Towards a Deeper Equity in the #Colorado Water Plan — Water for Colorado #COWaterPlan

The difference between the terms equality equity and liberation illustrated. Credit: Shrehan Lynch https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340777978_The_A-Z_of_Social_Justice_Physical_Education_Part_1

Click the link to read the post on the Water for Colorado website (Jared Romero and Beatriz Soto):

Water impacts every aspect of life in Colorado, and therefore impacts every Coloradan. Ensuring equitable access to clean, safe drinking water as well as healthy and accessible outdoor spaces is essential. Colorado’s Water Plan, developed in 2015 and currently undergoing an update, is open for public comment through the end of September. This is a critical civic engagement opportunity, and an opportunity for everyone to make their voices heard in ensuring that the plan rises to meet the challenges facing our communities and water supplies at this moment. Historically excluded and misrepresented communities such as Latinos, communities of color, tribal nations and low-income Coloradans want and need to be a part of the solutions to combat climate change and water insecurities.

We commend the state on translating the entire draft to Spanish, providing translation during public listening sessions, and working towards justice, but more is needed. Equity language is used throughout, but the plan doesn’t actually specify who is leading this work or how it will be accomplished.

When the Water Plan and state officials speak of equity, it needs to be more actionable and have a greater focus on accountability. To that end, the state must include a concrete plan to work with a larger range of voices. One way to achieve this would be through the hiring of a Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer or similar role within the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop trust with historically underrepresented communities and ensure equity is being advocated internally in all of the areas they list it in the plan. 

Eighteen months ago, the CWCB— the state body guiding the development of the water plan and its update — created the Water Equity Task Force with a stated mission to shape a set of guiding principles around equity, diversity and inclusion that could help inform the update to the Colorado Water Plan. While this group accomplished its “task,” we encourage the CWCB to follow the lead of CDPHE, which established its Environmental Justice Advisory Board, and create a Water Equity Advisory Board, in addition to a Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer. This board would help guide implementation of the five recommendations that came from the Task Force in addition to actions outlined in the Draft Plan such as an interagency environmental justice mapping working group and increasing grant funding access, among others. Given the diversity of residents in Colorado there’s a need, and role, for providing guidance around addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion in how our state’s water supply is being managed now as we prepare for a future with less available water for all.

Decision making spaces for how our water supply is managed would benefit from an increase in racial, gender, and other forms of diversity. It is essential that governing bodies accurately represent the population they serve. For example, groups like the nine Basin Roundtables have made progress toward being more diverse and inclusive but are still predominantly white and male — if meaningful progress toward greater racial equity and inclusivity are to be fully realized, it must begin at the highest level. While we support mention of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the identified action of supporting the long-term stability and impact of Basin Roundtables, we encourage state officials to go beyond even that. Specifically, CWCB should include collaboration with partners such as CDPHE’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board, Great Outdoors Colorado, the CPW Colorado Outdoor Equity Board among others to develop a strategy and implementation plan for creating greater racial diversity and inclusivity in decision making spaces such as Basin Roundtables and the CWCB Board of Directors. However we want to emphasize that diversity of membership without addressing inclusion and equity will only result in further disenfranchisement. 

Beyond leadership and management at the state level, guidance around policymaking and water-related legislation must also be reviewed through the lens of equity. For example as the state works to implement HB22-1151, a bill incentivizing the removal of high-water turf from municipal landscapes, efforts to reduce outdoor irrigation need to be managed from a variety of perspectives to ensure healthy communities, attractive Colorado-appropriate landscaping, places to recreate, ecosystem benefits (e.g., pollinators), and cooling impacts of vegetation.  Ornamental — and often thirsty — landscaping such as lawns can be a privilege of wealth, with lower income neighborhoods often lacking these amenities. As we work to replace non-functional turf with low water use landscaping we must consider all types of neighborhoods and levels of income and accessibility to programs. To ensure equitable access, the legislation was written so that all Coloradans, including those that live in rural areas or communities without existing turf replacement programs, have access to funds for turf removal.  When designing the program criteria, the CWCB could look at prioritizing funding or reducing matching fund requirements for communities that have a greater makeup of underserved or underrepresented individuals according to the US 2020 census data.

In addition to considering turf replacement through an equity lens, it is equally important to think about what equity looks like in new development. Colorado is an incredibly fast growing state, and more communities are updating their landscape regulations to ensure that new development is less water intensive. The city of Aurora, for example, is limiting turf in new construction to reduce the water demands of its growth. Just like with turf replacement, we must consider new landscape regulations through an equity lens and think through whether those new landscape regulations will increase the cost of development and housing, or if only affluent developments can follow the regulations in a way that looks nice and functions as a healthy ecosystem (e.g., manicured xeric landscapes with state-of-the-art irrigation systems versus only mulch, gravel or other non-living materials). These landscape regulations must be crafted in a way that achieves the overarching goal — using less water — while benefiting all Coloradoans or at a minimum not disproportionately impacting some Coloradoans.  CWCB should add equity and greatest impact scoring criteria to their grants similar to the Justice 40 Executive Order so the result is that funding is intentionally going towards projects that provide the greatest impact to historically underinvested communities and conserving water. Equity must be part of that consideration so that additional unintended consequences such as additional heat islands are not created and our most vulnerable communities are not left behind.

Water for Colorado has developed a series of recommendations for the state to consider as they finalize the draft update. Our recommendations for equity, diversity, and inclusion fall amongst the top of those, and we are asking residents to help elevate the Coalition’s priorities by signing onto our petition. But, much more is needed to elevate diverse voices throughout Colorado and how our water supply is managed. For example, attend a local Basin Roundtable meeting either in person or virtually, provide a public comment at the upcoming CWB Board of Directors meeting on September 20 and 21st in Durango, and/or participate in the Water 22 Pledge.

Jared Romero is Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  He earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Colorado State University-Fort Collins and his master’s in Applied Natural Science from Colorado State University-Pueblo. He has worked in various aspects of conservation, ranging from boots-on-the-ground work as a wildland firefighter to research in ecological toxicology to experience as an educator and administrator. Most recently, Romero spearheaded the development of One Health education and research at Boise State University. The One Health initiative focuses on the interconnected relationship of animal, human and environmental health through engaged collaborative thinking and complex problem-solving. He is a native of the San Luis Valley in Colorado. His love for the outdoors stems from his time camping, hunting, and fishing in the Rocky Mountains with family and friends.

Beatriz Soto is Director of Protégete for Conservation Colorado. Beatriz has been at the intersection of community building, social justice and working towards a stable climate for the past two decades. She is a LEED certified architect that worked on a variety of energy related projects, from Net-Zero affordable housing to high performance straw bale homes, sustainable developments in the pacific coast of Mexico, as well as providing professional trainings with the US and the Mexican Green Building Councils. She is former Director of Defiende Nuestra Tierra for The Wilderness Workshop, also a co-founding member of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, first non-profit organization in the central mountain region, made up of Latinx leaders that helps create opportunities for Latinos to speak and advocate for themselves. Beatriz is based in Carbondale, CO.

The #ColoradoRiver at the end of #water year 2022: a status report — InkStain #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the post on the InkStain website (John Fleck):

I don’t see how this ends well.

Most of the major players – the ones that matter, anyway, by which I mean Arizona, California, and the federal government – appear boxed in by constraints they can’t seem to overcome, while the water in the Colorado River’s big reservoirs is circling the drains.

Arizona’s giving up a lot of water right now, and it’s hard to see how they solve their in-state politics and give up more without California coming up with substantial cuts of its own. Meanwhile California’s internal politics have so far constrained it from coming up with meaningful contributions. This may change soon, but the numbers being discussed may not be enough to move the needle as far as it needs to move. And the federal government seems torn between tough immediate actions and placing responsibility on the states to come up with a plan to save themselves.

Last week’s Water Education Foundation Colorado River symposium in Santa Fe was striking.

It’s an invitation-only event, and I’m not sure what the ground rules are, so I’ll treat it as a sort of “Chatham House Rules” thing.

I will say this. I moderated a panel. Harsh words were exchanged. I was kind of an asshole as I tried to get people to say the quiet parts out loud. But right now, we need to be saying the quiet parts out loud, because the water is circling the drains.

obligatory cracked mud photo (Mead is, like, 40 feet lower right now than when I took this). Credi: John Fleck

THE STATUS OF THE RESERVOIRS

Lake Mead will end water year 2022 next Friday [September 30, 2022] with a surface elevation ~1,044 feet above sea level, down 1.8 million acre feet from a year ago.

Lake Powell will end the year at somewhere around elevation ~3,529, down 1.5 million acre feet from a year ago.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which must now be in the end-of-water-year mix because of the way Reclamation and the states have begun moving water around like pawns on the Upper Basin chess board, will end the year at elevation 6,013, down 300,000 acre feet from last year.

Credit: USBR

Absent action by water users to use less, next year’s not-all-that-farfetched possibilities (by which I mean the Bureau of Reclamation’s latest “minimum probable” forecast) has Powell dropping below minimum power by the end of 2023 – and staying there. Absent downstream action by water users to use less water, Mead drops to 1,016 by the of water year 2023.

Credit: USBR

If the federal government holds water back in Powell to prevent the need to use the dam’s bypass tubes, that drops Mead even farther.

For those not steeped in the numbers, this is cracked-mud, five-alarm fire bad.

2022 Water Use

Source: USBR, Lower Colorado River Basin water use forecast, retrieved 9/25/2022

Californians are touchy about these numbers, specifically the observation that they’re taking more than their full allocation this year, even as the reservoirs are tanking. They point out that in recent years they have used significantly less than their allocated 4.4 million acre feet, banking unused water in Lake Mead as a hedge against drought. Which they’re suffering now, massively. Which is true, and fair to point out.

So, for completeness sake, here are the three Lower Basin states’ annual take on Lake Mead going back a decade.

I point this out as a native Californian, and with love for my California friends. The laws and policies we have developed allow – even encourage! – this. The doctrine of prior appropriation was designed to remove water from our rivers for “beneficial use”, emptying them in the process. California played a masterful game over the 20th century to ensure the priority of its water rights and the federal largesse needed to put the water to use.

But understand, please, why everyone else in the basin is glaring at you: you have a larger allocation than everyone else, and you’ve been reducing your use less than everyone else. The law gives your water use priority over others in the basin, but that doesn’t make it feel any fairer to the rest of us as everyone is being asked to cut back to save the shrinking river on which we all depend.

BOXED IN

So where do we go now?

Despite the failure of the basin states to come up with a plan to reduce water use in 2023, and the unwillingness or inability of the federal government to impose one, the mass balance problem has not changed. The “protection volumes” – the amount of cutbacks needed next year and every year thereafter for the foreseeable future – are still huge. If the 2023 water year is similar to the last three, water users need to cut 2 million acre feet just to hold the reservoirs where they are and protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell from dropping to critically low elevations, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s modeling.

Never mind about refilling.

According to a piece by Jake Bittle at Grist, California is working on a deal among the water users that would cut something – it’s not entirely clear what, Bittle references a range of 350,000 to 500,000 acre feet. This is super interesting in part because of the context – this is California going it alone. Yay for voluntary cuts! But it’s hard to see how the largest user on the system agreeing to cuts of that size gets us anywhere close to 2 million acre feet. But given the water politics within California, it’s also hard to see how California cuts more, at least voluntarily. Imperial Irrigation District is rightly demanding action on the Salton Sea, which has been shrinking as a result of past Imperial cutbacks. (Less irrigation means less percolation and runoff into the Sea. Bad air quality, bad mojo, as the Sea shrinks.) Getting Imperial farmers (and others, but Imperial’s the big player) to accept cutbacks voluntarily will have a big price tag. Forcing the cuts will almost certainly lead to litigation.

That leaves Arizona in a box. They’ve already cut nearly 800,000 acre feet this year, which is huge. There’s more water to be had in Yuma – again, for a price – but it’s hard to see Arizona coughing up more water absent California cutting more deeply. Where’s the fairness in that?

All the rest of us – Nevada, and the states of the Upper Basin – can do is look on in horror. I’ve been critical of the Upper Basin states for not agreeing to kick in some water, and I still think we’re going to have to do that sooner or later. But we’re only using ~4 million acre feet a year, on average, of our 7.5 million acre foot allocation. At this point, any savings we can muster are small relative to the use by California and Arizona. And given the Lower Basin states’ inability to come up with a plan, anything we do add to the system right now will just drain out the bottom in continued overuse.

Which leaves the federal hammer.

According to a press release last week, which (oddly?) came from the Department of Interior rather than the Bureau of Reclamation, Interior is preparing for the possibility that it may need to reduce releases from Glen Canyon Damn in 2023. (See Kuhn, Fleck, and Schmidt on this question.) This echoes something Reclamation said in August.

That would have the effect of further dropping Mead as Reclamation’s engineers scramble to protect Glen Canyon Dam.

Interior is also:

“Preparing to take action to make additional reductions in 2023, as needed, through an administrative process to evaluate and adjust triggering elevations and/or increase reduction volumes identified in the 2007 Interim Guidelines Record of Decision.”

I do not know what that means. I do not know if it is different from what Reclamation said in August, that the agency will:

“Take administrative actions needed to further define reservoir operations at Lake Mead, including shortage operations at elevations below 1,025 feet to reduce the risk of Lake Mead declining to critically low elevations.”

Folks in the federal government are frankly boxed in as well – between Lower Basin users unwilling or unable to cut use enough on their own to save themselves, with constraints imposed by a sincere attempt to be more inclusive of Tribal interests than the federal government has ever been, with the crazy problems of the Salton Sea hovering over any attept to rein in the basin’s largest water user, with the international challenge of including Mexico in the coming decisions, and with a crucial mid-term election looming.

So far, those constraints have prevented the federal government from getting specific about the threats – at least in public.

It’s hard to look at all these constraints, the boxed-in-ness – on Arizona, on California, on the federal government – and not see dead pool looming.

Absent a big snowpack, I don’t see how this ends well.

Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water, in April 2019, standing in a snowpit dug to gauge the snow’s temperature, depth,

The #Wyoming State Engineer to present options for #ColoradoRiver Basin #water crisis September 27, 2022 #COriver #aridification

Pine Street, Pinedale, Wyoming – Looking East. By Tarabholmes – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110540227

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Distin Bleizeffer):

The state’s top water authority will outline Wyoming’s role in the ongoing Colorado River Basin water crisis, including voluntary conservation and efficiency programs, at a public meeting [September 27, 2022] in Pinedale.

Though Wyoming declined to commit specific volumes to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s call for 2023 water savings, the state’s water users in the Green River drainage — a tributary of the Colorado River — will likely be called upon to voluntarily curb water consumption in coming years, according to the State Engineer’s Office.

Wyoming Drought Monitor map September 20, 2022.

SEO officials will provide information about ongoing drought conditions, Wyoming’s rights and obligations under the Colorado River Compact and options to “prepare ourselves to not only mitigate impacts to our water users, but to potentially help offset negative impacts to the rest of the system,” Wyoming senior assistant attorney general for the SEO’s water division Chris Brown said.

The meeting will be from 2-5 p.m. Tuesday at the Sublette County Public Library.

Why it matters:

Two decades of drought exacerbated by human-caused climate change has sapped the Colorado River Basin water system that serves some 40 million people across the West and in Mexico. The two largest reservoirs in the system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, shrank to historic lows this summer, threatening hydroelectric power production.

This “teacup” diagram displays reservoir storage levels as of Sept. 21, 2022. (Bureau of Reclamation)

There’s simply not enough water in the system to fulfill the water allotments divvied among stakeholders by the 1922 Colorado River Compact, and the situation is expected to get worse, according to federal officials.

“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency,” Interior Department Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo said in a prepared statement. “In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced.”

Among other strategies, Wyoming plans to resume participation in the federal System Conservation Program, which pays water users to curb consumption, according to the Wyoming State Engineer’s office. Congress recently re-appropriated funding for the program, while the Inflation Reduction Act includes some $4 billion for efforts to modernize Colorado River Basin infrastructure and water management practices. Another $8.3 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure law is available to address water and drought challenges throughout the U.S.

View below Flaming Gorge Dam from the Green River, eastern Utah. Photo credit: USGS

History

To help make up for shrinking water levels in Lake Powell, the Bureau of Reclamation tapped Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border for an extra 125,000 acre-feet of water in 2021 and an extra 500,000 acre feet this year. Water levels at the reservoir are expected to drop by 15 feet total this fall.

As one of three “upper basin” states, Wyoming’s plays an integral role in supplying water to the Colorado River system. Agriculture accounts for most of Wyoming’s water use in the system. However, Wyoming’s total water contribution mostly depends on seasonal climate and precipitation, Wyoming State Engineer Brandon Gebhart contends.

Those conditions have become more erratic, especially as average temperatures at Wyoming’s highest elevations — where seasonal snowpack serves as a “water bank” — warm at an alarming rate.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

It is time for the federal government to further reduce Glen Canyon Dam releases — InkStain #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A 2022-23 forecast fraught with risk for the Colorado River Basin

Click the link to read the post on the InkStain website (Eric Kuhn, John Fleck, and Jack Schmidt):

With most forecasts pointing toward another below-average winter of precipitation in the Rocky Mountains in 2022/2023 and with total basin-wide reservoir storage now less than 20 maf (less than 17 months of supply at the rate water has been consumed in the basin since 2000), it is time for the federal government to announce immediate, major reductions in Lake Powell releases for the coming water year (October 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023).

