeguarding of public health, especially in underserved and under-resourced communities. This program is a shining example of the public health and economic opportunities that will be achieved under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

EPA’s WIFIA program will provide selected borrowers with innovative financing tools to address pressing public health and environmental challenges in their communities. Consistent with its announced priorities, the WIFIA program is making $1.2 billion in loans available to support infrastructure needs in historically underserved communities. Additionally, 14 projects will help protect infrastructure from the impacts of extreme weather events and the climate crisis. New and innovative approaches, including cybersecurity, green infrastructure, and water reuse, are included in 24 projects.

By diversifying its geographic reach and the types of selected borrowers, the WIFIA program will also expand the types of projects it supports. For the first time, entities in Connecticut, Delaware, and Hawaii are invited to apply. Three small communities, with populations of 25,000 or less, are selected for WIFIA loans totaling nearly $62 million. In addition, seven projects submitted by private borrowers and public-private partnerships totaling over $1.5 billion in WIFIA financing are included.

EPA is also inviting state agencies in Indiana and New Jersey to apply for a total of $472 million in WIFIA loans through EPA’s state infrastructure financing authority WIFIA (SWIFIA) program. EPA’s SWIFIA loans are available exclusively to state infrastructure financing authority borrowers, commonly known as State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs, and will allow these programs to finance more infrastructure projects in their states. These programs will combine state resources, annual capitalization grants, and the low-cost, flexible SWIFIA loans to accelerate investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to modernize aging systems and tackle new contaminants.

WIFIA Invited Projects:

  • Baltimore City Department of Public Works (Md.): $36 million for the Water Infrastructure Advancement 2021 project.
  • Charlotte Water (N.C.): $169 million for the Mallard Creek Sewer Basin Wastewater Collection and Treatment Improvements Program.
  • City of Ashland (Ore.): $36 million for a 7.0 Million Gallons per Day Water Treatment Plant.
  • City of Bellingham (Wash.): $136 million for the Post Point Resource Recovery Plant Biosolids Project.
  • City of Boise (Idaho): $272 million for Water Renewal Services Capital Investments Projects.
  • City of Chattanooga (Tenn.): $186 million for Wastewater Compliance and Sustainability Projects.
  • City of Cortland (N.Y.): $12 million for the Homer Avenue Gateway Project.
  • City of Memphis (Tenn.): $44 million for Stormwater Upgrades.
  • City of Oregon City (Ore.): $12 million for Water Rehabilitation, Resiliency and Improvement Projects.
  • City of Philadelphia (Pa.): $260 million for the Water Department 2021 project.
  • City of Port Washington (Wis.): $12 million for the Water Treatment Plant Improvement Project.
  • City of Santa Cruz (Calif.): $164 million for the Santa Cruz Water Program.
  • Westminster
  • City of Westminster (Colo.): $130 million for the Water2025 project.
  • City of Wichita (Kan.): $181 million for the Wastewater Reclamation Facilities Biological Nutrient Removal Improvements Project.
  • County of Hawaii (Hawaii): $24 million for Hawaii Wastewater Treatment Upgrades.
  • EPCOR Foothills Water Project Inc. (Ore.): $76 million for the Lake Oswego Wastewater Treatment Replacement Project.
  • Fishers Island Water Works Corporation (N.Y.): $14 million for Water System Improvements.
  • Gainesville Regional Utilities (Fla.): $14 million for the Sanitary Sewer Replacement and Improvement Project.
  • Helix Water District (Calif.): $16 million for the Drinking Water Reliability Project.
  • King County (Wash.): $287 million Master Agreement.
  • Marin Municipal Water District (Calif.): $11 million for Marin Water.
  • Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) (Mo.): $278 million for MSD Project Clear – Deer Creek Watershed / Lemay Service Area System Improvements.
  • Metro Water Services (Tenn.): $186 million for the Process Advancements at Omohundro and K.R. Harrington Water Treatment Plants Project.
  • Narragansett Bay Commission (R.I.): $28 million for Field’s Point Resiliency Improvements.
  • New Castle County (Del.): $32 million for the Christina River Force Main Rehabilitation Project.
  • Ridgway via AllTelluride.com
  • Project 7 Water Authority (Colo.): $39 million for the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant.
  • Rialto Water Service LLC (Calif.): $68 million for Microgrid and System Improvements.
  • San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (Calif.): $618 million for Wastewater Capital Plan Resilience Projects.
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District (Calif.): $575 million for the Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project.
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District (Calif.): $80 million for the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program.
  • Santa Margarita Water District (Calif.): $22 million for Recycled Water Conversion.
  • Sharyland Water Supply Corporation (Texas): $14 million for Sharyland Water Supply Corporation Water System Infrastructure Improvements.
  • South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (Conn.): $20 million for Lake Whitney Dam and Spillway Improvements.
  • Tualatin Valley Water District (Ore.): $16 million for the Water System Upgrades Program.
  • United Water Conservation District (Calif.): $52 million for the Santa Felicia Safety Improvement Project.
  • Upper Santa Ana River Watershed Infrastructure Financing Authority (Calif.): $177 million for the Watershed Connect project.
  • Village of New Lenox (Ill.): $70 million for Phase 1 Improvements projects.
  • Waitlist Projects:

  • American Infrastructure Holdings (S.D.): $20 million for the Sioux City Biosolids to Fertilizer Project.
  • Lake Restoration Solutions, LLC (Utah): $893 million for the Utah Lake Restoration Project.
  • U.S. Highway 287 runs through the future site of Glade Reservoir. The Larimer county Board of County Commissioners approved the 1041 Land Use Permit for NISP in September, 2020. Photo credit: Northern Water
  • Northern Water (Colo.): $464 million for the Northern Integrated Supply Project – Glade Reservoir Complex.
  • Southland Water Agency (Ill.): $479 million for the Southland Water Agency Infrastructure System.
  • Background on WIFIA

    Established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, the WIFIA program is a federal loan and guarantee program administered by EPA. WIFIA’s goal is to accelerate investment in the nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental credit assistance for regionally and nationally significant projects.

    The final phase of restoration in #GlenwoodCanyon turns to debris-choked #ColoradoRiver: CDOT is orchestrating the removal of hundreds of thousands of tons of debris flushed down the walls of Glenwood Canyon in July deluge — The #Colorado Sun #COriver #aridification

    Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River. Photo credit: CDOT via Roads & Bridges

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    In a week or so, CDOT will announce it has completed repairs of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon. Crews have finished rebuilding the roadway, thanks to a unified push by a host of federal and state agencies.

    The impacts of the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire that burned more than 32,000 acres in the canyon remain acute, with the scar still likely to shed rocks, timber and mud during next spring’s melt. More than 4 inches of rain on July 29 — following several days of rainstorms — shed rocks, mud and trees from atop the canyon. Six massive debris piles span a 3-mile stretch of highway and river in Glenwood Canyon. Early attempts to measure the muddy mess set it at more than 100,000 cubic yards. If it was just dry sand, that would be about 150,000 tons. CDOT estimates it has already removed about 44,000 tons of debris off the highway and recreation path.

    The worst-ever debris-flow damage to the vital interstate corridor has been repaired in a little more than four months. It would probably be easier to list the federal and state agencies that were not involved in the restoration work, but CDOT led an effort with input from the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Highway Administration, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and just about every nearby community and Colorado River water guardians…

    With teams working on the debris-choked Hanging Lake Trail as well as seeding the burn zone to hasten growth that can prevent devastating runoff, the final stage in the restoration of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon begins now, with plans to clear plumes of rocks and mud blocking the Colorado River in the canyon. Crews soon will position heavy machinery in the river bed as part of a complicated plan to clear six river-jamming piles.

    CDOT officials flew over the canyon this summer and mapped the river and the new debris fields using laser technology. Then a hydrology consultant created models for various runoff scenarios, looking at how the jumbles of rocks in the river might disrupt flows when the dam at Hanging Lake spills and the narrow canyon sees the river swell to 5,000, 10,000 and even 15,000 cubic feet per second next spring.

    “Based on those models, we are showing the potential for catastrophic damage to eastbound 70 if the river is left in its current configuration,” Knapp said. “That is the main driver for the removal of that debris.”


    CDOT will start digging soon, chipping away at the piles until trucks have hauled away at least 60% and up to 90% of the debris choking the river and bike path in the canyon. That’s good news for downstream water users, anglers and rafters. But CDOT isn’t spending federal dollars to keep trout biting and rafts floating. It’s all about protecting the highway to the north and the railroad to the south of the river…

    Six debris piles threatening I-70

    CDOT plans to remove six debris piles by the end of April next year, before the spring runoff swells the Colorado River. Its emergency road repair contractor, Lawrence Construction Co., is on board to work the two piles that flowed from the north. The Lawrence group also plans to clear the recreation path along the river, but the priority is to clear the river before the end of April 2022.

    Looking up at the source of the debris flow in Glenwood Canyon August 2021. Photo credit: CDOT

    The debris pile that poured down Blue Gulch on the north side of the highway and damaged both the westbound and eastbound lanes did the most damage to the highway and buried the largest portion of the river. That pile erased a Class IV rapid known as Barrel Springs. One mile upstream, debris from from the north side’s Wagon Gulch went beneath the westbound lanes but buried the low-lying eastbound pavement. That’s the debris pile that could most easily force the river onto the highway, Knapp said…

    Those two piles — below the Blue and Wagon gulches — are more logistically straight forward, with Lawrence Construction crews able to access them both from a single closed lane on the eastbound highway. And they are in the stretch of river between the Shoshone Dam at the Hanging Lake rest area and the Shoshone Generating Station, which is regularly dewatered in the winter months as Xcel Energy diverts the Colorado River into a tunnel that feeds the hydroelectric power plant.

    The piles that came from the south, over and under the railroad, are more challenging for removal crews. CDOT will soon begin seeking contractors who can work with the Union Pacific railroad to access two of those piles above the Shoshone power plant, which are below Devil’s Hole Canyon and an unnamed gulch that CDOT has dubbed Unnamed…

    Later this winter, the transportation department will hire contractors to help remove the two piles downstream of the power plant, which are below Deadman Gulch and above the Maneater rapid. (Those last two will be trickier, because the river is flowing there and crews will likely be unable to access the highway to remove debris.)

    CDOT has a unique plan for the Devil’s Hole and Unnamed piles. The rocks and mud that flowed down Devil’s Hole Canyon funneled beneath the railroad tracks and slammed into the eastbound highway retaining wall, completely blocking the river. CDOT hopes a contractor can work with the railroad to deliver equipment to the debris piles but then build a temporary debris bridge across the river so earthmovers can load trucks on the highway. The plan for a debris bridge is the same for the Unnamed pile. That way no debris would be removed via the railroad.

    But downstream, in the heavily rafted Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River, the two piles at Deadman and Maneater will require more coordination with Union Pacific. The railroad has given CDOT a four-hour midday window between its passing trains to load and remove train cars with debris. CDOT’s yet-to-be-issued request for contractors is hoping to find a company that can speedily fill train cars while working on the edge of the moving Colorado River…

    The Forest Service and CDOT, recognizing the critical role rafting plays in the local economy, opened early access to the river for several owners of rafting companies.

    It was quite a scene, said Ken Murphy, the owner of the Glenwood Adventure Company. Nine or so competitors, working together in the middle of rapids with ropes, chainsaws and winches to clear dense walls of timber clogging the rapids above Glenwood Springs.

    “We just had to get it open,” Murphy said, “and get our businesses back up and running. The river is an important economic driver for our community. There is huge support to get that cleaned up and ready.”

    After two days of sawing and yanking, they cleared a path for rafts. Then the owners brought in their guides, who had to learn how to navigate a completely different river. The jagged piles of rock at Deadman and Maneater have changed how rafts and kayaks descend the rapids.

    That’s not necessarily new. After exceptionally snowy seasons in Colorado, Shoshone stretch can see flows reach 15,000 or even 18,000 cubic-feet-per-second in the spring. (For comparison, the stretch typically runs around 1,200 cfs.)

    Those rowdy runoff flows shift rocks and reorient rapids. Murphy said commercial and private whitewater paddlers are closely watching how the debris removal might change rapids…

    CDOT’s Knapp is a kayaker. He lived in Glenwood Springs. He’s confident that removing debris from the side of the river channel will not alter the rapids. When the project is wrapped, he expects the river to look and paddle a lot like it did before the summer rockfall. He knows he’s not spending millions in taxpayer dollars so whitewater paddlers can still enjoy the river. But recreation is an important consideration and one of the resources the Forest Service wants to protect in Glenwood Canyon.

    #Snowpack news (December 6, 2021): SWE lacking across the U.S. west and #Colorado

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

    And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for December 6, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 6, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Prepping for mountain snowmelt today and tomorrow: Learn how #ClimateChange complicates the spring #runoff season and what @DenverWater is doing about it — New on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

    Managing water collected from the mountain snow’s spring runoff has plenty of challenges — and will become more complex in the future due to climate change.

    “As water planners, we prefer to see predictable weather patterns,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “Unfortunately, every year is different and with climate change we’re seeing more variability and that makes it tougher to manage our water supply.”

    That challenge may be most acute during runoff season, that critical — and brief — window of time when snow melts, flows into streams and fills reservoirs. Climate change may lead to changes in runoff timing that, in turn, require more nimble reservoir operations.

    What’s happening?

    Since the 1960s, average temperatures in Colorado have increased 2.5 degrees, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That change is manifesting in significant ways.

    “We’re seeing more swings between wet and dry years, more variation in year-to-year stream runoff and earlier runoff,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate program manager at Denver Water. “We’re also expecting to see more extreme weather events like extreme heat and enhanced drought, but we could also see more intense rainstorms and flooding especially if heavy rain falls on top of a lot of snow.”

    Timing is everything

    The timing of the snow runoff in Summit County, which is home to Dillon Reservoir, provides an example of how climate change impacts not only water collection but also recreation and flooding.

    Rapid snowmelts caused by rain falling on snow could lead to a greater risk of flooding below Dillon Dam.

    During a gradual runoff, Denver Water can take steps to minimize the risk of flooding below the dam, however, if there are more instances of warm weather combined with rain falling on snow, large amounts of water can fill Dillon quickly and send water through the dam’s overflow spillway. This scenario can lead to high water levels on the Blue River through Silverthorne.

