#Drought news June 8, 2023: Heavy rains fell over parts of the #Colorado, #KS, #NE and S.E. #WY plains this week, leading to widespread one-category improvements

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

Heavy rains fell this week across some of the western parts of the Central and Southern Great Plains, especially in the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma and Kansas, leading to widespread improvements to ongoing drought in the western Great Plains. Heavy rains in the central and southern Florida Peninsula also led to improvements to ongoing drought and abnormal dryness in the southwest Florida Peninsula. Widespread degradations occurred in the Midwest and western portions of the Northeast, amid very dry and warm recent weather. In the West, some minor improvements occurred in parts of Nevada, Utah and Idaho, where high streamflows and large precipitation amounts from the winter into May led to a reassessment of conditions. Degradations were made in a few parts of western Montana and northwest Washington, where precipitation deficits mounted amid declining soil moisture and streamflow…

High Plains

Heavy rains fell over parts of the Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and southeast Wyoming plains again this week, leading to widespread one-category improvements in areas with increasing soil moisture and lessening precipitation deficits. After recent heavy rains, some improvements were also made in northeast and east-central Kansas. In eastern Nebraska, some heavier rains fell, but these were quite spotty, so drought areas remained mostly unchanged. Conditions improved in a small area southeast of Lincoln where rainfall amounts locally exceeded 4 inches. North of Omaha, extreme drought expanded slightly, as soil moisture and precipitation deficits worsened alongside poor streamflow. During May, Lincoln and Omaha both received much less than an inch of rainfall, and much of Saunders County received less than an inch of rain as well. Omaha’s May total of 0.17 inches of rain came in as the driest May on record there. In South Dakota, moderate and severe drought increased in coverage in the southeast, where short-term precipitation deficits mounted amid decreased streamflow and soil moisture. Rolling corn was reported north of Mitchell, and very dry soils were reported in far southeast South Dakota, where impacts to agriculture and need for irrigation are quickly ramping up…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 6, 2023.


Small-scale improvements were made in parts of southern and central Idaho, Nevada and northwest Utah, where high streamflows and large precipitation amounts from the winter into May led to a reassessment of conditions. Moderate and severe drought increased in coverage in northwest Montana and northwest Washington, where short-term precipitation deficits were occurring amidst low streamflow and decreasing soil moisture. In Oregon, a tight gradient in temperature and precipitation anomalies has been present recently, resulting in worsening conditions in the north and west portions of the state, while conditions have improved in the southeast part of Oregon. In some areas, streamflow and snow cover has quickly decreased as a result of early melt off and recent dry weather. Due to heavy rains associated with a storm system responsible for the heavy rain in the southern Great Plains, some improvements were also made in the plains of east-central New Mexico…


Relatively dry weather occurred this week in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and east-central and northeast Oklahoma. Farther west, in the Texas Panhandle, northwest Oklahoma and the eastern Oklahoma Panhandle, the recent wet pattern continued, and widespread 2- to 5-inch rains fell, with localized higher amounts. Widespread improvements were made to the drought and dryness depiction in this region, where soil moisture improved and precipitation deficits lessened. The rest of Texas saw a mixture of a few improvements and degradations, as heavier precipitation amounts around the state were more spotty. Farther east in eastern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas, abnormal dryness and moderate drought were introduced or expanded in areas that have recently seen growing short-term precipitation deficits, declines in soil moisture, and lowering streamflows…

Looking Ahead

For June 8-13, an inch or more of rain is forecast from the Pacific Northwest to the western interior, then across the central Plains, northern parts of the Southeast, and much of the Midwest. Local amounts up to or exceeding 3 inches of rain is forecast in northern and central Montana and the northern Rockies of Colorado. Far southern Florida may also see an inch or so of rain during this period. A quarter inch or more can be expected in the northern Plains into the western Midwest, the Northeast and the South from Texas to Florida. Little to no precipitation is predicted for the lower four-corners area and Pacific West Coast.

For the period from June 13-17, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecast favors below-normal precipitation across parts of the south-central and southeast United States, especially the central and western Gulf Coast areas into southwest Texas and southern New Mexico. Above-normal precipitation is favored in the Intermountain West and Great Basin, and with lesser confidence also favored from the Central Great Plains eastward into the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. Below-normal precipitation is favored in the Great Lakes vicinity. Above-normal precipitation is favored in most of Alaska, with the exception of the far southern reaches of the southeast Panhandle, where below-normal precipitation is more likely. Temperatures in Alaska are likely to be below normal in most areas, excluding the far north, with the highest forecast confidence centered over south-central and southeast Alaska. In the Lower 48, cooler-than-normal temperatures are favored in the Southwest and Intermountain West, excluding southeast New Mexico, and in the Upper Ohio River Valley. Warmer-than-normal temperatures are more likely in the north-central and northwest United States, especially in Minnesota and surrounding states, and from Texas and Oklahoma southeast into southern Alabama and Georgia and all of Florida.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 6, 2023.

Just for grins here’s a slideshow of early June US Drought Monitor maps for the past few years.

Well above Normal Streamflow Volumes Observed Across #Colorado in May: Across Western Colorado streamflow volumes were near to above 200 percent of normal total monthly volumetric flow — NRCS #runoff

Mount Bierstadt May 27, 2023. Photo credit: NRCS Colorado Snow Survey

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

Above normal streamflow volumes were observed in all major basins of Colorado during the month of May. Across Western Colorado streamflow volumes were near to above 200 percent of normal total monthly volumetric flow.

Denver, CO – June 7th, 2023 – Above normal streamflow volumes were observed in all major basins of Colorado during the month of May. Across Western Colorado streamflow volumes were near to above 200 percent of normal total monthly volumetric flow. Following the significant streamflow volumes during May the streamflow forecasts for the June through July period are for a lower percent of normal than the full April through July period. However, substantial volumes are still anticipated in many parts of the state. NRCS Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer comments that “Even with significant snowmelt driven runoff in the month of May well above normal streamflow volumes are still anticipated through June and July particularly across much of the Western Slope and the Rio Grande Basin.” The averaged streamflow forecasts in the Colorado, Arkansas, and North Platte are for near normal volumes over the next two months but with considerable variability. Wetlaufer continued “The South Platte Basin should anticipate large discrepancies in June-July streamflow volumes between the drier mainstem headwaters and the tributaries of the Northern Front Range where flows are forecasted to be largely below, but much closer to normal volumes.”

Credi: NRCS Colorado Snow Survey

Ample streamflow in April and May has greatly improved reservoir storage volumes in the basins of Colorado that have struggled recently. Reservoir storage in the Gunnison and the combined San Miguel–Dolores-Animas-San Juan River basins has risen from about 70 percent of normal on April 1st to 100 and 92 percent, respectively, on June 1st. Wetlaufer notes “This month is the first time since May, 2020 that total reservoir storage in the State of Colorado is above the median volume for a given month. This is great news from a water supply standpoint both for this summer and going forward into future years.” Currently all major basins in Colorado are holding between 92 and 114 percent of normal reservoir storage for June 1st. These values will also likely continue to increase over the coming month in most basins of the state.

While we never fully know what the future may hold, so far Water Year 2023 has been a welcome reprieve from the previous three years with above normal snowpack, precipitation, and streamflow runoff across much of the state. Some areas that stand out as remaining drier than most include basins flowing out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the headwaters of the main stem South Platte. That said, those regions have fared substantially better than Western Colorado with respect to accumulated precipitation over the last month, improving hydrologic and drought conditions. “In addition to how this water year has improved hydrologic conditions such as streamflow and reservoir storage, dramatic improvements have been observed in drought designations across the state since last fall” Wetlaufer concluded.

Colorado’s Snowpack and Reservoir Storage as of June 1st, 2023

Colorado’s Snowpack and Reservoir Storage as of June 1st, 2023
* San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan River basin
* *For more detailed information about February mountain snowpack refer to the June 1st, 2023 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report. For the most up to date information about Colorado snowpack and water supply related information, refer to the Colorado Snow Survey website.

Aspinall Unit operations update June 7, 2023 #GunnisonRiver #COriver #aridification

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The June 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 845,000 acre-feet. This is 133% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin peaked at 138% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 625,000 acre-feet which is 75% of full. Current elevation is 7496 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 828,00 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft. 

High flows along tributaries downstream of the Aspinall Unit helped with meeting the Aspinall Unit ROD targets on the lower Gunnison River as measured at the Whitewater gage. Releases to meet ROD targets were lower than expected and with the increase in the runoff forecast there is now a need to increase releases from the Aspinall Unit.  

Therefore ramp up of releases from the Aspinall Unit will begin on Wednesday, June 21st, with the peak release being achieved by Tuesday, June 27th. The timing of the peak release will be coordinated with required spillway gate inspections at Morrow Point Dam. The full schedule of releases from Crystal Dam with estimated Gunnison River flows is shown in the table below. 

The June 1, 2023 #Colorado #Water Supply Outlook is hot off the presses from the NRCS

Click the link to read the report on the NRCS website:

The U.S. Supreme Court just made it easier to destroy #wetlands and streams: The decision strips federal protections from the ephemeral streams that are crucial for life in the arid West — @HighCountryNews #WOTUS

Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

Click the link to read the article on the High Country News website (Emily Benson):

Like icebergs and human beings, waterways are made up of more than what’s visible on the surface. Take Lapwai Creek, near Lewiston, Idaho: At a casual glance, it’s a ribbon of cool water, shaded by cottonwood trees and alive with steelhead and sculpin, mayfly and stonefly larvae. An adult could wade across it in a few strides without getting their knees wet. But that’s just the part people can see. Beneath the surface channel, coursing through the rounded cobbles below, is what scientists call the hyporheic zone: water flowing along underground, which can be a few inches deep, or 10 yards or more, mixing with both surface water and groundwater. Microbes that purify water live down there, and aquatic insects — food for fish and other animals — can use it as a sort of underground highway, traveling more than a mile away from a river. 

A creek, in other words, is more than just the water in its channel; it’s also the water underground, and it’s connected to everything else in its watershed, including wetlands and channels upstream that might dry up during some years, or perhaps go years between getting wet. Whatever happens there — pollution or protection — happens to the entire creek. In the case of Lapwai Creek, which flows into the Clearwater River and then the Snake River, it’s a small but fundamental part of the complex ecosystem that salmon, humans and countless other creatures in the Pacific Northwest rely on.

Lapwai Creek, Idaho, which flows into the Clearwater River and then the Snake River. Photo credit: USGS

But those ecological realities are strikingly absent from last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA. The ruling strips federal protections from all ephemeral streams and, as reported by E&E Newsmore than half of the previously protected wetlands in the U.S. It limits Clean Water Act protections to “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” That includes some wetlands — those that are “indistinguishable” from protected oceans, lakes, rivers and streams “due to a continuous surface connection.”

“It doesn’t reflect reality, or the scientific understanding of how watersheds and the river networks within them function,” said Ellen Wohl, a river researcher and professor in the Geosciences Department at Colorado State University. Wohl helped review the scientific evidence used to develop an earlier, and much more expansive, Obama-era definition of which bodies of water fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

The act itself says it covers “the waters of the United States,” often abbreviated WOTUS, but what exactly that means has been the subject of decades of litigation and conflicting rule-making by federal administrations. In this decision, the Supreme Court took up the question in the context of a lawsuit Michael and Chantell Sackett brought against the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. The case concerned whether or not there were protected wetlands on a property the couple owns near Priest Lake, Idaho. If there were, the Sacketts would have needed to get a Clean Water Act permit before filling the lot with dirt, and would now owe the agency hefty fines for having filled it without one; if there weren’t, then they could proceed with building a house on the lot without the permit.

All nine Supreme Court justices agreed that there were no protected wetlands on the property. And five of them — Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — went further. The majority opinion, written by Alito, focused in part on defining the word “adjacent” — as in, wetlands adjacent to protected waterbodies — to mean inseparable. That’s a stricter interpretation of the law, and leaves more wetlands unprotected, than any definition put forth by a federal administration since 1977, including the Trump administration’s 2020 rule. The remaining four justices spell that out in a concurring opinion, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh: “The Court’s ‘continuous surface connection’ test disregards the ordinary meaning of ‘adjacent.’ … As a result, the Court excludes wetlands that the text of the Clean Water Act covers — and that the Act since 1977 has always been interpreted to cover.”

Sunrise March 10, 2023 Alamosa Colorado with the Rio Grande in the foreground. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

In addition to wetlands, the decision excludes many — or perhaps most, or even all; the ruling is unclear — temporary streams. These include ephemeral streams, which flow only after snow- or rainfall — such as flooding desert washes — and intermittent ones, which sometimes go dry, often seasonally, like the Rio Grande in New Mexico

Temporary streams and rivers exist primarily in the arid West, particularly in the Great Plains and the Great Basin. And they’re important for both ecosystems and humans: According to EPA data, 70% of the miles of streams supplying public water systems that more than 3 million people in Arizona’s Maricopa County relied on in 2009 were ephemeral or intermittent. In fact, 96% of Arizona’s total stream mileage is ephemeral or intermittent; New Mexico, too, has very few relatively permanent waterways. “So, arguably, (nearly) all the rivers and streams in those two states are no longer protected by the Clean Water Act,” said Mark Ryan, a retired EPA lawyer who specialized in the act and represented the EPA in the Sackett case until he left the agency in 2014. 

