Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
Here’s the Westwide Snotel basin-filled map for October 21, 2021 from the NRCS.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
Here’s the Westwide Snotel basin-filled map for October 21, 2021 from the NRCS.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
A strong low pressure system resulted in widespread precipitation (0.5 to 3 inches, liquid equivalent) from the central Rockies east to the northern and central Great Plains from October 11 to 13. More than a foot of snow blanketed parts of Montana, Wyoming, and western South Dakota. Along a trailing cold front, heavy to excessive rainfall (1 to 3 inches, locally more) occurred across eastern Oklahoma and central to eastern Texas. As this front progressed eastward, scattered thunderstorms with locally more than one inch of rainfall swept across the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. Much of New York and northern New England received 1 to 2.5 inches of rainfall on October 16. Only light weekly precipitation amounts (generally less than 1 inch, liquid equivalent) were observed along the Cascades, coastal ranges of the Pacific Northwest, and northern Sierra Nevada Mountains from October 12 to 18. Dry weather prevailed throughout much of the Southeast, Southwest, and northern Intermountain West during this 7-day time period. Southeastern Mainland Alaska and the Alaska Panhandle received near normal precipitation amounts during mid-October. Enhanced trade winds resulted in locally heavy rain across east-facing slopes of the Big Island of Hawaii recently. Locally heavy rainfall also occurred throughout Puerto Rico this past week. 7-day temperatures (Oct 12-18) remained above average across the eastern third of the U.S., while below average temperatures were observed over the West…
Widespread precipitation (1 to 3 inches, liquid equivalent) since 12Z on Oct 12 prompted a large 1-category improvement across the Dakotas and an adjustment to only show long-term drought impacts for much of the northern Plains. Excluding the northwest corner of North Dakota, 14-day precipitation amounts have totaled 2 to 6 inches. Extreme drought (D3) remains across northwest North Dakota, based on long-term SPIs and soil moisture below the 5th percentile. Improvements were also made across parts of Nebraska and Kansas due to weekly precipitation amounts of greater than 1 inch and soil moisture recovery. Likewise, an increase in soil moisture indicators resulted in small improvements across parts of Wyoming…
Severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought continues throughout much of the Pacific Northwest, California, and the Great Basin. Nearly all of this region remained status-quo in terms of drought changes as the Monsoon season ended and the wet season just began. A robust Monsoon brought an end to short-term drought impacts across Arizona and southern Utah, but long-term drought impacts persist. Along and west of the Cascades, above normal precipitation was observed across western Oregon and Washington since mid-September. This favorable start to the wet season along with improving streamflows and SPI values support the removal of small D4 in Douglas and Linn counties of Oregon. Periods of beneficial precipitation and cooler temperatures led to an improvement from D4 to D3 along the mountain range front in Utah. However, D4 persists across the Sevier River Basin of southern Utah. The increase in precipitation, related to the onset of the wet season, along with much cooler temperatures resulted in a large decrease in the number of large wildfires throughout the West during mid-October. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded across northwest Montana based on 28-day streamflows near the 5th percentile along with 30 to 60-day SPIs. Conversely, last week’s major storm prompted slight reduction in drought intensity across parts of eastern Montana…
Following rapid expansion of D0 (abnormal dryness) and D1 (short-term moderate drought) during September across Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas, above normal precipitation during the first half of October resulted in a continued decrease in the coverage of D0 and D1. Month-to-date rainfall amounts totaled 2 to 6 inches throughout much of central and eastern Oklahoma along with northwest Arkansas. Farther south into central Texas, recent heavy rainfall also supported minor modification to the ongoing D0 and D1 areas. Abnormal dryness (D0) was maintained for parts of southeast Oklahoma due to ongoing 30 to 60-day indicators and lower rainfall amounts during the past two weeks. Abnormal dryness (D0) and short-term moderate drought (D1) was expanded slightly to include more of southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana which missed out on the heavier rainfall this past week and precipitation deficits have increased. Moderate (D1) to severe (D2) drought continues to expand across west Texas where 60-day precipitation deficits range from 2 to 5 inches and soil moisture indicators have worsened…
During the next 5 days (October 21 to 25), a series of low pressure systems with an increasingly strong onshore flow are likely to bring heavy to excessive precipitation (2 to 10 inches, locally more) to the Pacific Northwest and northern California. Elsewhere, the most widespread precipitation (0.5 to 2 inches) is forecast over the Corn Belt. Little to no precipitation is expected for much of the Great Plains, Southwest, Gulf Coast States, and East Coast. Along with the dry weather for the southern Great Plains, a return of above normal temperatures are forecast.
The CPC 6-10 day extended range outlook (valid from October 26 to 30) favors above normal temperatures across the central and eastern U.S. with below normal temperatures more likely for the West. Near to below normal temperatures are favored for a majority of Alaska. Above normal precipitation is likely across the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and the Great Basin, while below normal precipitation is most likely across the Southwest and southern high Plains. Probabilities for above normal precipitation are elevated from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast.
Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:
New State Park Builds on Polis Administration’s Historic Levels of Direct Investment in Our Outdoors & Lands
Today Governor Jared Polis announced a partnership among Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service (White River National Forest), and Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) to create Colorado’s 43rd State Park at Sweetwater Lake. The partners are now working to develop a long-term management plan to improve recreational facilities and maintain the unique character of the area. This is the second State Park created under the Polis administration, with Fishers Peak in Trinidad officially opening almost a year ago.
“Sweetwater Lake is simply gorgeous, and has great potential for even more recreational opportunities like a campground,” said Governor Polis. “This is the first of its kind partnership in Colorado to create a state park on U.S. Forest Service land, and we look forward to working with our partners and Coloradans with the ultimate goal of adding Sweetwater Lake to Colorado’s world-class state park system for fun, conservation, education, and to support job growth for the region.”
Jacque Buchanan, Deputy Regional Forester, U.S. Forest Service, Jessica Foulis, Executive Director, Eagle Valley Land Trust, Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Jeannie McQueeney, Eagle County Commissioner, and Representatives Dylan Roberts & Perry Will spoke at the event.
The White River National Forest acquired the 488-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Garfield County on August 31, 2021, through a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) purchase. The area had been identified among the top 10 priority LWCF purchases nationwide to increase public recreation opportunities as well as to protect the area’s important wildlife habitat, cultural and scenic values. This LWCF purchase followed the acquisition of the property in 2020 by The Conservation Fund, which was made possible by a loan from Great Outdoors Colorado and local fundraising efforts such as the “Save the Lake” Campaign organized by EVLT.
“Sweetwater Lake has tremendous ecological and cultural values and outstanding opportunities for recreation. This partnership allows the White River National Forest to incorporate the local expertise of the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the recreation management and wildlife expertise of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to best serve visitors to the area,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum.
The acquisition of the 488-acre Sweetwater ranch property significantly increases the existing public access to the lake. However, very little infrastructure is currently in place to facilitate public recreation. Improved facilities, including a new boat launch, will be available to the public by June 1st, 2022. Additional buildout will follow the completion of a long-term plan, in consultation with the public, for expanding and managing the recreational opportunities at Sweetwater Lake while preserving the unique, relatively undeveloped nature of the property.
“Sweetwater Lake is a hidden gem, both as a destination and gateway to the Flat Top Wilderness. The partnership formed to protect and manage this unique landscape is an extension of the state and federal commitment to shared stewardship, which the Governor and U.S.D.A. initiated in 2019,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.”
This summer, Governor Polis was proud to sign several pieces of legislation that provide more opportunities for Coloradans to go out and recreate, as well as key measures to protect the state’s outdoor beauty, and provide sustainable funding for the outdoors. The Keep Colorado Wild Pass bill, signed by Governor Polis in June, creates an optional low-cost state park and public lands pass, cutting the current cost by half or more by 2023. The new pass will make outdoor recreation opportunities more accessible while increasing the state’s ability to conserve, plan and invest in our public lands for the long term. Governor Polis also signed into law the Outdoor Equity Grant Program in June, which will increase access and opportunities for underserved youth and their families to enjoy Colorado’s outdoors.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is excited to modernize facilities, and provide updated and sustainable recreational services through this partnership. Our main priority is to conserve the unique character of the area while improving access to this incredible property,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow.
“The conservation of Sweetwater Lake is the realization of a community vision decades in the making. EVLT is looking forward to closely coordinating with the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife as we move forward with plans for Sweetwater Lake,” said Jessica Foulis, Executive Director, Eagle Valley Land Trust.
Colorado is home to more than 22 million acres of public lands, ranging from wetlands to forests, canyon landscapes to mountain lakes. Governor Polis is a strong supporter of Colorado’s outdoors and has fulfilled his pledge to double the amount of publicly accessible land trust enrolled in the Public Access Program.
From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
The White River National Forest took ownership of the oasis adjacent to the Flat Tops Wilderness this summer after securing $8.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Two years ago, The Conservation Fund and the Eagle Valley Land Trust joined to buy the property from a Denver investment group, with a plan to transfer it over to the national forest.
The White River is the eighth owner of the parcel in the last few decades. The remote acreage has been eyed by wealthy investors for development of golf courses, a private community of luxury homes and even a water bottling plant.
Adrienne Brink first visited Sweetwater Lake as a 19-year-old in 1969 on a backcountry horseback trip. She returned a few years later with her husband and bought the horse packing outfitter. They bought the Sweetwater Resort — some cabins, a restaurant, a boat launch and a campground, in the mid 1980s. They’ve been running trips — with a permit from the White River National Forest — and hosting visitors ever since. In that time, she’s seen six owners come and go, not counting the two conservation groups or the Forest Service.