    “We do our best to minimize high flows out of our reservoirs, but if there is a fast runoff, we can only do so much and there’s a greater chance for flooding downstream if there’s a major rain-on-snow event,” Elder said.

    Changes in runoff and precipitation also impact when Dillon Reservoir fills — or doesn’t fill — which plays a role in boating season and water levels for the Dillon and Frisco marinas.

    The timing of the runoff also impacts Denver Water’s ability to make the most of its water rights.

    “Later runoff allows us to use our water rights to match higher customer demand during the summer watering season,” Elder said. “Early runoff means we have to let some water go downstream before we can put it to use on the Front Range. This also impacts how much water we can store for times of drought.”

    When Dillon Reservoir is full, water flows down its overflow spillway into the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Extreme weather events

    Colorado has seen several big swings in weather over the last 20 years, suggesting the kind of uncertainty that may be more pronounced as climate change intensifies and the resulting complexity in managing the snow runoff.

    Most recently, the winter of 2017-2018 was exceptionally dry across the state but was followed by above average snow in 2018-2019.

    The years 2012 through mid-2013 were another period of drought, followed by record flooding in September 2013. Two wet years followed in 2014 and 2015.

    The dramatic weather turnaround in 2002 and 2003 is another example of how extreme weather impacts Denver Water’s water supply and planning.

    Those years marked a major period of drought. In 2003, Denver Water was preparing to have water restrictions and Dillon Reservoir was more than half empty and critically low. But in March 2003, the Front Range and central mountains got hit with a major snowstorm that filled Denver Water’s reservoirs.

    “A drought could last one year or several and then be followed by big snow years,” Elder said.

    “We could get most of our water for the year from one or two big storms, so we have to be prepared for these situations.”

    Swings in weather patterns and extreme events could have Denver Water planning for drought conditions with watering restrictions for customers and end up with a surplus of water after a big storm.

    Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Planning for climate uncertainty

    Denver Water has relied primarily on historical weather patterns and data to plan for how much water it will collect from mountain streams. Now the utility is incorporating climate change into its long-range preparation through scenario planning.

    “One component of scenario planning involves creating a variety of potential climate scenarios instead of simply assuming patterns will stay the same over the next 50 to 100 years,” said Jeff Bandy, a water resource manager at Denver Water. “This approach helps us plan for potential changes in climate and evaluate our system’s reliability.”

    Denver Water takes data from global climate models and uses the information to create various outcomes on streamflow and precipitation in its water collection system.

    The planning team develops scenarios that include variables such as warmer temperatures, more precipitation and shifts in timing of precipitation, all of which result in changes to volume and timing of runoff in Denver Water’s watersheds.

    “We evaluate the scenarios and determine if future infrastructure projects or operational changes are needed,” Bandy said.

    Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Enhancing data collection

    Denver Water collects water from 4,000 square miles in Colorado’s central mountains and foothills. With such a large area, getting accurate and timely information about weather and streamflow conditions is critical to water supply management.

    “We use a lot of different data sources to manage and forecast water supply and a lot of these data sources are based off historical climate data,” Elder said. “With a changing climate, the current data sources are no longer as reliable as they used to be. This makes it more difficult to manage our reservoirs.”

    In preparation for more weather extremes and variability, Denver Water has begun investing in new technology to get a more accurate picture of the snowpack above Dillon.

    Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

    “In April 2019 we used NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses a plane, to measure snowpack over the mountains in our watershed,” Elder said. “The more we know about the snow, water content and runoff, the better decisions we can make when it comes to managing our water supply for our customers and the communities where our reservoirs are located.”

    Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply, tracks a variety of factors to keep tabs on the snowpack and water supply. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    What can customers do?

    The best way communities can be prepared for the impacts of climate change is to use water wisely.

    “Our water supply is vulnerable to climate and our customers play a major role in how we manage our system,” Elder said. “That’s why we always ask our customers to be efficient with their water all year long and even in wet years.”

    Water is a limited resource in Colorado so climate change will impact communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    “Climate change means water change and that’s important to us all,” Kaatz said. “So, it’s our goal at Denver Water to make sure we’re thinking about it and actively preparing for the changes we’re going to experience.”

    Land developer seeks to de-annex 2,400 acres in #Fountain as it eyes #ColoradoSprings #water — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    One of the Pikes Peak region’s largest real estate development companies is planning thousands of homes on roughly 5,600 acres on Fountain’s east edge, but it might take Colorado Springs’ water to transform the prairie.

    La Plata Communities had banked on Fountain to provide at least some of the water necessary for a new company development, known as Amara; a southern portion of the property, the Kane Ranch, was annexed by Fountain in 2008.

    Now the company is asking to remove, or de-annex, the 2,400-acre Kane Ranch from Fountain’s boundaries, likely in favor of requesting Colorado Springs to annex the land.

    The company framed its need to leave Fountain as a failure of the city to plan ahead for future water needs, according to documents La Plata submitted to the city. Fountain officials say they are facing unprecedented demands on the city’s water system and could not have anticipated so much growth at once.

    The unusual de-annexation proposal by La Plata Communities — the Springs-based developer of Briargate, a master-planned residential and commercial development that covers 10,000 acres on the city’s north side — underscores water’s importance as the lifeblood of development in the Pikes Peak region.

    In an arid climate where water is precious, developers who don’t have it can’t do business. And that’s why Colorado Springs and its vast water resources have always been appealing.

    Colorado Springs Utilities is planning to serve nearly 54% more people — an increase from 470,000 to 723,000 — in the next 50 years. The agency has developed an extensive plan that includes new reservoirs, water reuse and conservation to meet future needs.

    Some of the hundreds of thousands of new residents could move into new subdivisions to the city’s north, east and south.

    A city of Colorado Springs map shows 158 square miles that the city would consider annexing for new development. The map is not a commitment to annex those properties, but it does help guide decisions, Planning and Community Development Director Peter Wysocki said.

    A large portion of La Plata Communities’ new Amara development is considered an area Colorado Springs would annex and it would make sense for the whole project to be annexed, if the city determines it can provide services to it, Wysocki said.

    The proposed Amara development is composed of two areas.

    The 3,200-acre Tee Cross Ranch Properties lies in unincorporated El Paso County, east and north of Fountain; the late rancher, developer and philanthropist Robert Norris, known as the Marlboro Man because of his appearance in advertisements for the cigarette brand, owned the property as part of the more than 95,000 acres he controlled in the county.

    The 2,400-acre Kane Ranch, south of Squirrel Creek Road, is within Fountain’s boundaries and at the heart of La Plata’s frustration outlined in a fiery petition the company submitted seeking to remove it from the city’s boundaries…

    Fountain’s decision to ask the developers to bear the costs of infrastructure development and water storage also was “unworkable,” it said…

    Fountain has faced a flood of developer requests to build — together representing 30,000 new homes across 24 projects in 14 months — more than it could immediately serve, said Todd Evans, Fountain’s deputy city manager…

    It would be like the city of Colorado Springs trying to expand from 600,000 taps, or buildings needing water service, to 1.8 million, he said.

    Demand just from the Kane Ranch property would have represented 25% of the demand of the city’s entire system, Fountain Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said…

    The Fountain City Council will decide in the coming months whether to grant La Plata’s de-annexation request and return the Kane Ranch to El Paso County’s jurisdiction. If the property is removed from Fountain’s city limits, La Plata could ask for annexation by Colorado Springs.

    Colorado Springs already is weighing the annexation of a northern portion of Amara and a decision on that parcel is possible in 2022, Wysocki said.

    #GlenwoodCanyon monitoring project gets funding for second phase: Data could be useful for downstream water users in #Silt — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Nathan Bell, a consultant with the Silt Water Conservancy District points to the sediment built up where the canal that takes water from the Colorado River feeds into the pump house. An upstream water quality monitoring project, which received funding approval from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, could help alert the district when mudslides occur in Glenwood Canyon.

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water managers are dealing with the after effects of the Grizzly Creek Fire and subsequent mudslides in Glenwood Canyon by continuing a water quality monitoring program.

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council received funding approval this week for the second phase of a program that will continue to collect and distribute data about weather and river conditions downstream of the Grizzly Creek burn scar. The Colorado Basin Roundtable approved $72,200 in state grant money for continued data collection at seven rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon, which will provide information to the National Weather Service, an automatic water quality sampler, soil moisture sensors, a new stream gauge and water quality monitoring station in the Rifle/Silt area and a data dashboard for easy access of the information.

    The first phase of the project, which was implemented early last summer before the monsoons, addressed immediate water quality issues, collecting data at the rain gauges every 15 minutes.

    The second phase of the project amounts to an early warning system that will let water users downstream of Glenwood Canyon know when dirty water from mudslides is headed their way. The MCWC hopes to have all the pieces in place before spring runoff.

    “With the way post-fire events happen, we are going to be looking at impacts for the next two to five years,” said Paula Stepp, executive director of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. “The part I’m really excited about is the cooperation between stakeholders and downstream users.”

    On July 29, a heavy rainstorm triggered mudslides in Glenwood Canyon, which left some motorists stranded overnight, and closed Interstate 70 for weeks. Because soils scorched by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire don’t absorb moisture, the rain sent rocks, sediment and debris flowing down drainages, across the highway and into the Colorado River.

    But the mudslides didn’t just affect the river at the site of the rainstorm. The cascade of dirty water also had impacts to agricultural and municipal water users downstream in Silt, whose only source of water is the Colorado.

    The sediment-laden water caused problems for the town of Silt’s water treatment plant, which had to use more chemicals to get the sand to settle out. The increased manganese and iron suspended in the water gave it a brownish tint at taps. It also fouled a set of filters, which the town spent $48,000 to replace. The filters normally last four to five years, but had to be replaced after just one, said Trey Fonner, public works director for the town.

    “If we knew what was coming down the river, we could shut off the intake and we could let the river clean up a little bit before we turned it back on,” Fonner said. “If our tanks are full, we can shut off and let the worst part of it go by.”

    Town of Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner points out how the water treatment plant’s filters were affected by turbid water from the mudslides in Glenwood Canyon last summer. The town had to replace them at a cost of $48,000. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Conservancy district impacts

    The mudslides also created challenges for the Silt Water Conservancy District, which delivers water from the river to about 45 headgates via a canal and pumphouse. Although the town can temporarily shut down its intake because it has about a three-day supply of water in storage, the conservancy district pumps water continuously and shutting off for a brief period of time is difficult.

    “It’s not really a system that can be shut down easily,” said Nathan Bell, a consultant for the district and roundtable member. “It’s extremely cumbersome. It’s a nightmare.”

    The main problem for the district is that the earthen canal which takes water from the river to the pump station silts up. The turbid water also acts like sandpaper, causing more wear and tear on the machinery and reducing its lifespan. The district is planning on more frequent canal cleanings and installing drop structures to catch the mud before it makes it to the pump house.

    The data generated from the monitoring project will allow the district to better plan and budget for the inevitable increased maintenance and repairs, Bell said.

    “It reduces the variables you’re having to manage,” he said. “It lets us get ahead of the game.”

    The data dashboard will let downstream users and the general public set up text alerts for when a parameter of interest is too high or outside a specific window. Silt water users, for example, could set an alert for when rain gauges in Glenwood Canyon record a certain amount of rain, which increases the likelihood a plume of dirty water is headed their way.

    The total cost of phase two of the project is nearly $1.3 million. The watershed council is asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for about $650,000 in grant money and they also expect funds from the U.S. Geological Survey. Garfield County has committed to $15,000 over the next three years and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will contribute $50,000.

    Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Dec. 4 edition of The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

    #Snowpack news (December 5, 2021):

    Colorado snowpack basin-filled map December 5, 2021 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 5, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Wolf Creek summit #snowpack 53 percent of median — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #arifdification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 4.2 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

    That amount is just 53 percent of that date’s median snow water equivalent.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 33 percent of the Dec. 1 median in terms of snow pack.

    River report

    The Piedra River near Arboles continues to flow at record low rates.

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Piedra River was flowing at a rate of 37.1 cfs as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was 360 cfs in 1987.

    Based on 59 years of water re- cords at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 85 cfs.

    According to the USGS, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 52.6 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1.

    Based on 86 years of water records at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 33 cfs, recorded in 1938.The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2008 at 761 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 83 cfs.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map November 30. 2021.

    Drought report

    The National Integrated Drought Information System (NI- DIS) was last updated on Nov. 23.

    The NIDIS website indicates 100 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry.

    The percentage of the county in a moderate drought is listed at 70.86, which is consistent with the previous report.

    The NIDIS website also notes that 47.66 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, consis- tent with last week’s report.

    Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 10.33 of the county remains in an extreme drought, consistent with last week’s report.

    No portion of the county is in exceptional drought.

    For more information and maps,
    visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

    #Silt water treatment plant feeling effects of #GlenwoodCanyon mudslides months later — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    An irrigation ditch south of Silt, and the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

    From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Ray K. Erku):

    Debris flows that wreaked havoc through Glenwood Canyon over the summer are causing Silt’s water treatment center to work harder to remove pollutants from the Colorado River, a town official said.

    Silt Town Manager Jeff Layman said the facility isn’t in any kind of crisis, but it’s simply having to treat water with higher levels of turbidity. The cloudy water also has higher levels of manganese and iron.

    “The facility’s able to treat the water that’s coming in,” he said. “But there’s an increased amount of foreign debris that came off the burn scar.”

    Silt is working with state and federal resources in the hopes of obtaining funding for either updates for the current plant or purchasing a new one.

    Preliminary figures for these potential updates is around $13 million, Layman said. A new plant could potentially cost between $25 million and $30 million…

    Roughly 21 miles west of Glenwood Canyon, Silt pulls its water supply from the Colorado River, and it relies on a micro-filtration water treatment system built about 15 years ago. New Castle pulls its water supply from Elk Creek.

    With the treatment center having to filter out more debris, the city is already having to allocate extra funds to replace equipment. The past month saw the town approve a $48,000 payment to replace filters. Each filter costs about $1,000, and the treatment center is equipped with 96 filters.

    “Usually the filters would last a number of years,” Layman said. “These lasted less than a year because of this problem.”

    Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner said he’s concerned the town’s water treatment system could go through filters more quickly than in the past.

    Yes, it hasn’t snowed yet in #Denver. But it’s #Colorado’s meager #snowpack that should worry you: Denver hasn’t seen snow in 225 days, but climatologists say they’re more concerned about the dry conditions in the high country — The Colorado Sun

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 4, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Colorado Sun (Olivia Prenzel):

    Snowflakes began falling in Denver on Dec. 1, 1913, and didn’t stop for four days, leaving the city blanketed under 45 inches of snow. Some mountain towns saw even more snowfall, with 86 inches recorded in Georgetown, 53 in Estes Park and about 44 in Boulder.

    The anniversary of Denver’s biggest blizzard comes amid a much different record for the city: 225 days without snow.

    But climatologists say they’re more worried about the meager snowpack levels in the mountains this season…

    West Drought Monitor map November 30. 2021.

    According to the latest map from the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state is facing drought conditions and about 40% of Colorado is facing “severe to exceptional” drought levels, further depleting low reservoir levels. Snowpack is below average, too, with the lowest levels in Colorado’s southwest mountains, according to the data released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

    November tied for Denver’s 9th driest on record, with just 0.07 inch of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service office in Boulder…

    Denver also finished its warmest and driest combined summer and fall on record. Between June 1 to Nov. 30, less than 2 inches of precipitation was recorded, while an average amount in that period is about 9 inches, Bianchi said.

    Temperatures during the same time period averaged about 65.6 degrees — 3.5 degrees above average…

    There’s no one answer to explain the lack of snow, but a La Niña weather pattern and climate change are two factors impacting the state’s parched conditions, especially in the southwest, according to Greg Hanson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.

    USA Today: Investigation reveals a stunning shift in the way rain falls in America

    From USA Today (Nicole Carroll):

    Specifically, our reporting finds:

  • At some point over the past three years, 27 states – all east of the Rocky Mountains – hit their highest 30-year precipitation average since record keeping began in 1895.
  • A dozen states, including Iowa, Ohio and Rhode Island, saw five of their 10 wettest years in history over the past two decades.
  • Michigan saw six of its wettest 10 years on record over the past 13 years.
  • In June, at least 136 daily rainfall records were set during storms across five states along the Mississippi River.
  • At the opposite extreme, eight states – including five in the West – had at least three record-dry years in the same time period. That’s double what would be expected based on historical patterns.
  • Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University, told our reporters the greenhouse effect is important to keep Earth from freezing, but excess heat greatly reduces the temperature difference between the warmer tropics and cooler polar regions in the summer.

    Mann said that reduction in the temperature difference slows down the jet stream, which makes it weaker and wavier in the summer. That means weather systems moving across the country can slow or stall more often.

    A low-to-no snow future and its impacts on #water resources in the western United States — Nature.com #snowpack #ActOnClimate

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 4, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Click this link for web access to the paper.

    From The Washington Post (Diana Leonard):

    A new study provides a glimpse into the future of Western U.S. snow and the picture is far from rosy: In about 35 to 60 years, mountainous states are projected to be nearly snowless for years at a time if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked and climate change does not slow.

    Due to rising temperatures, the region has already lost 20 percent of its snowpack since the 1950s. That’s enough water to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest human-made reservoir. It stands to lose another half, and possibly more, later this century, from the Rockies to the Sierra Nevada and into the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, according to a literature synthesis conducted in the study leveraging dozens of peer-reviewed climate model projections.

    The current snow situation in the West offers a preview of what the future may hold. Snow water equivalent, or the liquid water from snowpack, is much lower than normal in much of the Western United States. Snow cover across the nation is only at 6 percent — the lowest since records began in 2003.

    Decades ahead, the “potential for persistent low-to-no snow to disrupt the [Western U.S.] water system is substantial, potentially even catastrophic,” the study’s authors write…

    Published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment in October, the paper provides an overview of how Western snowpack has changed and what it will look like over the course of this century.

    In addition to the 20 percent loss, snowpack is peaking and melting off earlier in the year and is expected to continue on that track. Atmospheric rivers are also warming and dropping more rain than snow, which increases flood risk.
    The demands of a warmer atmosphere are already translating into water stress. Although this past year was not a “low snow” year for California, much less snowmelt made it to reservoirs because of an unusually warm spring.

    From Denver Water (Kim Unger):

    Snowpack: Here today, gone tomorrow?: A recent study finds that climate change means less water from melting snow. So what are we doing about it?

    Denver Water employees stationed in Winter Park take measurements of snowpack in 2014. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water’s extensive reservoir system helps us monitor water supplies, even as a new climate change study warns of a shrinking snowpack.

    A 2015 study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University found that the snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere has a 67% risk of declining — greatly reducing the amount of drinking water available from that source.

    The study focused on river basins that rely on snowpack and are not adequately replenished by rainwater. The study identified the Colorado River basin among those at high risk for greatly reduced snowpack in the future, when demand for water will outpace availability. The river provides water to seven states, including Colorado.

    As worrisome as that sounds, the study doesn’t provide a complete picture of how climate change may affect Denver’s water supplies, said Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate adaptation program manager.

    She isn’t raising any alarm bells.

    “This study is a big-picture look at how sensitive systems are to different conditions,” Kaatz said. “It’s not a deep examination into the full range of possible climate changes Colorado could experience in the future.” Nor does it dive into how water managers in Colorado are contending with those potential changes.

    “We have to consider all of the local variables in our planning,” she said.

    Those variables include population growth, how efficiently customers use water, environmental and ecosystem needs, and local climate and weather patterns.

    Denver Water’s supply is mostly from snowpack. The snowpack — the total amount of ice and snow on the ground — fluctuates from year to year. In warm, dry years, it can be gone by mid-summer; in wet years it can last through the next winter season.

    “Our region experiences huge fluctuations — or variability — in weather and climate conditions,” Kaatz said. “Fluctuations, especially in precipitation, mean that the rivers and streams that supply our water are also highly variable. This is why reservoirs are so important in Colorado. Colorado’s high peaks protect the snow for months out of the year, and our strong reservoir system protects our water supply against seasonal and annual variability.”

    Making sure water is available when customers need it requires careful management of how water flows in and out of reservoirs. Kaatz explained, that when the snowpack melts, we capture what we need and store it for future use. In years of drought, reservoir levels go down, and customers need to be even more conscious of water use.

    Denver Water works with the scientific community to stay up-to-date on the latest models and trends because we live in such a variable climate.

    “As the climate continues to warm, we do anticipate that snowpack will not live as long into the summer and fall months, especially in warm, dry summer and fall seasons, and that variability will increase,” Kaatz said. “At Denver Water, we plan for the long-term and look at the many different challenges we could be up against in the future, including climate change.”

    While the study gives a potential glimpse into our water future, the full story is really told in how well Coloradans have embraced water conservation. Water use by Denver Water customers between January and May 2021 represented the lowest usage for those months since 1968.

    The American West went through #climate hell in 2021. But there’s still hope — The Los Angeles Times

    Firefighter Lindsay Freitag sprays down a giant sequoia along the Trail of 100 Giants to extinguish heat.(Garrett Dickman / National Park Service)

    From The Los Angeles Times (Sammy Roth, Tony Barboza, Anita Chabria, Ian James, Anna M. Phillips, Lila Seidman, Hayley Smith, Alex Wigglesworth and Rosanna Xia):

    To visualize the hellishness of the climate crisis in 2021, look no further than General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, wrapped in fire-resistant foil to protect the legendary giant sequoia from flames burning a path of destruction through the Sierra Nevada.

    California’s so-called Ancient Ones evolved with fire. It’s crucial to their reproductive cycle. But they aren’t prepared for blazes like those of the last year, which are burning hotter and more intensely as Earth warms, mostly because of the combustion of fossil fuels. Last year, flames killed roughly 10% of the world’s giant sequoias.

    The General Sherman sequoia tree is wrapped in fire-resistant foil to protect it from the KNP Complex fire. (National Park Service)

    The sight of General Sherman wrapped in foil this fall was a cry for help. It was also a sign that the American West has entered a dangerous new era of hotter heat waves, ever-more-brutal droughts and a growing threat of violent extremism on public lands.

    There’s still hope for the future. But in a part of the country mythologized for its rugged individualism, going it alone will be a recipe for disaster, climate experts say. States and tribes, big cities and rural towns, liberals and conservatives alike will need to cooperate…

    Though climate continued to polarize Washington, D.C. — see the near total lack of Republican support for the clean energy investments proposed by President Biden — there were at least some encouraging signs west of the 100th meridian.

    Take the Colorado River and its tributaries, whose waters quench the thirst of tens of millions of people and irrigate millions of acres of farmland from Wyoming to Mexico…

    West Drought Monitor map November 30. 2021.

    The region has always whipsawed between drought and floods, but now global warming is exacerbating the swings, with an overall drying trend that scientists call aridification. As summer turned to fall, nearly 95% of the American West was saddled with drought conditions. The “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead outside Las Vegas kept growing, showing how much water had vanished from the nation’s largest reservoir…

    In August, federal officials declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado, triggering cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

    The shortage declaration, while scary-sounding, was the result of a landmark pact in which Southwestern states agreed to forgo some of the water to which they’d otherwise be entitled, in an effort to keep Lake Mead from falling even farther and prompting a true emergency.

    If the situation worsens, California will accept cutbacks too. John Fleck, a water resources professor at the University of New Mexico, has described the agreement as a model for the future cooperation that will be needed as the Colorado dwindles.

    “The river’s future is not all dark,” Fleck and Eric Kuhn wrote. “Innovation, cooperation and an expanded reliance on science are now the foundation for basin-wide solutions.”

    There were signs of long-overdue action on the wildfire side of the climate equation too, as the Biden administration raised pay for federal firefighters and worked with California to reduce fire risk by thinning overgrown forests — a stark change in approach from President Trump, who bluntly blamed the Golden State for not “raking” its forests. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $15-billion climate package that included money to fight fires, droughts, extreme heat and sea level rise.

    Officials also increasingly agreed on the need to set intentional, low-intensity fires — known as “prescribed burns” — of the type that helped protect Lake Tahoe this summer…

    Record temperatures compounded the threat, drying out landscapes and making fires harder to put out. California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah endured their hottest summers on record, with the nation as a whole tying the Dust Bowl for the hottest summer in modern history.

    In the Pacific Northwest, a heat wave killed hundreds of people, whose bodies failed them as they roasted in their homes, or on the streets — a dark reminder that heat waves are deadlier than hurricanes and fires, and are only getting more dangerous…

    The combination of heat, fire and drought wreaked havoc on the electric grid. A blaze in Oregon took down an interstate power line and nearly forced much of California into rolling blackouts…

    Declining reservoirs, meanwhile, produced less hydroelectricity, which in a cruel twist forced utilities to burn more natural gas, one of the fossil fuels heating the planet.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with

    Federal officials warned that by 2023, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border will fall so low that Glen Canyon Dam, one of the region’s largest producers of cheap, zero-emission power, won’t be able to generate electricity at all…

    Though some Western states at least tried to follow California’s lead on climate — Colorado, Oregon and Washington in particular — others followed a different playbook…

    In Arizona, regulators backtracked on a plan to require 100% clean energy, only to backtrack again and offer a preliminary sign-off — but with a deadline of 2070, decades beyond what global climate commitments will require. New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, talked a big game on climate but also criticized President Biden for attempting to limit oil and gas production. Wyoming lawmakers kept up a years-long effort to protect the state’s coal, oil and gas companies from economic headwinds.

    Then there was Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who responded to worsening drought by declaring a need for “divine intervention” and asking Utahns to pray for rain.

    The same worldview that led some elected officials to dismiss the urgency of the climate crisis fueled a burgeoning movement that protested pandemic-era vaccine mandates, demonized public health officers and sought to wrest control of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands from the federal government…

    Rising demand for sprawling solar and wind farms created new pressure on public lands, forcing the Biden administration to balance the needs of conservation and climate action…

    Rising temperatures threatened iconic species, with a federal judge ordering the Biden administration to reconsider its decision not to protect Joshua trees under the Endangered Species Act.

    Coastlines weren’t spared, either: The Pacific Ocean kept rising, hastening a reality of vanishing beaches, dangerously eroding cliffs and saltwater intruding on precious groundwater supplies. Nobody wanted to confront the possibility of “managed retreat,” but some communities finally felt they had no choice. Marine heat waves took a deadly toll on ocean ecosystems already stressed by a history of overfishing and pollution…

    Environmental activists rallied around the idea of “30 by 30,” a campaign to protect 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. The goal is to protect habitat, promote biodiversity, preserve landscapes that keep carbon in the ground and otherwise save some semblance of the natural world as we know it. Biden endorsed the concept…

    In one positive development, firefighters managed to protect General Sherman and other iconic sequoias from this fall’s fires.

    But thousands of the giants were still killed by flames. And the climate emergency is just getting started. 2021 will probably go down as one of the coolest years this young century. There’s still plenty of time for the rest of the Ancient Ones to meet their match.

    USBR awards $3.1 million in grants to develop #water data, modeling and forecasting tools and information for water managers

    Grand Mesa Colorado sunset.

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation selected 20 projects to share $3.1 million in applied science grants to develop tools and information to support water management decisions. These projects in 11 western states include improved water data, modeling and forecasting capabilities.

    “Water managers today need more accurate and reliable information to make the best water management decisions in a changing climate,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Applied Science Grants are an important tool to assist water managers getting the information they need so they can make those informed decisions.”

    Projects selected range from $48,000 for the Big Bend Conservation Alliance in Texas to develop a common data management platform for shared aquifers to several receiving the maximum of $200,000. Texas A&M University-Kingsville is receiving $107,497 to develop a web-based tool to simulate post-wildfire hydrologic changes in Northwest Montana.

    To view a complete description of all the selected projects, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience.

    Applied Science Grants are for non-federal entities to develop tools and information to support water management for multiple uses. Selected projects must provide at least a 50% non-federal cost-share. Project types include:

    Enhancing modeling capabilities to improve water supply reliability and increase flexibility in water operations.
    Improving or adapting forecasting tools and technologies to enhance management of water supplies and reservoir operations.

    Improving access to and use of water resources data or developing new data types to inform water management decisions.