That “arguably” is important. It’s now up to the EPA to interpret the ruling and define what exactly “relatively permanent” means, because the majority opinion itself is silent on the matter. In fact, it doesn’t mention intermittent or ephemeral streams at all, though it does say, in reference to protected waters, that “temporary interruptions in surface connection may sometimes occur because of phenomena like low tides or dry spells.” The phrases “temporary interruptions” and “dry spells” seem to leave the door open for protecting some intermittent streams, but the absence of details — like how long of a dry spell is acceptable — leaves the matter up to agency rules, and litigation over them.

Weaker protections mean that more wetlands and temporary streams will be destroyed, filled in with dirt for houses or other development. Ecosystems and people alike will lose the benefits they provide: biodiversity and abundance of species; space to absorb extra water during storms, preventing deadly floods; natural storage of that same water, so it’s available later, during dry times; the natural purification that occurs when water is filtered through the ground.

Take, for example, a desert playa in the Great Basin, which might be dry for years at a time. When rainwater falls on it or snowmelt flows into it, it acts like “a big sponge,” Wohl said. A sponge that can store water for later, and clean it, too. But if you turn it into a parking lot by filling or building on it, as the Supreme Court ruling makes it easier to do, water will pour off it, rather than soak in. And what was once a playa — part of an intricate system changing across space and time — will become simply an asphalt wasteland.

The tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece of a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes and tundra at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Photo credit: The Department of Interior

Why is #Colorado seeing so much rain this spring? — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Miles Blumhardt). Here’s an excerpt:

Dave Barjenburch, National Weather Service meteorologist in Boulder, said our moisture streak is much more related to where high- and low-pressure ridges are located than to the transition from a La Nina pattern to El Nino. Typically, he said, Colorado weather this time of year is dominated by a high-pressure ridge in the Southwest, which produces warmer and drier conditions for Colorado. This spring, that high-pressure ridge has moved north into the upper Midwest, which has blocked or slowed our storm track over Colorado while creating above-average temperatures and below-average moisture in Canada, resulting in devastating wildfires. A deep low-pressure ridge in the western U.S. combined with the high pressure in the upper Midwest have funneled a consistent plume of Gulf of Mexico moisture into Colorado for several weeks, and Barjenburch said that pattern “isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.”

Deadpool Diaries: June 1 #ColoradoRiver system status report — John Fleck (InkStain) #COriver #aridification

I hope someone’s keeping track of the re-submergence of the Lake Mead shipwrecks.. Photo credit: John Fleck

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

Lake Mead ended May 2023 at elevation 1,054.28 feet above sea level. That’s up five feet in a month, at a time of year when the reservoir is usually dropping, so I guess yay? It’s also up 6 1/2 feet from last year, so I guess yay?

But also worth noting: Mead is down 32 feet from May of 2019, the year the oddly-named “Drought Contingency Plan” was signed. I say “oddly named” because the clear outcome here suggests that our plan for the contingency of drought must have been to drain Lake Mead.


We’re far enough into the year that we can get a pretty good feel for how deeply Lower Basin water users are cutting in response to the current crisis.

Total cuts from the states’ base allocations are 1.079 million acre feet, which is less than the 1.2 million acre feet in Reclamation’s classic “Structural Deficit” calculation, and well below the 1.5 million or more – a 20 percent reduction – that’s been widely discussed as the need in a climate-change altered Colorado River Basin.

Here’s how the cuts are being made in 2023:

  • California: 4.178 million acre feet, a 5 percent reduction from California’s base allocation
  • Arizona: 2.031 million acre feet, a 27 percent reduction from Arizona’s base allocation
  • Nevada: 212,000 acre feet, a 29 percent reduction from Nevada’s base allocation

Those numbers are forecasts for calendar year 2023, based on Reclamation’s June 2 analysis.

We can argue over whether this is “fair” – I’ve made my case here – but the reality is that Arizona and Nevada right now are contributing disproportionately to the cuts needed to save Lake Mead.

A big part of the reductions for 2023 are based on the requirements of the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the Drought Contingency Plan. (Puzzled over why Arizona and Nevada have to make cuts under the ’07/DCP and California doesn’t? California’s power politics in the 1960s gave it higher priority rights.)

In response to the near term crisis on the river, California is taking an additional 5 percent in cuts this year beyond the ’07/DCP requirements, Arizona is taking 6 percent, and Nevada is taking 24 percent.

statebase allocation20232023 reductionpercent cut from base07/DCPCut beyond ’07/DCP


The latest Reclamation 24-month study has Mead ending calendar 2023 at elevation 1,062.32.

Despite this year’s monster snowpack and the gazillions of federal dollars currently chasing water use reductions, that’s still down 28 feet since the end of 2019, the year the DCP was signed.


A big thanks to my supporters – Inkstain will always be free, your help makes it possible.

Map credit: AGU

U.S. Supreme Court imperils arroyos, wetlands — @Land_Desk #WOTUS

Comb Wash and tributaries in southeastern Utah, all of which are undeserving of Clean Water Act protection according to the majority of Supreme Court justices. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

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

THE NEWS: The U.S. Supreme Court hands down a ruling in the long-running Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency case that significantly alters and narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act

THE CONTEXT: Sometimes it feels like the Supreme Court doesn’t like — or maybe just doesn’t get — the arid Western U.S. Last week’s ruling is a prime example: It potentially removes federal protections from thousands of miles of Western waterways, making it far easier for developers to pollute or destroy arroyos, wetlands and ephemeral streams. 

The specific case dates back to 2007, when EPA officials ordered Chantell and Michael Sackett to stop backfilling their soggy half-acre lot on the shores of Idaho’s Priest Lake, where they wanted to build a cabin. The EPA had determined that since the wetlands were adjacent to a navigable, interstate water (Priest Lake), it could be classified as “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, and was therefore protected by the Clean Water Act. The Sacketts disagreed and took the feds to court. As the case wound its way through the legal system, the Sacketts’ cabin site transformed into the front line of a 50-year ideological battle over the definition of what constitutes legally decreed “waters.”

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers—the agencies charged with enforcing the CWA—considered WOTUS to include everything from arroyos to prairie potholes to sloughs to mudflats, so long as the destruction or degradation thereof might ultimately affect traditionally navigable waters or interstate commerce (which could include recreation, sightseeing, or wildlife watching). It was a broad definition that gave the agencies latitude to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” as Congress mandated when creating the law in 1972.

Property rights ideologues pushed back on the definition, saying it was too broad and therefore gave the feds too much power to curb pollution or restrict development. Occasionally a developer would use this rationale to flout the rules, and a few of the cases made their way to the Supreme Court. In the 1985 Bayview case, the justices upheld the broad definition of WOTUS, and in the 2001 SWANCC case they left the definition alone but found that isolated ponds were not protected by the Clean Water Act simply because they were migratory bird habitat. 

Then, in his plurality opinion on the 2006 Rapanos case, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote what would become the right-wing’s preferred definition of waters of the U.S. He argued that they should include only “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water … described in ordinary parlance as streams[,] . . . oceans, rivers, [and] lakes.” Scalia’s definition emphatically excluded “ephemeral streams” and “dry arroyos in the middle of the desert.” (He also referred to the “immense arid wastelands” of the Western U.S., giving an idea of where this guy’s coming from.)

Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Rapanos case, and now Alito’s in the Sackett decision, would remove most or all intermittent or ephemeral streams from Clean Water Act protections. That would leave 94% of Arizona’s streams more vulnerable to development. Source: U.S. EPA.

Justice Anthony Kennedy disputed Scalia, saying instead the CWA should extend to any stream or body of water with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters, determined by a wetland’s or waterway’s status as an “integral part of the aquatic environment.” 

The two conflicting Rapanos opinions have guided the agencies’ enforcement of the CWA ever since, with the George W. Bush and Trump administrations leaning toward Scalia’s narrow, anti-arroyo definition, and the Obama and Biden administrations adopting Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test. 

Fast forward to the recent Sackett decision, which has two parts. First, the justices all agreed that the EPA should not have fined the Sacketts for filling in their wetland, because it does not fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. But the wider ramifications come from Justice Samuel Alito’s rewriting of the definition of “waters of the U.S.” in his majority opinion — and the debate among justices it sparked. 

Sackett overtly focuses on wetlands, as did most of the back-and-forth between the disagreeing justices, who sparred over the definition of “adjacent.” Alito and the majority essentially believe “adjacent” and “adjoining” are synonymous, which removes any wetland lacking a continuous surface connection to a navigable body of water from federal jurisdiction. He also puts the kibosh on the “significant nexus” test. (Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch go even further, trying to reduce waters of the U.S. to rivers or lakes that can actually be navigated by ships.) Even Justice Brett Kavanaugh disagreed with Alito’s narrow definition, pointing out that “adjacent” is not the same as “adjoining.”

You might be wondering how any of this effects the arid West, where wetlands — either adjacent or adjoining — aren’t all that common. After all, intermittent streams only got passing mentions in the opinions and not once does the term “arroyo” appear. But there’s little question that arroyos and ephemeral streams will end up suffering collateral damage. The Sackett majority defers to Scalia’s Rapanos definition, writing: “ … we conclude that the Rapanos plurality was correct: the CWA’s use of ‘waters’ encompasses ‘only those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water forming geographical features that are described in ordinary parlance as streams oceans, rivers and lakes.’”

So, yeah, we Southwesterners do refer in our ordinary parlance to many an intermittent stream as a “river,” e.g. the Santa Fe River, the Santa Cruz River, the Rio Puerco(s), and so forth. But I doubt that would have been adequate for Scalia and now for Alito and friends. 

It’s not clear yet how all of this will play out on the ground, except that the Sacketts can finally build their cabin without fear of an EPA fine. The Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s most important environmental laws, is now weaker than it was a couple of weeks ago, and countless wetlands, sloughs, arroyos and ponds are now more vulnerable to development and pollution. Justice Elena Kagan summed it up in her response to Alito: “The majority thus alters—more precisely, narrows the scope of—the statute Congress drafted,” she wrote, adding that the opinion “ … is an effort to cabin the anti-pollution actions Congress thought appropriate.”

Steve Bannon, former President Donald Trump’s right-hand man, once said the goal of the administration was the “deconstruction of the administrative state. He wanted to eviscerate regulations protecting human health and the environment so they would no longer “burden” corporations or stand in their way of reaping boundless profit. Trump may no longer be president, and both he and Bannon may be headed to jail soon. But their agenda lives on among the majority of the nation’s highest court, which, Kagan wrote, has appointed “itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy.”

She continued, referring to last year’s decision that hindered the EPA from enforcing clean air laws: “So I’ll conclude, sadly, by repeating what I wrote last year, with the replacement of only a single word. ‘[T]he Court substitutes its own ideas about policymaking for Congress’s. The Court will not allow the Clean [Water] Act to work as Congress instructed. The Court, rather than Congress, will decide how much regulation is too much.’ Because that is not how I think our Government should work — more, because it is not how the Constitution thinks our Government should work …”

Read more of my writing on Sackett, WOTUS, Rapanos, and SCOTUS in High Country News at the Landline and in the Land Desk:

#Colorado State University to host #water conference, science communication expert Monday, June 12, 2023

Click the link for all the inside skinny from the Colorado State University website (Jayme DeLoss):

The Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University will welcome the Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) annual conference June 13-15, UCOWR’s first in-person gathering since 2019. The event kicks off June 12 with the Norm Evans Lecture featuring science communication expert Faith Kearns.

UCOWR is a consortium of academic institutions and affiliates invested in water resources research, education and outreach. The annual conference connects member universities and partners, including federal and state agencies and private consultants, to develop new collaborations and transdisciplinary solutions to complex water problems. 

John Tracy, director of the Colorado Water Center, said the conference is an important venue for discussing emerging water issues and how they are being handled in different parts of the United States. It’s also beneficial for water resource leaders to understand the outreach, education and research happening at universities across the country.

“Communities develop where there’s adequate water resources, so it becomes a very localized topic when you’re dealing with the challenges,” Tracy said, citing as an example the fact that Colorado is the only state with water courts, while other states have other methods. “If you don’t step out and listen to other people, you don’t get perspectives that may help you address your problems. That’s why these conferences are important.” 

The conference includes technical sessions, workshops, panels, field trips and networking opportunities. The three-day event will feature more than 200 presentations, with sessions covering topics as diverse as the Colorado River, water contamination by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and better ways to estimate crop consumption of water.

Faith Kearns

The Norm Evans Lecture, which highlights an innovative voice in water resources, will set the tone for the conference. Kearns is a scientist and science communicator who focuses on water, wildfire and climate change in the western United States. Her talk will address inclusive science communication. 

“Effectively communicating the science is essential to good water management,” Tracy said. 

Kearns has worked in science communication for more than 25 years, starting with the Ecological Society of America and serving as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State. She authored the book Getting to the Heart of Science Communication, and her work has been published in New Republic, On Being, Bay Nature and more. 