The importance of this leadership by Interior is pressing, because discussions among the basin states to cut their 2023 consumptive uses are at a stalemate and the Bureau of Reclamation is struggling to move the negotiation process along. An announcement by Interior, made no later than the 2022 Colorado River Water Users meeting in December, should set the annual release from Lake Powell for Water Year (WY) 2023 at approximately 5.5 million acre-feet (maf), 20% less than the 7.0 maf releases in water year 2022 and more than 30% less than the long-term release of 8.23 maf. Reductions in monthly releases to accomplish this objective ought to begin in January 2023.

In a news release Thursday, and in conversations at the Water Education Foundation’s Colorado River symposium this week in Santa Fe, officials with the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation suggested this option is already on the table. And Lower Basin water managers, doing the math for themselves, are already bracing for the possibility. A formal announcement, soon, would thus come as no surprise.

With last year’s decision to only release 7.0 million acre-feet in WY2022 (the water year that ends on September 30), the Secretary of the Interior has already determined that she can and will take actions to protect power generation and the structural integrity of Glen Canyon Dam. We believe it is now time to take bold action and further reduce Lake Powell releases for the following reasons:

First – The winter forecast justifies an immediate reduction in releases. It is now clear that we’re headed for a La Nina three-peat at least through most of the winter. While there is still a lot of uncertainty, too many forecasts are pointing to a warm, dry winter for most of the Colorado River’s watershed, especially the Rocky Mountains. This warm and dry winter outlook means it’s time to focus on the likelihood that inflows to Powell will probably be similar to Reclamation’s present minimum probable forecast made in its 24-month study.

Second – The projections of the current 24-month study’s minimum probable forecast justify a drastic reduction in releases. Given the dry and warm winter forecasts, basing 2023 reservoir operations on the minimum probable forecast should be considered responsible water-supply management. Based on the latest projections made by Reclamation, storage in Lake Powell would drop to elevation 3469’, only ~2.7 maf of storage above the dead pool, and well below the 3490’ elevation below which hydroelectricity cannot be generated. Keeping the storage level above 3525 ft may not be possible, but an infusion of 2 maf of storage into Lake Powell through a combination of Drought Operations (DROA) deliveries from Flaming Gorge reservoir and reduced releases to Lake Mead would increase the probability of maintaining Lake Powell slightly above 3510 ft, a 20-ft (1 maf) cushion above minimum power pool elevation.  Recognizing recent cautions from Jim Prairie (the UC Region’s lead modeler) that there may only be two years of DROA releases left in Flaming Gorge, a 500,000 af delivery combined with a 1.5-maf reduction in releases from Glen Canyon Dam would be a wise strategy that would leave Reclamation with the flexibility to make one more Flaming Gorge DROA delivery in 2024, if necessary.

Third – A 5.5-maf release would create clear markers to evaluate the impacts of the additional Lower Basin cuts on storage in Lake Mead and show what is necessary to preserve power generation at both Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams. Such an action would show the urgent need for additional system cuts to preserve both Lake Mead and total system storage. A reduction in the annual release by 1.5 maf would drive Lake Mead below elevation 1000 ft, but releases of only 5.5 maf would also be likely to keep Lake Powell above minimum power pool. At the end of WY2023, Lake Mead active storage would fall to 3.7 maf (~elevation 988 ft). Assuming a resumption of 7 maf-Glen Canyon Dam releases in WY2024, Lake Mead storage would drop to elevation ~965-970 ft in July 2024, close to its minimum power elevation of 950’.  Under this scenario, both reservoirs would have only about a 20 ft cushion over minimum power pool elevation, but power generation at both dams would be preserved, albeit at a minimal level.

There are obvious tradeoffs between the reduction of Lake Powell releases to our suggested 5.5 maf and the imposition of additional reductions in Lower Basin consumptive uses. Reduction of Lake Powell releases to 6.0 million acre-feet in WY2023 would be the largest release that ought to be considered for the coming year, because such a release would only increase storage about 20 ft. Reducing releases to 5.5 maf or even 5 maf would be much wiser, but even these radical policies may only be enough to “tread water.” Recovering system storage is likely to take several more years of reduced releases from Lake Powell that might include additional years when annual releases are as low as 5 maf.

Fourth – If the forecast of a dry winter proves to be in error and more precipitation comes in late winter 2023, Reclamation can increase the annual release during the spring.  Reclamation has the flexibility to increase annual releases back to 7.0 maf/year (or more under the possible, but unlikely, event of a big year).  Ideally, if the Lower Basin has a plan in place to cut an additional 1.5-2.0 maf of its uses, the benefits of such an increase in Powell releases later in the water year could also be redirected to recovering storage in Lake Mead.

Fifth – A 5.5-maf release in WY2023 could leave the Upper Basin with a future compact deficit that would force resolution of the long-standing dispute over the Upper Basin’s 1944 Treaty obligation to Mexico. The ten-year flow at Lee Ferry for 2013-2022 will be about 85.5 maf, but under our proposed scenario of a 5.5 maf release in WY2023 and a continuation of the Millennium Drought, the ten-year total release would be less than 82.5 maf by 2025 or 2026. Further, as the 9-maf years from 2015-19 fade into the past, the running ten-year tally could stay well below 82.5 maf through the end of the decade.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead has labeled this 82.5 maf metric as the basin’s first hydrologic “compact tripwire.” This observation is based on the Lower Division States’ view that under the 1922 Compact, the Upper Division States have an annual obligation to contribute 50% of the 1944 Treaty delivery to Mexico every year (normally 750,000 af, but a little less when Mexico takes a shortage) plus the 75 maf non-depletion obligation. The Upper Division States, of course, disagree, taking the position that the 750,000 af release for Mexico is a “luxury”, not a requirement under the 1922 Compact. Their view is that their Lee Ferry obligation is no more than 75 maf every ten years.

The Upper Division States’ position, however, puts their post-Compact uses at considerable risk!  If the basins are unable to reach a compromise and turn to litigation instead and the Supreme Court rules in favor of Arizona, Nevada, and California or even finds a middle ground, it’s quite likely that the Upper Division States could end up owing a lot of water or money or both. The Upper Division states would be wise to consider resolving their Mexican Treaty obligation as a part of the post-2026 guidelines negotiations.  Having an effective Upper Basin demand management program (or functional alternative) in place will almost certainly be a part of any negotiated settlement.

Summary If the WY 2023 runoff turns out to be below average, as many forecasts now suggest, maintaining Lake Powell storage elevation above minimum power pool with a reasonable cushion will require a combination of (1) another DROA release from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and (2) a significant reduction of the WY 2023 Lake Powell release to well below 7 maf. At this point, using the most probable 24-month forecast which uses an optimistically wet (1991-2020) hydrologic baseline and totally ignores the available winter forecasts, simply obfuscates reality, and creates obstacles to finding the needed cuts. Using the minimum probable forecast to set the 2023 annual release sooner than later would add both clarity and urgency to the stalled task at hand – finding the necessary additional cuts needed to stabilize and recover the system. Using the minimum probable forecast is a “no regrets approach.”  If the forecast improves, an upward adjustment of annual releases is an easy and welcome fix. The opposite, a downward adjustment made in spring 2023, would create more havoc.

There are associated issues that Reclamation ought to begin to consider immediately.  What would be the impact to the Grand Canyon ecosystem of a 5.5-maf annual release?  How should monthly flows be distributed under such a low annual release? How should the present invasion of smallmouth bass in Grand Canyon be managed under very low annual releases? What might be the impact on commercial river running in Grand Canyon in 2023? How should the ever-increasing temperatures of Powell releases be managed?  These are all questions that need to be addressed in fall 2022 so that our recommendations can be implemented in January 2023.

We’ve suggested the 5.5 maf figure based on the September 24-month study. By November or December, the minimum probable forecast may dictate a different release number.

Whatever that number is, Reclamation should consider letting the basin know as soon as reasonably possible.

– Jack Schmidt is Janet Quinney Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies, Center for Colorado River Studies, Watershed Sciences Department, Utah State University

– John Fleck is Writer in Residence at the Utton Transboundary Resources Center, University of New Mexico School of Law; Professor of Practice in Water Policy and Governance in UNM’s Department of Economics; and former director of UNM’s Water Resources Program.

– Eric Kuhn is retired general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and spent 37 years on the Engineering Committee of the Upper Colorado River Commission. Kuhn is the co-author, with Fleck, of the book Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.

Reclamation announces funding opportunity for Tribal #water projects

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Chelsea Kennedy):

The Bureau of Reclamation is making up to $4 million available for Tribes and Tribal organizations in their efforts to develop, manage, and protect tribal water and related resources. Each selected Tribal project is eligible to receive up to $400,000.

The funding opportunity is available at www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity number R23AS00016. Applications are due on December 14, 2022, at 4 p.m. MDT.

The funding is through Reclamation’s Native American Affairs Technical Assistance Program. Funds will be provided by grant or cooperative agreement.

Funding is exclusively limited to federally recognized Tribes or Tribal organizations located in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  Federal, state, and local governments, as well as individuals, are not eligible to apply.

Reclamation’s Native American Affairs Technical Assistance Program provides technical assistance through cooperative working relationships and partnerships with Tribes and Tribal organizations.  To learn more, please visit the program website.

Alfalfaphobia? In which I play the role of Colorado River Tsar–and defend the vilified crop — @Land_Desk

Golf course at Page, Arizona, with Glen Canyon Dam and the diminished Lake Powell in the background. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

In recent weeks I’ve written a piece or two about alfalfa. My thesis: As the biggest single water user in the Colorado River Basin, the crop must play an equally large role in contributing to the cuts necessary to keep the river from drying out. I know, it doesn’t seem like a hot-button topic. I mean, it’s just hay, after all.

Just hay? Yeah, well, you’ve obviously never heard the famous Mark Twain quote that he never said: Whiskey is for drinking and hay is for rolling in! Oh no, that was Benjamin Franklin who said that, or maybe Abe Lincoln. Anyway. Water may be for drinking, but hay is clearly for fighting over, or so it seems from the reactions to my journalistic foraging.

I’ve been lambasted—and praised—for being an alfalfa basher and for vilifying the crop. Alfalfa farmers have sent me semi-defensive e-mails listing the attributes of alfalfa. The Family Farm Alliance put out an op-ed decrying alfalfa-focused “crop-shaming” (which probably wasn’t directed toward me, but still). One guy pilloried me for saying an outright ban on alfalfa wasn’t the answer. Another sent me cautionary examples of what happens when you “buy and dry” a place. I have not been accused of alfalfaphobia, yet, but if I get canceled, that most likely will be the reason.

But I’ve got no beef with alfalfa. And, as I’ve said before, my calls for alfalfa to step up to the water-consumption-cutting plate have nothing to do with the economic, societal, or nutritional value of alfalfa. In fact, I value alfalfa much more highly than golf courses, swimming pools, fountains, lawns, urban growth, or crops grown for, say, ethanol production.

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 @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

Just to remind you all of what we’re up against: The Colorado River’s collective users have consumed more water—between 13 million and 14 million acre-feet per year—than is actually in the river—averaging around 12.4 million acre-feet and falling—for the last two decades or so. They’ve been able to do this by draining the savings accounts known as Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Now the time of reckoning has come: Drain the reservoirs any further and they’ll no longer be able to produce hydropower and the dams’ structural integrity could be compromised. At least 2 million acre-feet must be cut to stop the deficit spending, and more than that to start building back some savings—if the river doesn’t continue dropping. But Colorado River water officials warn that the river’s flow could end up averaging just 9 million acre-feet in coming decades, a scary thought, indeed.

In other words, we—the folks who rely on the Colorado River Basin—finally must acknowledge that we live in a desert, and we finally are being forced to live within our means. And with this in mind, I wrote that alfalfa is a “good place to start” when looking for places to cut water use. I didn’t really mean that, though. Farming less alfalfa (or just irrigating it less) must be a big piece of a solution to Colorado River woes, but it’s probably not the place to start cutting.

If I were the Supreme Water Tsar here’s what I’d do before fallowing alfalfa:

Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

– Scrap plans for the Lake Powell PipelineAaron Million’s pipeline and other additional diversions. These folks want to suck more water out of a diminishing system while everyone else is frantically looking for ways to use less water. It’s insane. Utah thinks it has the right to do this because it isn’t using its full allocation from the Colorado River Compact. That doesn’t work. Not only was the Compact based on flawed—and fabricated—numbers, but it has been rendered obsolete by climate change. The only new uses of Colorado River water should be to honor tribal water rights, including those that have not yet been quantified or settled.

Sunrise Denver skyline from Sloan’s Lake September 2, 2022.

– Mandate 10% or greater cuts in overall water use for all urban areas. Las Vegas (of all places) shows that this is not only possible, but can be done without much pain. It had its water use limited by its relatively puny allocation from the Colorado River and managed, through water recycling, conservation, banning ornamental lawns, plugging leaks in the city plumbing system, and so forth, to lessen overall water consumption even while it added population.

Photo credit: VisitTucson.com

– Cities can cut waste with what I call progressive water rates and Tucson calls “increasing block rates.” The idea is the same: As consumption increases, so does the per-unit rate. Under my system, every household would get its first 8,000 gallons per month free (this is a little more than the average two-person household in Tucson uses, which is still a bit excessive, in my opinion). The second 8,000 gallons would cost $50; the third $100; the fourth $200; and so on. This would incentivize conservation—a thrifty family might never pay a water bill—and penalize gluttony. Kim Kardashian’s monthly water bill would add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, as it should.

– Seems to go without saying, but: No more new cities in the desert.

– Avoid “buy & dry” water transfers that take water from agriculture to enable cities to grow.

– Allow only dryland golf (and parks and fields and lawns). Sure, you can have your golf course or lawn in the desert, but you can’t irrigate it. Maybe you play on the dirt, maybe on gravel, maybe on artificial turf, but we can’t afford to continue wasting water (and dumping pesticides and fertilizers) to turn the desert green. It takes about 3 million gallons of water per acre to keep grass alive in the desert—about twice what alfalfa uses. And yes, I know that many golf courses use groundwater or recycled water and so aren’t taking it directly from the Colorado River system. But that’s irrelevant. If that water wasn’t used on a golf course it could go to something far more valuable (and yes, I am crop shaming).

Surfing in the desert? Hell no! This thing was proposed for the Coachella Valley—home to over 100 golf courses, oodles of swimming pools, and lakeside housing developments—where water use is as high as 475 gallons per capita per day, one of the highest anywhere. It’s time to cut Coachella off. Oh, and Lake Las Vegas? Yeah, no.

The Las Vegas Wash(Opens another site in new window) is the primary channel through which the Las Vegas Valley’s excess water returns to Lake Mead. Contributing approximately 2 percent of the water in Lake Mead, the water flowing through the Wash consists of urban runoff, shallow groundwater, storm water and releases from the valley’s four water reclamation facilities. Photo credit: Southern Nevada Water Authority

– More water recycling. I know, it sounds gross, especially when you label it “toilet to tap.” Thing is, we do it already, all of the time. Las Vegas treats its wastewater, dumps it back into Lake Mead, then sucks it back out to use as drinking water. Durango treats all of its sewage and wastewater, dumps it into the Animas River, and downstream users such as Aztec and Farmington then pull it out of the river, treat it and drink it.

The San Juan Generating Station in mid-June of this year. The two middle units (#2 and #3) were shut down in 2017 to help the plant comply with air pollution limits. Unit #1 shut down today and #4 will shut down on Sept. 30 of this year. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

– Ditch fossil fuels. Most thermal power plants, i.e. those fired by coal or natural gas, guzzle massive amounts of water for steam generation and cooling. The San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico consumes about 5.8 billion gallons per year. Altogether, the daily consumptive water use of power plants in Colorado River Basin states is about 145 million gallons, which amounts to about 162,000 acre-feet per year. Extracting natural gas also uses huge amounts of water: A single hydraulic fracturing job consumes and sullies millions of gallons of fresh water. In fact, a new study found that installing rooftop solar on a single California household could avoid enough fossil fuel generation to save some 53,000 gallons of water. (I’ll be doing an energy-water nexus Data Dump soon!).

– Monitor, regulate, and limit groundwater pumping in Arizona (and anywhere else it’s not regulated). Irrigation water in some of the driest parts of Arizona come from groundwater wells that are not monitored or regulated or counted against Colorado River allocations. The Fondomonte Farms alfalfa fields in La Paz County, for example, are irrigated with groundwater. The alfalfa is then shipped to Saudi Arabia where it feeds dairy cows. Groundwater and surface water are connected. It’s time to stop ignoring that fact.

In March 2021, Electrek reported that scientists published a feasibility study about the benefits of erecting solar panels over canals. That study is about to become a reality when a pilot project breaks ground in California. Photo credit: Electrek

– Cover the canals with solar panels, which will not only generate electricity without using more water, but will also reduce evaporation from the canals. The Central Arizona Project, alone, loses about 16,000 acre-feet—or 5.2 billion gallons—per year to evaporation.

Agriculture is the main economic venture on CRIT’s reservation, where a range of crops like alfalfa, cotton and sorghum thrive in the rich soil along the banks of the Colorado River. (Source: CRIT)

– Grow less cotton in the desert. Cotton uses about 75% as much water as alfalfa, which makes it among the thirstiest crops out there. Arizona farmers harvested over 127,000 acres of cotton last year, and regularly exports between $100 million and $200 million worth each year, mostly to China, India, and Vietnam, where it’s made into clothing and shipped right back to the U.S.