    For more than 100 years, Reclamation and its partners have developed sustainable water and power future for the West. This program is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on improving water conservation and reliability while helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. To find out more information about Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart.

    One Colorado award was listed:


    Reclamation Funding: $200,000 Total Project Cost: $440,000

    The Grand Mesa Water Users Association, located on the Grand Mesa in Delta County, Colorado, will produce digitized capacity surveys for 50 reservoirs. The reservoirs on the Grand Mesa were built to capture and conserve available water from snowpack for irrigation and municipal use. This project includes conducting reservoir capacity surveys using drone technology, installing water measuring sensors at each reservoir to monitor water level heights, and developing a water distribution control system with multiple functions such as an interactive map of the reservoirs, a database with data on the reservoirs, a dashboard showing water administration activity, and a forecasting tool. These tools will enhance the management of water supplies and reservoir operations.

    USDA Updates Crop Insurance to Respond to Producer Needs, Support Conservation and @Climate Mitigation Efforts

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    Here’s the release from the USDA:

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making updates to crop insurance to respond to the needs of agricultural producers, including organic producers, as well as to support conservation of natural resources on agricultural land.

    Specifically, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is making permanent a new provision that allows producers to hay, graze or chop cover crops and still receive a full prevented planting payment. To accommodate the different farming practices across the country, RMA is also increasing flexibility related to the prevented planting “1 in 4” requirement, as well as aligning crop insurance definitions with USDA’s National Organic Program.

    “We are responsive to the needs of producers, and we are updating several key policies to encourage the use of cover crops and other conservation practices,” RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger said. “We want to provide producers tools to help mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as ensure crop insurance works well for a wide variety of producers, including organic producers.”

    Haying, Grazing, and Chopping of Cover Crops

    In July, RMA announced producers can hay, graze, or chop cover crops for silage, haylage, or baleage at any time and still receive 100% of the prevented planting payment. Previously, cover crops could only be hayed, grazed or chopped after Nov. 1. Otherwise, the prevented planting payment was reduced by 65% if producers took those actions on the cover crop.

    RMA added this flexibility starting with the 2021 crop year as part of a broader effort to encourage producers to use cover crops, an important conservation and good farming practice. Cover crops are especially important on fields prevented from being planted because they cover ground that would otherwise be left bare, which helps reduce soil erosion, boost soil health and increase soil carbon sequestration.

    This change builds on the advanced research and identified benefits cover crops have supporting healthy soils and cropland sustainability efforts. Studies also show that cover crops provide increased corn and soybean yields. While results vary by region and soil type, cover crops are proven to reduce erosion, improve water quality and increase the health and productivity of the soil while building resilience to climate change. Additionally, RMA provided a premium benefit to producers who planted cover crops through the Pandemic Cover Crop Program to help producers maintain cover crop systems amid the financially challenging pandemic.

    “1 in 4” Requirement Flexibilities

    For the 2020 crop year, RMA implemented a policy stating that for land to be eligible for prevented planting coverage, the acreage must meet the “1 in 4” requirement, which means the land must be planted, insured and harvested in at least one of the four most recent crop years. Now, RMA is adding flexibilities to recognize different farming practices and crops grown, as well as the availability of risk management options.

    New flexibilities allowed in order to meet the “1 in 4” requirement include:

  • The annual regrowth for an insured perennial crop, such as alfalfa, red clover, or mint, to be considered planted.
  • Allow a crop covered by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to meet the insurability requirement.
  • If crop insurance or NAP coverage was not available, allow the producer to prove the acreage was planted and harvested using good farming practices in at least two consecutive years out of the four previous years to meet the insurability requirement.
  • Aligning Organic Terms

    RMA is revising four organic definitions to be consistent with USDA’s National Organic Program. Consistency across USDA programs is important to eliminate the potential for confusion between the various programs that USDA is committed to providing to the producers.

    This change builds on other RMA efforts to expand and improve current options for organic producers. In Sept. 2021, RMA announced several updates to Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), including increasing farm operation growth limits for organic producers to the higher of $500,000 or 35% over the five-year average allowable income, and to allowing a producer to report acreage as certified organic, or as acreage in transition to organic, when the producer has requested an organic certification by the acreage reporting date. In addition, RMA announced it will be offering the new Micro Farm policy through WFRP that specifically targets coverage for small, diversified farmers, including organic growers.

    Other Changes

    RMA made other changes to Common Crop Insurance Policy Basic Provisions, Area Risk Protection Insurance Regulations, Coarse Grains Crop Insurance Provisions, and other insurance provisions, which published today:

  • RMA is providing an option for producers to delay measurement of farm-stored production for 180-days through the Special Provisions, similar to flexibilities already available to grain crop producers.
  • RMA added earlage and snaplage as an acceptable method of harvest for coarse grains. During the 2020 Derecho, many producers salvaged their damaged corn crop by harvesting as earlage or snaplage instead of grain or silage.
  • “By recognizing earlage and snaplage, we are providing confidence to producers that their crop is covered when a disaster changes their planned harvest method or if they choose to harvest in a manner other than reported on their acreage report,” Bunger said.

    More Information

    Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers and online at the RMA Agent Locator. Learn more about crop insurance and the modern farm safety net at http://rma.usda.gov.

    USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit http://www.usda.gov.

    #Colorado State #Water Leaders Issue Statements on Passing of Justice Greg Hobbs

    Greg Hobbs

    From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

    The Directors of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and its Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Division of Water Resources released the following statements on the passing of Justice Greg Hobbs.

    “Few people have had such a profound and broadscale influence on the landscape and character of Colorado as Justice Greg Hobbs. His energy, his brilliance and his inclusiveness ensured that all people, no matter their status or background, had access to understand and influence water and natural resource policy. His wisdom lives on in those of us in the natural resources field that he guided, mentored, and empowered to serve the people of this state justly and effectively. May the landscapes he so prolifically praised in his poetry and prose persist for generations as a tribute to his fair and thoughtful approach to managing Colorado’s water resources and natural landscapes.”

    – Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources

    “If you worked in the Colorado water world, then you have been inspired by Justice Hobbs. A truly dedicated and passionate water leader, he had the unique ability to convey the complexities of western water issues in a creative and artistic manner. Justice Hobbs is a leader who will be missed and whose legacy will live on.”

    – Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board

    “Greg Hobbs has led us as we’ve dealt with the most difficult water issues of our time; as a Supreme Court Justice, as a teacher and mentor, and as a friend who elevated all of those that he met. His legacy will be a body of inquisitive and critical thinkers with an inspired passion for learning.”

    – Kevin Rein, Colorado State Engineer and Director, Colorado Division of Water Resources

    #Drought news (December 2, 2021): Drying soils, high evapotranspiration, low mountain #snowpack, and mounting precipitation deficits resulted in expansion of moderate to extreme drought in many parts of #Colorado

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

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

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Several Pacific weather systems moved across the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. An upper-level ridge over the western CONUS directed the systems across the northern states, while a cutoff low trekked across Texas then into the Gulf of Mexico. The Pacific systems dragged cold fronts with them that stretched the width of the CONUS, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico coast. The fronts triggered rain and snow over parts of the country, but they were starved of precipitation by the western ridge and its northwesterly flow over the central CONUS. As a result, the week was wetter than normal only in parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, Great Lakes, and Texas. The weather was drier than normal across the rest of the CONUS with large parts of the West, Great Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and Southeast receiving no precipitation. Most of the West and Great Plains were warmer than normal thanks to the western ridge. The persistent above-normal temperatures contributed to excessive evapotranspiration in western portions of the Great Plains as well as parts of the West, as seen in EDDI and ESI indicators. Lack of precipitation, excessive evapotranspiration, and windy conditions further dried soils, again especially in western portions of the Plains, as seen in several soil moisture indicators. Drought indicators such as the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) reflected the mounting precipitation deficits. The continued dryness expanded or intensified drought in parts of the southern to central Rockies, Great Plains, Lower to Mid-Mississippi Valley, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as Puerto Rico…

    High Plains

    Little to no precipitation fell across the High Plains region this week. Reassessment of the last 2 months’ precipitation led to contraction of moderate drought in northeast North Dakota and severe drought in the central part of the state. But water levels in ponds and dugouts remained low in spite of late summer to early fall rains, thus prompting expansion of severe drought in other parts of central North Dakota. Above-average temperatures and no precipitation for the last 2 weeks resulted in expansion of moderate drought in southern parts of North Dakota and adjacent South Dakota. In Wyoming, many basins had below to well below normal snowpack with no snow across the High Plains portion of the state, and snow, where it has occurred, was confined to the highest peaks (above 8500 ft). The snow conditions combined with excessive evapotranspiration, drying soils, short-term dryness, and longer-term dryness to prompt expansion of moderate to extreme drought in parts of the state. In Colorado, drying soils, high evapotranspiration, low mountain snowpack, and mounting precipitation deficits resulted in expansion of moderate to extreme drought in many parts of the state. November 28 USDA statistics had 84% of Colorado’s topsoil short or very short of moisture and 33% of the winter wheat in poor to very poor condition. Abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanded in southern and western parts of Kansas…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 30, 2021.


    Pacific weather systems brought 0.5-3.0 inches of precipitation to coastal portions of Oregon and Washington, with 5 inches or more falling in non-drought areas of northwest Washington. Half an inch to locally 2 inches also fell over parts of the northern Rockies, while locally up to half an inch occurred over a few parts of the southern Rockies. Otherwise, much of the West was dry. Drying soils and mounting 3-month precipitation deficits prompted expansion of moderate to extreme drought in parts of New Mexico. November 28 USDA reports had 81% of New Mexico’s topsoil short or very short of moisture. Otherwise, no change occurred to the vast areas of moderate to exceptional drought which covers the West…


    Half an inch to 1.5 inches of rainfall was widespread across coastal to eastern Texas, and into adjacent parts of Louisiana, and locally over 2 inches fell over parts of Texas. Smaller swaths of half an inch of rain occurred over north Texas and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. But the rest of the region had less than half an inch, with much of western Texas to most of Oklahoma receiving little to no precipitation. Moderate to severe drought contracted in a few parts of Texas where the heaviest rains fell, but much more of the state, as well as parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, saw expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought. Areas of abnormal dryness expanded in western Tennessee and developed in eastern portions of the state. With every passing day of no precipitation, low humidity, high evapotranspiration, the wildfire threat continued to grow in Texas and Oklahoma. According to November 28 USDA statistics, 64% of the topsoil moisture in Texas was short or very short (dry to very dry) and 45% of the winter wheat crop was in poor to very poor condition. In Oklahoma, the statistics were 59% for topsoil moisture and 16% for winter wheat condition…

    Looking Ahead

    The upper-level ridge will dominate the weather over the western CONUS for the first half of the next USDM week, with a couple Pacific frontal systems moving in later in the week. For December 2-7, the fronts will bring an inch to locally 3 inches of precipitation to parts of coastal Washington and Oregon and the northern Rockies, with 1 to 2 inches in a wide swatch from eastern Oklahoma to the southern Appalachians and north across the Ohio Valley to parts of New England. Half an inch to an inch will spread from the swath to the central Gulf of Mexico coast and across the Great Lakes. Most of the Plains and Southwest, as well as much of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida, will receive little to no precipitation. Temperatures are expected to average warmer than normal across most of the CONUS during this period. For December 7-15, odds favor above-normal precipitation across the West and Ohio Valley, with lesser chances for above-normal precipitation in the northern Plains and along the East Coast. Odds favor near to below-normal precipitation in the southern Plains and southern Florida. Much of Alaska is likely to be wetter than normal. Odds favor warmer-than-normal temperatures across most of the CONUS, with near to below-normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and early in the Great Lakes. Alaska is likely to be colder than normal, especially in southern portions of the state.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 30, 2021.

    R.I.P. Greg Hobbs: “The water ditch is the basis of civilization”

    Greg and Bobbie Hobbs

    I learned that Greg Hobbs had passed from an email sent out yesterday by Water Education Colorado (reproduced below).

    Greg was a friend of Coyote Gulch and I will always be grateful for his encouragement and appreciation of the work I do here on the blog. When our paths would cross he took the time to say hello and catch up a bit and I will miss him dearly.

    I’ve published many of his poems and have dozens of his photographs in the archives here.

    Red Rocks from Ruby Hill in Denver. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs


    We gathered here for farming,
    for mining and for trees,
    came to work the traplines
    and gold upon our knees,
    we prayed to God for guidance
    and mapped a thousand peaks,
    built the gleaming cities
    and plugged the wildest creeks.

    The Rockies have a hold of us
    and of our ancestry,
    plains and rivers tell us
    there’s granite in the sea,
    an ocean where the canyons are,
    each rock a history,
    Colorado is as old as us
    as young as we might be.

    Now each of us has had a day
    we’ve done our best and worst,
    said our share of lying
    and placing mankind first,
    we’ve but to see that lupine
    is the future at our feet
    and marmots running sprightly
    over Rocky Mountain peaks.

    Thunder’s booming sharply
    across the plains below,
    we see the lightning flashing,
    hear the wind begin to blow,
    mountains all are burning
    in sunset’s awesome glow,
    it’s all up there before us
    in clouds piled up like snow.

    Red Rocks, Justice Greg Hobbs,
    Colorado Mother of Rivers, Water Poems at 26
    (Colorado Foundation for Water Education 2005)

    Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, Dan Hobbs, and a string of fish for dinner, Mary Alice Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, 1986 via Greg Hobbs

    Here’s an article that I wrote for Colorado Central Magazine on the occasion of his retirement from the Colorado Supreme Court:

    Hobbs to Say Adiós to the Colorado Supreme Court

    Greg Hobbs is calling it quits after 19 years as the Colorado Supreme Court’s “water expert.”

    Early in his career he clerked for the 10th Circuit, worked with David Robbins at the EPA, and worked at the Colorado Attorney General’s office. AG duties included the natural resources area – water quality, water rights and air quality issues. He represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy district before forming his own firm, his last stop on the way to the Court.

    He told the Colorado Statesman that he always had his eye on the Supreme Court. While serving at the 10th circuit, Judge William Doyle told encouraged him to set his sites on the Supreme Court, saying “They do everything over there.”