The Norm Evans Lecture is supported by the Dr. Norm Evans Endowment, established by Ken and Ruth Wright of Wright Water Engineers to honor the director of the Colorado Water Center from 1967 to 1988. This annual lecture brings distinguished experts to CSU to speak on water management, education and policy. 

CSU will host this year’s UCOWR conference at the Lory Student Center, which was also the site of the conference in 2017.

Norm Evans Lecture

“Getting to the Heart of Science Communication”
Speaker: Faith Kearns
When: 6-7 p.m. Monday, June 12, followed by a reception
Where: Lory Student Center Theatre
Free and open to the public 

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Crisis is Fostering a More Collaborative U.S.- #Mexico Relationship — Time Magazine #COriver #aridification

Colorado River Dry Delta, terminus of the Colorado River in the Sonoran Desert of Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, ending about 5 miles north of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). Date: 12 January 2009. Photographer: Pete McBride, U.S. Geological Survey

Click the link to read the article on the Time Magazine website (Anisha Koli). Here’s an excerpt:

…in recent years, the countries’ relationship, when it comes to the river at least, has entered a new era of agreement and mutual advancement, as both countries face unprecedented drought and a need to revamp water systems.

“On earlier occasions, what I’ve seen is two countries that had a bilateral water management agreement where the gains from one country would equal the losses of the other country,” Carlos de la Parra, who leads Restauremos El Colorado, an environmental nonprofit, tells TIME. “They’ve migrated into a regional approach, realizing that it’s the same river, it’s the same basin and investments on one side of the border will benefit both sides of the border.”

Under a 1944 treaty established between the U.S. and Mexican governments, Mexico was allotted a guaranteed annual quantity of water. The agreement had flaws though. It didn’t mention water quality, and in the 1960s when the river’s salinity rose dramatically, the water directed to Mexico was too salty for human consumption or agriculture. Following farmer protests and threats from the Mexican government to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice, the U.S. agreed to an updated treaty in 1973 that ensured equal water quality. Most recently in 2017, the two governments revisited the negotiating table to strike Minute 323, a nine-year deal that set standards for how water should be allocated during surpluses and reduced during droughts. It also committed both countries to pledge resources and funding for environmental restoration. John Shepard, senior advisor at the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit that advocates for Colorado River restoration, notes that a new deal could be on the horizon. “If the lower basins agreed to cuts as they’re being articulated in this agreement, then Mexico will likely agree to a proportional share of cuts.”


Keeping the river and its ecosystems healthy has been a source of argument over the years. In the U.S. the prevailing view has been that it’s Mexico’s responsibility to protect and restore the delta because it’s chiefly located in Mexico, where it then flows into the Gulf of California. Mexico has argued that the U.S. should take responsibility because the country’s management and control of the river caused poor water quality and decimated habitats. Now, experts on both sides of the border are working to find a more collaborative way forward.

“There’s a saying that, ‘a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ In many ways, that’s how I’m approaching this,” De la Parra says. “Many people like myself are hard at work, thinking about how we can capitalize the crisis and move the irrigation district and other water uses into a more productive, more sustainable model.”

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

Every drop of the #ColoradoRiver counts. So what about evaporation? — Popular Science #COriver #aridification

North Lake Powell October 2022. Photo credit: Alexander Heilner via The Water Desk

Click the link to read the article on the Popular Science website (Zayna Syed). Here’s an excerpt:

For more than a hundred years, California, Arizona, and Nevada never accounted for evaporation on the lower basin of the Colorado River as they divided its water between themselves and later with Mexico. Their logic held that as long as there was more water than people used, they could ignore small losses from natural processes. More importantly, it was politically fraught—for decades, the lower basin states have been unable to reach an agreement about how evaporation should be taken into account when sharing the river’s waters. Even as a 23-year-long megadrought sucked moisture out of the already arid region, evaporation stayed off the books with decision making. But now, as water managers scramble to find a solution to a river that’s been overused, mostly for irrigation-heavy crops like livestock feed, they’re forced into a harsh reality: every drop counts, including those that disappear into the air. 

Map credit: AGU

One way to measure how much water dries up in the system each year is by looking at the evaporation losses on Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the nation’s two largest reservoirs, located in Nevada and Arizona and Utah and Arizona, respectively. About 1.9 million acre-feet or 13 percent of the water from the reservoirs across the entire river is lost to evaporation each year, says Jack Schmidt, director of the Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University.  In particular, the lower basin (which includes Lakes Mead, Mohave, Havasu, and a few smaller mainstream reservoirs) lost an average of 906,000 acre-feet of water per year to evaporation from 2016 to 2020, according to Schmidt, who cites data from the Bureau of Reclamation. To put that number into context, Nevada can legally use about 300,000 acre-feet per year with the existing deal. “The evaporation of water in the lower basin is equal to three Nevadas. Some people would say that’s a big number,” Schmidt says. Other estimates put the amount of water lost to evaporation even higher at about 1.5 million acre-feet per year, or about five Nevadas. But the overall amount of water that evaporates hasn’t actually changed that much in the past decade. That’s because there’s just less water in the reservoirs, which means there’s less water to lose,” according to Katherine Earp, a hydrologist for the Nevada Water Science Center. At the same time, she adds, as the reservoirs become shallower, the water becomes warmer, and evaporation increases slightly…

Evaporation and transpiration graphic via the USGS

Earp cautions that scientists don’t know how much climate change and evaporation will cut into water held in the lower basin. She says there are two factors that could see direct impacts: the reservoirs’ temperature and depth. “Those are changing as the [lakes along the Colorado River] are changing,” she says. “Most of the evaporation is being done right at the surface with the wind. So that’s not changing. We’ve always had a big hot desert—we will continue to have a big hot desert.”


[Schmidt] outlines two potential solutions: consolidating water from the two major reservoirs into one or pumping some of the water underground. Schmidt did the math behind the first option. In a white paper published in 2016, he examined how much water might be saved if the lower basin states fill Lake Mead and put any remaining water into Lake Powell. “Right now we manage the system to equalize the storage contents in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and so we sort of maximize the surface area exposed to the sun,” he says. But he found the savings would be minimal, about 50,000 acre-feet of water across the two reservoirs, and says it should be used as a second-tier strategy…In the second option, water from the reservoirs would slowly be cached underground. Arizona and California already store some water underground in recharge basins with the intention to put water back into local aquifers. But there’s a risk of not being able to track and recover all of the water that seeps back into the ground. Still, Schmidt says recharge basins might be a good option if evaporation gets worse. “It’s a technique trusted by water managers,” Schmidt says. “Yes, it’s uncertain. But those uncertainties do not concern people enough that they don’t do it.”

Grant-funded effort will remove invasive species from along the #UncompahgreRiver — The #Montrose Daily Press


Click the link to read the article on the Montrose Daily Press website (Kylea Henseler). Here’s an excerpt:

RiversEdge West, a Grand Junction-based nonprofit, received $22,035 from the Colorado River District’s Community Funding Partnership and $34,433 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to restore two river sites owned by the city of Montrose.

According to RiversEdge West Restoration Coordinator Montana Cohn, the two sites together total around 70 acres, and the project will allow the group to remove about 8 acres worth of invasive tamarisk and Russian olive plants and replace them with native species…One site is off Mayfly Drive, and the other is near Home Depot off Ogden Road. Cohn said restoration efforts at these sites have yielded positive results before, and the new project will expand on previous work.  He explained invasive thorns and plants like Russian olive and tamarisk crowd out native vegetation, degrade soil quality and, since some are thorny, block access to the river for wildlife, livestock and recreationists…

The project will go down in phases, starting with volunteer efforts this summer. Then in the fall, paid crews from the Americorps program Western Colorado Conservation Corps will come in with herbicides and chainsaws and remove as many of the invasive plants as possible. Efforts, including volunteer replanting efforts of native plants, will continue into 2024.

Russian Olive

#NewMexico environmental agency bracing for #water law changes — Source NM #WOTUS

A diversion on the Mimbres River in southern New Mexico pictured on Feb. 21, 2023. Environmental advocates are concerned that intermittent and seasonal rivers and many wetlands protections will be rolled back across the country as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court water decision on May 25, 2023. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Click the link to read the article on the Source NM website (Danielle Prokop):

After landmark SCOTUS ruling limits what waters federal agencies protect under Clean Water Act, advocates concerned that NM is vulnerable.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed water law overnight last week – and the impacts will ripple through New Mexico over coming months.

New Mexico’s complicated water landscape, coupled with the fact it’s one of three states that does not have a state agency regulate pollution in surface water, leaves it uniquely vulnerable, officials for the New Mexico Environment Department said.

The case

In their 9-0 decision in a case called Sackett vs. EPA the court ruled the federal government overreached in the case of Idaho couple Chantell and Michael Sackett. The court said the wetlands on their property were not classified as “waters of the United States,” and multiple rounds of permitting in order to infill and build a house on that land.

“Waters of the United States,” legal designation for the waters protected in 1972 Clean Water Act, which allows the federal government to limit pollutants such as livestock waste and industrial discharge and construction runoff.

The opinion limits the definition of what wetlands would be protected alongside “navigable waters,” defined in other cases as “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies” – likes streams, oceans rivers and lakes.

“These wetlands must qualify as “waters of the United States” in their own right,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority opinion. “In other words, they must be indistinguishably part of a body of water that itself constitutes “waters” under the [Clean Water Act].”

While all the justices concurred with the judgment –  to send the case back to lower courts for further proceedings in the Sacketts’ favor – Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by four other justices disagreed with the majority narrowing the definition from “adjacent” wetlands to “adjoining” wetlands.

New Mexico’s vulnerabilities

That distinction leaves New Mexico – and other parts of the arid Southwest – high and dry, said Tannis Fox, an environmental attorney for conservation nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center.

Fox said the rules limiting how much and what type of pollution from wastewater plants, construction sites and agriculture will still protect the state’s largest rivers but can’t say the same for tributaries.

“There are waters, same with wetlands within the entirety of a watershed, that are now at risk of not being protected under the Clean Water Act,” she said. “If there were a point source discharge into that body of water, you may not have to get a permit.”

The New Mexico Environment Department estimated that 93% of New Mexico’s streams and rivers are intermittent – seasonal rivers for example – or ephemeral – only running when there’s heavy rain, in a comment to the EPA in 2019.

These include “localized monsoonal downpours, ephemeral arroyos, cienegas, effluent-dependent streams, playa lakes, and other man-made reservoirs, waterways,” and canals.

The oxbow, a horseshoe curve of the river that has transformed over time into a marsh, as seen from the San Antonio Bluffs on Albuquerque’s Westside. Consecutive years of drought dried parts of the marshland that are crucial habitats for birds, beavers and other animals. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Fox said this raises the question for existing permits on pollution, and future permitting landscape. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directly administers pollution programs for New Mexico, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Currently, the agency reviews EPA permit applications, and “certifies” them based on if they meet state water quality standards.

Environment Protection Agency Region 6 officials – which oversees New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma Arkansas and Louisiana – declined an interview or comment.

In a written statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, said he was disappointed by the decision, saying it “erodes longstanding clean water protections.” He said the agency will review the decision, “and consider next steps,” but did not elaborate further.

Fox said New Mexico’s broad definition of waters of the state enshrined in the state’s constitution offers some protection beyond the federal definition, but it’s hard to enforce without a state permitting program.

“The immediacy of the need for a surface water program dramatically changed between today and yesterday,” Fox said.

Where is the state in getting a permitting program?

Since the court limited the federal scope, state officials said they anticipate more litigation to determine which waters will be protected, slowing down efforts to develop its own permitting program.

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said the science, technical and legal staff may have their hands full if permits are terminated prematurely.

“Because we may very well disagree that while not a “water of the U.S.,” we still have waters of the state to protect,” he said.

Kenney said the agency plans to bring rules for the program by December 2025, based on current funding and staff.

There’s several layers of red tape to get there, though.

The agency has to draft a resolution to be passed by the state legislature, seek input from New Mexicans and tribes, bring rules to it’s pollution authority board for passage, and get EPA approval after the statute passes.

Currently, the agency is funded for outreach in 2023.

Kenney said the ruling should be a “wake-up call” for lawmakers.

“Right now, we have $680,000 and a special appropriation to carry us through fiscal year 24. Maybe, maybe that increases so that we can get something done sooner,” he said, adding that there would probably be a presentation during the interim session.

As far back as 2019, the agency has testified that if the Clean Water Act no longer applies, more strict state and federal laws governing hazardous waste may apply. Kenney said he understands that for permit holders, this is a “nonstarter,” as hazardous waste laws have more restrictions and culpability.

Kenney warned that individuals and entities should think twice before petitioning to remove the permit and failing to include the state agency in that discussion.

“I will have no sympathy with respect to what transpires as a result of that, whether that’s protracted litigation, or robust enforcement for failing to include us in that discussion,” he said.