Those investors had big dreams. She’s got maps they sketched of golf courses in meadows where she grazes her horses. The water-bottling planners — “really nice guys,” she said — left her unable to irrigate those meadows as they studied flows from the spring where they hoped to collect water to sell under the name “Vaspen.”
But none of the big dreamers ever made any progress. They never invested in the property. They never even put a shovel to dirt…
Colorado and the Forest Service created a “shared stewardship” agreement in 2019, with a memorandum of understanding that provided the framework for the state and Forest Service to work with local communities, tribal partners and a host of other agencies “to work collaboratively to accomplish mutual goals, further common interests and effectively respond to the challenges facing the communities, landscapes, natural resources and cultural resources of the state.”
That program has led the state and Forest Service to map wildfire hazards and possible mitigation strategies. And now it’s led to a new state park. Dan Gibbs, the director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, said he’s working with the Bureau of Land Management on a similar shared stewardship agreement…
The new park — which has not been officially named but Gibbs said would likely include a nod to the White River National Forest — is a blueprint for state and federal cooperation in expanding Colorado’s state parks. The effort to protect Sweetwater Lake included the towns of Gypsum and Eagle, Eagle and Garfield counties and local residents who led the “Save the Lake” effort to raise local dollars for the transfer to public ownership. The Conservation Fund has given the Eagle Valley Land Trust more than $1 million for the Sweetwater Lake Stewardship & Equity Fund, which will help fund improvement and improve access for underprivileged communities…
The Conservation Fund was first to galvanize the movement to protect Sweetwater Lake after an investment group that took control of the property from the stalled water-bottlers listed the property in 2017 for $9.3 million. The group joined with the Eagle Valley Land Trust and Great Outdoors Colorado and then gathered support from diverse boards of county commissioners, town councils and local residents in addition to state and federal land managers in the effort to protect Sweetwater Lake from yet another developer with big plans.
“It just came so close to being lost to development and being a private high-end resort community,” Spring said. “We were hopeful we would get to his point.”
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Colorado communities from Greeley to Durango have identified $20.3 billion in water projects that will help ensure residents have adequate water, that agricultural supplies are protected, and that rivers and streams can continue to support fish and wildlife as population growth, chronic drought and climate change threaten future water supplies.
According to the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, the state faces a gap between expected demand and existing water supply of as much as 560,000 acre-feet per year for cities and industry by 2050.
Colorado is home to eight major river basins, each of which is governed by a public roundtable. A ninth basin roundtable represents the Denver metro area.
These entities are charged with evaluating each region’s water needs and projects that would help meet those needs. Funding for those projects will likely come from several sources including local governments and water utilities, and state and federal funding.
Known as basin implementation plans (BIPs), the working documents summarizing those projects and needs were submitted to the state earlier this month and are open for public comment through Nov. 15. These plans are updated versions of the originals that were initially developed by the roundtables in 2015 to inform the Colorado Water Plan.
Since 2015, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), which is responsible for implementing the water plan, has spent some $500 million in grants and loans helping fund water projects across the state, according to Russ Sands, head of water supply planning at the CWCB.
The plans are a key part of Colorado’s larger statewide effort to ensure it has adequate water supplies. The Colorado Water Plan is the primary document that guides state water policy and it relies on the planning efforts of the local roundtables.
“The basin roundtables represent a grassroots initiative that allow access to state planning,” Sands said.
The South Platte and Metro basin roundtables, which submitted a combined plan, have the most costly project list at $9.8 billion. This figure includes costs of projects that are planned, currently being implemented, or recently completed.
The South Platte Basin is home to the largest population centers and covers metro Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley and Sterling, among dozens of other communities.
The next largest project list comes from the Colorado River Basin on the West Slope. It has identified $4.1 billion in water projects that will help it ensure its residents’ future needs are addressed.
The roundtables, made up of water professionals, citizens and local elected representatives, receive funding to operate from the CWCB. They also help fund projects each deem important to meeting a local need, whether it is improving an irrigation company’s diversion structure, building a new reservoir, funding a stream restoration project, or building a new kayak park.
The plans are “important because the process was to identify gaps in what a basin needs for irrigated agriculture, municipal and industrial, and environmental and recreational needs,” said Jason Turner, who chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “We have a robust mix of all sorts of projects and it allows people who, say, live on the Roaring Fork [a tributary] to understand some of the bigger Colorado River issues as well.”
Barbara Biggs is chair of the Metro Roundtable. She said the project list for the combined South Platte and Metro roundtables represents one of the most detailed assessments of water needs on the Front Range.
“Just creating the project database is a huge step in the right direction because it will allow us to track and measure our success,” she said.
The basin plans are scheduled to be finalized at the end of January 2022 and will be incorporated into an update of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan next year.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Click here to view the slide deck.
from The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
1041 regulations and moratorium
After heavy public comment and debate, council voted 6-1 to change the scope of the city’s pending 1041 regulations and the moratorium they plan to put in place while staff is working on the regulations.