Add all of those cuts up and, well, you probably still don’t get the 2 million or 4 million or even 6 million acre-feet of cuts that are necessary. That’s the catch: All the cities, golf courses, power plants, and desert surfing lagoons combined don’t add up to more than a few million acre-feet of water use. So even drying them all up wouldn’t get us to where we need to be.

That leaves us with agriculture in general—which accounts for 70% to 80% of the consumptive use of Colorado River water—and alfalfa and other hay crops, specifically, which together drink up the largest portion of the agricultural sector’s share. There are a number of reasons so much alfalfa is growing in the West. For one thing, there’s demand for it: dairy cattle eat it, beef cattle eat it, rabbits eat it, horses eat it, sometimes even people eat it.

One of my cousins grows alfalfa in southwestern Colorado, and he sent me a list of other virtues of the leafy legume:

– Alfalfa root nodules fix nitrogen from the air and deep roots bring up minerals, adding fertility to the root zone of grasses and other crops.

– It is a perennial crop, especially in the west. With decent care and good luck, a stand will be very productive for 5 good years. Most people in Southwestern Colorado keep theirs for 10 years. I am now re-planting 20 acres after 25 years of haying and grazing. I rotated through triticale and sorghum-sudan grass cover crops. 

– I have the largest acreage of alfalfa under certified organic management in the county. My customers can use their manure in their garden without fear of persistent herbicides.

– Alfalfa is an excellent crop to rotate with potatoes and barley in sustainable fashion. The Rockey brothers of Center, Colorado, are masters at that.

– Alfalfa is drought tolerant. If irrigation is not available, it will come back luxuriantly if and when the water returns. Experienced growers of alfalfa-orchard grass mixtures that have had limited irrigation the last few years have noticed the grass dying out.

– The issue with drought and Alfalfa longevity is in an open winter. Root crowns dry out, split, and become infected when the ground is bare and desiccated.

– I am considering planting sainfoin, it may have a better reputation among your readers. (Editor’s note: sainfoin is an alfalfa-like crop with a fancier name).

I suspect that cutting off water to every alfalfa field in the Colorado River Basin would achieve the necessary cuts on its own—if it were even possible on a logistical or political level. But it would also wreak economic havoc, rip up the cultural fabric of rural areas, cause beef and dairy prices to skyrocket, and possibly lead to another dust bowl. Just as the cuts to overall water consumption must target the biggest consumers, so too should the effort to save water by fallowing alfalfa focus on the biggest alfalfa fields, such as those in southern California and Arizona.

Crop map of the Imperial and Palo Verde Irrigation Districts in southern California. The districts are the first and fifth largest single water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Pink = alfalfa. Source: Aaron Smith, Cropland Data Layer

And even then, “buying and drying” can have unintended consequences, as my friend pointed out. He suggested I check out Crowley County, in eastern Colorado, to see how the practice can play out. Back in the 1970s, Crowley County had 50,000 acres of irrigated crops. But in the ensuing decades the burgeoning metro areas on the Front Range, in need of water to irrigate vast monoculture crops of McMansions, went to the farmers and bought out their water rights. Now only a couple thousand acres in the county are irrigated, and it shows: Thousands of acres of former fields are invasive-weed-choked dust patches. With the ag economy in shambles, the county courted prisons to employ folks who didn’t up and leave.

So, yes, alfalfa needs to play a big role in averting the desiccation of the Colorado River system. And no, saying that is not vilifying alfalfa or crop-shaming or anything of the sort. It’s simple math. But perhaps before we fallow thousands of acres of alfalfa fields we should have a viable replacement in place—an agricultural just transition of sorts that goes beyond merely paying folks not to grow things. Maybe the hay can be replaced by less-thirsty crops, such as corn or beans or grapes or even solar panels. Maybe new industries can be established to fill the economic void. Maybe less-thirsty varieties of alfalfa can be developed.

I’m just glad I’m not the water tsar and I sure as heck don’t envy the folks that have to make the decisions about where and how to make these cuts. It’s not easy. I’m okay to just try to illuminate the topics in the best way I can. And maybe it’s working. I received a note from a Washington, D.C., PR person the other day saying how interesting she found one of my recent articles on alfalfa. Then she added: “I didn’t even know we still farmed alfalfa.”

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

Reclamation will spend billions to boost #drought-stricken #ColoradoRiver system — KUNC #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River flows through fields of crops in Southern California. New water conservation plans from the Bureau of Reclamation could use money from the Inflation Reduction act to pay farmers and ranchers to temporarily pause some water use, an effort to boost levels in the nation’s largest reservoirs. Photo credit: Ted Wood/The Water Desk

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced new measures in response to the ongoing dry conditions, unveiling plans to use a chunk of the $4 billion it received as part of the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act. That money will be used for what the agency refers to as “short-term conservation,” to remove water-intensive grass in cities and suburbs, and to upgrade aging canals. A detailed breakdown of that spending has not yet been released. Multiple sources close to the situation told KUNC that the bulk of Reclamation’s $4 billion will go to projects in the Colorado River basin, with the majority going to “system conservation.” That could include buying water from the agriculture sector to boost water levels in the nation’s largest reservoirs. That funding will likely be doled out as part of a voluntary program in which farmers and ranchers can make a pitch to the federal government, offering to pause growing in exchange for payments of $300 to $400 per acre-foot of water, sources told KUNC. Those payments are expected to be temporary, mainly focused in the river’s Lower Basin states, and may someday give way to more permanent, higher-value federal payments in exchange for water…

Reclamation previously tested system conservation efforts in a pilot program that ran from 2014 to 2019, but has not implemented similar water buybacks at large scale since. Earlier this year, states in the river’s Upper Basin urged the federal government to revive system conservation work.

“I personally have a hard time believing that we’re going to see a massive change in reservoir levels as a result of system conservation by itself,” Koebele said. “This might be sort of a program that helps states establish their own programs for longer term system conservation. That said, we’re in such a dire situation that almost anything in the short term can help.”

A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/02/09/drying-out-of-the-american-southwest/#sthash.7xXVYcLv.dpuf

Kimery Wiltshire, president of Confluence West, a group of water leaders around the region, said she was struck by the words “seek” and “encourage” that Reclamation used in regards to water conservation, adding that voluntary measures would not do much, especially if payouts to growers are relatively low. By comparison, a group of farmers near Yuma, Arizona recently proposed a water conservation plan in which they would be paid about $1500 per acre-foot of water saved, according to Axios.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that what they’re proposing is going to get us to where we so desperately need to go, very quickly,” Wiltshire said. “Frankly, what Interior really can’t do a whole heck of a lot about is getting to the underlying causes. We don’t have the demand management that we need. We’re consuming too much water. We need to go to significantly less thirsty crops than what we’re growing right now.”

Colorado River Allocations: Credit: The Congressional Research Service

#YampaRiver Rendezvous recap — Steamboat Pilot & Today #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Coyote Gulch on the Yampa River Core Trail August 24, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig). Here’s an excerpt:

…after years of drought conditions in Colorado, any lingering optimism for a return to previous patterns of rain showers most afternoons in the High Country is not a realistic outlook. Water managers now need to use the most conservative, lower water flow predictions to manage shrinking water resources effectively, said Andy Rossi, general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District…

The annual volume of water in the Yampa River Basin was 1.5 million-acre-feet in the early 1900s but now is 1.12 million-acre-feet, Rossi noted. Rossi compared the two consecutive years from 2011 and 2012 as one example of water projection difficulties. During the wetter 2011 at the Fifth Street river gauging station in downtown Steamboat, the flow on June 7 was 4,780 cubic feet per second compared to 305 CFS on the same date in 2012. Last week, at the same gauging station, the natural river flow contributed only half of the flow because approximately 50% of the flow was from storage releases from Stagecoach Reservoir, he said…

Although precipitation levels in the Yampa River Basin historically include highly variable ups and downs, data shows an “incredibly sharp recent decrease in precipitation” that led to five of the lowest water inflows into Stagecoach Reservoir during the past 10 years, Rossi said. From 2010 to 2021, the annual precipitation in Routt County dropped by 5.26 inches, he said…

Community members were urged to learn more about local water issues and to review the final version of the Yampa Integrated Water Management Plan that was released earlier this month available online at the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable website at YampaWhiteGreen.com

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

How to Negotiate for Peace, Resilience, and Environment on the #ColoradoRiver: Audubon’s letter to address historically low water supplies #COriver #aridification

Colorado River near Moab, Utah. Photo: Mitch Tobin/WaterDesk.org

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

Audubon is deeply concerned about current Colorado River conditions, a crisis in the making for birds and people. Current government modeling shows the potential within the next 24 months, there could be a “day zero” scenario where reservoir water supplies fall so much that major dams are unable to reliably release water. This puts communities and wildlife at risk. We recently responded to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) request for comments on their upcoming process to establish new rules for Colorado River management (“pre-scoping for post-2026 Colorado River Reservoir Operational Strategies for Lake Powell and Lake Mead Under Historically Low Reservoir Conditions”), making the case for good governance that will increase Colorado River Basin resilience to climate change with improved outcomes for people and nature.

The Colorado River is legendary for supporting the growth of the American West, to the point where today it supplies 40 million people and underpins an economy exceeding $1 trillion. However, thirty sovereign Tribes that have been in the basin since time immemorial have not been included in management discussions, and in many cases do not have access to their Colorado River water rights.

Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

The river and its tributaries are also the foundation of life in the region, essential in supporting more than 70 percent of all wildlife. The riparian forest that lines the waterways of the Colorado River Basin provides critical habitat for birds, including 400 species along the Lower Colorado River alone. Scores of dams and diversions have altered river flows, resulting in invasive shrubs that have replaced native trees and diminished habitat value. With less native habitat available, at least six breeding bird species that rely on the Colorado River Basin, including the Bell’s Vireo, Summer Tanager, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow Warbler, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, have experienced significant population declines.

Immediate water conservation is needed to prevent the near-term crisis, but the conditions driving the crisis are not expected to abate, pointing to the need for structural changes in Colorado River management. To achieve structural changes in such a complex and high stakes setting will require USBR and all Colorado River stakeholders—the Tribes, states, local governments, water users, and environmental and recreational interests—to view the basin as a whole and work collaboratively to define solutions. Here’s what Audubon wants to see (for a more complete discussion, see our letter):

– Transparency

– Inclusivity

– Prioritization of Mexico’s role in Colorado River management

– A broad purpose and need for the federal rulemaking, to ensure it serves the full range of stakeholders, not just water rights holders

– Sound science

– Honest evaluation and communication about available reservoir water supplies

– Decision-making that anticipates uncertain future conditions

– Management that avoids crises

– Priority given to water supply reliability

– Evaluation of the difference between water shortages and voluntary, compensated reductions in water use

– Increased flexibility in Colorado River management

– Priority given to environmental water needs and environmental justice

– Consideration for how management options will interact with other responses to conditions on the Colorado River

Downloadable Resources

 nas_2026_guidelines_pre-scoping_comments.pdf

One of the two Twin Otter aircraft used by the Airborne Snow Observatory mission to study snowpack in the Western U.S. Credit: NASA

Interior Department Announces Next Steps to Address #Drought Crisis Gripping the #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Interior

Click the link to read the release on the Department of Interior website. (release below):

As the worsening drought crisis continues to impact communities across the West, senior leaders from the Department of the Interior are outlining new and urgent actions to improve and protect the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System.  

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton are attending the Colorado River Symposium in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this week to highlight steps the Department is taking and propose new actions to prevent the System’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production. 

“The prolonged drought afflicting the West is one of the most significant challenges facing our country. As a 35th generation New Mexican, I have seen firsthand how climate change is exacerbating the drought crisis and putting pressure on the communities who live across Western landscapes,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “We must work together to make the tough choices necessary to chart a sustainable future for the Colorado River System on which more than 40 million people depend. As we move forward, we will do so with key guiding principles, including collaboration, equity and transparency. I am committed to bringing every resource to bear to help manage the drought crisis and provide a sustainable water system for families, businesses and our vast and fragile ecosystems.”  

The actions being discussed this week build on those announced in August 2022 as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s release of the Colorado River Basin August 2022 24-Month Study, which sets the annual operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 2023. Those previously announced actions specified that Lake Powell will operate in the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier in water year 2023 and Lake Mead will operate in its first-ever Level 2a Shortage Condition in calendar year 2023 requiring reduced allocations and water savings contributions for the Lower Basin States and Mexico.  

The Department is focused on the need for continued collaboration and partnerships across the Upper and Lower Basins, with Tribes, and with the country of Mexico. The agency’s approach will continue to seek consensus support and will be based on a continued commitment to engage with diverse stakeholders to ensure all communities that rely on the Colorado River will provide contributions toward the solutions. The Department is also preparing for administrative actions necessary to ensure that the Colorado River System can sustainably deliver vital water supplies, power and other services. 

Executing on Efforts Already Underway 

During the Symposium, which brings leaders together from across the Basin, the Department leaders are outlining steps that Reclamation is taking to facilitate ongoing efforts to conserve water and protect the System. The severity of this moment requires action now as we chart a more sustainable, resilient and equitable future for the Basin.  

Department efforts include:

  • Ensuring that the Lower Basin states continue to work on developing voluntary measures and agreements to conserve water and finalizing those agreements as soon as possible. They also highlighted the need for ongoing collaboration with the Upper Basin states to develop additional conservation agreements and operational adjustments. 
  • Working with the Upper Basin states to support their five-point plan, including:   
    • development of their demand management plans   
    • reauthorization of System Conservation 
    • investment in improved monitoring and reporting infrastructure 
    • encouragement of strict water management and administration  
    • and development of a 2023 Drought Response Operations plan  
  • Making unprecedented investments in drought resilience and water management from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and existing programs like WaterSMART as quickly and efficiently as possible.  

As we move forward with implementing ongoing efforts, the Department will focus on the strategic investments needed to improve the efficiency of water delivery systems that result in conservation and, ultimately, in reduced demands on the Colorado River’s shrinking supplies. 

Taking Action to Protect the System 

Department leaders will continue to affirm that action must be taken now to reduce water consumption across the Basin in light of critically low water supplies and dire hydrological projections. As the agency moves forward, it will continue to do so by utilizing the best available science, data and technology. 

These actions include: 

  • Initiating an administrative process to address operational realities under the current 2007 Interim Guidelines while we continue to develop alternatives for sustainable and equitable operations under the new guidelines.  
  • Moving forward with administrative actions needed to authorize a reduction of Glen Canyon Dam releases below seven million acre-feet per year, if needed, to protect critical infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam. 
  • Preparing to manage elevations in Lake Powell by implementing emergency drought operations. 
  • Preparing to take action to make additional reductions in 2023, as needed, through an administrative process to evaluate and adjust triggering elevations and/or increase reduction volumes identified in the 2007 Interim Guidelines Record of Decision.  
  • Accelerating ongoing maintenance actions and studies of the bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam to analyze the feasibility of possible modifications to increase water delivery capacity during low reservoir levels. 
  • Ensuring that water use determinations for the Lower Basin satisfy appropriate beneficial use standards during this time of historically low reservoirs, including taking into consideration fundamental human health and safety requirements. 
  • Assessing how to account for and allocate system losses due to evaporation, seepage, and other losses.  

Additionally, as the process for developing new guidelines for Colorado River System operations is underway, Department leaders emphasized the need to develop clear alternatives that can sustain the System and work to provide reliable, sustainable and equitable water and power supplies in the coming decades.  

Implementing President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act 

Department leaders outlined the framework under consideration for the funds as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $4 billion in funding specifically for water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin and other areas experiencing similar levels of drought. 

The Department will establish, among other funding mechanisms, a two-step process to solicit short-term conservation contributions and longer-term durable system efficiency projects.  

Longer-term projects could include initiatives such as canal lining, re-regulating reservoirs, ornamental and non-functional turf removal, salinity projects and other infrastructure or “on the ground” activities. Projects could also be related to aquatic ecosystem restoration and impacts mitigation, crop water efficiency, rotational fallowing, and marginal land idling.   

The Bureau of Reclamation will hold listening sessions on September 30, 2022, to hear directly from states, Tribes, water managers, farmers, irrigators and other stakeholders about implementation of this historic funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Reclamation awards $73 million construction contract for continued progress on the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project’s San Juan Lateral

What the Tsé Da’azkání Pumping Plant and Tó Ałts’íísí Pumping Plant will look like during construction. Credit: USBR

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website:

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced the award of a $73,056,845 contract to Archer Western Construction of Phoenix, Arizona, to convey reliable drinking water to Navajo communities and the city of Gallup in northwest New Mexico. This award marks significant progress toward the completion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

These areas currently rely on a rapidly depleting groundwater supply of poor quality to meet the demands of more than 43 Navajo chapters, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, and the city of Gallup. The NGWSP consists of two main pipeline systems: the San Juan Lateral and the Cutter Lateral. This contract award is for the Tsé Da’azkání Pumping Plant and Tó Ałts’íísí Pumping Plant on the San Juan Lateral. These drinking water pumping plants are two of 13 water transmission pumping plants on the San Juan Lateral.

“This is a significant milestone for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and illustrates the Department of the Interior’s commitment to Tribal and rural communities,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “We are excited to leverage the resources in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make further investments that ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in Tribal communities.”