#ElNiño may be on its way. Here’s what that could mean for #Pueblo and S. #Colorado — The Pueblo Chieftain #ENSO

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chieftain website (Anna Lynn Winfrey). Here’s an excerpt:

Climatologists are now expecting an El Niño pattern in 2023, after three years of La Niña. [Becky] Bolinger said that during El Niño winters, wetter conditions are expected in the American Southwest and along the Gulf of Mexico while drier conditions are expected in the Pacific Northwest. But in Colorado, the effects of El Niño tend to be less strong. The state is thousands of miles away from the ocean, so there tend to be additional variables that affect its climate…

The state can expect somewhat drier winters in the northern mountains and more moisture in the southern mountains from El Niño, Bolinger said. [Kyle] Mozley said that El Niño’s effects on Southern Colorado can vary depending on when El Niño starts and how strong it is. When El Niño is less intense, the Eastern Plains tend to get more moisture — but that can go away when the system is stronger. Mozley said that the current water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean indicate this El Niño will be moderate to strong in intensity…But the mountains in southern Colorado tend to get more precipitation in the fall, Mozley said. That can wane in the early months of the winter, then pick back up again in the spring.

El Niño and rainfall. Credit: IRI May 26, 2023

New study shows #Durango’s #water supplies declining dramatically as #ClimateChange, #drought hit home — @WaterEdCO #FloridaRiver #AnimasRiver

Florida River near Durango airport, at Colorado highway 172. By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82546066

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

Climate change has come home to Durango, with a new study indicating that the once water-rich mining and railroad mecca is much drier than it once was, so dry in fact that the city can no longer depend solely on direct flow from the Florida and Animas rivers for a reliable supply of water.

Like other small towns in Colorado, Durango has very little water storage, enough to last for less than 10 days. It has always relied on its ability to pull water directly from the Florida River, using the Animas River as backup. But that is no longer possible, prompting the city to fast-track a major regional pipeline project to tap storage in Lake Nighthorse and to double down on conservation.

Larger cities often have water storage reservoirs that can carry them for months if not years during dry periods. But that’s not necessarily the case in smaller rural and mountain towns.

new study of stream gage data conducted for Durango by the Silverton-based Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) shows that average annual precipitation in one of the town’s major watersheds has declined as much as 19.7% annually since the late 1980s and runoff, the water that eventually makes it to the stream, has dropped even more, as much as 35.7% in the Florida (pronounced Floreeeda) River watershed. The same trend, though to a much lesser extent, is also showing up in the Animas River watershed.

“It’s eye opening,” said Jarrod Biggs, Durango’s assistant finance director who has overseen much of the city’s recent water planning efforts. “It’s confirmation of what our anecdotal evidence has told us. It doesn’t go down to nothing, but it is a significant difference from where we were a decade or two ago.”

Jake Kurzweil, a hydrologist and associate director of water programs at MSI who conducted the study, said the declines help illustrate on a local level how watersheds have begun to dry out as the climate warms. The data also measures how much water the natural environment uses, essentially intercepting runoff before it can reach streams, which cities, farmers and industry tap for their water supply needs.

In the Florida River analysis, a measure known as the runoff ratio is markedly declining. The ratio is obtained by taking annual runoff and dividing it by precipitation.

Changes if Florida River water supply. Credit: Chas Chamberlin/Water Education Colorado

“The runoff ratio is showing us how efficient the watershed is at generating water. Not only are we getting less precipitation, the efficiency of the watershed is also declining. My hypothesis is that we are well below the environmental demand for water,” Kurzweil said.

Similar trends are showing up in the Animas watershed, but right now they are not as alarming as those in the Florida. Kurzweil said because the Animas watershed is bigger and its terrain is more diverse, it is better protected from the harsh temperatures and strong sunlight that have driven the drying trends on the Florida River.

Peter Goble, a climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center housed at Colorado State University, cautioned that the region’s 1,200-plus-year megadrought likely exaggerates the level of declines seen in the MSI data. He also said that long-term climate warming forecasts don’t show dramatic drying trends in the next 30 to 40 years.

“[Kurzweil] is comparing a time when we scarcely had any droughts to a period that has been quite dry. Precipitation can vary widely and our climate models don’t show this clear drying signal…if anything climate models show that precipitation may increase just a little bit,” Goble said.

“Yes it’s getting warmer, yes we do need to be concerned about that, yes it does put pressure on our environmental systems. However I don’t like comparing [1985-1999 to 2010-2021] specifically because you are capturing the high side and the low side,” Goble said, referring to the time periods MSI used in its analysis.

Kurzweil acknowledges that the megadrought has exacerbated the drying seen in Durango’s river systems, but he said he thinks the trend will likely continue, in part because though Northern Colorado could see more precipitation as its climate warms, Southwestern Colorado could be drier because it is so much farther south.

The Florida and Animas rivers are part of the San Juan/Miguel/Dolores river basin. Regional officials are tracking the local trends closely.

Ken Curtis is general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District in Cortez, a 50-minute drive west of Durango. Curtis is working with a slate of forest, climate and water specialists to find ways to create healthier forests that are less prone to wildfires and better able to sustain water production as the climate continues to warm up.

“Clearly the southwest is a drier area than the northern parts of Colorado,” Curtis said. “Climatologically we’re closer to a desert and we are at lower latitudes.”

Durango’s Biggs said the city had been planning to build a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse, a federal reservoir built in the early 2000s, at some point in the future to provide access to more storage. But such a project, likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, had been seen as a long-term goal, not an immediate need.

The new analysis has prompted Durango to fast-track the project and to keep its eye on ongoing and new conservation efforts.

“Presenting the data to our decision makers compelled them to move ahead with something we had been thinking about for quite some time,” Biggs said.

“Now, we want to activate this water in the near term. We don’t want to be in a situation where in five years we need it and we still haven’t built the pipeline,” Biggs said.

Durango is working with regional partners including the Southern Ute Tribe, in Ignacio, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, in Towaoc, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and others to see if the pipeline can be built in the next five years and provide benefits to everyone in the region.

“We all know the future is uncertain, but Kurzweil painted a realistic picture that shows that everybody’s sentiments are true. We are going to have to do with less water…so in the same breath when we talk about a pipeline we also have to talk about conservation,” Biggs said.

And it’s not just conservation and storage. Local planners are also thinking about worst-case scenarios and emergency backups.

“It’s really tricky,” Kurzweil said. “When you’re trying to do municipal planning you need to look at not just the day-to-day but at the catastrophic. There is a real-life scenario on the Florida when supply is critically low, and a pipeline breaks and there is wildfire and an unplanned spill.”

“There is a universe where that exists. I hope it’s not ours,” he 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.

Animas River just north of downtown Durango. By Ahodges7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26602754

Vail installs Gutter Bins to stop 27.8 tons of pollution from reaching Gore Creek each year — The #Vail Daily

Photo credit: Frog Creek Partners

Click the link to read the article on the Vail Daily website (Ali Longwell). Here’s an excerpt:

Supported by a Colorado Department of Health and Environment Grant, Frog Creek Partners installed 278 new Gutter Bins throughout town

Last week, a crew from Frog Creek Partners traveled throughout Vail to install Gutter Bin stormwater filtration systems across a quarter of the town’s stormwater drains to capture debris and pollution before it reaches Gore Creek. Each year, these 278 Gutter Bins will stop approximately 27.8 tons (or 55,600 pounds) of pollution from reaching Gore Creek, according to Brian Deurloo, Frog Creek’s president and founder. Vail has a total of 1,100 stormwater inlets — the open grates in the street — that flow to about 550 outfalls in Gore Creek. These open grates are different from sanitary sewers, which take water from items like sinks, toilets and washing machines through a wastewater treatment process before being discharged to the creek…

What this equates to is “a lot of opportunities for pollution to be introduced into Gore Creek through our stormwater system,” said Pete Wadden, the town’s watershed health specialist.

This pollution comes both directly from people dumping things into the stormwater drains or indirectly from the pollutants that run off the roadways, Wadden said. The latter include road salt, sand, cinders, dust from brakes, leaked oil from cars, and more…

…for many years, the town has been seeking cheaper alternatives to capture pollutants. In 2018, Vail discovered Frog Creek Partners’ Gutter Bins and installed several at the public works site and at Stephens Park…

“We’ve been really happy with how they’ve performed. They’re capturing something like 40 to 80 pounds of sediment and trash every six months when we go out and empty them,” Wadden said.

Credit: Frog Creek Partners

Time is ripe for rural climate action: #Colorado Farm & Food Alliance wants to create a model for bringing resources to the regions facing the most severe risk from #ClimateChange — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

(Lance Cheung/USDA/Public Domain Mark 1.0)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Pete Kolbenschlag):

There is no better time to invest in rural Colorado and in climate action. The best science is telling us that the window is still slamming shut for staving off significantly worse effects from climate change. Congress might be focused on the debt limit and spending cuts, but we should not be distracted by the drama.

Still, for those who insist on weighing the price of action or inaction today as a bottom line, take note: The future in which we do not act to avert this cascading catastrophe will be far more expensive than almost any future in which we did.

The good news is that there is more funding available than ever to help rural communities transition into 21st century economies that center conservation, climate action, and prosperity. The catch is that they need to participate to get these resources. And for many small communities, that in itself is a burden that may be too much to overcome.

Smart investment in frontline climate action needs to make it to the regions facing the most severe risk from climate change. It needs to reach the places that have borne and will bear the impacts from past and current fossil fuel activity. And it needs to be accessed by the communities that have the furthest to go to catch up in metrics of prosperity, including income, education, and access to housing, jobs, and services. But many of these places, needing such investments the most, do not have development staff or lobbyists in Denver or Washington, D.C.

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

In response to these constraints, my organization, the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, is seeking to assist the North Fork Valley, where we are based, to find these federal and state partnerships that can bring those resources here. And we want to do it in a way that serves as a model for what rural climate leadership looks like.

Crops below solar panels. Credit: NREL

Recently we were the named recipient in a national prize to spur community solar projects. This award is for a collaborative, community-based project that we are helping lead that will pair solar energy and farming in a practice called agrivoltaics. As exciting as this pilot project is, for us and we hope for others watching, it will truly be a success if it is followed by meaningful investments that make more ideas like this possible — such as state policy changes to smooth the way for rural electric co-ops to facilitate and integrate more community solar projects.

For starters, here are three places where smart state and local policy should align to ensure that historic federal investments are making a difference for rural communities.

  1. Expanding community-based rural renewables
  2. Strengthening land and watershed health and resilience
  3. Boosting and incentivizing farm-based ecosystem services

So, while it is the case that the debt-ceiling debate has shifted media and other attention to competing economic needs and proposals, it is worth recounting why investment now in climate action remains more critical than ever.

In our recent report, “Gunnison Basin-Ground Zero in a Climate Emergency,” we lay out clearly the high stakes of failure to act. It all adds up to more human suffering, declining environmental health, and severe economic hardship. Most importantly, though, and on point, is that this report lays out the path for action. It makes the case that western Colorado is particularly well suited to be a national leader in rural-based climate leadership. But to get there, we need government partners that prioritize those outcomes.

We are grateful for federal investments that can drive this type of thoughtful, innovative and scalable climate action, especially for frontline, transitioning, and disproportionately impacted communities. And certainly, Congress ought not “claw back” or otherwise diminish that funding. Climate action is an imperative and rural America should not be left behind.

So we are also eager to see that investment show up in our communities now. We are ready to make a difference before the window for effective climate action slams shut. There is no more time to delay and an incredible opportunity to act. Smart investment now will help rural Colorado, and help all of us to succeed.

Archuleta County approves funds for septic permitting — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

Septic system

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

On May 16, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved a budget amendment allocating $225,331 in Local Assistance and Tribal Contingency Fund (LATCF) monies received from the federal government to the Development Services Division and $137,428 in LATCF monies to the Public Health Department to support transition to a county health department. The money allocated to Development Services is intended to support the county’s water quality program, including permitting for on- site wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), as well as other environmental health programs that will be the responsibility of the department, according to Finance Director Chad Eaton…

At the request of [Derek] Woodman, [Pamela] Flowers also discussed process changes in the issuing of OWTS permits and the interactions between SJBPH and the county that had slowed the process of construction for new builds. She also mentioned that the county would need to purchase a permit processing system, although she had not chosen one yet…She noted she is working on regu- lations for OWTS that will need to be approved by the county and the state and will provide the basis for permitting in the county.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District board approves $40 million #water plant contract — The #PagosaSprings Sun

The water treatment process

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

At a May 25 special meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved contracts with PCL Construction and Veolia Water Technologies and Solutions for construction of and equipment for the Snowball Water Treatment Plant project. According to the contract with PCL, the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the project is $40,565,680…The meeting opened with District Engineer/Manager Justin Ramsey explaining that the con- tract with PCL is for the construction work on the plant…He added that PCL’s contract costs also include the costs associated with the Veolia and Pall contracts…

[Director Ramsey] also clarified the reasons why PAWSD is undertaking the project, explaining that the main reason is the regulatory requirements of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

‘We’re battling the mountain.’ Debris flows and snow test #Utah canyons: Saturated soils, #snowpack deliver a cleanup mess for authorities — The Deseret News

Types of landslide movement.