Both the one-year moratorium and the eventual regulations will now apply only to water and sewage treatment projects and highway/interchange projects that will be located in city parks or natural areas. The parks and natural areas component is the new part. Council narrowed the scope of the proposal in hopes of quelling concerns from developers and water providers while honoring the views of commenters who want the city to advocate for natural resource conservation.
The 1041 regulations provide an avenue for municipalities and counties to have more stringent oversight of certain types of “state interest” projects, a broad category that can include everything from water pipelines to mass transit to nuclear detonations. But the localities have to opt into the process, designate the state interest areas they want to regulate and draft their own regulations. The council majority that favors 1041 regulations sees them as an alternative to the city’s SPAR (Site Plan Advisory Review) process, which provides for nonbinding review of developments of state interest.
Now that council has designated areas of interest, a moratorium will take effect immediately and last until council adopts the 1041 regulations. It will prevent construction or development review of any water/sewer treatment or highway project that would be located wholly or partly in city parks or natural areas. The city is engineering an exemption process that may allow for some projects to bypass the moratorium, and 1041 review. Council will only exempt projects if they think adverse impacts can be avoided without a binding review process and the project meaningfully addresses an important community need that can’t be put off.
When council last discussed this topic in September, the 1041 regulations and moratorium were expected to apply to all water/sewer and highway projects in city limits. The initial scope inspired intense opposition from several developers and water districts in the region. A particular point of concern was the potential impacts of a moratorium on the NEWT III water pipeline project (short for North Weld County and East Larimer County Water Districts Water Transmission Pipeline Project). That pipeline will deliver water to many new housing developments in the region. The news of the moratorium led the North Weld County Water District board to issue a temporary moratorium on all tap sales and plant investment sales, and East Larimer County Water District leaders said they would likely do the same if a moratorium took effect.
Others who opposed or voiced concerns about the 1041 regulations and moratorium included Severance Mayor Matt Fries, the town of Timnath and the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.
Those who supported 1041 regulations and an immediate moratorium included representatives of Save the Poudre, Sierra Club and the Fort Collins Audubon Society…
Council ultimately supported the narrowed scope of regulations, paired with the immediate moratorium, 6-1. Council member Shirley Peel was the opposing vote, citing the potential for unintended repercussions to development and utility projects.
While city staff said the narrowed 1041 regulations are unlikely to affect the NEWT III pipeline, they will likely impact the Northern Integrated Supply Project. NISP is a project going through the permitting process that would take water from the Poudre and South Platte Rivers for storage in two new reservoirs. NISP organizer Northern Water plans to put some components of NISP in city natural areas, a plan the city rejected during SPAR review. But SPAR review, again, is only advisory, so Northern Water’s governing board overrode the decision. Still, the moratorium means that Northern Water would be barred from beginning work on the components in city natural areas. And the project would likely be subject to 1041 review if the regulations come to fruition as council is currently envisioning.
More to come on that. In the meantime, we can expect a one-year moratorium as staff works on the city’s new 1041 regulations. Council will have the last word on those regulations and is planning a six-month check in…
Climate progress report
Fort Collins exceeded its 2020 climate goals to reduce community and municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, according to preliminary estimates presented to council Tuesday.
The 2020 goals are a step along the way to the city’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2030 and 100% in 2050. The goals apply to both municipal emissions and the community as a whole.
Fort Collins met its municipal benchmark for 2020 three years ahead of schedule, in 2017. As of 2020, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 44% of 2005 levels.
The city met its 2020 community goal with a 24% reduction in emissions, up from a 7% reduction in 2019. The improvements came mostly from the Roundhouse Renewable Energy Project, a new wind farm that drove a 10% reduction in emissions; reduced vehicle travel, which drove a 3% decrease; and a 2% reduction in industrial emissions. Another 2% in reduced emissions were due to weather and other unspecified factors. City staff said the travel reductions were related to the stay-at-home order. It’s not yet clear what exactly drove the reduction in industrial emissions, and final numbers are expected in early 2022.
The community’s per-capita residential emissions were down 41% in 2020 compared to 2005 levels, staff said.
Staff expect Fort Collins to reach a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for 2021, based on current forecasts.
To reach the 2030 communitywide goal, the city will need to enact critical strategies — increased renewable electricity adoption, transit reductions and universal composting — plus all the other strategies identified as “next moves” in the latest update to Fort Collins’ Our Climate Future Plan.
Representatives of Fort Collins Sustainability Group, a local organization that advocates for climate action, said in a statement that they were “very pleased” to see that estimated emission reductions had topped the 2020 goal…
The group is advocating for bigger climate investments in the 2022 budget, such as doubling funding for Fort Collins Utilities’ Energy Services programs and transportation-related offers that would reduce emissions. Energy Services includes incentive programs for energy efficiency and electrification, energy code development and related initiatives. It’s a particularly important focus area for greenhouse gas emission reductions because emissions from electricity and natural gas make up most of the community’s emissions (about two-thirds in 2019).