    When he appointed Hobbs to the court, Governor Roy Romer told him to “get a real tie,” according to the Statesman. A bolo tie, as Hobbs usually wears, didn’t seem to qualify.

    The justice is hardworking outside his court duties. He is often asked to speak at conventions and meetings around the state. He is deeply driven to learn about others and to share his knowledge of law and history.

    A few years ago, over in Breckenridge, the Summit Daily News reported that Hobbs said, “The water ditch is the basis of civilization.”

    His passion is to explain current opportunities and problems within a historical context. He describes himself as a “failed PhD,” having dropped out of a PhD Latin American History program at Columbia University.

    One opinion in particular illustrates the importance of history to Hobbs:

    The University of Denver Water Law Review honored Justice Hobbs at their annual shindig. Former Justice Mike Bender told attendees about a case where a man had been arrested after police entered and searched his zippered tent in a campground.

    In his opinion, Hobbs detailed the history of Coloradans that lived in tents. The plains Indians and their teepees, the miners camps dotted all over the mineral belt and elsewhere, and more than a few homesteaders, also. He said that in Colorado, there is an expectation of privacy when you close up your tent dwelling, and that it is no different from the expectation for a more permanent structure.

    The police violated the man’s Fourth Amendment rights by not obtaining a search warrant, he said.

    The justice credits luck for his interest in water law. He got in on the ground floor of the environmental movement during the early days of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

    He has a deep and abiding respect for Colorado water law.

    During his time on the court, there were two interesting cases dealing with the “speculation doctrine” – that is, a water diverter must put the water to beneficial use, not hold on to it and auction it to the highest bidder.

    Pagosa Springs Water and Sanitation District was told it was not allowed a 100-year planning horizon. High Plains A&M was denied a change of use – agricultural to municipal and industrial – for lower Arkansas Basin water on the High Line Canal, because they didn’t have any firm customers for the water they were changing.

    The Court recognized the Legislature’s legal ability to create whitewater parks as a beneficial use.

    Perhaps one of the most remarkable insights that Justice Hobbs realized pertains to environmental flows within Colorado water law:

    When Amy Beatie, director of the Colorado Water Trust, was clerking for the justice, she told him that her primary interest was working for the environment. He advised her to go into private practice, learn about the workings of water law, the mechanics and hydrology of diversions, and the art of finding common ground at water court. Then, he said, have faith that there will be a way to work for the environment within the water rights system.

    Ms. Beatie paid attention.

    Her organization just secured an instream flow right for the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a tributary of the Gunnison River, the Little Cimmaron River. The trust purchased shares of the McKinley ditch and assigned them to the CWCB – the only entity under state law that can hold rights for instream flows.

    The water rights are senior and near the confluence with the Gunnison. Therefore, in times of low flows they are capable of calling out diversions above them. Water bypasses the McKinley headgate and stays in the stream for the fish and other critters. Further development of junior water rights won’t affect the arrangement, since the instream flow will always be in line ahead of newer ones.

    This agreement and decree were a big deal since they were the first of their kind, with a willing seller, an organization dedicated to finding deals that benefit instream flows, an entity that can legally hold those rights, and an active water rights market.

    At this summer’s Martz Conference hosted by the CU law school, Justice Hobbs spoke about Colorado’s water market. Many groups and individuals decry the current state of water in the western U.S. Brad Udall, for example, told attendees at last fall’s Colorado River District Annual Symposium, that we are living with 19th-century laws, 20th-century infrastructure and 21st-century problems.

    Hobbs reminded attendees at Martz 2015 that Colorado has the most active water market in the U.S. and it evolved under those 19th-century laws. Colorado water law is there to protect all appropriators and works very well, albeit slowly. Things move along more quickly as case law grows.

    The basis of Colorado water law is the “doctrine of prior appropriation,” which is really a doctrine of scarcity, as just about anyone can administer a stream with average or above average flows. The art comes when there are low flows, so the state engineer has the priority system in his toolbox for those dry times.

    Greg is also a prolific poet. I’ve published many of his poems over the years on my blog, Coyote Gulch. Here’s one of my favorites:


    (Reprinted with permission from
    Colorado, Mother of Rivers by Greg Hobbs.)

    To each of us
    The land, the air, the water,
    Mountain, canyon, mesa, plain,
    Lightning bolts, clear days with no rain,

    At the source of all thirst,
    At the source of all thirst-quenching hope,
    At the root and core of time and no-time,
    The Great Divide Community

    Stands astride the backbone of the continent,
    Gathering, draining, reflecting, sending forth
    A flow so powerful it seeps rhythmically
    From within,

    Alive to each of us,
    To drink, to swim, to grow corn ears
    To listen to our children float the streams
    Of their own magnificence,

    Out of their seeping dreams,
    Out of their useful silliness,
    Out of their source-mouths
    High and pure,

    The Great Divide,
    You and I, all that lives
    And floats and flies and passes through
    All we know of why.

    Greg has become a friend to me over the years and I already miss him on the court.

    He assures me that he will keep writing and speaking. After all, he asserts, “Coloradans love a good story.”

    You tell a good story, Greg.

    Greg Hobbs. Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Brian Werner, Amy Beatie and Jayla Poppleton, on behalf of the Hobbs Family):

    The Colorado water community lost a legend yesterday with the passing of Justice Greg Hobbs. Greg, who would have turned 77 on Dec. 15, passed away peacefully with his family – wife Bobbie, son Dan and daughter Emily – by his side after suffering a pulmonary embolism.

    For both the legal and water communities, and really all whose paths crossed his, the loss is heartbreaking. We not only lost one of our most knowledgeable legal minds, but also lost one of our most able and accomplished speakers, teachers, writers and historians. Those who knew Greg understand.

    Greg, who first began practicing law in Colorado in 1973, retired as a Colorado Supreme Court Justice in 2015 and continued to share his water expertise and speaking and writing eloquence in a variety of ways.

    He was the longstanding Vice-President of Water Education Colorado, an organization he helped create in 2002 and for which he was a tireless advocate and ambassador. For the past 19 years, he served as WEco’s Publications Chair, where he oversaw the publication of its well-known Headwaters magazine and Citizen’s Guide series. He was known to greet each new publication with a celebratory, “This is our best issue yet,” and was always championing the publications’ distribution, even toting boxes around in his trunk so that they were always at the ready. He was also a frequent presenter in WEco programs, mentored numerous individuals through the Water Leaders Program, and provided sound guidance in the organization’s strategic growth and evolution over the years to ensure it stayed true to its nonpartisan mission.

    In recent years Greg served as a senior water judge working as a mediator for water rights cases and continued to mentor current and future water lawyers with his knowledge of the legal nuances of Colorado’s water rights system. He taught a water court practice seminar and continued to write and speak about all matters water.

    Greg wrote extensively, whether about the legal intricacies of water or his beloved poetry. He authored a number of books, the most recent of which was published in 2020 entitled Confluence: The Story of Greeley Water, which he co-authored with Michael Welsh.

    During his nearly two decades on the bench, he authored more than 250 majority opinions, many of which dealt with water law. He was an exceptional jurist, principled and deliberate, noting that every word in every opinion mattered. As a perfect reflection of his generous spirit, he hired nearly 60 law clerks over his time on the bench, and ensured that they all knew each other, supported each other professionally, and treated each other like family. He always talked about how proud he was of his clerks and where they are now, many of whom, like him chose careers as public servants.

    Greg’s early legal career included stops with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked for two years beginning in 1973, followed by nearly four years with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office in the Natural Resources Section, where he became a leader in environmental law specializing in air and water quality issues.

    In 1979, he became a partner with Davis, Graham and Stubbs and soon after the principal counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, where he became well-known for his advocacy and protection of Northern Water’s water rights. In 1992, he helped form the law firm of Hobbs, Trout and Raley with two other well-known water lawyers – Bob Trout and Bennett Raley.

    In 1996, Gov. Roy Romer appointed him to the Colorado Supreme Court where he took his water knowledge to an even higher level. Greg was a staunch supporter of Colorado’s system of water rights and wrote extensively and spoke often of his support for the unique water law system that has evolved since the state was created in 1876. He had a studied and nuanced approach to the prior appropriation system and defended it against those who felt it no longer suited Colorado.

    Greg did his undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame. After Notre Dame, he attended Columbia University to study Latin American history. Following their 1967 wedding, Greg and Bobbie joined the Peace Corps, moving to Colombia. The couple returned in 1968 and had Dan. Emily followed in 1971.

    Greg spent his early years of family life in law school at Berkeley Law, completing his degree in 1971. He then clerked for Judge William Edward Doyle of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, a critical part of his career and his interest in the bench. In 1973, the Hobbs family returned to Denver and made it their home for good.

    There will be a celebration of Greg’s life at a later, more COVID-safe time. The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Water Education Colorado. You can donate in Greg’s memory online at http://wateredco.org/greg-hobbs-memoriam.

    Or, mail a check with your donation to:
    Water Education Colorado
    1600 N Downing St., Suite 200
    Denver, CO 80218

    Please include Greg’s name in the check memo line.

    Now for a gallery of photos of and by Greg Hobbs from the archives.

    Final Topsoil Moisture Short/Very Short for the Year! — @usda_oce

    Comparisons (bottom number in each state) are to this time last year.

    MT still leads the US in short/very short. CO/NM also above 80%. Huge jumps in the Southeast are from recent dryness. #drought

    November 2021 Departure from Normal Temperature map for #Colorado via the High Plains Regional Climate Center #ActOnClimate

    Map credit: The High Plains Regional Climate Center

    #California, #Arizona and #Nevada in talks on new plan to save #ColoradoRiver water — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with

    From The Los Angeles Times (Ian James):

    Two and a half years after signing a deal aimed at averting a damaging crisis along the Colorado River, water officials from California, Arizona and Nevada are discussing plans to take even less water from the shrinking river and leave it in Lake Mead in an effort to prevent the reservoir from falling to dangerously low levels.

    Representatives of water agencies from the three states said they are firming up the details of a deal that would leave an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir next year, and the same amount again in 2023 — about double the quantity of water used annually by Las Vegas and the rest of southern Nevada.

    For California, the deal would mean participating in water reductions prior to Lake Mead reaching levels that would otherwise trigger mandatory cuts.

    The talks took on urgency this summer after federal projections showed growing risks of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels, despite plans for mandatory cutbacks throughout the Southwest that the states agreed to in 2019.

    With the reservoir in a first-ever shortage and those cuts still insufficient, water management officials settled on a goal of together leaving half a million acre-feet of additional water in the reservoir instead of sending it flowing to farms, cities and tribal lands. The stored water would be roughly as much as 1.5 million average single-family households use in a year.

    “We’ve got to stabilize the lake with this plan,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He said representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada developed the framework of the deal within about two months after they saw projections showing growing risks of Lake Mead dropping to lows that would trigger much larger water reductions in all three states.

    “I think coming together in that short a period of time is indicative of urgency we’re feeling to do more,” Buschatzke said. “If the lake keeps falling, cuts are going to be deeper and deeper and deeper. So I think it’s indicative of the risks.”

    The deal would nearly double the reductions in planned water deliveries next year among the three states beyond those already planned under the 2019 agreement, called the Drought Contingency Plan. This new proposal, dubbed the 500+ Plan, would partially involve securing money to pay some water users to voluntarily relinquish water.

    The water would come from various sources, including farmers who would be paid for leaving portions of their land dry, tribes that would contribute water supplies, and water agencies that would leave some water in Lake Mead instead of taking it out as planned.

    Negotiations on the details are continuing, and officials from California and Arizona said they hope to have the overarching agreement ready to be signed next month at [the Colorado River Water Users Association] conference in Las Vegas.

    Arizona has pledged $40 million toward the deal. Board members of the Southern Nevada Water Authority are scheduled to consider approving up to $20 million in contributions this week.

    The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is scheduled to consider the proposed agreement next month…

    If the details of the proposal come together as planned, 500,000 acre-feet of water over two years would translate into water levels about 16 feet higher in Lake Mead…

    For now, the talks have focused on lining up funds and water for two years. But Buschatzke said it’s intended to be a five-year plan, lasting until the current agreement expires at the end of 2026, by which time the states will need to have negotiated new rules for dealing with shortages.

    If the winter were to bring heavy snow to the Rocky Mountains, it could still help ease the shortages. But the region’s water managers said they’ve decided to plan for more of the dismal runoff they’ve seen in the watershed during the past two years of extreme heat and parched conditions.

    Bill Hasencamp, MWD’s manager of Colorado River resources, said if such extreme dryness persists for another year or two, then Mead could end up at such low levels that cuts would become “unmanageable.”


    When Buschatzke testified in a congressional hearing on the Colorado River last month, he noted that snowpack in the Colorado River Basin peaked at 89% of average this year, but runoff in the watershed was only 33% of average.

    “This phenomenon is likely the result of the hotter and drier conditions caused by climate change,” Buschatzke said in his written testimony. “This trend is one that water managers must take into account as we plan for the future of the Colorado River.”


    Since 2000, the Colorado River has been ravaged by a series of mostly dry years, which have been compounded by the heating of the planet with the burning of fossil fuels. In that time, the flow of the Colorado River has declined nearly 20% below the 20th century average.

    Scientists have estimated that about half the decrease in runoff in the watershed since 2000 has been caused by unprecedented warming. And this heat-driven aridification is projected to significantly worsen as temperatures continue to climb.

    Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, recently likened the planned water reductions under the existing deal to a parachute — one that is too small and being opened too close to the ground…

    Given the alarming declines in the river’s reservoirs, the flaw with the parachute analogy is that the end of the story would put the parachutist safely on the ground, Udall said.

    “We’re landing on the edge of a cliff, if you will. And there’s still further to fall. We need another parachute here,” Udall said.

    Hopefully that next parachute will be ready well before 2027, he said, when the existing rules expire, and the Southwest needs to have long-term plans in place for adapting to a hotter, drier watershed and a river that yields less water.

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month [May 2021] fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

    #Colorado issues cease-and-desist order for #Nederland-area mine that’s leaking heavy metals into water — The Colorado Sun

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Tests at the Cross and Caribou mine that drains into drinking water supplies show elevated levels of lead, cadmium and other toxic minerals, as the state threatens high fines.