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve been here for 11 years now and I have not seen anything like this in that amount of time. This has been one of the biggest snow years we have had. We’ve had localized issues and runoff issues.” — Dave Whittekiend


Tanners Flat Campground in Little Cottonwood Canyon took a particularly hard hit. A bathroom was wiped out. There are downed trees everywhere…Greg McDonald, senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, said a debris flow closed the road in Little Cottonwood Canyon six weeks ago. It caused substantial damage, only to be followed by another one a couple of weeks later. The sloughing off of a mountainside is because of overly saturated soils that simply give way to the movement of the ground…

West snowpack basin-filled map April 16, 2023 via the NRCS.

The winter has spoken. Record snowpack. Elevated Great Salt Lake levels. Landslides and over-the-top records for stream flows. Raging rivers and streams and yet more to come. Anyone in the business of hydrology, meteorology, geology, water supply and public safety knows it is a fickle game, from year to year.

2023 #COleg: Governor Polis Signs Bipartisan Bills into Law in Eastern #Colorado

The Arikaree River in 2000 in early summer, when water is near its maximum extent. Photo: Kurt Fausch

From email from Governor Polis’ office:

YUMA – Today [June 3, 2023], Governor Polis is signing legislation into law.

“Water is the lifeblood of our state, which is why I was proud to be in Yuma County today to sign legislation right here in the Republican River Basin that builds upon our data-driven approach to preserving and protecting our precious water resources,” said Gov. Polis. “Making sure that Coloradans can access high-quality, affordable health care has been our top priority since day one, and I look forward to signing legislation today at Byers Health Care Clinic to save people money on health care and cut red tape.”

This morning in Yuma, Gov. Polis signed the bipartisan HB23-1220 Study Republican River Groundwater Economic Impact sponsored by Representatives Richard Holtorf and Karen McCormick, Senators Byron Pelton and Rod Pelton, to take a data-driven approach to understanding the economics of groundwater conservation in the Republican River Basin, while helping to ensure that Colorado continues meeting the obligations spelled out in our interstate compacts. 

At the Byers Health Care Clinic in Byers, Gov. Polis will sign the bipartisan SB23-298 Allow Public Hospital Collaboration Agreements – Representatives Karen McCormick and Rod Bockenfeld, Senators Bob Gardner and Dylan Roberts to encourage collaborative agreements between rural hospitals while maintaining adequate oversight to ensure rural Coloradans can maintain needed hospital services in their local areas. Rural hospitals provide lifesaving access to care for Coloradans and are often hubs for local economies and crucial job-providers, and ensuring they can work together helps to cut red tape and save Coloradans money on health care. 

New report: State of the Science on Restoring Western Headwater Mountain Streams

Trail Creek, Gunnison County, CO | Photo by Jackie Corday

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Hannah Holm):

As western mountain snowpacks diminish and wildfires race across parched landscapes, appreciation has grown for the moist mountain meadows and wetlands that hold water up high, feeding streams throughout the summer and providing fire-resistant refuges for wildlife. Before beavers and their dams were largely eliminated by the fur trade, these natural water storage features and refuges were common across western states’ mountain landscapes.

Beavers added to a LTPBR structure installed on Beaver Creek, Gunnison County, CO

The removal of beavers and other land disturbances have led many creeks to cut deeper into their valleys and detach from their floodplains, dropping the water table and drying out the landscape. A growing field of stream restoration, known as low-tech process-based restoration (LTPBR), seeks to reverse these changes through methods that mimic beaver activity in hopes of enticing them to return.

Projects across the west have demonstrated the benefits of LTPBR on the landscape. Projects have improved water quality, provided important habitat, trapped sediment, increased riparian vegetation and forage, and bolstered resilience against drought, fire, and floods. These benefits are achieved by installing low-tech, hand-built structures, creating “speedbumbs” that enable water from snowmelt and storms to spread across the riparian area, slowing peak flows and recharging groundwater. The rewetted soil “sponge” supports healthy riparian vegetation and reduces wildfire risks.

LTPBR project on Beaver Creek, Gunnison County, CO

As LTPBR projects have proliferated across western states, both excitement about their benefits and questions about potential impacts have grown. A new report from American Rivers reviews the published science and case study information on LTPBR to better understand the full range of benefits these projects can provide, and provides scientific evidence to address potential concerns. The report finds ample evidence for LTPBR benefiting habitat and buffering the impacts of droughts, floods, and wildfires, but concludes that more research is needed to better understand the full suite of ecosystem service benefits. It also provides insights on how to address human and social factors related to LTPBR projects, such as mitigating beaver dam impacts to infrastructure.



Paper: An Historical Perspective on the Accounting for Evaporation and System Losses in the Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin — Eric Kuhn and John Fleck #COriver #aridification

Diagram credit: USGS

Click the link to access the paper on the SSRN website (Eric Kuhn and John Fleck). Here’s the abstract:


Water management of the Lower Colorado River has long sidestepped the questions of how to account for and assess the impact of reservoir evaporation and system losses. To date, the preferred strategy has been to ignore those losses. The hydrologic gap left by this approach, which leaves an imbalance between the water flowing into Lake Mead and the amount released for downstream users, has been covered by simply releasing water stored in Lake Mead from the wet decade of the 1990s ensuring that no user bears the brunt of a legal interpretation that might reduce their supply. This disconnect between the river’s allocation framework and hydrologic reality is the result of longstanding governance failures by the U.S. and the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California, and Nevada – including failure of the U.S. to factor in reservoir and system losses in the 1944 Treaty with Mexico and failure of the states to negotiate a Lower Basin compact to apportion their share of the river.

Paper: The Devil they Knew:Chemical Documents Analysis of IndustryInfluence on #PFAS Science — Annals of Global Health

Credit: Gaber et al. Annals of Global Health

Click the link to read the paper on the Annals of Global Health website (Nadia Gaber, Lisa Bero, and Tracey J. Woodruff). Here’s the abstract:

Background: Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of widely-used chemicals that persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans and animals, becoming an increasing cause for global concern. While PFAS have been commercially produced since the 1940s, their toxicity was not publicly established until the late 1990s. The objective of this paper is to evaluate industry documents on PFAS and compare them to the public health literature in order to understand this consequential delay.

Methods: We reviewed a collection of previously secret industry documents archived at the UCSF Chemical Industry Documents Library, examining whether and how strategies of corporate manipulation of science were used by manufacturers of PFAS. Using well established methods of document analysis, we developed deductive codes to assess industry influence on the conduct and publication of research. We also conducted a literature review using standard search strategies to establish when scientific information on the health effects of PFAS became public.

Results: Our review of industry documents shows that companies knew PFAS was “highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when ingested” by 1970, forty years before the public health community. Further, the industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical and other industries to influence science and regulation – most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse. We did not find evidence in this archive of funding favorable research or targeted dissemination of those results.

Conclusions: The lack of transparency in industry-driven research on industrial chemicals has significant legal, political and public health consequences. Industry strategies to suppress scientific research findings or early warnings about the hazards of industrial chemicals can be analyzed and exposed, in order to guide prevention.


  1. This paper analyses how the chemical industry, using industry documents, delayed disclosing the harms of PFAS, costing billions of dollars in health and environmental damages globally.
  2. Many countries are pursuing legal and legislative action to curb PFAS production that may be aided by the timeline of evidence presented here.
  3. The production of chemical toxicity research should be in the best interest of protecting the public’s health, including designing the research question, funding studies, and publishing favorable and unfavorable findings.
  4. Legal settlements against chemical manufacturers should include documents disclosure in order to ensure transparency and accountability for industries and their products.
  5. Public health and environmental policy makers should move towards precautionary principles of chemical regulation.


This paper examines previously secret documents held by DuPont and 3M, the largest manufacturers of PFAS, also called “forever chemicals.” We show how the chemical industry used the tactics of the tobacco industry to delay public awareness of the toxicity of PFAS and, in turn, delayed regulations governing their use. PFAS are now ubiquitous in the population and environment. Consumer awareness can advance calls for safer products by demanding publicly available studies of harm. Public pressure can also influence legislators to pass more health-protective environmental and
chemical regulations.

As the U.S. Supreme Court debates a Navajo #water rights case, #ClimateChange adds new questions — AZCentral.com

Navajo Mountain March 2023. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the AZCentral.com website (Joan Meiners). Here’s an excerpt:

“About 30, 40 years ago, we used to have plenty of rain,” [Percy] Deal said. “And there was a natural spring where water came out on its own. I remember when I was a little boy herding sheep, there was at least two or three places where the water came out. Those springs are dry now. People used to plant corn, squash, potatoes, beans and things like that. Now the ground is so dry that plants don’t grow anymore.”

News of water shortages, exacerbated by climate change, population growth, mining and other development, is everywhere these days in the American Southwest. But on the Navajo Reservation, a sovereign tribal nation that sits on about 16 million acres in northeast Arizona, southern Utah and western New Mexico, nearly 10,000 homes have never had running water.

How that can and should be resolved is one aspect of a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20, with the justices’ decision due any day now…

In Arizona v. Navajo Nation (which has been consolidated with the case termed “Department of the Interior v. Navajo Nation”), tribal attorneys argue that, by not providing their nation with sufficient water, the United States has breached a trust obligation related to treaties settled in 1849 and 1868. 

At issue is the idea of what it means to “provide” water. All parties agree that the Navajo Nation has reserved water rights, termed Winters rights, that are supposed to “fulfill the purposes of the reservation,” including home and agricultural use. As the oldest users of water in this region, their rights also predate, and therefore outrank, those currently hotly contested between the seven Colorado River Basin states — Arizona, California, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming. 

Navajo Reservoir 2023 Spring Release Update June 1, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Aerial image of entrenched meanders of the San Juan River within Goosenecks State Park. Located in San Juan County, southeastern Utah (U.S.). Credits Constructed from county topographic map DRG mosaic for San Juan County from USDA/NRCS – National Cartography & Geospatial Center using Global Mapper 12.0 and Adobe Illustrator. Latitude 33° 31′ 49.52″ N., Longitude 111° 37′ 48.02″ W. USDA/FSA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From email from Reclamation Western Colorado Area Office:

The Bureau of Reclamation has reduced the release from 4,600 cfs to 4,300 cfs this morning at 8:30 AM to allow local emergency management entities to assess and respond to conditions on the ground downstream of Navajo Dam.  Reclamation will continue working closely with emergency management during this managed release and a notice will be sent out prior to the next release change.

Areas in the immediate vicinity of the river channel may be unstable and dangerous. River crossing may change and be impassable as flows increase. Please use extra caution near the river channel and protect or remove any valuable property in these areas. 

Please stay tuned as a notice with an updated schedule will be sent out daily during the release. Notices will also be posted to our website along with the latest release schedule. http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/notice/nav_rel.html

For more information, please see the following resources below:  

Bureau of Reclamation:  

• Susan Behery, Hydrologic Engineer, Reclamation WCAO (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560).   

• Navajo Dam website: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html  

• Navajo Dam Release Notices: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/notice/nav_rel.html  

• Colorado River Basin Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/coloradoriverbasin  

San Juan County, New Mexico, Office of Emergency Management:  

• Website: https://www.sjcoem.net  

• SJOEM River Page: https://www.sjcounty.net/river  

• Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/oemsjc  

San Juan County, Utah, Office of Emergency Management:  

• Website: https://sanjuancounty.org/emergency-management  

• San Juan County Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SanJuanUtah/  

Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management:  

• Website: https://ndem.navajo-nsn.gov/  

• Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/nndem2020/

The amount of drought (D1-D4) on the US #DroughtMonitor decreased to 18.95%. It’s been three years since there was so little #drought in the Lower 48 — @DroughtDenise

US Drought Monitor map May 23, 2023.

The amount of abnormal dryness (D0), however, exploded across the Midwest to the East Coast, jumping by 9.45%.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 23, 2023.
CONUS percent area in US Drought Monitor May 30, 2023.

Thoughts on the Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin #Water Deal — Sibley’s Rivers #COriver #aridification

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

A short post, to catch up on Colorado River current events. As you probably know, if you haven’t been living in a media-free cave, the three Colorado River states below the canyon region have proposed another alternative plan for saving the River’s reservoir system.

Their proposal, for answering the Interior Department’s call for cuts of at least two million acre-feet (maf) of water annually, is to cut three maf total over the next three years – and they want 1.2 billion dollars from the federal government to execute their plan.

Their plan is basically to pay farmers to voluntarily fallow some of their land. They say they will do half of the cuts – 1.5 maf – in 2024, the remainder over the following two years. Beyond that, there are no firm details at this writing as to how much of the cuts will come from each state, how much they will be paying farmers, et cetera.

Basically, what it looks like on the surface of it, is that the Lower Basin states have countered the Bureau’s four existing scenarios – two from the Bureau of Reclamation, one from California, and one from the other six River states – with an offer to do half of the minimumcuts the Bureau said we need, and they want a billion dollars to do it. What a deal.