Both plants will be located in the Navajo Sanostee Chapter in New Mexico’s San Juan County and will operate in concert with the other pumping plants on the San Juan Lateral, pumping San Juan River water that has been treated to Safe Drinking Water Act requirements at the San Juan Lateral Water Treatment Plant to the north and delivering to downstream communities to the south. Each plant will have four equally sized pump and motor units with a combined capacity of approximately 51.5 cubic feet per second, or 23,100 gallons per minute. Work under this contract will begin this fall with groundbreaking in early 2023 and completion expected by the fall of 2025.

“Reclamation is pleased to begin construction on the Tsé Da’azkání and Tó Ałts’íísí pumping plants,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “With the Cutter Lateral delivering water to Navajo homes and construction of the San Juan Lateral now more than 50% finished, this construction contract continues our progress toward meeting the United States’ obligation to the Navajo Nation under the nation’s water rights settlement agreement on the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico, where over a third of households still haul drinking water to their homes. That importance has been underscored by our pandemic experience. A good water supply is essential to public health and safety.”

The Tsé Da’azkání and Tó Ałts’íísí pumping plants will further the progress of the NGWSP. When the full project is completed, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipeline, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks. Construction on the Cutter Lateral is complete and water deliveries are currently being made to eight Navajo communities and soon to the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, serving 6,000 people or 1,500 households.

This contract continues many years of hard work by Reclamation, the Navajo Nation and other project partners constructing the NGWSP to improve the lives of residents and provide opportunities for economic development and job creation.

Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project

Governor Polis Announces #Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s Discovery of Greenback Cutthroat Naturally Reproducing in Ancestral Waters of their Native #SouthPlatteRiver Drainage

Stocking Greenback cutthroat trout September 22, 2021. Photos credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

After more than a decade of intensive efforts to rescue the greenback cutthroat trout from the brink of extinction, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Friday it has discovered that the state fish is naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch, one of the first places the agency stocked it in its native South Platte River drainage.

This is a huge breakthrough by CPW’s aquatics team considering that in 1937 the greenback cutthroat trout was considered extinct. For decades, it was believed only two native cutthroat – the Colorado River and Rio Grande – had survived while the greenback and yellowfin had succumbed to pollution from mining, pressure from fishing and competition from other trout species.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

In 2012, CPW confirmed that tiny Bear Creek, on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs and in the Arkansas River drainage, was home to an unlikely population of wild greenback cutthroat trout. Outside their native range, the fish are believed to have been brought to Bear Creek from the South Platte Basin in the late 1800s for a tourist fishing enterprise. 

The discovery triggered a massive effort by CPW and the Greenback Recovery Team – a multi-agency group of state and federal aquatic researchers and biologists – to protect the 3½-mile stretch of water holding the only known population of naturally reproducing greenbacks.

After a decade of work to protect and reproduce greenbacks, the Herman Gulch discovery marks a major milestone.

“While we will continue to stock greenback trout from our hatcheries, the fact that they are now successfully reproducing in the wild is exciting for the future of this species. This is a huge wildlife conservation success story and a testament to the world-class wildlife agency Coloradans have in Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado’s ecological diversity strengthens our community, supports our anglers, and our thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “CPW’s staff and our partner agencies have worked for more than a decade to restore this beloved state fish, and today’s news truly highlights the success of the work.

The governor’s thoughts were echoed by officials throughout CPW.

“The bedrock mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state,” said CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan. “This is a tremendous example of CPW fulfilling its mission. I am so proud of all the aquatic researchers, biologists, hatchery staff, volunteers and partner agencies who helped achieve this milestone of naturally reproducing greenback cutthroat trout. 

“Despite more than a decade of setbacks and frustrations, CPW staff worked as a team across departments and across regions, stayed focused on the goal and now we gave this great news. It’s a great day.” 

Front-line aquatic researchers and biologists celebrated the news.

“It’s just great to see all the hard work everyone has put in to save these fish is starting to pay dividends,” said Kevin Rogers, CPW aquatics researcher who has devoted much of his career to rescuing the greenbacks. “This is just another affirmation that our conservation practices work and that we can save species on the brink.”

In the years since the 2012 confirmation of greenbacks in Bear Creek, CPW has worked with its partners including U.S. Forest Service to protect and improve the creek habitat and the surrounding watershed and to develop a brood stock –  a small population of fish kept in optimal conditions in a hatchery to maximize breeding and provide a source of fish for the establishment of new populations in suitable habitats.

Each spring, CPW aquatic biologists have strapped on heavy electro-fishing backpacks to painstakingly hike up Bear Creek to catch greenbacks and collect milt and roe – sperm and eggs.

Then, they use the milt to fertilize all the roe in a makeshift lab on the banks of the creek. All the spare greenback milt collected is then raced to the Leadville National Fish Hatchery to fertilize eggs from the greenbacks in its brood stock. In 2014, an additional broodstock was started in Zimmerman Lake, near the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River and thus within the greenback’s native South Platte basin.

Mount Shavano Hatchery. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

All fertilized eggs are then sent to the CPW Mount Shavano Hatchery in Salida where they are kept in a greenback isolation unit where conditions are carefully controlled to allow the maximum number of eggs possible to hatch.

In 2016, CPW began stocking the greenback fry that hatch from those eggs into Herman Gulch west of Denver. Stocking into other streams in the South Platte drainage soon followed. Today, fledgling greenback populations exist in four South Platte basin streams. But only the fish in Herman Gulch have existed long enough to reach adulthood and begin reproducing.

CPW and its partner agencies in the Greenback Recovery Team and others including Trout Unlimited have carried bags of greenback fry miles up steep mountain trails every summer since trying to get them into water where they might reproduce. The agency tried different age classes and sizes each year over a three-year period.

“The news of the natural reproduction of greenback cutthroat trout in Herman Gulch is truly monumental,” said Josh Nehring, CPW’s assistant aquatic section manager who previously was senior aquatic biologist in the Southeast Region and oversaw efforts to protect the lone greenback population in Bear Creek.

“CPW aquatic biologists in the Southeast Region have worked incredibly hard to protect and preserve the only known population of greenbacks in Bear Creek,” Nehring said. “Our hatchery staff along with our federal hatchery partners overcame immense obstacles to be able to replicate the species in captivity. Now to see them on the landscape in their native habitat replicating on their own is a huge sense of accomplishment for everyone involved.”

The news of reproducing greenbacks in Herman Gulch was never a sure bet. And over the years CPW aquatic biologists even feared they could lose the population in Bear Creek. There was intense pressure from increased recreation on adjacent trails and traffic on a road that parallels the creek, delivering sediment into Bear Creek. 

There were flash floods that could have wiped out the rare trout. Invasive and aggressive brook trout remain a constant threat to move upstream and outcompete the greenbacks. And there have even been wildfires that have erupted in the forests that surround the creek.

Worst was a survey conducted by CPW aquatic biologist Cory Noble in the fall of 2020 that showed a troubling decline in the greenback population in Bear Creek with no reproduction that year. Noble launched even greater efforts to modify the habitat to reduce the influx of sediment, to patrol for invasive brook trout and to monitor the population by less stressful techniques using underwater cameras.

While Noble worked on Bear Creek, a long list of his CPW aquatic colleagues were spending countless hours and piling up miles hiking high-country streams in the gritty work of identifying host creeks, preparing them for greenbacks and then hauling them miles in heavy backpacks to be stocked.

“As our colleagues worked to protect the Bear Creek population and successfully raise them in our hatchery, our Northeast Region biologists were on the ground building a wild brood source at Zimmerman Lake and searching for just the right habitats where we could remove non-natives, safely stock the greenback and protect them from other threats and give them the best chance to survive and reproduce,” said Jeff Spohn, senior aquatic biologist in the Northeast Region.

Leading that effort was Boyd Wright, aquatic biologist in Fort Collins, who has dedicated the past decade to returning wild populations of greenbacks to their native range in the South Platte Basin.

Like Noble on Bear Creek, Wright and his team hauled heavy electro-fishing backpacks up Herman Gulch and the other stocking sites to study the fish they had stocked. After some disappointments, just a few days ago they made a stunning discovery: they documented greenbacks up to 12 inches long and found fry.

“Our team of field technicians literally high-fived right there in the stream when we captured that first fry that was spawned this year,” Wright said. “When moments later we captured a one year old fish produced in 2021, we were truly beside ourselves.”

“After many years of hard work and dedication, it is extremely satisfying to see our efforts paying off.”

It’s news the entire agency had waited to hear for a long time: greenback cutthroat trout that were naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch.

“This is a great achievement for the recovery of greenback cutthroat trout,” said Noble, the Colorado Springs-based aquatic biologist who has shouldered daily responsibility for the greenbacks in Bear Creek. “It is really rewarding to see that all of CPW’s hard work is paying off.”

Similar relief was voiced by Bryan Johnson, hatchery manager at Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery in Salida. Johnson, a 20-year CPW hatchery veteran, has endured 10 years of frustration trying to find the right combination of water temperatures and genetic combinations just to get greenbacks to survive in the hatchery, much less in the wild.

“This represents a lot of years and a lot of hard work and a lot of disappointment along the way,” Johnson said. “Frankly, we have low survival rates in the hatchery compared with other strains of cutthroat. We started the broodstock in 2008 and here it is 2022 and we’re finally seeing the first natural reproduction. We’ve gone through a lot to get these fish back on the landscape.”

Just this week, Johnson and staff were bagging greenback fry at 4:30 a.m. so he could drive them 11 hours up gravel roads to a new reintroduction site. There, he handed off the fish to the Northeast Region team led by Kyle Battige, aquatic biologist from Fort Collins.

“This is just the start,” Johnson cautioned. “We need more. We’ve only got a few places where we have greenbacks  on the landscape. But it’s awesome to see natural reproduction in Herman Gulch.”

Harry Crockett, CPW’s native aquatic species coordinator and chair of the Greenback Recovery Team, said he’s confident the news of natural reproduction in Herman Gulch will be followed by even better headlines.

“We found a greenback that was born in Herman Gulch that was already a year old,” Crockett said. “This indicates successful reproduction both this year and last, plus overwinter survival. This is important because trout that survive to one year are likely to live even longer.

“And with more of these reintroductions going, we expect to find more reproduction in more places in the coming years.”

Opinion: #Colorado is failing on #climate goals. What did you expect? The transportation sector is the state’s biggest greenhouse gas emissions source. And it’s the area in which the state is most falling short — Colorado Newsline

Smoke from the massive Hayman Fire could be seen and smelled across the state. Photo credit to Nathan Bobbin, Flickr Creative Commons.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Quentin Young):

A new progress report on Colorado’s greenhouse gas emission reductions shows the state is not on track to meet key goals. And anyone could have seen it coming.

The goals are set by statute, yet state officials haven’t taken climate action with sufficient seriousness to do right by the law, let alone public health and the planet. One hopes the new report inspires urgent action, though state officials have approached the climate emergency with a maddening combination of strong rhetoric and weak action for years.

Colorado residents will pay the price.

State lawmakers three years ago enacted House Bill 19-1261, a landmark achievement that requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution compared to 2005 levels by goals of 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. As part of the effort to meet those targets, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in 2020 established a regime to track and ensure progress on emission reductions. It set targets for a handful of sectors that are to blame for the most emissions, including electricity generation, oil and gas production, transportation, and residential and commercial building energy use.

The state has since made some notable strides toward hitting the targets. State law now requires electric utilities to file clean energy plans and work to reduce emissions. While renewable energy is becoming much cheaper to produce, and market forces rather than state action has much to do with the green transition, Colorado’s last coal plant is expected to close by the beginning of 2031, and utilities in the state are expected to see a roughly 80% reduction in emissions by 2030.

In 2019, the state adopted a zero-emission vehicle standard that requires an increased percentage of cars available for sale in Colorado to be electric-powered. The modest measure, which does not require drivers to actually buy electric cars, is expected to boost from 2.6% three years ago to 6.2% in 2030 the proportion of zero-emission vehicles sold in Colorado.

Officials recently enacted standards that require state and local transportation planners to meet a series of greenhouse gas reduction targets. And during the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly enacted a package of climate-friendly measures, the largest climate investment being a $65 million grant program to help school districts buy electric buses.

But for every climate advance in Colorado there’s often a planet-threatening failure.

As Newsline’s Chase Woodruff reported last year, the administration of Gov. Jared Polis abandoned one of its own top climate-action priorities, an initiative called the Employee Traffic Reduction Program, which would have required big Denver-area businesses to reduce the number of their employees commuting in single-occupant vehicles. The initiative was dropped following “intense opposition from business groups and conservatives, many of whom spread misinformation and conspiracy theories,” Woodruff reported.

Earlier this year the administration frustrated environmentalists again when it delayed adoption of an Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which would impose emissions standards on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

This is all aligns with the governor’s insistence on a “market-driven transition” to renewable energy and a preference for voluntary industry action.

Is it any surprise then that the transportation sector accounts for Colorado’s most grievous instance of greenhouse gas negligence? What makes this especially troubling is that, with all those internal combustion engines buzzing around Colorado roads, transportation is the state’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Additional strategies for reducing emissions from the transportation sector will be needed” to meet state targets, the recent progress report concludes.

Emissions from transportation in Colorado have in fact grown in recent years, contributing greatly to the state’s overall off-track status.

The average temperature in Colorado keeps trending up. Denver this year experienced its third-hottest summer on record. The city’s four hottest summers have occurred in the last 10 years, and 3 of 4 of its hottest summers have occurred in the last three years.

Climate change is contributing to the aridification of the Southwest, it’s depleting water resources and it’s fueling more frequent and ferocious wildfires. It’s killing people, and it’s getting worse.

Polis, a Democrat, sits in the governor’s chair, so he shoulders the most responsibility, but Republicans would no doubt exacerbate the crisis were they in his position. Heidi Ganahl, the Republican nominee for Colorado governor, recently released her proposed transportation policy, which is almost entirely about investing in highways and almost exhaustively dismissive of climate change.

State officials, to safeguard the wellbeing of present and future generations of Coloradans, must take urgent steps to meet the 2025 emissions reduction targets. The progress report shows they’re failing to do so.

Credit: Colorado Climate Center

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 24, 2022): 340 cfs in Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1350 cfs to 1250 cfs on Saturday, September 24th. Releases are being decreased due to the cooler and wetter conditions that have decreased demand at the Gunnison Tunnel. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

On the #ColoradoRiver, growing concern for trout and chub — The Associated Press #COriver #aridification

Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry. Photo credit. Gonzo fan2007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3631180

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Brittany Peterson). Here’s an excerpt:

Key Colorado River reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead are both only about one-quarter full. The continued drop, due to overuse and an increasingly arid climate, is threatening the fish and the economies built around them…since late August, the water temperature at Lees Ferry — the site of a world-famous trout fishery — has risen above 70 degrees seven times. That might be idyllic for a summer dip under the blazing Arizona summer sun, Gunn said, but approaches peril for the beloved sport fish. A few degrees higher can be lethal. To make matters worse, when temperatures rise, the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water falls, making it tough for fish to even breathe.

The Colorado River from Navajo Bridge below Lee’s Ferry and Glen Canyon Dam. The proposed Marble Canyon Dam would have been just downstream from here. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

As the reservoir drops, it sends warmer water with less oxygen into the river below the dam. Should that water reach 73 degrees, [Terry] Gunn said his family’s guide service could start calling off afternoon trips…

Detailed underwater photo of Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu. By Engbretson Eric, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/fauna-animals-public-domain-images-pictures/fishes-public-domain-images-pictures/bass-fishes-pictures/detailed-underwater-photo-of-smallmouth-bass-fish-micropterus-dolomieu.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24858275

Just a few miles north of Lees Ferry and its trout fishery there’s another threat — nonnative predatory smallmouth bass. They’re supposed to be contained in Lake Powell. But this summer they were found in the river below the dam. Smallmouth bass already wreaked havoc on native fish way upriver where the government spends millions of dollars each year to control the predators. They were held at bay in Lake Powell because Glen Canyon Dam has served as a barrier for them for years — until now. The reservoir’s recent sharp decline is enabling these introduced fish to shoot through the dam and edge closer to the Grand Canyon, where the biggest groups of humpback chub, an ancient, threatened, native fish, remain.

Highline Lake mussel find means years of inspections for departing boats — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Zebra and Quagga Mussels

Click the link to read the article on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff found an adult zebra mussel at the popular Grand Valley boating destination on Wednesday during routine invasive-species sampling, and said Friday that two of its experts independently confirmed the identification of the mussel, including through genetic confirmation…This is the first-ever discovery of an adult zebra or quagga mussel in Colorado. Both are native to Europe and pose concern because they quickly reproduce and spread to new waters, clogging pipes and other infrastructure with their shells and posing ecological impacts as they filter out and eat plankton, threatening the aquatic food chain and fisheries.

In May of 2018, USGS Hydrologic Technician Dave Knauer found a batch of zebra mussels attached to the boat anchor in the St. Lawrence River in New York. (Credit: John Byrnes, USGS. Public domain.)

Colorado has had intensive protocols in place in an attempt to keep the two species out of the state. On occasion larval-stage mussel “veligers” have been found in some state reservoirs or lakes, but fortunately in all those cases, the mussels never established themselves in those water bodies, all of which are now considered negative for them. Under the precautionary protocols followed in Colorado whenever there is a single confirmed instance of either mussel being present at any age in a water body, however, boats leaving Highline will now be subject for three years to mandatory inspection, and if necessary decontamination, to prevent the mussel from spreading elsewhere. If three years pass without further detections, the measures can be dropped.