    State water quality officials have issued a cease and desist order and threatened substantial fines against owners of the Caribou gold mine above Nederland because of heavy metals leaking into drinking water sources, hammering Grand Island Resources over repeated violations.

    The dripping heavy metals are not a current threat to Middle Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir or the parts of Boulder County downstream, state officials said. But they ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines of up to $54,833 per day for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.

    “A notice of violation is one of the most serious actions we take, and I think this shows that we really are committed to protecting the resource up there,” said Kelly Morgan, an environmental protection specialist for water quality in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This is a big deal to us.”

    In a statement from a Nederland address, Grand Island Resources acknowledged the violations, and said that it had been moving since before the state’s notice to solve the problems and “replace the last 50 years of antiquated and obsolete water purification methods and treatments.”

    “We are working hand in hand with federal, state and local agencies. . . to make all the necessary investments and capital improvements that were not made by previous operators of the Cross and Caribou Mines,” the statement said. The company said it has hired a top engineering team to design new water capture and treatment facilities as ordered by the state.

    Nederland wants the Boulder County Commissioners to help monitor the situation, and is keeping careful track of water supplies fed by Coon Track Creek, where the mine discharges water, and downstream waters, town trustee Alan Apt said. Nederland over the summer passed a “natural rights of rivers” resolution for exactly this reason: protecting western Boulder County’s natural resources for the public, he noted…

    The once-thriving mine is near popular backcountry attractions a few miles northwest and northeast of Nederland, including Eldora ski area, to the Rainbow Lakes and Fourth of July trailheads, to the Caribou Ranch Open Space playgrounds…

    Apt said Grand Island wants to increase the amount of ore it mines at Cross and Caribou and hopes to build an ore crushing and processing plant at the site…

    The company’s attorney Ed Byrne said Boulder County approved an ore processing facility in 2008 and Grand Island still plans to build it, which would save dozens of truck trips a day…

    In terms of how high the eventual fines might be, Byrne said, “there was no chemical spill or release of ore processing water. The higher fine levels are typically reserved for damaging or reckless releases, not rare exceedances of stringent numerical aquatic life standards.”


    The state’s cease and desist order says mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April of this year. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months but also many more alleged violations before and after, spanning a period of December 2020 through August 2021.

    In April, for example, Cross/Caribou self-reported copper traces of 50 micrograms per liter of water, when the state standard is a daily maximum of 20. In January, the mine reported lead of 10 micrograms per liter, when the state 30-day average limit was 3.8. The state’s order charges the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The notice of violations and cease and desist order in early November say the state is continuing to investigate and may have “additional enforcement actions.”


    Grand Island Resources must also answer to the state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and will be subject to a hearing in front of the division’s board in mid-December. The company was trying to make improvements in recent months, Morgan said, but the state hasn’t found them effective…

    The violations related to failing to report tainted water were not intentional, Byrne, the company’s attorney, said. Some were “a misinterpretation on our part of the state reporting protocols,” he said, and others were related to weather delaying timely deliveries to a lab in Montana.

    Greeley wastewater plant uses the (nitrification) force for sustainability — City of #Greeley

    Wastewater treatment basin construction. Photo credit: City of Greeley

    From the City of Greeley:

    There’s a feeding frenzy going on in east Greeley and it has nothing to do with cows. Rather, Greeley’s “bugs” are chomping away while keeping the city’s wastewater environmentally sustainable.

    These bugs — what our wastewater treatment operators lovingly refer to as the “Nitrifiers” and PAOs — have been happy little workers for decades. But soon, their microscopic lives will change for the better.

    Wastewater treatment basin construction. Photo credit: City of Greeley

    Keeping the bugs happy

    Let’s face it, cleaning wastewater has never been glamorous, but these bugs might as well have a red carpet to an all-star premiere where they will munch away in the all-you-can-eat line at the buffet. Put simply, the city is working to expand their buffet table. In wastewater terms, the city is building new treatment basins where microorganisms that make up the city’s nitrifying force can eat more alongside a lot more friends.

    Removing nutrients to meet new state regulation

    A new regulation, also known as “Reg. 85” by the Water Quality Control Division, mandates that municipalities work even harder to reduce the amount of “nutrients” that are put back into bodies of water such as the Poudre River after treatment at the Greeley Wastewater Treatment and Reclamation Facility. There, the waste is cleaned and filtered out, with remaining treated water pumped back downstream of the Poudre River.

    The regulation mandates municipalities reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in their effluent (treated wastewater). Nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorous — are byproducts of human and animal waste and common fertilizers. Excess nutrients in water creates blooms of algae, which use up the oxygen in the water that marine life need to survive. Too much algae can kill off an entire food chain in bodies of water such as the growing ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Creating the right conditions for biology to work

    The city’s job is to keep the feeding frenzy going, using biology to keep the algae fuel to a minimum. In the right conditions, monitored 24/7, nitrifiers and PAOs (phosphorous accumulating organisms) feed on the nutrients present in the municipal waste. That leads them through a complex biological process in which the nitrifiers convert ammonia into nitrogen gas, which is released into the atmosphere. PAOs collect phosphorus in the waste and congeals where operators can remove it. That is later applied to agricultural land as fertilizer.

    Construction of new basins to meet regulation

    To meet the new requirements, the city is undertaking a $35.5 million construction project at the WTRF. Greeley is constructing specialized treatment basins that will upgrade the site’s organic treatment capacity. The city also is rerouting the water flow in the basins, allowing the ability to take a basin off line while keeping the bugs happy and complying with the new state regulations. This is the first phase of scheduled plant improvements through 2036.

    What the construction and enhancements do now to remove more nutrients will potentially earn the city extra time before having to implement even stricter nutrient removal guidelines that will come into play in the future.

    Treating wastewater is getting more complicated, but Greeley operators are on top of making the entire process more environmentally sustainable so not only the state but Mother Nature can be happy – just like the bugs.

    Hope seen for Western water storage in infrastructure bill — The #Montrose Daily Press #GunnisonRiver

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    No amount of planning or legislation can make more water — but it can help the parched Western Slope make more use of the water it has.

    The trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes, as part of an overall $55 billion for water infrastructure, $8.3 billion under its Western Water Infrastructure title for the Bureau of Reclamation between Fiscal Years 2020 — 2026.

    On the laundry list of designated funds for Western Water Infrastructure are $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure, $1.5 billion for storage, $1 billion for the Drought Contingency Plan on the Colorado River and $400 million for WaterSMART and energy efficiency grants.

    “All in all, it’s certainly the most meaningful investment in Western water resources that we’ve seen in my generation,” said Zane Kessler, director of Government Relations for the Colorado River District. The district sees an opportunity to fight for some of those dollars to flow into western Colorado, he said — and there are several meaningful investments that Colorado and the Western Slope are well-equipped to pursue…

    The act provides additional funding to the Aging Infrastructure Account created in 2020’s Consolidated Appropriations bill. This funding helps the Bureau of Reclamation provide direct loans to finance the non-federal share of major, nonrecurring maintenance of water infrastructure owned by the bureau, in water projects across the West that require major upgrades or replacement.

    “As those facilities, most of which are more than 50 years old, continue to age, the issue of storing and delivering water effectively, efficiently and in a timely matter only increases,” a summary from The Ferguson Group states. The Ferguson Group represents the Family Farm Alliance, of which the Colorado River District is a member.

    Of the $3.2 billion, $100 million is to be available for dam rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement. Another $100 million is to be available for reserved or transferred works that have suffered a critical failure, per the summary.

    Water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects receive a $1.05 billion boost and of that, $100 million is to fund grants to plan and build small-surface water and groundwater storage projects.

    There is $1 billion available for water projects authorized by Congress before July 1 of this year in accordance with the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006.

    The river district is pleased overall with the package of options the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act opens up, Kessler said, and it will be working to bring some of those dollars here.

    The infrastructure act’s passage comes at a time of dire drought in the Gunnison Basin and Colorado.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.

    Earlier this year, Blue Mesa Reservoir was drawn down a total of 36,000 acre-feet between August and October and Flaming Gorge in Utah released 125,000 acre-feet. Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is set to have released 20,000 by December — a trio of infusions mandated by the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement to keep hydropower operational at Lake Powell…

    The earlier drawdown at Blue Mesa took 17,000 acre feet from the reservoir in August; 16,000 acre feet in September and 3,000 acre feet in October, according to BuRec numbers.

    That provided the requisite 36,000 acre feet to Powell from Blue Mesa, but at the end of October, Powell was 156 feet from full pool, with an elevation of 3,544.25 acre feet. It had 7.18 million acre feet in storage — 30% of live capacity, as Catlin noted.

    He and others eye the weather and potential snowpack. They wait. They hope.

    Catlin said that as it is, the entire Gunnison Basin is drying so much, it’s hard to say what the overall impact might be — but more than agriculture would suffer…

    Taylor Park Reservoir

    Blue Mesa has about 218,000 acre feet in storage, he said. Taylor Park, another pot of water in the BuRec-managed Aspinall Unit, sits “OK” at 59,000 acre feet in storage, Knight said. Ridgway Reservoir has 63,000 acre feet in storage, a bit low, but in light of how dry the year was, not as bad it could be, he also said…

    Blue Mesa’s elevation sat at 7,431 this week — ideally, it would reach 7,490 by the end of December.

    “We’ll be nowhere close to that,” [Erik] Knight said.

    Indy Q&A: Southern #Nevada Water Authority General Manager on the #ColoradoRiver and preparing for a drier future — The Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

    Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    Colorado River officials face a math problem.

    Already, there is not enough water flowing through the Colorado River to meet all of the demands on the watershed, which spans seven U.S. states and crosses into Mexico. And as the climate changes, scientists warn that those who depend on the watershed should plan to receive even less water each year…

    Already, the Lower Colorado River Basin states that rely on Lake Mead — Arizona, California and Nevada — have been meeting to discuss and find funding for a program that would keep more water in the reservoir in an attempt to stave off further shortages and cuts. That plan would keep about 500,000 acre-feet in the reservoir next year and in 2023…

    The states came together to develop the plan as part of a consultation clause in an existing 2019 agreement, known as the Drought Contingency Plan. That plan builds off of a set of operating guidelines for the river, approved in 2007 and set to expire in 2026. At the same time that water officials from the seven Colorado River states tackle near-term issues, they are all positioning to negotiate a new set of guidelines.

    The Colorado River is governed by a series of overlapping laws, contracts, compacts and agreements, including the guidelines. Working within these structures, the states face a major challenge — to reduce use on the river and prepare for the worst-case scenario of a future with far less water to go around. Next month, water officials from across the basin are set to meet in Las Vegas to discuss that challenge and other issues facing the river.

    John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the states will be able to find a way to lower use “because of the structures we’ve already put in place.” He noted that if Lake Mead were to hit 1025 feet above sea level, current agreements would already trigger cuts of about 1.3 million acre-feet of water.

    The Nevada Independent spoke to Entsminger about the negotiations and how dry of a future Colorado River water officials should plan for. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

    What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the Colorado River moving forward?

    I hate to be obvious, but the biggest challenge for the river is we have a lot less water than people have legal entitlements.

    How does that play into discussions around management as they’re evolving right now?

    It makes the interstate and international discussions much more difficult, because really what you’re ultimately doing is negotiating to divide up a far smaller pie than what was believed to be the case in the 20th century.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with

    You mentioned not that long ago, testifying in Congress, that “the river community is far from a consensus about how dry of a future to plan for.” What are some of the differing opinions right now? And where are people on establishing that baseline of what the future looks like for the river?

    I was on a panel at the University of Colorado Law School within the last six weeks or so. And a couple people on the panel were asked that question of how dry a future should we be planning for, and I said I thought an 11 million acre-feet annual flow of the river is probably a good place to start based upon what I’ve heard from folks like Jonathan Overpeck and Brad Udall and other smart climate scientists.

    But there were some folks on that panel that threw out a number of 13 to 14 million acre-feet, which, frankly, is quite a bit more water than the average of the last 20 years. So I think just from that exchange, you can see that there isn’t currently a consensus on what sort of worst-case scenario should we be planning for, as we negotiate operating guidelines for post-2026.

    Let’s take that number, 11 million acre-feet. What would it mean in terms of water use to get to that number?

    As a basin (seven states plus the country of Mexico), we’re currently using about 14 [million acre-feet]. So it would mean finding a way to cut current uses by three million acre-feet and not add any new uses, at least without retiring a commensurate amount of existing uses.

    Knowing how hard it is to reduce use, that sounds like a very big challenge. Do you think that’s an achievable goal?

    That’s the amount of water that Mother Nature gives us. We don’t really have a choice whether or not to achieve it. You have to find a way to live within the amount of water that nature actually gives you.

    Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

    #Denver still without snow but climatologists say they’re more concerned by #snowpack levels out west: #LaNiña conditions likely means little snow for southern #Colorado this year, experts say — The Denver Post #ENSO

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map November 30, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    With each passing, snowless day, Denver extends its new record of the latest date at which the first measurable snow falls, busting through the old record of Nov. 21, set in 1934.

    Climatologists are watching as the record climbs, estimating Denver’s dry spell could last until early December. But that’s not nearly as worrisome as the lagging snowpack levels in southwest Colorado, they say, specifically in the Sangre de Cristo, San Juan and San Miguel mountains.

    Colorado needs an above-average snowpack year to start recovering from a dry summer this year and last year, Climatologist Becky Bolinger of Colorado State University said. Without that snowpack, water levels along the parched Colorado River will likely remain low…

    “We’re not off to a very good start,” Russ Schumacher, another CSU climatologist and director of the Colorado Climate Center said.

    Data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that snowpack around Alamosa sits at 37% of normal levels. Further west, around Durango, snowpack sits at 34% of normal levels.

    Mountains further north are faring better, the data shows. Snowpack around Ouray and Gunnison is 61% of normal. Snowpack around Aspen and Glenwood Springs is 72% of normal.

    The gap between current conditions and normal snowpack is concerning, Bolinger said, but it’s also early in the season. Peak snowpack levels don’t come around until mid-April, and between now and then the difference will shrink as storms pass through…

    Schumacher said he expects snow to accumulate better in the northern portion of the state this winter while the southwest is more likely to remain drier and warmer…

    Basically, La Niña years typically translate to a good supply of winter storms in Colorado’s northern mountains, Schumacher said…

    If La Niña conditions persist, Schumacher said he’s worried about a dry winter. Plus, what little moisture might fall during that time could also be lost as warmer temperatures melt snow prematurely and it’s absorbed by the dry ground, he said.