If their plan to pay farmers to leave the water in the system sounds familiar, that may be because the four Upper Basin States tried a similar plan this year, the System Conservation Pilot Program, with a fund of $125 million from the ill-named Inflation Reduction Act. Upper Basin farmers did not rush to take up the offer. Only 88 submitted applications to participate, of which around 20 percent were rejected; the remainder will, if things work out as projected, save 39,000 acre-feet at a cost of $16 million. That is a very small piece of two million acre-feet.

The High Line Canal is an irrigation ditch built in the 1880s. Denver Water still uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers when conditions allow. Photo credit: Denver Water.

It has been said that farming – especially irrigated farming – is a calling, not an occupation. I have heard farmers and ranchers talk about ‘a working contract with the land,’ and in the Upper Basin at least there seems to be something almost offensive to many farmers about the idea of being paid to not farm some of their land. Ranchers in the Upper Gunnison say it takes up to five years to bring a hayfield back to full productivity after a year of no water (or very little). We’ll see, I guess, if Lower River farmers have the same basic feelings….

A further reason for the low turnout for the Upper Basin’s System Conservation Program might be that Upper Basin farmers believe – correctly enough – that the two million acre-foot ‘structural deficit’ is not their problem and they should not be expected to exercise themselves to help deal with it. A logical enough response when working with a Compact that, as one of the Compact commissioners said, is ‘almost making two rivers out of one in the Colorado River.’ The ‘Glen Canyon Wall’ near Lee Ferry eliminated that ‘almost.’ There has been no indication from the Lower River states that they would be merciful to the Upper River states, should the drought (not ‘caused’ by the Upper States) drive the available flow past Lee Ferry below the Compact allotment; so why should the Upper River states feel empathy for the Lower Basin states?

It was reported in the national media, by the way, that the Upper Basin states have ‘accepted’ the Lower Basin’s proposal. They have not, yet. The four Upper states merely said it was okay for the plan to be evaluated along with the other four proposals in the Bureau’s ‘Supplemental Environmental Impact Study.’

West snowpack basin-filled map April 16, 2023 via the NRCS.

All that noted – the Lower Basin proposal will probably be accepted for a variety of reasons. One reason is that the runoff from a good snowpack is probably going to give temporary relief on the reservoir levels; we should end the water year with both Powell and Mead Reservoirs higher than they were at the beginning of the year (water year is October to October), and that provides a little breathing room. (Keep in mind, though, that the Bureau first issued its major warning and challenge in 2022, saying that big reductions had to happen beginning in 2023. Now, nothing big will happen until 2024. Pray for snow next winter too.)

Another reason the proposal will probably be accepted is because if any of the other four proposals were to be chosen by the Bureau, one or more of the Lower Basin states would sue the government. There might be an element of desperation to both the gambit of promising to try to deliver only half of the requested cuts, and to the threat to sue if asked to deliver the whole 2 maf/year. The Bureau wants the Lower River region that serves a tenth of the national population and produces most of our winter fresh green stuff to cut their water use by almost one third – and do it next year. That’s a big request, maybe an unreasonable request.

Never mind that, had the Bureau and the seven Basin states been living in the real world, they would have taken care of the ‘structural deficit’ decades ago, with a gradual drop in Lower River use, reflecting the growth of use in the Upper River states that was eating into the so-called ‘surplus’ that the Lower Basin had grown to depend on take care of its system losses, and also its half of the allotment to Mexico.

And a final reason why their proposal will probably be accepted? 2024 is a presidential election year, with the current administration on the line, and both Arizona and Nevada are important swing states. ‘Nuff said.

It will come down to whether, next year, the three Lower River states can find enough farmers and cities willing to voluntarily give up a million and a half acre-feet of water next year. Tucson and the Gila River Indians have already made commitments. Meanwhile – pray for snow next winter.

Map credit: AGU

Will #ColoradoRiver cuts create a new Dust Bowl?: Plus: A little ditty on the water-energy-water nexus — @Land_Desk #COriver #aridification

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

In the comments section of last week’s Land Desk dispatch on the Lower Basin states’ Colorado River deal, reader Ann Bond had some interesting questions/points that I figured I’d address. I’ll try to sum up Ann’s questions, first:

  1. What effect will fallowing thousands of acres of fields have? Will it lead to another Dust Bowl? 
  2. Is the electricity from the dams used to deliver water (e.g. to power the pumps for the Central Arizona Project)?
  3. And what purpose do the two reservoirs (Powell and Mead) serve in the system and how does that factor into the bargaining between the states?

I’ll just explore the first two today, since that’s all I have room for.

My short answer for question #1 is: I don’t know. One of the problems with the deal is that very few details have been made public, so it’s difficult to understand what ramifications it might have. 

But we do know that the Lower Basin states plan to come up with 3 million acre-feet of water over three years — or about 1 million acre-feet per year — by paying water users to slash consumption. Federal funds will be used to reimburse folks for 2.3 million acre-feet of those cuts, while state, local, or other funds will be used for the remaining 700,000 acre-feet. It’s fair to guess that a bulk of these savings will be realized by paying farmers not to irrigate their crops, since agriculture is by far the biggest user of Colorado River water, and that makes more logistical sense than paying folks not to water their lawn. So that’s a good place to start.

I’ve also read reports saying the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single water user in the Basin, plans to give up 250,000 acre-feet per year (which will be included in the above amounts).

One of the most abundant crops in the Colorado River Basin is hay, primarily alfalfa. It is also one of the thirstiest crops. Growing one acre of alfalfa guzzles around four acre-feet of water per year, depending on location, climate and length of growing season. In Colorado’s high-elevation, cool San Luis Valley, alfalfa consumes about two acre-feet per year; in California’s sea-level Imperial Valley — one of the hottest places in the nation — the crop can require more than six acre-feet of water per year.

Since the fallowing is likely to occur in hot, dry southern Arizona and California, we’ll go with the six-acre-feet-annually figure. That would mean that in order to reach the target water cuts, irrigation would have to be stopped on a total of 167,000 acres of alfalfa fields, or roughly three-fourths the size of the Salton Sea. Targeting less thirsty crops would require fallowing a larger amount of acreage. About 42,000 acres of that would be in the Imperial Irrigation District, assuming the fields they fallowed were alfalfa. For some more context: An MIT study found you’d need 90,000 acres of solar panels to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s generation.

So, yeah, it’s a lot of acreage, and ceasing irrigation on that land could very well turn it into desiccated weed patches. Maybe it won’t be Dust Bowl kinda stuff for now, but it could get ugly, especially in a dry summer. In the San Joaquin Valley in California, for example, a groundwater management program (no relation to the Colorado River crisis) is forcing farmers to fallow fields, which is leading to serious dust and air quality problems

The Imperial Valley is next to the Salton Sea, where the air — and residents’ lungs — is already thick with dust. Fallowing all of the Valley’s alfalfa fields surely would further exacerbate the problem. At this point it’s not clear where fields will be fallowed, only that some will be in California and some in Arizona (Nevada uses almost all of its Colorado River water for municipal uses in Las Vegas and surrounding communities). 

Media outlets have reported that the states plan to pay those farmers $1.2 billion from the federal Inflation Reduction Act. That would put a $521 price tag on each acre-foot of water not going onto a field. Using the 6 acre-foot per acre of alfalfa figure, that would mean an Imperial Valley farmer could get more than $3,000 per acre to not grow anything.  

That’s not a bad deal. According to the UC Davis cropland data layer site, Imperial Valley farmers harvested 144,000 acres of alfalfa hay in 2020. They produced 1.14 million tons of alfalfa hay, valued at $200.44 million — or an average of $1,391 per acre. In other words, the farmers could bring in twice the revenue for not farming than for farming their acreage.

But it would also reduce the supply of alfalfa, causing prices to increase, which would likely ripple through the beef and dairy industries, where most of that alfalfa goes. That, in turn, could eventually make its way down to the ice cream and cheese aisles at your local grocery store. 

2. The second point Ann made was that moving water from the Colorado River to fields and cities takes a lot of energy, including the power generated by the dams on the Colorado River. So when irrigators reduce their Colorado River water use it’s leaving more water in the river, which can generate more energy when run through the dams’ turbines, which can move more water to the fields … Woah, I am getting dizzy here. 

It’s a classic example of the water-energy nexus or, in this case, the water-energy-water nexus, one of my favorite topics.

Glen Canyon, Hoover, and several other dams on the Colorado River system are hydroelectric, meaning as water runs through them, it can be routed through turbines, generating power. As reservoir levels drop, so does the power generation capacity of the dam. And if the reservoir levels fall below the openings to the penstocks — or tubes leading to the turbines — then power production ceases altogether.

This freaks folks out in these climate changed times for good reason: The warmer it is, the more power we need to run air conditioners, and the more water irrigators need to put on their crops, meaning more power is needed to move that water. But the warmer it is, the lower the reservoirs and the less power we have. Ack!

The Central Arizona Project is one of the biggest water-moving projects on the Colorado River. Its pumps pull water from the Colorado River at Lake Havasu and move it 336 miles across the Arizona desert (in an uncovered canal, allowing massive amounts of water to evaporate), with a total elevation gain of more than 2,900 feet. That takes a buttload of energy. In fact, it takes so much power that the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station was built in large part to run the CAP pumps. 

2 million megawatthours: Annual power consumption of the Central Arizona Project pumps. 

2 million megawatthours: Annual power consumption of the five pumping stations on the Colorado River Aqueduct, which delivers water to Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

2.5 million megawatthours: Annual power output of Glen Canyon Dam in 2022

3.9 million megawatthours: Annual power output of Glen Canyon Dam in 2008

1.5 million megawatthours: Annual power output of Hoover Dam in 2022

259 million megawatthours: California’s annual power consumption.

The Navajo Generating Station was retired in December 2019, forcing the CAP to find power from elsewhere. Now the project gets 70% to 80% of its power from market forward and short-term purchases; 12% to 15% from the Salt River Project electric utility; 6% from Hoover dam; and 4% from a solar installation. About half the power for the Colorado River Aqueduct pumps comes from Hoover and Parker dams, with the rest coming from a mix of market purchases and hydroelectric generation within the Aqueduct system.

And then there’s the question of how much of the dams’ electricity goes toward moving water around. The Western Area Power Administration markets the electricity from Glen Canyon Dam and 56 other hydropower dams. Here’s a breakdown of who purchases that power:

While only 4% goes to irrigation districts, you can assume that portions of many of the other categories go to moving water or treating it. So if the hydropower capacity of the dams were to shrink or vanish altogether, all of these customers — including the water folks — would have to find new sources of electricity.

U.S. Supreme Court Decision Threatens Waterways that Birds (and People) Need: The Court’s ruling in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency removes crucial protections for wetlands, limiting the Clean Water Act — Audubon

Sora rail. Photo credit: Claudio Contreras Koob

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

“This Supreme Court ruling weakens our federal standards for clean water, threatening our ability to protect ecosystems and landscapes needed for birds and communities across the country,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Audubon’s Vice President for Water Conservation.

“Federal experts will no longer be able to require certain development permits in America’s decimated wetlands. This decision undermines Clean Water Act protections for many types of waterways that birds and people need, all while birds are telling us that more action is needed to protect their future.”

In today’s [May 25, 2023] ruling, the United States Supreme Court curtailed the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to regulate “waters of the United States”. While the Clean Water Act includes regulatory definitions for most large bodies of water and rivers, smaller waterways which may be seasonal or disconnected are not as clearly defined. Today’s ruling limits the ability of the agencies to permit activities on many of these smaller waterways and means that unregulated development can occur in many of these areas.

With the loss of 3 billion birds in the past 50 years—in part due to dwindling wetlands and significant development of natural spaces—and Audubon science showing that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change, action is needed to protect the water bodies and habitat that birds need to survive. Waters throughout the United States like seasonal streams and isolated wetlands serve as essential habitat for birds and other wildlife. These water bodies provide crucial sources of drinking water, food, and nutrition for birds. Birds also uses lakes, streams, and wetlands for breeding and nesting, as well as for rest stops during long migratory journeys.

Wetlands and seasonal streams provide more than just critical bird habitat—they also provide us with nature’s filters to clean our drinking water and protect us from storms, floods, and other climatic stressors. Too many low-income communities, Tribal communities, and communities of color do not have consistent access to safe, affordable drinking water and strong protections under the Clean Water Act are needed to support these communities.

“More than fifty years ago, Congress came together in a bipartisan manner to pass the Clean Water Act,” said Hill-Gabriel. “We all need clean water to survive and thrive and this ruling means that there are now fewer tools in the toolbox for our federal agencies to protect vital habitats and waterways for birds and people.”

Audubon will continue working with state and local decision-makers to strengthen protections for waterways that birds need.