Environmental Commitments Reach Beyond Chimney Hollow Reservoir — @Northern_Water

Credit: Northern Water

Click the link to read the article on the Northern Water website:

Before dirt was moved at Chimney Hollow Reservoir in 2021, Northern Water implemented several environmental improvements nearby as part of our commitment to offset any environmental impacts of the new reservoir. A section of the Little Thompson River in Berthoud, and a second section north of Lyons, both decimated by the 2013 flood, received compensatory mitigation including the repair of natural channels and replanted vegetation. An area in west Loveland along the Big Thompson River, also impacted by the flood, had a diversion structure removed, the natural channel restored, and cottonwood and willow trees replanted. 

The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, Windy Gap Firming Project participants, AloTerra Restoration Services, ERO Monitoring and the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict identified sites, completed restoration at each, and began the monitoring and reporting phase which are required as part a permit granted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Water resource projects that result in impacts to Waters of the United States, such as Chimney Hollow Reservoir, are required to obtain such a permit before altering or impacting a project site. While a steadfast objective of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project is to minimize environmental impacts, some are unavoidable. To compensate for this, Section 404 allows project participants to identify and enhance other areas in need of restoration.  

These improvements have already had positive impacts on water flows, ecological health and fisheries and we expect the Army Corps of Engineers will sign off soon that the restoration projects were successfully completed. 

New research reveals how critical forests are to drinking #water supply — USFS

Map credit USFS from the paper “Quantifying the Role of National Forest System and Other Forested Lands in Providing Surface Drinking Water Supply for the Conterminous United States

Click the link to read the guest column on the USFS website (Cynthia West):

Acting Deputy Chief Dr. Cynthia West, Research and Development

Record heat waves and drought are not only leading to more frequent and intense wildfires but are also putting one of life’s most valuable resources at risk: the water we drink.   

Quantifying the Role of National Forest System and Other Forested Lands in Providing Surface Drinking Water Supply for the Conterminous United States (GTR-WO-100), a new Forest Service research report, describes how extensively public drinking water systems rely on national forests and grasslands.

Access to high-quality water will be a defining feature of the 21st century. Water use per person has been declining for decades; however, a variety of factors are contributing to overall greater water demand, including population growth, increased demand for irrigated food crops, and impacts from drought and climate change. At the same time, warming will result in a reduction of water available to all ecosystems, including forested ecosystems. Maintaining the health and extent of current forests will be key to providing consistent water supplies into the future.   

I’d like to highlight a few key messages from the report that demonstrate how critical national forests are to our drinking water supply in the lower 48 states. In the West, national forests and grasslands supply drinking water to almost 90% of the people served by public water systems. Similarly, national forests and grasslands in the west comprise 19.2% of the total land area but contribute 46.3% of the surface water supply. Some western cities, like Aspen, Colorado, and Portland, Oregon, are over 90% dependent on national forests alone for their drinking water.

In the East, drinking water is still provided by forested lands, though these are mostly privately owned forests. Over a century of research has demonstrated that forested lands provide the cleanest and most stable water supply compared to other land types. Within the lower 48 states, over 99% of people who rely on public drinking water systems receive some of their drinking water from forested lands. 

This is the first report to assess the contribution of individual national forests and grasslands to surface drinking water supplies while also accounting for inter-basin water transfers—networks of pipelines and canals that divert water from its source to high-need areas. Inter-basin transfers can be an important source of drinking water, particularly for western cities. The Los Angeles area, which serves 7.1 million people, receives over 68% of its water supply from forested lands in California and Colorado.

By showing where our drinking water comes from at a fine scale, this report supports implementation of USDA’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. The actionable information provided in this report will help land managers to prioritize forests and watersheds for hazardous fuels reduction, watershed management and restoration treatments.

I’m excited to see how this  data helps land managers and policy makers in their efforts to protect communities from wildfire while maintaining clean and reliable drinking water.

Editor’s Note: Provide feedback about this column, submit questions or suggest topics for future columns through the FS-Employee Feedback inbox.

Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

Assessing the U.S. #Climate in August 2022 : Third-Warmest Summer on Record for the Lower 48 — NOAA

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website:

Key Points:

– The average temperature of the contiguous U.S.  in August was 74.6°F, which is 2.5°F above average, ranking eighth warmest in the 128-year record. Generally temperatures were above average and/or record-warm across much of the U.S.

– The contiguous U.S. monthly average minimum temperature was record warm for the second month in a row during August. CaliforniaOregonWashingtonNevada and Idaho each ranked warmest on record for August nighttime temperatures.

– The meteorological summer (June-August) average temperature for the Lower 48 was 73.9°F,  2.5°F above average, ranking as the third-warmest summer on record.

– August precipitation  for the contiguous U.S. was 3.04 inches, 0.42 inch above average, ranking in the wettest third of the historical record.  Precipitation  was above average across parts of the Midwest, West, southern Mississippi Valley and Plains. Precipitation was below average across portions of the central and northern Plains, Northwest and parts of the northern Atlantic coastline.

– The National Weather Service deemed heavy rainfall episodes in southern Illinois, Death Valley National Park, and Dallas, TX as 1,000-year events. While extensive flooding occurred with the heavy rain, some of these events helped to reduce the severity of the drought across portions of the West and southern Plains.

– For the first time since 1997, there was no storm activity reported in the North Atlantic basin during the month of August.

– The wildfire season appears to be waning across Alaska but is still going strong across the West and southern Plains. Across all 50 states, more than 6 million acres burned from January 1 through August 31, 2022.

– According to the August 30 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 45.5 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought. Severe to exceptional drought was widespread from the Great Basin to the Pacific Coast, across portions of the central and southern Plains, and parts of New England.

Other Highlights:

Temperature

For the month of August, WashingtonOregonIdahoNew JerseyConnecticutRhode IslandMassachusetts and New Hampshire ranked warmest on record. In addition to this record warmth, near-record temperatures were widespread in the West and other parts of the Northeast. California had its second warmest August, with five additional states experiencing a top-five warmest August on record.

Summer temperatures  were above average across most of the contiguous United States. TexasMassachusetts and  Rhode Island  ranked second warmest while seventeen additional states across the West, South and Northeast ranked among their warmest 10 summer seasons on record.

For the January-August period, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 55.4°F, 1.5°F above average, ranking in the warmest third of the record. Temperatures were above average from Oregon to the Gulf Coast and from the Gulf to New England. Florida ranked fourth warmest and California ranked fifth warmest on record for this period. Temperatures were below average across parts of the Upper Midwest.

The Alaska statewide August temperature was 50.1°F, 0.6°F above the long-term average. This ranked among the middle one-third of the 98-year period of record for the state. Temperatures  were above average across much of eastern Alaska, Panhandle region, Kodiak Island and portions of the Kenai Peninsula. Temperatures were below average across portions of northwest Alaska.

The  Alaska summer temperature  was 52.1°F, 1.6°F above the long-term average, ranking in the warmest third of the record for the state. Temperatures were above average across most of the state with the Northwest and areas along the Arctic near average for the season. 

The Alaska January-August temperature was 31.2°F, 2.5°F above the long-term average, ranking in the warmest third of the record for the state. Above-average temperatures  were observed across much of the state with portions of the North Slope, West Coast and eastern interior regions experiencing near-average conditions for this eight-month period.

Precipitation

Record rainfall events during the month of August contributed substantiallyto the record-wet August for Mississippi as well as the third-wettest August for Nevada and Louisiana. Conversely, a lack of precipitation received during the month resulted in Nebraska  ranking second driest while Kansas had its seventh-driest August on record. 

The U.S. summer precipitation total was 8.18 inches, 0.14 inch below average, ranking in the middle third of the June-August record. Precipitation  was  above average along the West Coast, much of the Southwest, Midwest, lower Mississippi Valley and northern New England for the season.  Precipitation during June-August was below average across the Great Plains, southern New England, and other portions of the East Coast. Arizona  ranked seventh wettest while Nebraska  ranked third driest for the summer season. 

The January-August precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 19.68 inches, 1.03 inches below average, ranking in the driest third of the historical record.  Precipitation  was above average across parts of the northern Plains, Midwest, and much of the southern Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio valleys. Precipitation was below average across much of the West, central and southern Plains and parts of the Northeast during the January-August period. California ranked driest on record while Nebraska ranked fifth driest and Nevada ranked seventh driest for this eight-month period.

Alaska had the 10th-wettest August in the 98-year record. Much of the state was wetter-than-average, with portions of eastern Alaska and lower Panhandle experiencing near-average conditions during the month. Homer recorded its wettest August and Anchorage ranked third-wettest on record.

For the summer season, precipitation ranked in the wettest third of the record for Alaska with wetter-than-average conditions observed in the North Slope, West Coast and southern portions of the state, with parts of the Northeast interior drier than average for the season. 

The January-August precipitation ranked 10th-wettest on record for Alaska, with above average precipitation observed across all but the central and northeast Interior and Aleutian regions.

Other Notable Events

Several notable flooding events, considered “1,000-year” rainfall events by the National Weather Service, occurred during the month of August:

– On August 2, parts of southern Illinois were drenched by 8 to 12 inches of rain in a 12-hour period. An area south of Newton, Illinois, recorded 14 inches of rainfall over the same period.

– On August 5, Death Valley National Park received 1.70 inches of rain, an unprecedented amount of rainfall for the area, resulting in substantial flooding and damage, and trapping visitors and staff members. This event broke the previous all-time 24-hour rainfall record of 1.47 inches recorded on April 15, 1988. 

– On August 22, parts of Dallas, Texas saw more than 13 inches of rainfall within 12 hours. The governor declared a disaster for 23 Texas counties, including Dallas, after storms caused damage and devastating flash flooding. 

On September 1, the Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Americas and eighth largest in the world, recorded its lowest water level since records began in 1847. 

August had no storm activity in the North Atlantic basin, with 2022 becoming only the third year, along with 1961 and 1997, since 1950 to have no activity during the month.

Drought

According to the August 30 U.S. Drought Monitor report, about 45.5 percent of the contiguous United States was in drought, down about 5.9 percent from the beginning of August. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the Northeast, central and northern Plains, Northwest and Hawaii. Drought contracted or was eliminated across portions of the Southwest, southern Plains, central to lower Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes, parts of the Northeast and Puerto Rico. Drought covered 93.95% of the state of Hawaii – the largest extent ever recorded for that state.

Monthly Outlook

According to the August 31 One-Month Outlook  from the Climate Prediction Center, much of the West to the Midwest and from the Midwest to the East Coast, as well as southeast Alaska, have the greatest chance of receiving above-normal temperatures in September, whereas the greatest chance for below-normal temperatures is projected to occur across portions of the southern Plains. Portions of the Southwest, Gulf Coast, Southeast and the Panhandle of Alaska are projected to have the greatest chance of above-normal precipitation, while the greatest chance for below-normal precipitation is expected to occur from Northwest to the Great Lakes and into New England. Drought is likely to persist across much of the West, central Plains, and Hawaii with some improvement and/or drought removal likely from the Southwest to the southern Plains, as well as across portions of Puerto Rico. Drought development is likely across small areas of the central and northern Plains, portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Hawaii.

According to the One-Month Outlook issued on September 1 from the National Interagency Fire Center, Hawaii and portions of the Northwest, Oklahoma and the Northeast have above normal significant wildland fire potential during September.

Legal agreement results in EPA taking action on deadly smog pollution in #Denver, other cities — Wild Earth Guardians

Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

Click the link to read the release on the Wild Earth Guardians website (Jeremy Nichols):

Affected areas in Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, and New York are home to nearly 40 million people

As a result of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency downgraded four areas across the country from a “serious” to a “severe” rating for their smog pollution. This downgrade in the ratings triggers more protective measures to reduce smog pollution.

The four areas, including the Denver Metro area, have some of the nation’s worst air quality. EPA downgraded the areas because their ground-level ozone pollution—commonly called smog—continues to exceed the levels that are safe for human health, wildlife, and plants.

“Recognizing that these areas have a severe smog problem marks an important step forward in reducing this pollution,” said Ryan Maher, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now it’s time for concrete plans to fix it.”

Smog pollution is linked to human health problems like asthma attacks, cardiovascular problems, and even premature death. Those most at risk include older adults, children and people who work outdoors. The harm smog does to plants can damage entire ecosystems and reduce biodiversity.

“For the more than 3.5 million people living in the Denver Metro and North Front Range region of Colorado, today’s finding gives new hope for clean air,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.  “Now it’s up to Governor Polis and his administration to do the right thing and finally clean up this smoggy mess and restore healthy skies along Colorado’s Front Range.”

The four environmental groups sued the EPA in March 2022 after the agency missed its deadline to reclassify these areas from a serious to a severe rating for smog. The agreement resulting from this lawsuit required EPA to finalize the ratings for these four areas by today: the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston-Galveston-Brazoria areas in Texas; the New York City metro areas of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey; and the Denver-Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins-Loveland area in Colorado.

“The 37 million people who live in these areas with unsafe levels of toxic pollution deserve clean air and immediate federal action,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, director of the Center for Environmental Health’s illegal toxic threats program. “Today’s victory will help protect these communities from the dangers of this pollution.”

Under this agreement, EPA must also determine whether the smog ratings for Ventura County and western Nevada County in California need to be downgraded by December 16, 2022.

The downgraded ratings finalized today are part of the environmental groups’ ongoing effort to compel the EPA to protect human health and the environment from smog pollution in accordance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Smoggy day in Denver, August 11, 2022.

Other Contact

Ryan Maher, Center for Biological Diversity, (781) 325-6303, rmaher@biologicaldiversity.org , Kaya Allan Sugerman, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 740-9384, kaya@ceh.org , Ilan Levin, Environmental Integrity Project, (512) 637-9479, ilevin@environmentalintegrity.org

Navajo Dam operations update (September 22, 2022): Bumping down to 500 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today at 12:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

#Climate Prediction Center outlooks through March 31, 2023 #snowpack

During the fall season water managers in the Colorado River Basin start looking at the outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center. This is particularly important in the Upper Basin where 90% of the river flows come from snowpack accumulation. Weather patterns this year will be influenced by a third La Niña in a row.

Here are the typical outcomes from both El Niño and La Niña for the US. Note each El Niño and La Niña can present differently, these are just the average impacts. Graphic credit: NWS Salt Lake City office

The southern tier of the CONUS trends drier in La Niña winters. Thankfully, La Niña influences in the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming) are mixed and snowfall can be ample in these headwater states.

So what is the Climate Prediction Center forecast through December 31, 2022? Here are the precipitation, temperature, and drought outlooks and it looks like much of the last year warm and dry. However, if you look at the Colorado River in Colorado drought is expected to re-develop in the headwaters there.

I said we’d look at the outlooks through March 31, 2022 so here you go.

The outlook through March 31, 2023 is mostly “Equal chances” which tells us that the CPC is leaning on history and the current La Niña.

This is the Upper Colorado River Basin dilemma — we won’t know how much water we have in our largest reservoir (the snowpack) until next Spring and actual streamflow until the end of the Summer runoff season.

#Drought news (September 22, 2022): D1 and D2 expanded in parts of #Colorado, and D3 expanded in southeast #Wyoming

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

An upper-level ridge dominated the central contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week (September 14-20). It was bracketed by an upper-level trough which moved out of the Northeast early in the week, and a Pacific upper-level trough that moved into the West as the week progressed. Pacific weather systems moved across the northern states between the troughs. This pattern resulted in above-normal precipitation across much of the West and parts of the Northeast. Fronts associated with the Pacific systems triggered showers and thunderstorms across parts of the central and northern Plains to Mid and Upper Mississippi Valley. For the rest of the CONUS, a large dry air mass covered much of the southern Plains and East throughout the week. Rain occurred along a stationary front draped across Florida that was associated with the southern edge of the air mass, but for much of the South, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest regions it was a dry week. Temperatures averaged warmer than normal across the Plains to Great Lakes, and cooler than normal across much of the West, Southeast, and northern New England. A tropical system brought heavy rain to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Drought or abnormal dryness expanded or intensified across northern parts of the West, from the central and northern Plains to the Mid- and Upper Mississippi Valley, and over parts of the Mid-Atlantic coast. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted where it rained, especially in parts of Florida, New Mexico, and the Northeast, in a swath from Iowa to Illinois, and across Puerto Rico…

High Plains

Parts of the High Plains region had rain while other parts were dry. Up to two inches fell locally in parts of several states. Especially dry areas occurred in parts of the Dakotas, Montana, Kansas, and Colorado. The lack of rain was accompanied by unusually hot temperatures regionwide, which increased evapotranspiration and accelerated the drying of soils. The drying soils and dry ponds and waterholes led to extensive expansion of D0-D2 in North Dakota and Montana, and D0-D4 in South Dakota and Kansas. Groundwater levels are low with wells in Wichita, Kansas, going dry. According to media reports, a water emergency developed in Caney, a town in southeast Kansas, when water stopped flowing over the Little Caney River’s dam; there are 6 weeks of water supply left. D1 and D2 expanded in parts of Colorado, and D3 expanded in southeast Wyoming while other parts of the state saw contraction of D0 and D1. Nebraska also had some contraction of D2, but expansion of D1-D3 in other parts of the state. According to USDA statistics, all states in the region had half or more of the topsoil moisture short or very short of moisture. In Nebraska and Kansas, three-fourths of the pasture and rangeland was in poor to very poor condition, while the value was 50% for Colorado, 55% for South Dakota, and 58% for Montana…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 20, 2022.