After receiving feedback from the community and council, staff added a few more climate items to the proposed 2022 budget expected to bring 2022 greenhouse gas reductions from 2.7% to 2.9%. Staff said they weren’t recommending the more substantial boost to Energy Services funding suggested by Fort Collins Sustainability Group because that will require a larger conversation about changes to the program’s portfolio and responses to local workforce capacity and supply chain challenges.
From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):
The White and Yampa rivers traditionally supply a comfortable amount of water compared with other waterways across the state, according to Jeff Lukas, a Lafayette climate consultant and former water scientist with the University of Colorado Boulder. But that’s not as much the case recently.
“The whole Colorado River system is on the wrong side of the knife’s edge in the first part of the 21st century,” Lukas said.
Over the last two decades, the Yampa’s average flow decreased by about 6% from its 20th-century average, Lukas said. And the White’s average flow decreased by about 19%.
So officials with Colorado’s Division of Water Resources want to better track who’s taking water from the rivers — and its tributaries — and how much. Better tracking there would bring the division’s northwest region into line with the rest of the state, where that type of data collection is already more common.
Division officials are hosting stakeholder meetings in the region to develop rules by which water usage will be measured and hope to have the process finished by the end of next year, state Engineer Kevin Rein said. And as more data flows in, the state can better allocate water to those legally allowed to take it, an increasingly precise task as droughts continue to plague the Western Slope.
And in the bigger, and unprecedented, picture, if Colorado is called to work with upper- and lower-basin states because not enough water is passing southwest through the Colorado River, it will need that concrete data in hand, Rein said.
“We just need to know where it’s going,” Brain Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, said. “Every drop counts when it comes to water.”
The process underway in northwest Colorado is part of an increasing nationwide trend to better track water use as droughts become more common, Fuchs said…
One key indicator that water is tighter in northwest Colorado is that senior water rights holders along the Yampa River are more frequently calling state engineers to shut off supply for junior rights holders until their thirst is quenched, according to Erin Light, water division engineer for the region.
The first ever call like that on the Yampa came in 2018, Light said. Another followed in 2020 and then another this year, both of which only ended after Colorado River conservation officials agreed to release water from the Elkhead Reservoir, northeast of Craig.
Water shortages and calls like those can spell trouble not only for those in Colorado but also millions more downstream.
Water from the Yampa and White rivers flows into the [Green River then the] Colorado River and ultimately into Lake Powell, making up to a fifth of the reservoir’s water supply each year, Lukas said.
The reservoir, which sank to its lowest level on record this year, supplies water to about 35 million people, irrigates millions of acres of cropland and generates billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
While calls from senior water rights holders come each year — even in non-drought years — along the Arkansas, Rio Grande and South Platte rivers, Rein said “it’s a new thing to the Yampa.”
Not only are those rivers drying due to climate change but more water is allocated from them than the rivers actually have to offer. And now the historically water-abundant Yampa, which is also over-allocated, appears to be joining those ranks, Light said…
Accounting for water
As Colorado’s rivers dry up, like the Ogallala Aquifer on the eastern plains…for example, governments across the country are working to take better inventory of their water supply, Fuchs said. When those water shortages arise, people start to ask where the water went and who took it.
“All of a sudden these questions are starting to be asked and (governments) can’t really put those cards on the table because they don’t have them,” Fuchs said.
The same logic applies when states strike deals with each other over rivers that cross their borders, Fuchs added. The states not only want to make sure they’re following the agreements but also that they’re keeping as much water as possible.
Colorado’s northwest region represents a gap in the state’s inventory.
As of April, only about 54% of the structures used by water rights holders in Light’s region, which covers Craig and Steamboat Springs, have devices to measure their water usage.
For comparison, about 95% of the structures in the Roaring Fork and Crystal river basins to the southeast have measuring devices, [Aspen Journalism] reported.
In late 2019, Light ordered hundreds of water users in the Yampa River basin to install measuring devices and then in March 2020 she issued formal notices for others along the White and Green rivers to follow suit, the Summit Daily reported. And Light’s office is now holding stakeholder meetings this month across the region as they look to cement consistent rules for what kinds of devices can be used, how they should be maintained and how they measure water use.
Rein said he hopes that the rule-making process could be finished by the end of next year, but he doesn’t want to rush it.
From The Unviversity of Nebraska Lincoln via The Fence Post:
In the months following the collapse of Tunnel No. 2 on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie main canal in July 2019, temporary repairs were made to Tunnels No 1 and 2. Steel ribs were installed inside the tunnels to support the concrete tunnel walls.
The tunnel collapse and resulting washout of the supply canal south of Fort Laramie, Wyo., immediately ended water deliveries by Goshen and Gering-Fort Laramie districts for 44 days, during the critical growth period for crops. About 107,000 acres were affected by the loss of irrigation water, and many farmers’ yields were reduced as a result.