    La Niña intensifies the average atmospheric circulation—surface and high-altitude winds, rainfall, pressure patterns—in the tropical Pacific. Over the contiguous United States, the average location of the jet stream shifts northward. The southern tier of the country is often drier and warmer than average. NOAA Climate.gov illustration.

    #Snowpack news: Where’s Ullr?

    Westwide SNOTEL November 21, 2021 via the NRCS.
    Colorado snowpack November 29, 2021 via the NRCS.
    Illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript shows Ullr on his skis and with his bow. Credit: Wikimedia

    Some Coloradans’ drinking water still has highest radium levels in the nation — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Evan Wyloge):

    Some of the highest concentrations of radium-contaminated drinking water in the nation are clustered in rural southeast Colorado, according to a recent compilation of data.

    The problem is hardly new. The presence of radium in the area’s groundwater, which is linked to an increased cancer risk particularly for children, has been known for decades. The newly compiled data shows that out of the 50,000 water systems included in the research, six of the ten worst radium levels in the nation are in Colorado.

    The water providers are required to inform their customers of the contamination, and they say they’d like to fix the problem, but providing clean, radium-free tap water in the most remote areas comes with an untenable price tag.

    A massive infrastructure project that promises to largely resolve the problem, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, broke ground this year, but its completion is years away and the bulk of its funding hasn’t materialized yet.

    For now, most are hopeful that the conduit will be fully funded and fully built, but until then, the faucets in the area will still provide water with as much as four times the legal radium limit…

    Radium poses a unique risk to children, because it is treated by the human body like calcium and deposited into developing bones, where it remains radioactive and can kill and mutate cells.

    Although the area’s groundwater was known to have contaminants, high levels of radium in Colorado’s groundwater became a regulatory problem around 20 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new radionuclide standards. Federal law allows up to 5 picocuries of radium-226 or radium-228, the most common versions of the element, per liter of water…

    Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

    According to the Environmental Working Group’s new drinking water contamination data compilation, the worst radium content in the nation is found in Rocky Ford, where there was an average of 23 picocuries of radium per liter of water.

    Eighteen other water systems in Colorado contain more than the legal limit. Most are clustered around the small rural towns of Rocky Ford, Swink and La Junta, about an hour’s drive east from Pueblo. The new data show one in every six Otero County resident has tap water above the federal limit.

    After years of testing, studies and planning, the solution that‘s emerged is one proposed sixty years ago: The Arkansas Valley Conduit, the massive clean water delivery system proposal that stalled for decades over the project’s equally massive price tag.

    Elsewhere in the state the Peak View Park mobile home park, situated on a wooded hillside along U.S. Route 24 in Woodland Park, registered more than twice the legal limit of radium for years, as the owners struggled to get the problem fixed…

    But a key feature of the system Peak View Park installed is the access to Woodland Park’s sewer system. LaBarre said he had to make arrangements with the city’s wastewater treatment officials about the timing of their extraction system’s wastewater disposal, so that they can send the radium-saturated byproduct of the extraction process into the sewer when the system can adequately handle it…

    The lack of a sewer system is what cripples any similar efforts in the more rural areas around La Junta. There, where many of the residents use septic tanks, storing an extraction byproduct would be prohibitively expensive…

    Bill Long, the president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the towns along the first 12 miles of the [Arkansas Valley Conduit], Boone and Avondale, should be getting clean water from the conduit by 2024.

    More funding will be needed to finish the project, and Long said he believes there will be money allocated from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, and that the funds could help get the conduit finished, but that the details aren’t yet clear.

    Arkansas River Basin alluvial aquifers via the Colorado Geological Survey

    #Drought, land development take their toll on the San Luis Valley’s natural habitats — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    THROUGH their research on the San Luis Valley wetlands and bird migration patterns, Cary Aloiaand Jenny Nehring can tell you ducks that are divers are arriving on average 1.24 days earlier in the Valley, and ducks that are dabblers 1.7 days earlier.


    “Means that every year the peak migration is occurring 1.5 days earlier,” said Aloia. “If we look at historic records, peak migration was end of March-ish and now we’re looking at getting close to the beginning of March. What’s significant to that is that the irrigation season starts April 1. That means that farmers aren’t putting water out on their properties, they aren’t flood irrigating when the peak number of birds are there.

    “What that also means is because peak numbers are March, the beginning of March, the birds start coming in the end of January now and February, and so we’ve got this period of time where we’re really limited because of an irrigation system.”

    It’s complicated, but then it isn’t. Simply, climate change – where we experience extreme weather events hot and cold, and experience an overall warming to the seasons – is having a damaging effect on the natural wildlife of the Valley, the natural lands of the Valley, and how we all use it.

    Photo: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    The complication enters with solutions put forth to address the changing climate and how far the Valley is willing to go to address it. Spending time with Aloia and Nehring helps in understanding the circumstances and conditions.

    The Alamosa Citizen visited recently over a Zoom call with Aloia and Nehring to talk about their research and ongoing work to address the Valley’s changing environment. Aloia and Nehring are biologists who work together as Wetland Dynamics and consult with companies and governmental agencies to preserve and conserve wetlands, riparian areas, and ecosystems like the San Luis Valley.

    Their study, “San Luis Valley Wetland and Wildlife Conservation Assessment” published in 2019 and updated in 2020, is in the category of must reading if you care an iota about the San Luis Valley and how it’s faring in the first decades of the 21st century as climate change makes its presence more acutely felt.

    “I would say we’ve got the climate change aspect, but we’ve also got sort of this urban push into wildlife habitat and the change in not only conversion of different types of wetlands, but the complete loss of wetlands,” said Aloia. “As the assessment pointed out, we have about a third of the wetlands that we had historically, and we continue to keep pushing that envelope, converting wetlands, and part of that conversion is, of course, the drought that we’re going through. We’ve lost a lot of wetlands because the water doesn’t get where it was historically.

    Now we’re getting into climate change, human migration patterns as people seek out lesser-known and less-crowded spaces, land development, and intersecting it with the natural habitats that are being impacted by it all.

    Here’s how Nehring follows up her partner Aloia’s comment when she said, “‘We have an exponential number of people coming here.”’

    “I was reading a book on migration this last year,” Nehring said, “and they were talking about how if you watch a warbler foraging through just trees on the bank of a river, and it’s a bird that’s migrating. Neotropical songbirds migrate at night and they land in the morning, and they’ll feed and rest through the day, and then they’ll take off and fly another stretch that night. Or maybe they’ll stay two days. And it’s very weather dependent, and they follow rivers. Rivers are huge landmarks for migrating birds, and so if you watch a warbler foraging during migration, about once every three seconds, it’ll glean a little bug off a leaf and it’s eating.

    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo
    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    “And if an area is cleared of that vegetation, and maybe the bird has to fly a bigger distance between clumps, and maybe their foraging goes from once every three seconds to once every four seconds, seemingly minuscule, but that means it’s a 25 percent increase in its energy expenditure to just eat.

    “So if you think of the development Cari has referenced, people have moved to the Valley and there are a lot of rural areas across Colorado and the U.S. that have seen this shift because of COVID. If you just drive from South Fork to Creede, or anywhere along our river ways, you can see where a new house is, and you can see that people clear vegetation to the water because it gives them a better view, better access or whatever. But if you imagine, if you add all that cleared vegetation up, you’re having a huge impact in foraging areas for neotropical migrants and other wildlife.”

    “And the same goes for grassland species,” Aloia adds, bringing more context and perspective to the conversation. “Nationally, continentally, we’ve seen a huge decline in grassland species. They took it really hard with that September snow that we had a year ago, and if you drive down the (county road) 8 South between Monte Vista and Alamosa, if you drive that road, the amount of clearing that has gone on just with greasewood, rabbit brush, sort of the more upland species that you don’t usually equate with wetlands, and having those sort of temporarily flooded areas that we identified in the assessment as being something that we’ve lost significantly, those areas are being cleared, and what we have is exposed ground now and weeds, and all kinds of things.

    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    “If you drive that in the spring and the fall, or if you’ve ever walked through a greasewood area, the amount of birds that are utilizing those types of areas is astounding. And we’re losing that habitat. As we know, at least 82 percent of all wildlife species use riparian areas or wetlands in some capacity during their life history. So even though we may look at those as really upland species, there is a lot of crossover between different habitat ecosystem types. So then we can’t just focus on a specific riparian or wetland area, we have to look at the system as a whole and see how we’ve really fragmented everything.

    This year Nehring and Aloia noticed what they characterized as a “huge change in the bird migration for water fowls coming to the San Luis Valley.”

    “We saw a three week shift in when the geese were breeding and bringing off their broods,” said Aloia. “We didn’t see the water fowl coming into the Valley as early as they usually do in the fall. It’s much later, and honestly I don’t even know that we’ve really seen it yet.

    Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

    “We obviously have the cranes coming through and they sort of straggle in, in the fall. But in terms of water fowl they know that our water resources this year were low, they have a sense for that, and can just pass us by. Because they have wings, they are able to shift and go where resources are and I think we’re going to see that more and more.”

    Nehring referenced a widely publicized study first reported in the journal Science that documented the loss of 3 billion birds, or one in every four birds, since 1970. “I’m thinking now, 3 billion birds in 30 years, that’s really dramatic but I think we’re entering into a new time period where we’ll have equally dramatic losses in a shorter period of time,” she said.

    “And I think it’ll not only be birds,” said Aloia, “but it’s going to be other bigger wildlife species that may garner more attention because they’re more identifiable, more people know about them. We as biologists have definitely seen how the birds have changed in their movements and numbers, but I think that it’s definitely going to become more apparent to a bigger part of the population.”

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    During An Historic #Drought, Higher Temperatures Helped a Beetle Kill More #California Pine Trees — North Carolina State University

    Dead ponderosa pine trees in California. Credit: Charles Koven, University of California, Berkeley.

    Here’s the release from North Carolina State University (Laura Oleniacz):

    A new study shows climate change can have cascading effects on forests. Using computer modeling, researchers from North Carolina State University, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other institutions found increased temperatures during an historic drought in California contributed to the death of large numbers of giant pine trees by speeding up the life cycle of a tree-killing beetle.

    Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the study found a nearly 30% increase in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) tree death during California’s 2012-2015 drought due to attacks from the western bark beetle. Researchers said the findings highlight how climate change can compound threats forests face, and raise questions about their ability to act as reservoirs for greenhouse gases.

    “This has huge implications for how we manage forests – not just in California, but everywhere,” said study co-author Robert Scheller, professor of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University. “With climate change, it’s not just wildfires and weather events, but also how changing climate conditions can impact insects, fungi and other biological agents of tree mortality.”

    Pinus ponderosa subsp. ponderosa. Photo credit Wikimedia.

    During the drought, researchers documented widespread tree death throughout the central and southern Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. The ponderosa pine, a large tree that lives at higher elevations, suffered the most, as it’s the only host for the western pine beetle in the region. In some areas, nearly 90% of large ponderosa pine trees died, U.S. Forest Service researchers found.

    “There are dead trees snaking across the landscape – dead, giant trees,” said Zachary Robbins, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at NC State. “We estimated that this mortality event would have occurred during the drought, but it would have been less severe under historic temperatures.”

    To understand how temperature influenced the beetles’ attacks on the trees, researchers created a computer simulation of the beetles’ life cycle, their attack behavior, the number and size of trees, tree defenses and likelihood of death during certain stages of the drought. Then they combined all of those variables to model the beetles’ attack behavior and tree defenses under contemporary (2001-2018) compared with historical (1895-1945) temperatures. They compared and tested their model using data gathered in the field.

    While the trees can defend themselves against attacks by the beetle, their defenses were down during drought, researchers said. To save water, the trees put the brakes on photosynthesis, which could affect their ability to expel the beetles as they try to chew through bark. The beetles kill the trees when they dig intricate tunnel systems to lay their eggs into the trees’ circulatory system, preventing nutrients from flowing through the tree.

    “These beetles primarily live in trees that are weakened or dying, but when weather events occur, they start spreading across the landscape, and multiplying rapidly,” Robbins said. “The beetles can develop more quickly when it’s warmer. Also, lower temperatures in winter keep the populations in check. They die when winters are cold, but as temperatures warm, that may occur less often.”

    They attributed a 29.9% increase in tree death to the beetles’ attacks – primarily from increases in development rates of the pine beetle, and to a lesser degree, to reductions in the beetles’ death over the winter.

    They also reported that each degree increase in temperature may have increased the number of pine trees killed by more than 35 to 40% – if increased beetle populations and declines in host tree defenses act separately.

    “Higher temperatures increased the number of beetles that existed on the landscape by speeding up their life cycle by about a half generation,” Robbins said. “It lowered the over-wintering mortality a little bit, but not in a very pronounced way. Overall, what this means is that the beetles were able to reproduce more efficiently because they had these quicker generation times, and killed trees more quickly during the drought period.”

    The researchers are also concerned that small changes in the beetle population could have big effects.

    “Even a slight increase in generations can increase tree mortality considerably,” Robbins said.

    The researchers said the findings raise multiple questions about forests in the future. It creates a more nuanced picture of the role they could play in storing, or releasing, carbon. The ponderosa pineis thought of as a fire-resistant species that’s less likely to burn in wildfire events.

    “These old trees are large stores of carbon that could be released back into the atmosphere either slowly as they decompose, or rapidly through wildfire,” Robbins said. “As you have new species replacing them that might be more fire prone, that can be a big deal in terms of how much carbon we’re storing in these forests versus what we’re releasing back into the atmosphere.”

    Scheller said the death of the trees is likely to leave a lasting mark. It also raises questions about forests as long-term tools for controlling climate change.

    Mountain Pine Beetle kill via USGS.

    “We’re talking about a mass mortality event of incredibly large and old conifers,” he said. “There will be new species to replace those, but the forest won’t recover right away. And those original tree species may not return for hundreds of years, if ever.”