West

Pacific weather systems dropped locally 2 or more inches of rain across parts of central and northern California, and over local areas of the Great Basin and southern New Mexico. Half an inch or more of precipitation occurred over large parts of the interior West. Other parts, especially much of Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho to northwestern Montana, and southern California to parts of New Mexico, were dry this week. Groundwater continues low and many reservoirs were still very low to near record low. The water levels in most reservoirs in New Mexico are well below average. The August 2022 total combined end-of-month storage of 12 large reservoirs in the state ranked among the three smallest August totals since 1990. The precipitation that fell this week did little to make up deficits that have built up over the last 5 years, so little improvement was made on this week’s map over the areas that received precipitation. One exception was southern New Mexico and adjacent Arizona, where D1-D3 contracted in the wetter areas this week that have also benefited from a wet monsoon season. In northern parts of the West region, D0 was added to western Washington and northwest Oregon where streams were low, very warm temperatures increased evapotranspiration and continued to dry soils, and precipitation was below normal for the last 3 months. D1 expanded in northern Idaho where several indicators reflected the dry conditions of the last 3 months, and several dozen large wildfires continued to blaze. According to USDA statistics, all of the states in the region except California, Nevada, and Arizona had half or more of their topsoil moisture short or very short of moisture…

South

A few areas of the Gulf Coast and western Texas received up to half an inch of rain this week, but the South region was, for the most part, dry with no rain falling. Moderate and severe drought contracted slightly in a couple spots in southern Texas, and abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanded in a couple other areas of the Lone Star State and abnormal dryness expanded in Tennessee. But the biggest changes occurred in Oklahoma and Arkansas. D1-D4 expanded in Oklahoma and D0-D2 expanded in Arkansas. Soils continue to dry and groundwater and stream levels are low. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, 82% of Oklahoma’s topsoil moisture is short to very short of moisture (dry to very dry). The only drier years in mid-September in data going back to 2010 were 2011 and 2012, which were very bad drought years. All states in the region except Louisiana and Mississippi had half or more of the topsoil moisture short or very short of moisture. Almost 70% of the pasture and rangeland in Oklahoma was in poor to very poor condition. Ponds in Oklahoma are drying up and 63% of the cotton crop is in poor to very poor condition…

Looking Ahead

A strong upper-level low pressure system will move across the northern half of the CONUS during September 22-27 while high pressure generally dominates the southern half of the country. By the end of the period, the upper-level circulation pattern will consist of a ridge over the West and a trough over the East. This scenario will result in above-normal temperatures in the West and South with below-normal temperatures in the Northeast. Half an inch or more of precipitation, locally up to 2 inches, is forecast to fall from the Four Corners states to the northern Rockies and eastward to the central and northern Plains, as well as across parts of the Great Lakes, much of the Northeast, and over southern Florida. Half an inch or less is expected over Oregon, the Mid to Upper Mississippi Valley, the Tennessee Valley to Appalachian chain, and Mid-Atlantic Coast. Little to no precipitation is predicted for Washington, California, and Nevada in the West, across the southern Plains to Southeast, and over parts of the Midwest. For September 28-October 5, the western ridge and eastern trough pattern is expected to persist. Odds favor warmer-than-normal temperatures across the West to Mississippi Valley and the Alaskan panhandle, with cooler-than-normal temperatures from the Northeast to southern Appalachians and over southwest Alaska. The circulation pattern will likely result in below-normal precipitation from the Pacific Northwest to Northeast, across the Great Plains to Mississippi Valley, and over the Ohio Valley as well as western Alaska. Odds favor above-normal precipitation over the coastal Southeast, the eastern half of Alaska, and a small area in the Four Corners states.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 20, 2022.

Wolf Creek reservoir project to have additional public engagement: BLM overseeing process — @AspenJournalism #WhiteRiver

A view looking down the Wolf Creek valley toward the White River. The proposed off-channel dam would stretch between the dirt hillside on the right, across the flat mouth of the valley, to the hillside on the left. CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials have decided to increase the opportunities for members of the public to weigh in on a controversial reservoir project in northwest Colorado with an additional round of public engagement. 

Members of the BLM’s Northwest Resource Advisory Council last week expressed support for early public engagement on the Wolf Creek reservoir project between Meeker and Rangely in Rio Blanco County. This will be an extra opportunity for interested people to get involved, in addition to the scoping, public comment and protest periods of the normal National Environmental Policy Act permitting process.

Some pointed out that the Wolf Creek project is sure to get lots of scrutiny and, perhaps, national attention, especially with the current spotlight on the declining reservoirs of the Colorado River system. RAC member Jeff Comstock, who represents the Moffat County Natural Resources Department, said he is very much in support of additional public sessions.

“Moffat, myself, most of your collaborators … have always been requesting public involvement prior to Notice of Intent,” Comstock told BLM staffers at the Thursday meeting in Glenwood Springs. “I am a big supporter of having those meetings.”

The project applicant, the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, is proposing an off-channel reservoir with a dam 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long, with water that will be pumped from the White River. In January 2021, the district secured a water right for 66,720 acre-feet, which can be used for municipal purposes in the downstream town of Rangely, for mitigation of environmental impacts, for recreation, for fish and for wildlife habitat. 

The BLM is overseeing the NEPA process because the federal agency would need to amend its resource management plan and grant a right of way to build Wolf Creek reservoir since the project site is on BLM land. The formal NEPA process is on a tight timeline, and once the BLM issues the Notice of Intent, it has two years to enter a Record of Decision on whether to allow the right of way. The additional public engagement may delay the start of this timeline, but it is unclear by how long. 

This map shows the location of the proposed Wolf Creek reservoir in northwest Colorado. The BLM is moving forward with an additional early public engagement process, prior to the NEPA permitting process, on the Wolf Creek Reservoir project.

Grave concerns

[Two] people who oppose and have concerns about the reservoir project spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Matt Rice, Southwest regional director at environmental group American Rivers, encouraged BLM staff to focus on as much public participation as possible.

“We have grave concerns about this project,” Rice said. “As everybody is aware, the Colorado River is in crisis. … This project is going to be extremely controversial.” 

[…]

Deirdre Macnab, whose 4M Ranch is adjacent to the reservoir site, also spoke and gave her reasons for opposing the project. She said a new reservoir in the proposed location would lead to water loss through evaporation.

“Now is not the time to facilitate new reservoirs in hot, dry, desert areas,” she told RAC members. “Consider the ramifications of this proposal for future generations and just say no.”

Securing the water right for the project took longer than the conservancy district expected because for five years, Colorado’s top engineers at the Department of Water Resources argued the project was speculative because Rio Blanco could not prove a need for the water. The water right was eventually granted after years of back and forth in water court, and the decree came after an 11th-hour negotiation right before the case was scheduled to go to trial. The water right gave Rio Blanco the amount of water it was seeking, but it does not allow the district all the water uses that it initially wanted, including for irrigation or Colorado River Compact compliance.

The project has received $330,000 from the Colorado River Water Conservation District and $4 million from Rio Blanco County to fund the permitting phase. 

What the additional public engagement will look like remains unclear. BLM staff will now refer the project to their Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution Program to figure out the best strategy. 

“One thing we want to avoid is just doing what we typically do for scoping twice,” said Heather Sauls, BLM project manager and planning and environment coordinator. “Whether we would have public meetings or workshops to talk about focused topics, I don’t know the answers to that yet.”

Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District General Manager Alden Vanden Brink was unavailable for comment. 

The BLM plans to create a webpage about the project. Those who want to join the mailing list and get alerts about future public-engagement opportunities can email BLM_CO_Reservoir@blm.gov

This story ran in the Sept. 21 edition of The Aspen Times and the Summit Daily.

White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

Tribal breakthrough? Four states, six tribes announce first formal talks on #ColoradoRiver negotiating authority — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification #overdrawn22

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Jerd Smith):

Colorado and three other Upper Colorado River Basin states have, for the first time in history, embarked on a series of formal meetings to find a way to negotiate jointly with some of the largest owners of Colorado River water rights: tribal communities.

The states, which include New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, began meeting with six tribes several weeks ago, according to Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who also represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Basin Commission.

The tribes are the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Utah, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Paiute Tribe in Utah, as well as Colorado’s Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, based in Towaoc, and Southern Ute Indian Tribe, whose lands lie in and around Ignacio.

“We have four Upper Basin states and the six Upper Basin tribes, 10 sovereigns, in the room together saying that the table that is set is not the table that works for all, and we are going to create our own table. They are really focused on solutions and being part of the burden and part of the success,” Mitchell said.

The six tribes are among 30 tribal communities in the seven-state Colorado River Basin, which, combined, have paper water rights to roughly 25% to 30% of the river’s flows, more than 3.2 million acre-feet of water.

Graphic credit: Chas Chamberlin/Water Education Colorado

The news came Sept. 16 at the Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar in Grand Junction. The river district represents 15 counties on Colorado’s West Slope and is responsible for policy and managing the river within those boundaries.

For more than 100 years, modern water management in the American West has been conducted by the federal and state governments, without formal tribal leaders.

Under Western water law, water has to be measured, its historical use rates certified, and it has to be diverted so that it can be put to beneficial use. Tribal water rights are treated differently. Tribes’ water rights date back to the time when the reservations were created, based on a law that was applied retroactively – many reservations were established before the law existed and so the amount of water they received was never quantified or adjudicated. For this reason, many tribes have had to settle their water rights within the state or states where their reservation lies— some of those negotiations remain unsettled. Many tribes have never measured their water use and, even among those tribes with quantified water rights, many have never had the money to build the dams, pipelines and reservoirs that allow them to put the resource to use.

Roughly 60% of the water the tribes legally possess has never been developed or integrated into the region’s hierarchy of water rights, though they are often some of the oldest, according to tribal estimates.

Daryl Vigil, Jicarilla Apache Nation Water Administrator, said tribal leaders want the federal government to create a new framework to right past wrongs and establish a process for tribes to participate in critical river negotiations.

For too long, he said, “The policy-making process has been left up to the seven basin states and the federal government. We want to speak on behalf of our own water. We’ve heard a whole lot about scarcity and pain,” he told the Grand Junction audience of roughly 400 people. “And we know a whole lot about that. We’re asking, we’re demanding participation because it is a basic human right.”

During the past five years, as the Colorado River has sunk deeper into crisis, the tribes have begun working together and asserting their right to negotiate with federal, state and local water agencies to determine how their water will be used, how badly needed tribal water systems can be built, and how tribes can be fairly compensated for the water that has long been used by others.

Despite increased public pressure to recognize the tribes’ water rights and to include them in critical negotiations and decision-making processes, they continue to be shut out, including in the most recent talks over how to achieve the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of cuts that U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton ordered back in June in order to keep lakes Mead and Powell operating.

Another set of critical talks set to begin in the near future still has no mechanism for including the tribes. These are talks that will determine how to operate the river well into the future, after the current framework for river operations, known as the 2007 Interim Guidelines, expires at the end of 2026. Tribes were not included in the talks leading up to the 2007 agreement either.

Lorelei Cloud, a member of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, said traditional water users in the Colorado River Basin won’t survive unless tribal waters are legally recognized, developed and put to use by tribes and other users in the basin.

“We are a sovereign government. We should be considered just as a state would be. If you think that we shouldn’t be involved, then don’t include our 30% allocation for anyone else’s use … We need to be included in every one of these conversations. My reservation was established in 1868. We are first in time first in line. You cannot discount us,” she said.

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

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

What does the Inflation Reduction Act mean for rivers — @AmericanRivers

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Eric Boucher):

On August 16, 2022 President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which will provide an estimated $369 billion to tackle climate change over the next decade. That’s a big number, but what does it mean for rivers?  

Overall, this is a bold step forward, as it provides a significant investment that would cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, and provides over $30 billion in financial assistance for green house gas reduction projects. In a country like the U.S. where passing climate change legislation can be difficult, these investments could be game- changing.  

Here are some key provisions:  

Drought Response  

$4 billion for water infrastructure modernization projects, as well as projects to reduce harmful effects of drought on rivers and inland water bodies. This comes in three main forms:  

Water users would be compensated for voluntary reductions that are made in water deliveries.  

Conservation projects to help bolster water levels in the Colorado River system would receive funding support.  

Environmental restoration projects to mitigate damage from drought con- ditions will be a central priority. The funds, to be administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the next four years, could be used to pay farmers, rural districts and others to fallow crops and in- stall efficient watering technology, or to pay for other voluntary water reductions in the Lower and Upper Colorado Basins, which combined provide drinking water and irri- gation to nearly 40 million people across seven states and Mexico.  

Tribal Nations  

$12.5 million through FY 26 for near-term drought relief actions to mitigate drought impacts for Indian tribes that are impacted by the operation of a Bureau of Reclama- tion water project.  

$220 million for tribal climate resilience and adaptation programs, and $10 million for fish hatchery operations and maintenance programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  

Conservation and Climate Resilience  

$3 billion in grants to states, tribes and municipalities and community-based nonprofit organizations for financial and technical assistance to address clean air and climate pollution in disadvantaged communities.  

$3 billion in investment to help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions at and surrounding our nation’s ports. Most of our nation’s ports continue to use antiquated diesel technology that pollutes our air, harms our planet, and is not fuel efficient.  

$250 million for wildlife recovery and to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System and state wildlife management areas. Restored habitat will mit- igate the impacts of climate-induced weather events and increase resiliency, benefit- ting wildlife and surrounding communities.  

$2.6 billion for NOAA to assist coastal states, the District of Columbia, Tribal Gov- ernments, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and institutions of higher edu- cation to become more prepared and resilient to changes in climate.  

$190 million for high performance computing capacity and research for weather, oceans and climate.  

$50 million for NOAA to administer climate research grants to address climate challenges such as impacts of extreme events; water availability and quality; impacts of changing ocean conditions on marine life; improved greenhouse gas and ocean carbon monitoring; coastal resilience and sea level rise. This research will provide the science that Americans need to understand how, where, and when Earth’s conditions are changing.  

$12 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and implement recov- ery plans under Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act requires the Secretary to develop and implement recov- ery plans for listed species.  

$250 million to carry out projects for the conservation, protection and resiliency of lands and resources administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  

$250 million to carry out conservation, ecosystem and habitat restoration projects on lands administered by the NPS and BLM.  

Environmental Justice  

$1.5 billion to plant trees, establish community and urban forests, and expand green spaces in cities, which combats climate change and provides significant community benefits by increasing recreation opportunities, cooling cities, lowering electric bills, and reducing heat-related death and illness.  

$50 million for investments in Urban Parks through grants to localities for acquisi- tion of land or interests in land, or for development of recreation facilities to create or significantly enhance access to parks or outdoor recreation in urban areas.  

$397.5 million for programs aimed at building resilience across Tribal govern- ments and communities by providing support to transition electrified homes to re- newable energy sources and provide renewable energy to homes without electricity; address drinking water shortages and provide financial assistance for drought relief; maintain and operate hatcheries; and fund Tribal climate resilience and adaptation programs.  

$550 million to ensure disadvantaged communities have the resources needed to plan, design, and construct water supply projects, particularly in communities and households that do not currently have reliable domestic water supplies.  

$1 billion to improve Energy Efficiency or Water Efficiency or Climate Resilience of Affordable Housing, that help covers the cost of energy efficiency upgrades.  

$1.9 billion to support efforts to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access, including natural infrastructure and stormwater management improvements related to surface transportation in disadvantaged areas. 

Energy  

$260 billion in new and extended clean-energy tax credits meant to incentivize energy companies and public utilities to produce more solar, wind and hydropower energy.  

It also expands or creates a host of new environmental tax credits for electric vehicles, residential and commercial buildings, certain manufacturing, and carbon sequestration.  

Wildfire Protections and other Forestry improvements  

$5 billion to protect communities from wildfires while combating the climate crisis and supporting the workforce through climate-smart forestry, including:  

$2.15 billion for National Forest System Restoration and Fuels Reduction projects  

$1.8B for hazardous fuels reduction projects on National Forest System land within the wildland-urban interface  

$200M for vegetation management projects on National Forest System land 

$100M for environmental reviews by the Chief of the Forest Service  

$50M for the protection of old-growth forests on National Forest System land and to complete an inventory of old-growth forests and mature forests within the National Forest System  

Plus $2.75 billion for investing in climate-smart forestry to boost carbon sequestration and another $1.5B to provide grants for tree planting and related activities.

New Poll Shows Americans Strongly Support Clean Water Act on 50th Anniversary — Walton Family Foundation

Kayakers on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

Click the link to read the release on the Walton Family Foundation website (Mark Shields):

The Walton Family Foundation, in collaboration with Morning Consult, released new polling today showing that at least seven-in-ten adults nationally have a favorable opinion of the Clean Water Act (CWA). This comes with the Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in October about whether certain waters can be protected under the Clean Water Act in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The poll, released as UN Climate Week gets underway, shows Americans strongly prefer that the federal government maintains water standards. The EPA is the top choice of Americans to set standards to protect the rivers, lakes and streams that provide drinking water from pollution — and 68% think it is very important the EPA has the authority to protect clean water through the Clean Water Act.

“Clean water and the Clean Water Act continue to unite Americans,” said Moira Mcdonald, Environment Program Director of the Walton Family Foundation. “We all believe that water is vital to every aspect of our lives — from our health to the economy to our ecosystems–and that we must continue to have strong laws that protect this vital resource. Americans do not want to roll back clean water standards, because they want to trust that drinking water is safe.”