The temporary repairs allowed the irrigation districts to resume deliveries in 2020, but installation of the ribs restricted water flow to 80-85 percent of capacity of the tunnel.
During the winter of 2020-21, metal sheeting was installed over the ribs to increase water flow through the tunnels. This increased the water flow through the tunnels to 97 percent of capacity in the summer of 2021. Water deliveries by the three major irrigation districts in the North Platte Valley (Goshen and Gering-Fort Laramie on the south side of the river, Pathfinder Irrigation District on the north) were near normal for the 2021 growing season.
The districts had to utilize some storage water to meet the needs of the growers, leaving the reservoirs in Wyoming at lower-than-average carryover at the end of the water year. In mid-October, Seminoe Reservoir was at 31 percent, Pathfinder Reservoir at 58 percent, and Glendo Reservoir at 32 percent of capacity.
For spring runoff to fill the reservoirs by the 2022 irrigation season, major snowfall events would be needed in the Snowy Range and Siera Madre mountains of north-central Colorado and south-central Wyoming this winter.
Inspection of the tunnels by the irrigation districts and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was scheduled for the week of Oct. 18. Permanent repairs to the tunnels still must be completed, the final construction plans pending approval from the Bureau of Reclamation.
From The Associated Press (Suman Naishadham):
Vice President Kamala Harris stood before the record-low water levels of Nevada’s Lake Mead on Monday and made the case for the Biden administration’s climate change agenda by warning that “this is where we’re headed.”
“Look at where the water has receded over just the last 20 years,” she said, referring to the “bathtub ring” of minerals that marks where the reservoir’s water line previously stood. “That space is larger than the height of the Statue of Liberty.”
The vice president pitched the administration’s infrastructure and social safety net agenda as critical to tackling the effects of climate change — which scientists say intensify extreme weather events such as heatwaves and droughts.
Democrats have struggled to win support for that plan from some members of their party, who want to winnow down its $3.5 trillion price tag.
Harris made the case for the package by connecting human-caused climate change to the scene she stood near, saying emissions are “part of what is contributing to these drought conditions.”
Federal officials in August declared the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River, which means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will receive less water than normal next year amid a gripping Western drought.
In September, Reclamation released projections showing an even worse outlook for the river.
While California is spared from next year’s cuts, the nation’s most populous state has experienced one of its driest years on-record while battling scores of catastrophic wildfires.
In arguing for the $1 trillion public works infrastructure deal, Harris referenced the “good union jobs” that the spending package would create, naming pipefitters, electricians and plumbers as examples. That plan passed the Senate months ago and is awaiting House approval.
It contains roughly $8 billion for Western water projects, including desalination technology to make sea water usable, modernizing rural water infrastructure and building greater capacity to recycle wastewater.
Harris also spoke about the Biden administration’s proposed civilian Climate Corps, which it has said would create hundreds of thousands of jobs building trails, restoring streams and helping stop devastating wildfires…
Harris on Monday met with federal and regional water officials such as Tanya Trujillo, assistant interior secretary for water and science, and U.S. Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford of Nevada.
Passing Biden’s signature social services and climate change plans would serve future generations, Harris said, “in a way that will not only be about life, but about … beautiful places like Lake Mead.”
From The Deseret News (Hunter Schwarz):
Water levels at Lake Mead fell this year to their lowest point since the reservoir was created in the 1930s, and in August, the U.S. government declared the first ever water shortage on the Colorado River.
“When we look at what’s happening here, we know this is about this lake, but it is about a region and it is about our nation,” Harris said.
Harris said Biden’s agenda was “thoughtful and foresightful,” and that along with the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill currently in Congress, would make investments “in things like water recycling and reuse, what we can do in terms of water desalination, what we can do in terms of implementation of drought contingency plans.”
“This is about thinking ahead, recognizing where we are and where we’re headed,” Harris said…
About half of all adults in western states said they’ve seen extreme weather events happening more often in their region, according to a Pew Research survey released Thursday. Currently, 90% of the West is in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and wildfires in California this year surpassed 4 million acres burned earlier this month, a record. The only regions with higher percentages of residents saying they’ve noticed extreme weather events on the rise were the West South Central region, which includes Texas and Louisiana which have been ravaged by hurricanes, and the Middle Atlantic.
Pew found wide support for the federal government to take action when it comes to building systems to make wastewater reusable in dry regions, with 88% of U.S. adults saying it is very or somewhat important. But there was a sharp partisan divide. The poll found 64% of Democrats support the federal government taking action, compared with 36% of Republicans.
From 9News.com (Cory Reppenhagen):
The Colorado mountains are off to a great start with lots of October snow, but the lower elevations like the Front Range have been dry. That dry spell may expand to cover the whole state by mid-November.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has announced the presence of the La Niña weather pattern for the second year in a row. That favors drier air over the southwestern United States, and it usually includes part of Colorado.
NOAA is also listing about an 83% chance for the La Niña to persist through the entire winter and into the spring months.