#Drought news June 1, 2023: Two inches or more of rain fell in localized parts of northeast #Colorado and W. #Kansas

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

The upper-level circulation over the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week (May 24-30) was dominated by three features: a trough over the West, a ridge that extended from the southern Plains to the Great Lakes, and a cutoff low over the Southeast. This pattern resulted in targeted areas of precipitation, some of it heavy, while large parts of the CONUS received little to no precipitation. Pacific weather systems moved across the West, but their fronts stalled out when they ran into the ridge over the Plains. The northwesterly flow associated with the trough inhibited precipitation across parts of the West, so the week was wetter than normal only from the Great Basin to northern Rockies. A southerly flow over the Plains was created between the western trough and eastern ridge. This flow funneled Gulf of Mexico moisture across the Plains. The moisture fed thunderstorms and weather complexes that developed along the stalled-out fronts and dry lines, resulting in above-normal precipitation across western portions of the Great Plains from Texas to Montana. Several inches of rain fell with some of these thunderstorms, resulting in localized flooding. The ridge inhibited precipitation, so a large part of the country from the Mississippi River to the Northeast received little to no precipitation. The exception to this was the Southeast, where the cutoff low pulled in Gulf and Atlantic moisture to spread above-normal precipitation across much of Florida and the Carolinas to Appalachians. Weekly temperatures averaged cooler than normal from the southern Plains to East Coast, but they were warmer than normal across the northern Plains and northern parts of the West. Abnormal dryness or drought spread across a large part of the Midwest and Northeast, and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted across the Florida peninsula, across large areas in the western Great Plains, and in northwest Puerto Rico…

High Plains

Locally heavy rain fell over western parts of the High Plains region while eastern parts had a dry week. Several stations in southwest Nebraska received over 5 inches of rain during this USDM week, with 10 inches reported near McCook. The rain replenished soil moisture, but caused extensive flooding. The rain caused a 2-category improvement in drought conditions in southwest Nebraska. Two inches or more of rain fell in localized parts of northeast Colorado, western Kansas, northeast Wyoming, and the western Dakotas, prompting pullback of abnormal dryness or moderate to exceptional drought. But continued dry conditions in the eastern portions of the region resulted in expansion of abnormal dryness or moderate drought in the Dakotas, abnormal dryness to extreme drought in eastern Kansas, and severe to exceptional drought in eastern Nebraska. Based on May 28 USDA data, 69% of the winter wheat crop in Kansas and 51% in Nebraska was in poor to very poor condition, and more than 40% of the topsoil moisture was short or very short in Nebraska (57%), Kansas (50%), and South Dakota (46%). More than two-thirds of the subsoil moisture was short or very short in Nebraska (75%) and Kansas (68%)…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 30, 2023.


Half an inch of rain fell over parts of northern California and from Nevada to the northern Rockies, with much of Montana receiving 2 or more inches. Eastern parts of New Mexico were soaked by 2 to locally over 4 inches of rain, with over 7 inches recorded near Texico. But the rest of the southern third of the West region, and most of Oregon and Washington, received little to no precipitation. D1-D3 were pulled back in eastern New Mexico, and D0-D2 were trimmed in Montana. But D0 expanded in parts of Oregon and Washington where the last 30 days have been unusually warm and dry, soils were drying, and streamflow was decreasing, and D0-D1 expanded in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent southwest Montana. May 28 USDA data revealed 60% of the topsoil moisture in Oregon, 52% in New Mexico, and 48% in Washington was short or very short…


Western parts of the South region were wet, while eastern parts were mostly dry. Extreme eastern Tennessee received some rain from the Southeast’s cutoff low, but dry conditions dominated across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. D0 expanded in parts of these states. Heavy rain inundated parts of western Texas and Oklahoma, causing contraction of abnormal dryness and moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought. Over 5 inches of rain was recorded at several stations in the Texas panhandle. Soils were wet, streamflow was high, and 6-month precipitation deficits were erased across much of the Texas panhandle. D3 (extreme drought) expanded in Oklahoma just east of where it rained. May 28 USDA data revealed 40% of the winter wheat crop in Texas was in poor to very poor condition…

Looking Ahead

For June 1-6, an upper-level ridge will dominate the middle part of North America, bringing above-normal temperatures to the north central states and Pacific Northwest. Upper-level troughs and closed lows will cover much of the West and New England, bringing cooler-than-normal temperatures to New England and southern parts of the West to the southern Plains. Like the last 7 days, a southerly flow of Gulf of Mexico moisture will feed showers and storms that develop from the Rockies to the Mississippi River during the next 7 days. An inch or more of rain is forecast from the southern Plains to northern Rockies, with locally 4 inches or more from the Texas panhandle to southern Kansas, and locally 2 inches or more in parts of Colorado to Montana. A fourth of an inch or more can be expected from California’s Sierra Nevada to the Great Basin, across the northern Plains to Mississippi Valley, in the Tennessee Valley, across the Gulf of Mexico coast, and along the Appalachians to Northeast. New England may see over an inch of rain, while much of the Florida peninsula will be inundated with another 2+ inches of rain. Little to no precipitation is predicted for the eastern Great Lakes to Ohio Valley, the interior Southeast, and southern and western portions of the West.

For June 6-14, a warmer-than-normal pattern is likely for the Pacific Northwest to western Great Lakes, the northern half of Alaska, and the Alaska panhandle, with cooler-than-normal temperatures across southern portions of the West, the southern Plains, and from the Appalachians to New England. Odds favor wetter-than-normal conditions across the West, southern Plains, western portions of the central to northern Plains, and the southwest half of Alaska, with drier-than-normal conditions across the Great Lakes, Upper Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley, and northeast Alaska.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 30, 2023.

US topsoil moisture rated very short/short jumped 10% to 36% nationwide this week, the biggest increase since June 2022, per the USDA’s Brad Rippey — @DroughtDenise

Soil moisture is dropping rapidly in the mid-South, Midwest and Northeast.

#ColoradoRiver District hosts annual State of the River meeting in #Granby — Sky-Hi News #COriver #aridification

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

Click the link to read the article on the Sky-Hi News website (Kyle McCabe). Here’s an excerpt:

The river district’s Public Relations Director Marielle Cowdin spoke about the district’s work. She highlighted the Colorado River’s crisis, saying that the increased precipitation over the last year will not save the river…Cowdin talked about the water consumption differences between the upper and lower basin states, highlighting that upper basin states make cuts more effectively because they do not have massive reservoirs like Lake Mead or Lake Powell to rely on in drier years. 

“Between 2020 and 2021, the four upper basin states cut our water consumption by 1 million acre-feet — just on our own because the water wasn’t there,” Cowdin said. “Instead of about 4.5 million acre-feet of water use, in that year timeframe, we only used 3.5 (million).”

The lower basin states’ 2020-21 consumption went up 600,000 acre-feet from their average use, Cowdin said. The annual water usage split between the states has been about 60%, or around 8.8 million acre-feet, used by the lower basin versus 30%, or around 4.4 million acre-feet, used by the upper basin, with the remaining water going to Mexico…

The next speaker, Rebecca Mitchell, the Colorado Water Conservation Board director and Colorado’s commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission, was the special guest at the event. She spoke about the Bureau of Reclamation’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and news that broke about it the day of the meeting. Mitchell explained that the bureau’s SEIS came after the lower basin states did not respond to the bureau’s June 2022 announcement that states needed to cut 2-4 million acre-feet. That announcement, she said, was not a surprise to those working on the Colorado River…Differences between the upper and lower basin states came up several times in Mitchell’s talk. She mentioned that the six-state plan, which included all states besides California, acknowledged that the upper states have shortages annually because, unlike the lower states, they do not have huge reservoirs from which to draw…On May 22, the day of the meeting, the bureau announced a pause on the SEIS. Mitchell explained that the lower basin states had presented a plan which included temporary cuts that would amount to 3 million acre-feet from 2024-26 but provided few details on how cuts would be enforced.

“​​Instead of coming up with 2-4 million on an annual basis, they were like, ‘Hey, there’s all this money … we can kick the can a little bit more, and we can use this money and make some temporary changes,” Mitchell said of the lower basin states.

Water vs. growth: #Colorado communities, developers struggle to juggle both: Developers look for more incentives to aid bottom line; cities, towns employ variety of strategies in face of constrained #water supplies — The #Denver Post

A small yard in Sterling Ranch, a Douglas County community that is the first in the state to undertake a rainwater harvesting project. June 27, 2022. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Judith Kohler). Here’s an excerpt:

Across the Denver area, local governments, water utilities, homebuilders and developers are employing a number of strategies to meet the demands for housing, respond to growth and strive to ensure the long-term supply of the resource essential to a future in this semi-arid region: water. Agriculture consumes the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, about 90%, while municipal uses account for 7% of the total.

“When you start off with that number, I think it’s really easy for people to say, ‘Why does municipal water use even matter? Why are we even worried or focused on this?’ That’s a question I answer a lot,” said Lindsay Rogers, a water policy analyst with Western Resource Advocates.

One response is that state water planners say municipalities could face a shortfall of as much as 740,000 acre-feet of water by 2050…

Harold Smethills, Sterling Ranch co-founder and chairman, doesn’t want to see large portions of Colorado’s agricultural land dried up. Smethills, who has a ranch, leases land on the development south of Chatfield State Park to a cattle operation…No water-thirsty Kentucky bluegrass is allowed at Sterling Ranch, which has about 5,000 residents. The company worked with the Denver Botanic Gardens to identify roughly 155 different plants that use less water, many with the added bonus of attracting bees and other pollinators. The water meters in the homes tracks indoor and outdoor use and have revealed leaks when staff at the Dominion Water and Sanitation District noticed water use shoot up. Residents are also able to keep an eye on their water bills.

#NewMexico Governor Lujan Grisham calls out U.S. Supreme Court #WOTUS Decision as ‘devastating’ to New Mexico’s waters — The Carlsbad Current Argus

Birds and water at Bosque de Apache New Mexico November 9, 2022. Photo credit: Abby Burk

Click the link to read the article on the Carlsbad Current Argus website (Adrian Hedden). Here’s an excerpt:

New Mexico’s state leaders criticized the Republican-led U.S. Supreme Court for a recent decision that could limit protections for waterways throughout the arid state. The Supreme Court issued a judgement on May 25 in Sackett vs. the U.S. EPA, ultimately finding the Clean Water Act (CWA) only applied to wetlands that are directly connected to permanent bodies of water…The opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito, with the other members issuing concurring opinions in the case.

“In sum, we hold that the CWA extends to only those ‘wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States in their own right, so that they are ‘indistinguishable’ from those waters,” read Alito’s opinion. “This holding compels reversal here. The wetlands on the Sacketts’ property are distinguishable from any possibly covered waters.”

But New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham contended the decision weakened the Clean Water Act and could put many of New Mexico’s fragmented rivers and streams at risk. In a statement following the verdict, Lujan Grisham said she was “appalled” and contended the ruling would leave 90 percent of New Mexico’s waters without federal protection from development. Lujan Grisham said her administration planned to study how state law could be used to fill any “regulatory gaps” created by the Supreme Court ruling to protect the state’s limited water resources.

Local rescuers busy with high #water — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

The Grand Junction Fire Department has conducted five river rescues since May 1, according to spokesperson Ellis Thompson-Ellis. Training for river rescues has been a priority for the department of late, as people have underestimated the current conditions and their own skill levels. The Colorado River near Palisade was discharging at between 17,000 and 17,500 cubic feet per second, well above the median for this time of year, which is around 8,000 cfs, and the Gunnison River near Grand Junction is discharging at around 13,000 cfs, also well above the median of around 6,500 cfs. Those high waters have closed multiple sections of the Riverfront Trail, and the city of Grand Junction is warning people away from the River Park at Las Colonias.

Colorado River at Los Colonias Park in Grand Junction May 23, 2023.

Navajo Reservoir operations update May 29, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

The Bureau of Reclamation is continuing to schedule release changes for the spring peak release from Navajo Reservoir.  

The current release is 4,000 cfs. The next release changes are scheduled to occur as follows: 

Date Time Release 
Tuesday, May 30th 10:00 AM 4,300 cfs 
Wednesday, May 31st  10:00 AM 4,600 cfs 
Thursday, June 1st 10:00 AM 5,000 cfs 

Release changes are made based on river conditions and coordination with federal, state, and local agencies.  

The shape and timing of the hydrograph have been coordinated with the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program to balance Recovery Program benefits with flood control and operational safety. During spring operations, releases from the Navajo Unit will be made in an attempt to remain at or below the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers safe channel capacity of 5,000 cfs between Navajo Reservoir and the confluence with the Animas River in Farmington, and 12,000 cfs downstream of Farmington.  The release may be changed or reduced if the precipitation forecast shows a risk of exceeding safe channel capacity in the San Juan River. 

Areas in the immediate vicinity of the river channel may be unstable and dangerous. River crossing may change and be impassable as flows increase. Please use extra caution near the river channel and protect or remove any valuable property in these areas. 

Notices will be posted to our website along with the latest release schedule.http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/notice/nav_rel.html 

For more information, please see the following resources below:  

Bureau of Reclamation:  

• Susan Behery, Hydrologic Engineer, Reclamation WCAO (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560).   