Key findings from the poll include:

95% of Americans say that protecting the water in our nation’s lakes, streams and rivers is important. Further, 79% want to strengthen or maintain current standards, while just 8% want to relax them.

88% agree that it is important that the EPA has the authority laid out in the Clean Water Act – such as restricting pollution entering our waters and limiting the destruction or physical damage to lakes, rivers, wetlands, streams and other waterways.

– After a brief description of Sackett v. the Environmental Protection Agency, 75% of adults are supportive of protecting more waters and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

89% of adults would be concerned if polluters no longer had to meet water requirements before adding waste into streams or wetlands and 88% would be concerned if the permit requirement to make a permanent physical change to a water body was removed in some cases. 

Adults want more safety standards for water releases from factories and industrial processes (69%), municipal drinking water (68%) and drinking water in their community (67%).

Polling Methodology:

This poll was conducted between August 26th – 27th, 2022 among a sample of 2,210 Adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of Adults based on gender, age, race, educational attainment, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Romancing the River: The #ColoradoRiver Compact at 100 — Sibley’s Rivers #COriver #aridification

Glen Canyon Dam just upstream from Lee’s Ferry where the Upper Basin ends and the Lower Basin begins. Photo credit: Simon Morris Creative Commons

Click the link to read the article on the Sibley’s Rivers website (George Sibley):

We’ve been exploring the Colorado River Compact here – which, like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ ‘wonderful one-hoss shay’ has now lived almost ‘one hundred years to the day’ – the commissioners signed off on it November 24, 1922.  The century mark is a good place to pause and pull back for a larger perspective on something like a multi-state agreement and see what it has and hasn’t actually accomplished – but without losing sight of the romantic vision of conquest that drove the Compact’s formation, back in the early decades of the Anthropocene Epoch when reorganizing the prehuman world was still fun.

In the last post here, we looked at the ‘major purposes’ cited in the first article of the Compact: the first listed purpose, ‘to provide for the equitable division and apportionment of the use of the waters of the Colorado River System’ in order ‘to remove causes of present and future controversies’ (fourth purpose); and the final listed purpose, ‘to secure the expeditious agricultural and industrial development of the Colorado River Basin.’

That fifth purpose, to facilitate the expeditious development of the Basin, was the main reason the seven state representatives had convened with a federal representative: they all wanted to get about the development of the river’s waters, the desire to take on Frederick Dellenbaugh’s ‘veritable dragon’ supported by rational reasons such as flood control and storage. In order to achieve that expeditious development, however, it was necessary to achieve the Compact’s first stated purpose: an equitable division and apportionment of the development and the water required – or cutting to the chase for most of the seven states: making sure that fast-growing Southern California did not get most of the water for its racehorse development.

After failed efforts to make specific seven-state divisions of the use of the River’s water, the expedient solution they settled on was to divide the river in two, around the mostly uninhabited canyon region: an Upper Basin including the four states above the canyons (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming), and a Lower Basin of the states below the canyons (Arizona, California and Nevada). It was their clear intent that each basin would get half of the river’s water for consumptive use, with the states in each basin working out an equitable division among themselves of their half, in their own good time. 

Eugene Clyde LaRue measuring the flow in Nankoweap Creek, 1923. Photo credit: USGS via Environment360

It may have worked out better, had they stopped there – a 50-50 division of whatever water the river produced, with each basin responsible for half of whatever water might eventually by allotted to Mexico where the river ended. But California insisted on a specific quantification of the two shares because they were already using a substantial amount and didn’t want to over-appropriate. After much discussion and good and bad advice, the commissioners settled on 15 million acre-feet (maf) as a reasonable average flow, between the Bureau of Reclamation’s optimistic 16.5 maf and the less optimistic 13 maf of USGS scientists studying the river.

The commissioners have been chided – castigated – for settling on the 15 maf quantity, which was shown to be overly optimistic within a couple of decades. But they could have countered the criticism by asking why, if their numbers were so bad, had the states not reassembled to correct them? 

Frequently in their meetings, there was either frustration or resignation at how little they knew about the river and its flow history. Chairman Hoover summarized that oft-expressed concern in their 21st meeting: ‘[W]e make now, for lack of a better word, a temporary equitable division, reserving a certain portion of the flow of the river to the hands of those men who may come after us, possessed of a far greater fund of information; that they can make a further division of the river at such a time, and in the meantime, we shall take such means at this moment to protect the rights of either basin as will assure the continued development of the river.’ (Italics added) In other words – we can work out the details down the road when we know more; meanwhile, let’s build dams and canals. They built into the Compact, in Articles III, VI, and IX, procedures for those ‘possessed of a far greater fund of information’ to reconsider the Compact to better fit the emerging reality of the River and its flows. 

I should note that the commissioners, Anthropocene romantics, actually believed that future generations would reassemble to address the distribution of surplus flows. They anticipated a larger river in the future – if not provided by nature, then by the engineers who would bring in more water from larger rivers that had a surplus. This is the ‘romance of the Colorado River’ – the romance of the Anthropocene. 

California’s commissioner McClure accepted the lower 7.5 maf/year figure because it moved along the process leading to stymying the veritable dragon with a big dam for storage of the river’s annual flood. But Arizona’s commissioner, W.S. Norviel, was not happy with any aspect of the two-basin division since it left Arizona competing with California for a diminished quantity of water, a mere half of the river, for which the bigger state already had plans in the process. He was essentially – on orders from economic forces in the state he represented – in a defensive posture, protecting Arizona’s right and capacity to become another California with no interference from the Upper Basin states. Most of the commissioners were patient with Norviel, but frustration was occasionally vented, as when the New Mexico commissioner observed that ‘we are absolutely and utterly up in the air because none of us knows what it is Mr. Norviel really wants.’

Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

What it came down to – what satisfied Mr. Norviel enough to reluctantly sign the Compact – was the concession by the Upper States that Arizona’s tributaries to the Colorado River mainstem would not be counted as part of the Lower Basin’s 7.5 maf/year. This is obscurely codified in the Compact as the mysterious statement in Article 3(b): ‘In addition to the [7.5 maf] apportionment, the Lower Basin is hereby given the right to increase its beneficial consumptive use of such waters by one million acre-feet per annum’ (with no additional responsibility for that accruing to the Upper Basin).

No rationale for this ‘gift’ is to be found in the minutes of the meetings, but it would be naive to think that everything of importance happened in the formal transcribed meetings. Bishop’s Lodge had a comped bar and restaurant, and there were undoubtedly informal meetings, over breakfast and lunch and well into the evenings, and in hotel-room Basin caucuses, as well as phone exchanges with interested parties back home.

Colorado River Allocations: Credit: The Congressional Research Service

Upper Basin depletions today also include two-thirds of a million ace-feet in out-of-basin diversions to the South Platte, Arkansas, and Rio Grande rivers and the Salt Lake region. Such diversions could conceivably be a black hole into which another million or two acre-feet could be poured, but users in the natural Upper Basin are organized enough now to put very expensive conditions on future out-of-basin diversions – as Denver Water and Northern Water have learned, on ‘firming projects’ for two relatively small diversions into the South Platte for which they already had conditional rights.  The Upper Basin states assumed the worst – an unconditional delivery obligation – and have been almost obsessively diligent about keeping the ten-year running average well above 75 maf. Even today, through two decades of aridification, the ten-year average remains in the 85-90 maf range, although the long-term trend in the running average is downward, bringing closer the day when that big question must be answered…

The mysterious or obfuscatory passages of the Compact to one side, however – a larger question, for me at least, is whether the division of the Colorado River into two basins was a good idea for the long term. 

As Utah’s commissioner Caldwell observed in the next to last meeting, ‘I think for a practical matter we are almost making two rivers out of one in the Colorado River, to meet a practical situation.’ The ‘practical situation’ was the need for an interstate agreement on the consumptive use of the River’s water ‘to secure the expeditious agricultural and industrial development of the Colorado River Basin,’ and the two-basin concept achieved that. 

But the effect over the century has been ‘almost making two rivers out of one,’ rather than developing one river with two basins. The Upper Colorado River is a ‘natural’ river, accumulating its flows from many mountain tributaries that almost all start with snowmelt above 8,000 feet in elevation and gradually conjoin to funnel into the canyon region. The Lower Colorado River is practically a reverse of that, with a single source emerging from the canyon reservoirs and gradually being diverted into canals and smaller ditches and pipes until it has been literally all spread out in southwestern desert destinations.

The clear intent of the Compact commissioners was that these two rivers would be created equal (‘to remove causes of present and future controversies’), but they failed to deliver that in the language of the Compact. Despite some wiggle room provided by the ten-year running average, the Upper Basin was clearly going to bear most of the burden of nature’s extremes like drought, while the Lower Basin was assured under the Compact of a relatively consistent flow of water from storage regardless of what happened in the Upper Basin.

The separation into ‘two rivers’ was enhanced with the construction of Glen Canyon Dam and Powell Reservoir just above Lees Ferry the basin division point; there was no further need for the Lower River to be concerned at all with the occasional dry spell in the Upper River; their portion plus the Upper River’s share of Mexico’s portion (8.23 maf/year) was always there – plus the unused Upper River ‘surplus’ which the Bureau kept sending them, enabling all manner of bad habits in the Lower River.

The problem with ‘making two rivers from’ the Colorado River is a failure to take into account the basic nature of a ‘desert river.’ Around 85 percent of the water for the entire Colorado River Basin originates in the Upper River above 8,000 feet elevation. And around 65 percent of that water is consumed by the Lower River (whose water ‘originates’ in the bubbling ‘spring’ of spent water from Glen Canyon Dam’s power turbines). Yet the Lower River is charged with no responsibility for maintaining and improving the source of its water. The back-and-forth fussing and complaining today between the two basins is evidence of a two-river split, in which the problems of flow lie mostly in the Upper River, and means for addressing those problems ($$$) are mostly untapped in the Lower River’s users.

The Compact commissioners undoubtedly did the best they could with the knowledge they had – and the romantic vision they tried to carry forward in more rational terms: they were primarily out to get about the task of unleashing the Industrial Revolution on Frederick Dellenbaugh’s ‘veritable dragon.’ But their own words in the transcriptions, as well as the ‘reform’ clauses in the Compact itself, indicate that they intended for the Compact to be a ‘living document,’ changing as we learned more about the river. 

Why have the Compact’s critics not delved into the document’s weak points and unforeseeable challenges? Some elements of the so-called ‘Law of the River’ – which we’ll explore soon – have attempted to either chip away at the challenges, or to circumvent them. But the tasks of correcting the arithmetic and addressing the two-river questions can no longer be kicked down the road – like Holmes’ one-hoss shay, the Compact could fall apart at a hundred years to a day.

Republished with permission.

Douglas County again meets about San Luis Valley water project: Commissioner says more information to come — The Douglas County News Press

The sandhill cranes are back in the San Luis Valley (2020) on their spring migration. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Click the link to read the article on the Douglas County News Press website (Elliot Wenzler). Here’s an excerpt:

Four months after announcing they wouldn’t use federal COVID-19 funds on the proposal from Renewable Water Resources, or RWR, the commissioners heard a legal update on the project from the county’s outside counsel, Steve Leonhardt, Sept. 13. Leonhardt, who recently met with RWR, provided advice and a piece of “work product” for commissioners to review…

In May, Laydon made the decisive vote not to use a portion of the county’s $68 million in American Rescue Plan Act money on the proposal. However, he said he was still interested in continuing to look at the project.  Since then, the county has continued to pay Leonhardt to talk with RWR…

Commissioner George Teal, a longtime supporter of the plan, said during the Sept. 13 meeting that Leonhardt’s advice reflects the current legal and political setting and that things could change in the decades it would take for the project to come to fruition…

Opponents of the plan have come from across the political spectrum, including Rep. Lauren Boebert, Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa and both U.S. senators. 

Supermoon over the San Luis Valley August 11, 2022. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the “Monday Briefing” on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

Speaking of the November election, Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon is up for re-election in a race against Democratic challenger Kari Solberg. Should he win – and expectations are that he will in a county that trends toward local Republicans – expect Douglas County to make another full-court press on a deal with Renewable Water Resources. A renewed push, despite clear public opposition including from Douglas County residents, relies on Laydon being re-elected to the three-member board of commissioners, since it is a split public body with Commissioner Lora Thomas staunchly opposed to the idea of exporting water from the San Luis Valley and Commissioner George Teal a key ally of RWR. Laydon needs to win re-election for RWR to move forward. Upcoming campaign finance reports will show how big a bet RWR’s Bill Owens, Sean Tonner and other water exportation enthusiasts have placed behind him.

Part II

You’ll recall Douglas County decided not to use its federal COVID relief money to invest in RWR, but rather told its staff and water attorneys it has hired to negotiate and to continue working with RWR on the proposal. The deal was never dead – Douglas County simply took it off its public agenda while staff and attorneys worked on the plan with RWR’s Bill Owens and Sean Tonner. Earlier this month, on Sept. 13, Steve Leonhardt, the lead water attorney hired by Douglas County, met in executive session with the three commissioners to update them on his ongoing talks with Owens and RWR. Once November passes, and should Laydon win, expect Douglas County to again make its case for why its way of life in the suburbs of metro-Denver is more critical to the future of Colorado than the agriculture and environmental assets of the San Luis Valley and the health of the Upper Rio Grande Basin.

A #ColoradoRiver veteran moves upstream and plunges into the #drought-stressed river’s mounting woes — Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Foundation website (Nick Cahill):

Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. (Source: Upper Colorado River Commission)

Western Water Q&A: Chuck Cullom, a longtime Arizona water manager, brings a dual-basin perspective as top staffer at the Upper Colorado River Commission

With 25 years of experience working on the Colorado River, Chuck Cullom is used to responding to myriad challenges that arise on the vital lifeline that seven states, more than two dozen tribes and the country of Mexico depend on for water. But this summer problems on the drought-stressed river are piling up at a dizzying pace: Reservoirs plummeting to record low levels, whether Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam can continue to release water and produce hydropower, unprecedented water cuts and predatory smallmouth bass threatening native fish species in the Grand Canyon. 

“Holy buckets, Batman!,” said Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “I mean, it’s just on and on and on.”

Cullom is keeping tabs on the river’s rapidly growing list of issues while guiding the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in talks with other water users on how to save a river system that is crashing under the weight of drought and climate change. Demand continues to greatly outstrip supply and now state officials, water users and tribes are hurrying to craft a new drought plan and avoid intervention from the federal government.

The Upper Basin has proposed a plan built around paying users to reduce water consumption. Though it doesn’t include mandatory cuts for water users, Cullom and the commission have made it a focal point of their negotiations with the Lower Basin.

Cullom spent the last two decades viewing issues on the river through a Lower Basin lens, managing drought strategies and mitigation plans for the Central Arizona Project. Now, in his first year at the commission, Cullom has the chance to use his dual-basin perspective to help the seven states and 30 federally recognized tribes hash out ways to divide the river, which continues to shrink swiftly.  

In an interview with Western Water, Cullom explains the importance of communicating effectively on the river, why the Upper Basin’s five-point plan doesn’t require mandatory water cuts or offer potential savings amounts and the push to make the Lower Basin responsible for evaporation losses at Lake Mead.

WESTERN WATER: How has your previous experience in the Lower Basin prepared you for your current position as you switch your focus to the significant challenges facing the Upper Basin?

CHUCK CULLOM: One of the things that I learned over the course of my experience in the Lower Basin was that while we may want to isolate issues or challenges in one basin or another, we are tied together. So that was very important as I transitioned from Lower Basin to Upper Basin, recognizing that while we may want to isolate the issues between Upper and Lower, they cascade in both directions.

I understood early on that the Lower Basin perspective on how the system operates is different and unique from the Upper Basin. Water uses and management in the Upper Basin reflect and are driven by annual hydrologic circumstances, meaning that the hydrology and inflows that occur influence water management decisions year over year. Whereas the Lower Basin relies principally on storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. When your perspective is so distinct and different, you have to be very careful about what you say and how you say it.

The Colorado River is about 1,400 miles long and flows through seven U.S. states and into Mexico. The Upper Colorado River Basin supplies approximately 90 percent of the water for the entire basin. It originates as rain and snow in the Rocky and Wasatch mountains. Credit USGS.

WW: Can you expound on the difficulty of communicating on such a large river system? 

CULLOM: I had an experience in the early days of the system conservation pilot program in Arizona. The words we were using to describe how we were managing our uses, while useful and appropriate for what we were doing internally to Arizona, was offensive and inappropriate for the Upper Basin because it implied things that weren’t true. And the Upper Basin folks thoughtfully reached out and communicated directly … and then we figured out how we were going to work together. When you experience the world differently because you’re upstream or downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, communication becomes very important.

And it’s the same with tribal engagement. … The Upper Division [Basin] commissioners met with the tribal leaders for the six Upper Basin tribes and had a very thoughtful, frank and open discussion about the importance of working collaboratively on interstate Colorado River issues and what is helpful and unhelpful in that context. And it was a very useful conversation. 

WW: In moving from the Lower Basin to the Upper Basin, has anything involving the Colorado River surprised you? How has your perspective changed?

CULLOM: One thing that surprised me is that the technical capacity in the Upper Basin is on par and in some instances higher than what I anticipated; it exceeds some of the capacity in the Lower Basin. Folks up here are super smart, super talented and lots of modeling expertise is engaged every day.