Last winter, a classic La Niña unfolded, with the entire southwest finishing with below-average precipitation. Only the eastern half of Colorado was above average.
Colorado is in between the areas consistently impacted by La Niña, with the colder air to the north and the drier air to the south. So the impacts to our state vary, with the overall trend to drier and warmer than average.
COLORADO TOTAL PRECIPITATION
Out of the last five La Niña winters, three brought below-average precipitation to Colorado from November through April, while two were about average.
This list does not include the partial La Niña that only lasted four months in 2016 from August to December, or the 2008-09 La Niña which ended one month shy of this 6-month comparison. The 2008-09 winter did produce average precipitation across Colorado ranking 69th driest. Most La Niña events develop in the fall and last into the following spring.
The last time Colorado had an above-average winter was the last El Niño in 2018-19.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN SNOWPACK
Mountain snowpack during a La Niña varies much more than total precipitation statewide.
Last year was very close to average, finishing the season in mid-April at only 6% below average.
Two of the last five La Niña winters brought below-average snowpack (2018 was 32% below and 2012 was 48% below), while the other two were above average (2011 was 22% above and 2008 was 34% above average).
The 2008-09 shorted La Niña winter was again not included in this comparison but that one also produced above average snowpack but was just 4% above average.
For Denver, La Niña winters are typically very dry. Last winter was the first above-average snow year during a La Niña since 2001. The last four La Niña’s have had below-average snow in Denver.
The partial La Niña of 2008-09 also produced below average snow in Denver with 38.1″.
From InkStain (John Fleck):
One of the central questions dimly visible in the early discussions around the upcoming renegotiation of the Colorado River’s water operations and allocations rules is the question of how bad a “worst case” scenario should be considered.
This is crucial, because it constrains what sort of questions must then be confronted. The lower the future flows considered, the more likely it is that the negotiators will have to stare down the third rail question of how much water the Upper Basin can delivery hydrologically, and must deliver legally, at Lee Ferry, the dividing point between the Upper and Lower Basins.
For the century since the Colorado River Compact was signed, we’ve avoided dealing with that central question – what happens if the river’s flows are so low that the Upper Basin cannot deliver the 7.5 million acre feet per year (or 8.25 million acre feet, we can’t even agree about which number to argue about) contemplated by the compact’s Article III.
This question is so untouchable that in work done for the 2012 Basin Study, the Bureau of Reclamation’s modelers famously added what came to be called “miracle water” at Lee Ferry every time one of their model runs dropped below the threshold that might have otherwise triggered this legal argument.
Under the low flows possible under climate change, we face a stark choice – either we reduce the Upper Basin’s Lee Ferry deliveries below 7.5/8.25 maf, or we will have to curtail existing Upper Basin uses. Advocates of modeling such low flows in the planning scenarios are essentially saying – Let’s have that conversation now.
At the tale end of yesterday’s (Friday 10/15/2021) House Natural Resources Sucommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, it was California Rep. Jim Costa, a congressman from outside the Colorado River Basin, who asked the question pointed at the heart of the matter – how do we redo water allocations that make no sense in a river much smaller than contemplated in our hallowed Law of the River?
He was addressing a panel of representatives from each of the Colorado River Basin states (his comments start around 2:30 here):
“The Law of the River and the quantification of the Upper and Lower Basin states amounted to some 17 million acre feet of water that was determined at that time was the annual flow of the Colorado River, and we know that in the last two decades its been more like 12.4 million acre feet, and that doesn’t account for other Native American tribes that have reserved water right claims that have yet to be resolved. So there’s just a tremendous amount of demand. And with climate change, we know the yield is only going to decline.
“This is the question I’d like to submit to all of you, and if you want to provide written statement to your answer I think we would appreciate that.
“Let’s say the annual yield over the next 30 years is 10 million acre feet. I don’t know, with climate change, maybe it’s plus or minus. How do we take into account how we got to the original allocation, with the Upper and Lower Basin States and the Native tribes, the sovereign nations, and then reallocate that on a lot less water.”
At this point all we can see through the public windows into discussions about next-step Colorado River management guidelines is shadow boxing on this question.
But testimony yesterday from Southern Nevada’s John Entsminger suggests the public shadowboxing we’re seeing on this question is representative of disagreements in the private discussions. (I quote here from John’s written testimony.)
“Despite the fervent warnings from internationally renowned scientists like Jonathan Overpeck and Brad Udall that urge us to plan for a future with even less than 12.3 million acre-feet, the river community is far from consensus about how dry of a future to plan for. And, while this panel was asked to talk about drought, on-the-ground evidence suggests the Colorado River basin is not experiencing drought but aridification – a permanent transition to a drier future. If we are to build upon the river’s many successes over the last 25 years, we must confront the magnitude of the challenge in front of us and quickly reach agreement on what future scenario we’re willing to plan for. (emphasis added)”
Speaking two weeks ago at this year’s Getches-Wilkinson Center conference in Boulder, Entsminger put a number to Southern Nevada’s thinking. In the next iteration of its long range water resources plan, Entsminger’s Southern Nevada Water Authority will include a “what if” planning scenario for how the agency would deal with an 11 million acre foot per year Colorado River. This is not to say that Southern Nevada expects an 11 million acre foot river, but rather than it believes it needs to have a plan in place should that happen.