• Navajo Dam website: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html  

• Navajo Dam Release Notices: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/notice/nav_rel.html  

• Colorado River Basin Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/coloradoriverbasin  

San Juan County, New Mexico, Office of Emergency Management:  

• Website: https://www.sjcoem.net  

• SJOEM River Page: https://www.sjcounty.net/river  

• Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/oemsjc  

San Juan County, Utah, Office of Emergency Management:  

• Website: https://sanjuancounty.org/emergency-management  

• San Juan County Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SanJuanUtah/  

Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management:  

• Website: https://ndem.navajo-nsn.gov/  

• Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/nndem2020/  

Volunteers helping survey Rabbit Valley for rare plant — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Dolores River skeleton plant (Lygodesmia doloresensis). Photo by Peggy Lyon via Colorado Natural Heritage Program

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

Tucked away in Rabbit Valley, a rare native plant called the Dolores River Skeleton Plant has been spotted. Very little is known about it, but Colorado Canyons Association and the Bureau of Land Management are hoping to learn more with the help of some local volunteers and a smartphone app. On Thursday, June 1, 2023, the Colorado Canyons Association is hosting an event for volunteers to come and gather data on the plant with the help of BLM ecologists. Plant location, population and even what bloom stage the flowers are in are some of the things the volunteers will record, CCA Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator Morgan Rossway said…

“It has such a brief window when it blooms to be able to identify it,” Rossway said. “We’re hoping that we can catch that window and with the help of the BLM ecologists that are going to come to the event they’ll help our volunteers (identify the plant).”

Volunteers will enter the data into the iNaturalist app. The app is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, which allows users to enter observations of plants into the app and share it with other users. In this case it will be shared with BLM ecologists, rather than the general public…

The CCA is still accepting volunteers to help with the Dolores River Skeleton Plant Survey. If you are interested in taking part you need to register for the event online at coloradocanyonsassociation.org.

The U.S. Supreme Court Just Withdrew Protections from a Huge Portion of the Country’s #Wetlands — Field & Stream

A sunset in Autumn at Priest Lake. By S.hammarlund (talk) – I created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108282741

Click the link to read the article on the Field & Stream website (Travis Hall). Here’s an excerpt:

On May 25, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a ruling that could ultimately rescind federal protections from more than 50 percent of the nation’s wetlands. With its 5-4 ruling in a case known as Sackett v. EPA, SCOTUS declared that the Clean Water Act—a measure long-regarded as the most impactful clean water safeguard ever enacted—no longer applies to isolated wetlands that aren’t visibly connected to larger water bodies by continuous, surface-level flows. According to sportsmen’s groups, the ruling will leave these isolated wetlands unprotected from development, drilling, and other sources of pollution. While the decision will be a boon to the homebuilding and extraction industries, it could have far-reaching and detrimental repercussions for wildlife species that rely on cold, clean water sources—like trout and waterfowl.

“It’s bad news for hunters and anglers,” Alex Funk, Director of Water Resources and Senior Counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), tells Field & Stream. “Everything from ducks to cold-water fish species like trout rely on headwater streams and headwater wetlands, like fens, to help maintain water temperatures—those are at risk now.”


The Clean Water Act’s stated goals were beautifully simple: Make America’s rivers and wetlands “swimmable and fishable” again. For fifty years, throughout the administrations of six different U.S. Presidents, the federal rule worked well. And it reversed some of the country’s most egregious environmental sins. Then, in 2001 and again in 2006, SCOTUS began taking court cases with huge implications for the future of the Clean Water Act. Its rock-solid protections were eroded by unfavorable court decisions, and the clarity that had made the CWA such an effective safeguard for so many years was muddied…

In response to the confusion brought about by these court cases, the Obama-era EPA proposed the so-called Waters of the U.S. Rule—commonly known as WOTUS. This 2015 rule sought to clarify and re-establish lost protections for hundreds of thousands of miles of ephemeral streams and tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. It was widely supported by the vast majority of America’s hunting and angling conservation groups.  But its opponents had immense power in the mining, agribusiness, and development sectors. That lobby’s boisterous campaign to undermine WOTUS was widely successful, and in 2019 President Trump decried the rule as “horrible”, scaling back its protections for ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands once again. Then, when current President Joe Biden took office, his EPA administrator rebuilt WOTUS, restoring its protections to pre-Trump levels. That’s more or less where the rule remained until yesterday…

“The wetlands on the Sackett property are distinguishable from any…waters [that are covered under the CWA],” wrote Justice Samuel Alito, because they aren’t visibly connected to them. Writing for the majority, Alito went on to say that, in order to be eligible for federal protections under the Clean Water Act, a wetland must have a “continuous surface connection with water, making it difficult to determine where the water ends and the wetland begins.”

Creating a balance of water that’s taken from aquifers and water that replenishes aquifers is an important aspect of making sure water will be available when it’s needed. Image from “Getting down to facts: A Visual Guide to Water in the Pinal Active Management Area,” courtesy of Ashley Hullinger and the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center

“The Court is basically making the assumption that water only flows on the surface,” Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood tells F&S. “They’re making the assumption that there’s no such thing as groundwater, no such thing as sub-surface flow. It totally flies in the face of the scientific reality, and it’s a dangerous reading of the Clean Water Act.”


According to TRCP’s Funk, the onus will now fall on individual states to enact whatever clean water protections they see fit. “Most states don’t have the resources to set up clean water programs and enforce those safeguards,” says Funk. “The whole model of the Clean Water Act was that the feds would provide that cooperative base level of protection for the states. With this ruling, that base just dropped considerably.”

Fear, frustration and fatigue: How a deal to save the #ColoradoRiver was struck — The Washington Post #COriver #aridification

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.

Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Joshua Partlow). Here’s an excerpt:

When a deal to protect the Colorado River’s water supply finally came together after a year of contentious negotiations and a marathon weekend of last-minute haggling by phone and video calls that ran well past midnight, whatever sense of achievement the participants felt seemed outweighed by relief and fatigue…Within hours, Arizona’s negotiator stressed at a news conference that the deal was simply “an agreement to submit a proposal.” The four northern states along the river signed off on further study of the plan but would concede little else. The negotiations wrapped up with a call to immediately start another multi-year round of talks…

The problems with the negotiations arose partly from the size of the task. The amount of water that the administration was asking states to cut from their farms and cities had never been tried…

West snowpack basin-filled map April 2, 2023 via the NRCS.

In the end, a record-breaking deluge of snow and rain this winter, and a mountain of federal dollars, opened a path to consensus and avoided, at least for now, a battle in the courts…

Camille Calimlim Touton being sworn in as Reclamation’s Commissioner by Secretary Deb Haaland.

Negotiating teams kept meeting throughout the winter, as a barrage of atmospheric rivers pummeled the California coast and snows piled up in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, promising a big runoff year into reservoirs. On Jan. 26, they gathered at Woolley’s Classic Suites, a hotel near the Denver airport. Interior had asked for proposals on potential cuts by the following week. Six of the states were coalescing around a plan that would assign cuts based on evaporation of the river, an approach that would hit California particularly hard. California negotiators were caught off guard that lawyers and technical staff from the other states had arrived early and were huddling at the hotel, already writing proposals…

That month, Beaudreau held separate conference calls with Upper and Lower Basin officials to clarify the lines of command. Lower Basin officials related that the turmoil and strife was not helpful, and they wanted clear direction from Interior. Beaudreau informed state officials that he would be in charge, along with Touton, in the months ahead. Trujillo, the assistant secretary, was taken off the Colorado River negotiations.

At last, states reach a #ColoradoRiver deal: Pay farmers not to farm — Grist #COriver #aridification

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

Click the link to read the article on the Grist website (Jake Bittle):

After a year of intense negotiations, the states along the Colorado River have reached a deal to solve one of the most complex water crises in U.S. history. The solution to this byzantine conundrum is deceptive in its simplicity: Pay farmers — who collectively use 80 percent of Colorado River deliveries — to give up their water.

Representatives from Arizona, Nevada, and California announced on Monday that they had agreed to reduce their states’ collective water usage by more than 3 million acre-feet over the next three years. That equals around a trillion gallons, or roughly 13 percent of the states’ total water usage. Under the terms of the deal, cities and irrigation districts in these so-called Lower Basin states will receive around $1.2 billion from the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, in exchange for using less water. Most of the reductions are likely to come from farming operations. 

Many had anticipated a more painful resolution to the crisis. Rather than taking mandatory cuts and losing out on billions of dollars from crop sales, irrigators in the Southwest will get millions of dollars to reduce their water usage for just three years — and will cut their usage by less than half of what federal officials demanded last year. 

This rosy outcome is only possible because of a wet winter that blanketed the river basin with snow and stabilized water levels in its two main reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Thanks to the ample runoff, the states could lower their target enough that the federal government could afford to compensate them for almost all of it. 

his deal also resolves a key dispute between Arizona and California, the two largest water users on the river, which have clashed over how to respond to the water shortage. California has argued that Arizona should take the most cuts as the most junior user on the river, while Arizona argued that the cuts should be spread more evenly between all the states. The disagreement caused negotiations to drag out for months, and it’s only thanks to the payout from the federal government that they reached an accord.

These compensated cuts are larger than anything the river states have ever implemented before, but they are temporary, a Band-Aid for a crisis that is not going away any time soon. When the three-year agreement expires in 2026, the states will have to come back to the table again and address the elephant in the room: If water use is growing, and the river’s size is shrinking, some people are going to have to make do with less — not temporarily, but for good. 

“This is a step in the right direction but a temporary solution,” said Dave White, a professor at Arizona State University who studies sustainability policy. “This deal does not address the long-term water sustainability challenges in the region.”

The basic blueprint of the deal is not new. Federal and state agencies in the Colorado River basin have tried to pay farmers to use less water before, but they have had difficulty scaling up these compensation measures. That’s in part because many farmers view the measures as an affront to their industry, even when they’re compensated. When a group of states in the river’s Upper Basin relaunched a dormant conservation program earlier this year, offering farmers money to leave their fields unplanted, just 88 water users across four states ended up participating. 

The other issue is that conserving water is expensive. In order to convince farmers to plant fewer acres, officials need to give them more money per acre-foot of water than they would have made from selling crops on a given field. In California’s Imperial Valley, the “salad bowl” region that grows almost all the nation’s winter vegetables, irrigation officials have paid growers to invest in technology that makes their farms more efficient. But farmers in the valley have balked at the idea of taking money to leave their fields unplanted, especially as vegetable prices have remained high. 

“Water is a valuable asset, and I think people are nervous about parting with it, because it kind of suggests that you don’t really need it after all,” said George Frisvold, an extension specialist at the University of Arizona who studies agricultural policy. “I think there’s real concern that this is voluntary now, but it could come back and bite you.”

The Biden administration has resolved those issues for the moment by offering a very generous price for conservation under the new deal. The compensation arrangement in the new deal works out to about $521 an acre-foot on average — three times the price in the Upper Basin pilot program and almost twice the conservation rate in the Imperial Valley’s program.

Frisvold says these payments will be hard to maintain over the long term.

“We have a bunch of IRA money to pay for this right now,” he told Grist. “But is this going to be an ongoing thing? It’s kind of up in the air.”

Until recently, these experimental conservation programs were just that — experiments. But over the past two years, as a once-in-a-millennium drought has all but emptied out the river’s two main reservoirs, the river states have scrambled to cut their water usage and stop draining the river. It is all but impossible to do that without using less water for agriculture.

The Biden administration kicked off the scramble last summer by delivering an ultimatum to the river states. While testifying before Congress in June, a senior official from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ordered the states to cut their water consumption by between 2 and 4 million acre-feet, or as much as a third of the river’s normal annual flow. The administration threatened to impose unilateral water cuts if the states couldn’t reach a deal on their own.

The states tangled for months over who should shoulder the burden of reducing water usage. The so-called Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico pointed the finger at Arizona and California, which together consume the majority of the river’s water. Meanwhile, representatives from California insisted that legal precedent shields the Golden State from taking cuts and that Arizona should bear the pain. (It isn’t clear whether the other four states on the river’s Upper Basin will make any corresponding reductions.)

In the end it was a very wet winter rather than a diplomatic breakthrough that helped ease tension between the states. Thanks to historic snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, it’s likely that water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead will stabilize this summer, even if just for a few months. This plentiful runoff has made the worst-case outcomes for the river much less likely and has given the states some breathing room to negotiate smaller cuts.

The new target was just small enough to make voluntary conservation feasible with the money from the Inflation Reduction Act: In the final hours of the debate over the bill last year, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona negotiated a $4 billion tranche of funding for “drought response.” That money will anchor the deal for the next three years, but it’s unclear whether payments will continue after that.

The big question now is what happens at the end of 2026, when the conservation deal will expire and when states and tribes will gather to negotiate the river’s long-term future. At that point, the river’s water users will once again debate the big questions that this deal has allowed them to punt on: How much water use can a shrinking river support? Who should use less water to account for the river’s decline? How can the government make whole the tribal nations that still don’t have their water

Even amid the relief surrounding Monday’s deal, some water officials were already looking ahead. 

“This proposal protects the system in the short term so we can dedicate our energy and resources to a longer-term solution,” said Brenda Burman, the manager of the Central Arizona Project water authority, which delivers water to Phoenix and Tucson, in a press release. “There’s a lot to do and it’s time to focus.”

Map credit: AGU