WW: In June, Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton called on the seven Basin states to devise a plan to reduce use of the river to protect Lake Powell and Lake Mead. She also indicated that all users will have to take cuts. Are Upper Basin states preparing to take cuts? And how might these cuts play out?

CULLOM: I don’t think the question is about are we prepared, it’s how effective our actions will be. The magnitude of contributions in the Upper Basin is limited by the tools we have, the hydrologic and geographic circumstances and what happens in the Lower Basin. So, for the five-point plan to be effective, it needs significant actions in the Lower Basin. But we are moving forward with our plan with the expectation that everyone will contribute in a meaningful way.

Lake Powell’s decline is seen in these photos of Glen Canyon Dam taken a decade apart. On the left, the water level in 2010; on the right, the water level in 2021. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

WWWhat is the goal of the Upper Basin’s five-point plan and what has been the response from Reclamation or the Lower Basin?

CULLOM: The plan includes tools that lead to additional conservation in the Upper Basin on top of what is inflicted by hydrology in dry years, plus contributions that have been made through the 2019 Drought Response Operating Agreement.

The one criticism that we’ve received is “why didn’t you quantify your system conservation program?” We didn’t know if we would have funding and support from Reclamation and we didn’t know what the appetite of water users would be to take on even more reductions. So we didn’t think it would be appropriate to speculate on what we might achieve as an aspiration; we’re focused on delivering results rather than projecting what might be. 

Two of the Lower Basin states (California & Arizona) have questions, Nevada is supportive and Reclamation has expressed support and provided resources to help us implement the plan.

WW: The five-point plan talked about reviving work on a demand management plan that was supposed to be part of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Earlier this year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board halted work on such a plan because, it said, Colorado was much further ahead on investigating the concept than the other Upper Basin states (New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). Is demand management a viable concept for the Upper Basin and what’s been done?

CULLOM: Colorado’s so-called pause on demand management is not that. The interstate work through the commission is continuing and will be completed in the fall and it will provide a report by the end of the year. I think Colorado was indicating that they had enough information and didn’t need any additional consultants or studies as they complete their own homework.

WW: How can Congress and the federal government help in facilitating a plan to keep the river system from crashing?

CULLOM: Congress has been very helpful. They passed the DCP and they passed the Inflation Reduction Act funding. We’re appreciative and trying to put that funding to very good use.

For the long-term perspective, Commissioner Touton identified tools that she is going to explore and develop and potentially implement in the Lower Basin, including appropriate accounting for evaporation and [transmission] losses. There’s about 1.2 million acre-feet of water that is unaccounted for in the Lower Basin that contributes to the imbalance between supply and demand. And the impact of that imbalance is higher releases from Glen Canyon Dam at a time when Glen Canyon Dam is in jeopardy. We support her efforts to try and bring the Lower Basin system into balance just like the way the Upper Basin accounts for evaporation and transmission losses. We think the secretary has significant authority to do that.

WW: With aridification shrinking the river supply and the disparity in use between the two basins, do you think re-apportioning the river is a serious possibility in the future?

CULLOM: I don’t think it’s warranted or helpful.

WW: In the short term or it’s just a concept that’s just absolutely not in play?

CULLOM: Well, folks can want to talk about it but trying to reconfigure [river apportionments] right now seems like you would create more uncertainty than you’re trying to resolve. In addition, there are the folks who would be most at risk from that conversation in underserved communities and tribes. There are significant tribal water rights that are confirmed but undeveloped.

I think there is significant room for flexibility to adapt to the ongoing drought and for aridification, climate change or whatever you want to call a hotter, drier future. And we need to work within the within the regulatory framework we have because otherwise it becomes a discussion about brute political force rather than what the system needs collectively.

WW: Looking ahead to the renegotiation of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, what are some of the main priorities for the Upper Basin?

CULLOM: We absolutely need a new set of rules. Extending rules that are under stress is not, I don’t believe, a viable option. A significant goal for the next set of rules is to bring the Colorado River uses into balance. By uses I mean including evaporation and losses. We need to bring the system depletions into balance with the available supply every year and rebuild the resiliency in the system by replacing the depleted storage. I think that’s the framework that the Upper Basin is seeking to explore.

Reach Writer Nick Cahill at ncahill@watereducation.org, and Editor Doug Beeman at dbeeman@watereducation.org

Forest fires impacting #snowpack and compounding Western #water woes — #Colorado State University #ActOnClimate

Researchers from CSU examine snowpack during snowmelt on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado in 2018. Photo: Steven Fassnacht/CTU

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado State University website (Nik Olsen):

Snowpack is a victim of increasing western wildfires, causing some regions to have less peak snow accumulation and reducing the number of days snow is on the ground, according to new Colorado State University research.

In burned forests, trees no longer block as much energy from the sun and burned timber sheds soot making snow melt quicker in the late snow zone of mountain ranges – the highest area where snow is deepest and lasts the longest. Less snow could mean less water for a region that relies heavily on mountain snowpack for water supply, according to researchers.

At the highest elevations, burned areas were snow-free up to 14 days earlier than in nearby unburned areas and in lower elevations, snow-free dates occurred 27 days sooner, according to research conducted by Stephanie Kampf, professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability in the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. Kampf is the lead author on the study, “Increasing wildfire impacts on snowpack in the western U.S.,” published Sept. 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found that wildfire area has been increasing in many of the snowiest parts of the West, including the Sierra, Nevada, Cascades, and Rockies,” Kampf said.

Significant increases in wildfire in the west (punctuated by 2020 when more than 10 million acres burned) has compounded western water issues. In the Southern Rockies, site of the East Troublesome Fire, Cameron Peak Fire and Mullen Fire in 2020, the area burned in the late snow zone exceeded the total burned area over the previous 36 years combined. In other regions, like the Arizona-New Mexico mountains, wildfire activity has shifted from low snow zones to early/middle snow zones.

“The energy balance has been fundamentally altered,” said Dan McGrath, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Colorado State and co-author of the study, explaining why burned areas become snow-free earlier. “These impacts can persist for a decade or longer.”

Steven Fassnacht, professor of snow hydrology and fellow at Colorado State’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA), co-authored the study.

“Snow melting anywhere between two to four weeks earlier can create additional problems for water managers because it puts water in streams and rivers sooner,” Fassnacht said. “That water is often needed later in the season.”

Post-fire impacts will vary regionally, depending on the amount of sun impacting the snowpack energy balance. Mountain regions in Arizona and New Mexico could have greater fire impacts due to increased shortwave radiation at lower latitudes.

A shorter snow season can also reduce the productivity of the forest ecosystem and its carbon sequestration as drier conditions can inhibit vegetation recovery, causing fire impacts to the snowpack to last for decades.

Topsoil protection should be stressed in the next farm bill, U.S. House Ag panel told

Irrigation equipment on a farm in Montrose County, Colorado on May 29, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

by Ariana Figueroa, Colorado Newsline
September 16, 2022

Farmers and academics at a Wednesday hearing stressed the need for members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to support regenerative agriculture farming practices in the upcoming farm bill in order to protect topsoil.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott said he held the hearing to discuss ways policymakers and the Department of Agriculture could help farmers incorporate regenerative agriculture practices. That investment in soil health would curb climate change and prevent a food shortage, the Georgia Democrat said.

Regenerative agriculture occurs in farming and grazing practices that focus on rebuilding organic matter in topsoil, restoring degraded soil biodiversity and improving the water cycle. All of these mitigate climate change by growing plants that capture carbon dioxide and move it into the soil.

“Conventional agriculture models are degrading American soil,” Jeff Moyer, the chief executive officer of Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, said. Rodale was a pioneer in organic farming.

About 95% of food is grown from topsoil, which is the most important component to food systems. If soil cannot filter water and adsorb carbon, it will hinder farmers’ ability to grow food to feed people, creating a food crisis. Around the world, soil is eroding 10 to 40 times faster than it can be replaced.

Moyer said that a third of the world’s soil has already degraded and if “the current rate of soil degradation continues, all of the world’s topsoil could be lost within 60 years.”

“The very start of our food supply chain is the Earth, and we are losing the viable component of carbon,” Scott said, adding that it’s important to get carbon back into the soil. Carbon is the primary energy source for plants.

study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst in February found that “the Midwest has lost approximately 57.6 billion metric tons of topsoil since farmers began tilling the soil, 160 years ago.”

“The historical erosion rates exceed predictions of present-day erosion rates from national soil erosion assessments and levels considered tolerable by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” according to the report.

USDA project funding

The Biden administration has funneled as much as $3 billion to projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon in agriculture. On Wednesday, USDA announced an expansion of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program to fund conservation programs.

Scott said a documentary, titled “Kiss the Ground,” helped open his eyes to the need to invest in regenerative agriculture.

“That is the way that we make sure that we have food security,” he said.

Republicans on the committee stressed that USDA programs based around regenerative agriculture should not become mandatory, and the top GOP lawmaker, Glenn Thompson, of Pennsylvania, argued that “tying food policy to climate policy is harmful.”

“Small farmers can’t always take on the risks that large farms can when adopting new practices, and I certainly don’t want to be the person that walks on to one of their farms and tells them the federal government mandates that they uphold your economic viability of their operations and livelihoods for the sake of climate change,” Thompson said.

A farmer plows a field east of Las Animas in Bent County, Colo. July 25, 2019. (Mike Sweeney For Colorado Newsline)

He added that inflation was also more of an issue to farmers and that many farmers in his state already practice regenerative agriculture such as cover crops, which help prevent soil erosion and keep nutrients in the soil.

Rep. Jim Baird, an Indiana Republican, also questioned whether organic food was more nutritious than that produced by standard farming practices.

Rebecca Larson, the vice president of the Western Sugar Cooperative in Denver, Colorado, said there’s no substantial research that organic food has more nutrients and much of that rhetoric is “fear-based marketing.”

A study from 2019 has found that organic production can boost some key nutrients in foods, but most of those increases are moderate.

Rebuilding soil health

Rick Clark, a farmer from Williamsport, Indiana, said he adopted regenerative farming practices for his 7,000-acre cattle farm to rebuild the soil health over the past decade.

“We need to preserve our soil, cause that is going to be the future of our farming,” he said.

Rep. Shontel Brown, an Ohio Democrat, asked Clark how Congress can support regenerative farming efforts.

Clark, a representative from Regenerate America, urged lawmakers to consider bolstering education and technical assistance to farmers wanting to start using those practices, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program from USDA. Regenerate America is a coalition of farmers and business partners that lobby for regenerative farming practices in the upcoming farm bill.

“Teaching and a support group is so critical here,” he said.

Clark said that he believes these programs should remain voluntary, but that the government should consider giving farmers who implement these practices the biggest share of federal subsidiary benefits. He also urged lawmakers to bolster crop insurance to help reduce the risk farmers have when implementing regenerative farming practices.

“This means bolstering crop insurance by removing outdated barriers and creating incentives that recognize the risk-reduction benefits of soil health and conservation practices and reward farmers implementing those practices—like a ‘good driver’ discount on your car insurance,” he said.

Aerial views of drought-affected Colorado farm lands 83 miles east of Denver on July 21, 2012. Green areas are irrigated, the yellow areas are dryland wheat crops. (Lance Cheung/USDA/Public Domain Mark 1.0)

Moyer also pushed for lawmakers to reform crop insurance because current policies “create disincentives for American farmers seeking to transition and operate under a regenerative organic model.”

Clark added that USDA should consider defining what regenerative agriculture means and those practices should be added to labels for consumers. Clark added that many of the practices used in regenerative farming originated from Indigenous farming practices, and said those voices need to be heard by the committee.

Economic benefits

Rep. Alma Adams, a North Carolina Democrat, asked one of the witnesses, Steve Nygren from Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, how regenerative agriculture can help build local economies.

Nygren is the founder and chief executive officer of Serenbe, which is an urban village within the city limits of Chattahoochee Hills that he and his wife created with the vision of a sustainable community.

“Soil health leads to economic vitality,” he said.

He said the shrinking of family farms has an economic impact on the local community. Industrial agriculture is not going to support the local economy the way local farmers do, he said.

“Think of soil health as a way to bring small towns back to life,” Nygren said.

He pointed to his state as an example. In 1950, nearly half of Georgia’s food came from the state, and today that number is nearly a quarter. In Serenbe, 70% of the 40,000 acres is reserved for agriculture and each week 75 families pay $34 for their weekly produce.

“If we bring small farms back into rural communities across the United States we’ll not only have a local food system that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels to get it to the shelf, but it can go directly from the farms to the consumer … it will really stimulate the local economy,” he said.

The #ColoradoRiver is drying up — but basin states have ‘no plan’ on how to cut water use — #Colorado Public Radio #COriver #aridification #overdrawn22

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 @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Rachel Estabrook and Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

Water leaders, agricultural producers, environmentalists and others from across the drought-stricken river basin met Friday for the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar to discuss the historic-low levels in the river’s biggest reservoirs — and the need to cut back usage from Wyoming to California. While the problems the basin faces were apparent in the day-long discussions about the state of the river, solutions were not. The event’s host, Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller, told attendees that scientists now recommend that water managers plan for the river to provide just 9 million acre-feet of water annually. That’s a reduction of about a quarter from the amount used in 2021 by U.S. states, Native American tribes and Mexico. In an interview, Mueller said the Friday seminar was held to educate attendees on the seriousness of the Colorado River situation. Still unanswered is what the states and tribes represented in the room will do to drastically curtail use. 

While the representatives for the governments agreed that solutions need to be collaborative, no one offered to be the first to make big cuts. However, representatives from nearly every state stressed that they have already cut back on the amount of water they’re legally allowed to use.

The All American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. The Imperial Irrigation District holds more rights to Colorado River water than any other user in the basin. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

“I think the honest answer is right now there is no plan,” J.B. Hamby of the Imperial Irrigation District in California said in response to a question from the audience about how significant cutbacks would be achieved. 

The Imperial district’s farms use millions of acre-feet of water a year to produce massive portions of the national food system. Hamby said water managers along the Colorado River have been distracted by incremental “dumpster fires,” and are not adequately focusing on the need for a new long-term plan that accounts for reduced water in the river.

The theme [of the seminar “Overdrawn”] refers to the emergency status of the Colorado River and its biggest reservoirs: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Mead, on the border of Nevada and Arizona, has dropped so low that there’s fear that turbines at Hoover Dam won’t have enough water to keep spinning and generating hydroelectric power for millions of people…

Throughout the seminar sessions Friday, upper-basin managers said lower-basin states need to take the lead in the water savings. Asked why the upper basin wouldn’t put out a plan first to get the entire river system closer to a solution, Mueller with the Colorado River Water Conservation District said in the interview with CPR News that the state of Colorado is working on specific conservation plans but doesn’t intend to release them until the lower-basin states act…Meanwhile, lower-basin water managers attending the Friday conference stressed the water savings they have made in the past and asked that states like Colorado stop waiting for the lower-basin to act.

Colorado River Allocations: Credit: The Congressional Research Service

Click the link to read “Cutting river usage: Is first move up to Lower Basin?” on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

Andy Mueller, general manager of western Colorado’s Colorado River District, said at the annual water seminar that his entity puts on that everyone in the basin needs to come to the table with solutions for reducing usage. But before that can occur, he said the federal Bureau of Reclamation needs to address the fact that the way river water is currently divvied up between Upper and Lower Basin states doesn’t account for evaporation and transit loss in the Lower Basin that amounts to 1.2 million acre-feet a year.

“The key here is getting the accounting fixed and then recognizing that we all have an obligation to participate (in conservation measures) as well,” Mueller said.

He warned that alternatively the river district may consider pursuing litigation to make that fix happen.

Friday’s event at Colorado Mesa University comes as the Colorado River Compact that divvies up river water between the Upper and Lower basins turns 100 years old this year. Drought and a warming climate have reduced precipitation and streamflows in the basin during the last 20 or so years that the compact has been in effect. While it allocated 7.5 million acre-feet a year to each of the basins, the watershed doesn’t produce that volume of water. Water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at less than a quarter of what they can hold, which is threatening their ability to produce hydroelectric power and raising the prospect of them reaching “deadpool” and being no longer functional.

While overall demand on the Colorado River trended upward from 1970 to the late 1990s, it plateaued when the region entered the current megadrought. Although this data only goes to 2010, the plateau has pretty much held. But at over 14 MAF per year, demand is significantly higher than what the river has supplied most years. Note that more water is lost to reservoir evaporation than is sent to Mexico. Source: USBR Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

The Lower Basin has been using more water than allocated to it under the 1922 compact, and the Upper Basin, far less than its share. In addition, Mueller said, evaporation of water in federal Upper Basin reservoirs such as Powell, Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa gets attributed to the usage by the Upper Basin, which he said makes sense. But evaporation and transit losses aren’t calculated into Lower Basin usage, which Mueller, an attorney, said is “probably illegal in the context of the river.” He said the Bureau of Reclamation needs to fix that, but doesn’t want to because of the pain it would cause in the Lower Basin and the potential for resulting litigation…

Mueller then added, “I just want to be clear, from my perspective and the river district’s, there very well may be litigation if they don’t fix this problem, from us, because if their threat is to come after our federal projects in the Upper Basin we will defend those projects.”

Already, the Bureau of Reclamation has been making some water releases from Upper Basin federal reservoirs such as Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa to try to shore up levels in Lake Powell.