    The study, “Warming Increased Bark Beetle-Induced Tree Mortality by 30% During an Extreme Drought in California,” was published online in Global Change Biology. In addition to Robbins and Scheller, the other authors were Chonggang Xu, Brian H. Aukema, Polly C. Buotte, Rutuja Chitra-Tarak, Christopher J. Fettig, Michael L. Goulden, Devin W. Goodsman, Alexander D. Hall, Charles D. Koven, Lara M. Kueppers, Gavin D. Madakumbura, Leif A. Mortenson, James A. Powell. The study was supported by the UC National Laboratory Fees Research Program under grant No. LA-UR-20-30376, the McIntire-Stennis project MIN-17-095, grants from the Pacific Southwest Research Station Climate Change Competitive Grant Program, PSW–2016–03, PSW–2017–02), and the NC State Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program…


    DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15927

    Abstract: Quantifying the responses of forest disturbances to climate warming is critical to our understanding of carbon cycles and energy balances of the Earth system. The impact of warming on bark beetle outbreaks is complex as multiple drivers of these events may respond differently to warming. Using a novel model of bark beetle biology and host tree interactions, we assessed how contemporary warming affected western pine beetle (Dendroctonus brevicomis) populations and mortality of its host, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), during an extreme drought in the Sierra Nevada, California, and United States. When compared with the field data, our model captured the western pine beetle flight timing and rates of ponderosa pine mortality observed during the drought. In assessing the influence of temperature on western pine beetles, we found that contemporary warming increased the development rate of the western pine beetle and decreased the overwinter mortality rate of western pine beetle larvae leading to increased population growth during periods of lowered tree defense. We attribute a 29.9% (95% CI: 29.4%–30.2%) increase in ponderosa pine mortality during drought directly to increases in western pine beetle voltinism (i.e., associated with increased development rates of western pine beetle) and, to a much lesser extent, reductions in overwintering mortality. These findings, along with other studies, suggest each degree (°C) increase in temperature may have increased the number of ponderosa pine killed by upwards of 35%–40% °C−1 if the effects of compromised tree defenses (15%–20%) and increased western pine beetle populations (20%) are additive. Due to the warming ability to considerably increase mortality through the mechanism of bark beetle populations, models need to consider climate’s influence on both host tree stress and the bark beetle population dynamics when determining future levels of tree mortality.

    Some of the threats climate change poses to Colorado: shorter winters, forests killed by invasive pine beetles, and habitat loss for the Pika, which thrives in cold, high-altitude environments. Photo credit Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

    Middle Colorado Watershed Council project completed to expand habitat for native fish on East Divide Creek

    Bluehead sucker. Photo credit: USFWS

    From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council:

    Imagine life as a small fish. Your world is confined to swimming in creeks, rivers and streams searching out food, seeking shelter from predators, finding resting spots and, of course, fulfilling the biological urge to reproduce. For the female, finding just the right spot to lay one’s eggs is instinctual, and mosttravel great distances in search of suitable habitat.

    Now image swimming along and encountering a structure the size of the Glen Canyon Dam – relatively speaking. There’s no going further – it’s pretty much the end of the road. This is the dilemma of a small fish as it confronts a water diversion structure.

    Today one small fish, a native Bluehead Sucker, has cause for celebration. A completed project on East Divide Creek, a tributary to Divide Creek that flows into the Colorado River south of Silt, has opened up more than five miles of its historic habitat unreachable to the fish before now. Five miles is a considerable distance in which the fish population can expand, increasing resiliency for the species and reducing the risk of local extinction.

    The project involved the reconfiguration of a diversion structure to make it easier for fish to swim upand over it. The King Heatherly diversion structure, located on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Colorado River Valley Office, but owned and operated by the Spring Creek Ranch, is critical for providing water to raise local crops and livestock. The structure needs to operate effectively and efficiently, but if designed properly, can continue to do so while accommodating fish passage. Scott Schreiber, an engineer with Wright Water Engineers (WWE), knows just how to do that.

    Scott and his team of engineers and biologists developed a design with a rock ramp gradual enough for fish to swim up. The ramp has a rough bottom, mimicking a natural stream, complete with small boulders for fish to rest behind on their way upstream. The ramp also acts to stabilize the diversion structure and includes improvements to make annual maintenance easier for Spring Creek Ranch.

    “The opportunity to connect these habitats provides great pride for WWE and myself as we look for ways to reconnect our sensitive watersheds for future generations. Using creative solutions and advanced hydraulic modeling, my team was able to understand velocity distributions across theproposed rock ramp to verify they were within the Bluehead Sucker’s burst and prolonged speedranges,” Scott said.

    Brian Barackman, owner/operator of Diggin’ It River Works, was the local contractor selected to construct the project. His crew utilized heavy equipment outfitted with state-of-the-art electronics and GPS systems that allowed for precision placement of rock, pipe, fabrics, and vegetation. The resulting structures appear natural looking and should blend into the surrounding environment as they revegetate with native willows and grasses.

    Bluehead Sucker, along with Flannelmouth Sucker, and Roundtail Chub are imperiled Colorado River basin native fish species. Collectively called “the three species,” their conservation is a cooperative effort across their range which includes New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. The three species currently only occupy a fraction of their historic range in large part due to habitat fragmentation by dams and water diversion structures. Other threats to the species include climate change, altered water quality, introduction of predatory and competitive species, and for the two sucker species, hybridization with non-native sucker species. All three fish species are found throughout the Middle Colorado Watershed and are part of an Integrated Water Management Plan that seeks to restore habitat for these species through projects like the King Heatherly Fish Passage project.

    Fisheries biologist from the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will be closely monitoring the success of the project by surveying for fish both below and above the structure, to determine if upstream movement is occurring. Documented successes from the project will be used to inform the design of subsequent projects like this in the watershed and across these species range, of which dozens have been identified.

    “King Heatherly is the first project in Colorado focused on fish passage specifically for bluehead suckers. We hope this project lays a foundation to provide a blueprint for future fish passage structures for native fish in western Colorado and illustrates the feasibility of modifying structures to include fish passage,” says Jenn Logan, CPW Native Aquatic Species Biologist.

    Also key to the success of projects like King Heatherly is the cooperation of a number of partners from private landowners to federal land management agencies, state resource agencies, and watershed organizations. As Tom Fresques, BLM Fish Biologist, noted “The Bluehead Sucker is a such a cool fish and the BLM is excited to have such a diverse collaborative partnership working to improve and expand habitat for this native species on public lands managed by the BLM.”

    Paula Stepp, Executive Director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council added, “Working collaboratively with local farmers and ranchers allows MCWC, BLM and CPW to enhance the water management capabilities of irrigation systems while providing native species the infrastructure to increase their long-term survival.”

    Project funding came from a series of grants from the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, BLM, CPW, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Project management was handled by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Please contact MCWC for more information or interest in a tour.

    Improving the King Heatherly diversion dam for the health of native species

    King Heatherly diversion structure. Photo credit: Middle Colorado Watershed Council


    Located south of Silt, CO on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the King Heatherly Diversion Dam is a structure that has operational issues and needs to be improved. The project objectives are to:

  • Improve habitat connectivity for resident fish by improving upstream passage of the structure during the spring flow regime
  • Reduce maintenance needs and costs associated with the structure
  • Demonstrate the viability of projects of this type in the Middle Colorado watershed (Glenwood Springs to DeBeque)
  • Secondary objectives include:

  • Enhance hydraulics of the diversion structure, thereby improving width to depth ratios, as well as minimizing plunge pools and undermining of the structure;
  • Reduce or eliminate entrainment of fish into the ditch during the spring diversion period.
  • The bluehead sucker is primary native species that will benefit from this structural improvement project. The bluehead sucker has an impressive jump for a sucker, which still isn’t that impressive. They are listed as a ‘sensitive’ species by the Bureau of Land Management for Colorado. This dam is located on East Divide Creek, and would connect three miles of habitat along that creek.


    In 2018, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council contracted Wright Water Engineers to make modifications and to improve the structure. The BLM is sponsoring the improvement, as the structure is on public land. Picture updates will be coming soon to document this project.

    The location of the King Heatherly Diversion Improvement project. Graphic credit: Middle Colorado Watershed Council

    Click through to view the construction photos.

    Long-Term Environmental, Instream, and Recreational Water Storage Contract Approved for Stagecoach Reservoir — @COWaterTrust #YampaRiver

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Dana Dallavalle) and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (Holly Kirkpatrick):

    Steamboat Springs, Co., (November 18, 2021) – On Wednesday November 17th, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD) board of directors approved a 10-year contract with the Colorado Water Trust (Water Trust) for the purchase of stored water in Stagecoach Reservoir. The water supply contract, deemed for environmental, instream and recreational use, is the first long-term contract that extends beyond temporary one-year contracts between UYWCD and the Water Trust in years past.

    Since 2012, the Water Trust has purchased and released 14,500 acre-feet of water into the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir. Water Trust releases help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperature from Stagecoach Reservoir downstream through the City of Steamboat Springs during hot and dry summer months.

    Historically, UYWCD and the Water Trust have worked together to negotiate contract terms as needed on an annual basis using state legislation that allowed for environmental water releases to be loaned for instream flow use in 3 out every 10 years.

    In 2020, Colorado House Bill 20-1157 was passed, allowing for the establishment of amended rules governing the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, previously governed by the 3 in 10 rule. Effective March 17, 2021, the amended rules provide potential for increased flow rates and expand the temporary loan of water rights for instream flow use from 3 years to 5 years out of every 10 in addition to potential loan renewals for up to three 10-year periods.

    Renewable loans through the program could allow environmental releases to bolster flows in the Yampa River for up to 15 out of 30 years if needed.

    For the past year, UYWCD and the Water Trust have been working towards a longer-term contract that could help support the Yampa River during low flows and utilize the new state legislation. The new 10-year contract ensures 100 acre-feet of water in the general supply pool of Stagecoach Reservoir will be allocated to the Water Trust each year if supply is available. The contract also allows for the Water Trust to purchase additional water from two other contract pools in Stagecoach Reservoir at various volumes as needed. Payment for water contracted outside of the general supply pool will only be collected if the water is released.

    “As drought conditions and water scarcity continue to challenge our basin, having this 10-year contract in place will help minimize some of the recurring challenges we typically face each year when we revisit temporary contracts without constraining UYWCD water supplies or Water Trust funds. Developing longer- term solutions frees up time and money for all our partners to be even more innovative in their collaboration to keep the river flowing,” said Andy Rossi, General Manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

    UYWCD and the Water Trust will be one of the first in the state to utilize the newly amended statute and rules when they present the 10-year contract as part of their joint application to the CWCB program, which is anticipated to take place in January of 2022. Following completion of the CWCB application review, UYWCD and the Water Trust hope to secure a loan of water rights for instream flow use by spring of 2022, making the first 10-year contract effective through 2032.

    “UYWCD and the Water Trust have forged something new here. It’s a big step forward for the Yampa River Project and collaborative water management in general. We can now focus our efforts on the new instream flow loan application, and if we are successful, to expanding the Project’s benefits downstream of the instream flow reach where it can benefit even more of the river and all those who rely upon it,” commented Alyson Meyer Gould, Staff Attorney for the Water Trust.

    The success of the Yampa River Project involves many partners and dedicated donors including: The Yampa River Fund, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and individual donors as well as key project partners: The City of Steamboat Springs; Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; Catamount Development, Inc.; Catamount Metropolitan District; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Colorado Water Conservation Board; and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of numerous local and statewide entities, water releases to support the health of the Yampa River would not be possible.

    #Aurora and other #Colorado communities push past ‘toilet-to-tap’ reluctancy — The Aurora Sentinel

    Prairie Waters schematic via Aurora Water.

    From The Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):

    hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.

    The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.

    Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.

    In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…

    The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.

    Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.

    In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.

    In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.

    “Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…

    A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.

    From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…

    Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…

    Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.

    And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.

    Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.

    New breakthrough in surface-based groundwater measurement — Aarhus University

    Credit: CC0 Public Domain

    From Aarhus University via Phys.org:

    Based on recent breakthroughs in instruments and data modeling, researchers from the Department of Geoscience and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Aarhus University have collaborated to develop an effective technology to measure groundwater accurately from the surface.

    The new technology sends very much cleaner signals than have so far been possible using NMR-based (nuclear magnetic resonance) measurements, and this enables the researchers to make a detailed map of the hydrogeological and geological structure of the subsurface, even in inaccessible areas.

    The research has just been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

    “Using this new technology, NMR measurements are now a cheap, fast and, above all, very accurate tool for mapping and characterizing groundwater systems. There are problems with groundwater all over the world, and the really good news is that, using this tool, we can better map the groundwater and thereby take better care of it,” says Assistant Professor Denys Grombacher from the Department of Geoscience.

    Groundwater is a critical source of freshwater for many billions of people, but climate change, pollution and over-exploitation are making it more difficult to find suitable areas as a groundwater source.

    NMR measurements are the only technique available today that enable direct non-invasive measurements of the water content and pore properties of the soil.

    NMR is short for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and in short it means that we influence the hydrogen atoms in water molecules in the subsurface using a man-made magnetic field on the surface.

    Hydrogen atoms have a nuclear spin which, in principle, aligns with the magnetic field of the earth, either with or against the field—just like small magnets. A pulse from the artificially created magnetic field changes the spin direction of the hydrogen atoms, and when the pulse fades out, the atoms return to the direction they had before. This realignment emits an electromagnetic field that can be measured.

    NMR measurements have a disadvantage, however, in that background noise from the electricity grid, for example, can interfere with the signals, and this can make it exceedingly difficult to measure the very weak electromagnetic field in the realignment.

    Roughly speaking, the researchers are looking for a whisper-like voice among the audience at a Motörhead rock concert, and this is where the new technologies in the field of data transmission and modeling come into play.

    “We can sort of direct the microphone towards the specific sound source we want to hear, and through a number of identical pulses almost ‘force’ a clear signal from the hydrogen atoms in the soil. The computer can piece together the signal we receive to an accurate reproduction of the original signal using data modeling,” says Associate Professor Jakob Juul Larsen from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

    The research team sees the new technology as a breakthrough in groundwater modeling, and as a quick, stable, reliable and inexpensive alternative for mapping groundwater throughout the world.

    The research is being headed by Associate Professor Jakob Juul Larsen from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and support is from a grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark of DKK 5.9 million.