I could be wrong, but so far I’ve seen no public evidence that any of the states of the Upper Basin are willing to entertain flows that low in the planning scenarios to be considered in the modeling done to support the upcoming negotiations. I look forward to seeing the written answers the basin states’ representatives submit to Costa’s question.
From The Current (Ken Neubecker) via The Vail Daily:
This is Part II of a three-part series.
In the previous column, we reviewed the history of water development in the Homestake Valley, as well as some of the key points contained in the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding that was agreed to and signed by the principal parties in 1998. Of primary interest in this column is what is referred to as “Exhibit 2” in the MOU, and pertains to Homestake Creek-based alternatives.
As a reminder, the Eagle River Assembly and signatories of the MOU were Aurora and Colorado Springs (named the Cities in the memorandum), Colorado River Water Conservation District (River District), Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) and the Vail Consortium, consisting of Vail Associates, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority. The Vail Consortium and the River District together are known as the “Reservoir Company” in the MOU.
The primary objective of the MOU was to create a joint project from one of four options, which were explained in the previous column. The idea was to develop a water supply project that “minimizes environmental impacts, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants…”
The baseline sharing of water would provide as much as 10,000 acre-feet (an acre foot is enough water to cover one acre — about a football field — one foot deep), on average, for the Eagle County participants, 20,000 acre-feet on average for the east slope participants and 3,000 acre-feet average for Climax. These amounts were based on a firm dry year yield, which means the maximum quantity of water which can be guaranteed during a critical dry period.
There are provisions in the MOU for the range of needs and timelines of the parties. Any party or parties wishing to build a project must seek the participation of all the other parties. If the other party or parties do not wish to participate at that time, then the initial parties may “proceed independently of the others…,” with additional caveats regarding money, infrastructure and “rights of refusal” to water, depending on the final size of a project.
If the proposed project is a joint project, the parties shall all apply for permits as co-applicants for federal, state and county permits. But, what happens if one or more of the parties decline to participate?
The MOU outlines the following: “To the extent that any party exercises its right not to participate… such party shall nevertheless support any application that is consistent with the terms of this MOU.” The non-participating parties will “provide favorable testimony and letters of support in any permit proceedings…” If any party or parties fail to support a proposed project than “the Cities shall have no obligation to subordinate their water rights…”
Such refusal of support would also jeopardize a specific exchange of water.
The MOU considers the need to study and mitigate potential environmental impacts. It is designed to focus primarily on compiling all information on existing wetlands, identifying and quantifying wetlands in the area, estimating mitigation costs and “identifying potential benefits for recreation, fish and wildlife in a qualitative sense.” This last comment is important and reflects a long history of resistance by Front Range water diverters to any quantification of flow needs for environmental protection or recreation.
If any flow rates, seasonal or otherwise, including any range of flows needed for the environment, fish, wildlife and recreation were provided, the diverters might be expected to provide for flows through depletions, or when their diversion is impacting local stream flows.
The MOU calls for an environmental analysis of the various alternatives to identify impacts to wetlands and concerns from inundation, or the flooding of the valley floor and surrounding landscapes. It specifically states that, “If it is found that there are less environmentally damaging practicable alternatives [any of these proposed projects] may prove difficult to permit.”
Now that’s an understatement.
The third column will explore some serious questions brought to mind by both the MOU and the assumptions underlying the work of the Eagle River Assembly. The significant cultural, hydrologic and climatic changes that have occurred since 1998 will also be investigated. The world and problems we face with water and rivers in the West in 2021 are not the same as those the Eagle River Assembly was trying to address in the early 1990s.
Ken Neubecker is a founder of and former board president for Eagle River Watershed Council and recently retired from his position as the Colorado Project Director at American Rivers. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.
From NOAA (Emily Becker):
Our second-year La Niña has materialized, as indicated by the ocean and atmosphere in the tropical Pacific. There’s an 87% chance of La Niña this winter, the season when North American weather and climate are most affected by ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the entire El Niño/La Niña system).
The winning numbers
The first step on our “Is it La Niña?” decision tree asks “is the monthly Niño-3.4 Index equal to or less than -0.5°C?” The Niño-3.4 Index, our primary metric for ENSO, is the anomaly in sea surface temperature in the central equatorial Pacific (anomaly = the difference from the long-term average; “average” is 1991–2020 nowadays).
The September Niño-3.4 Index was -0.5°C, according to ERSSTv5, our primary dataset. So it’s on to the next box on the decision tree! Do we think that anomaly will remain cooler than the La Niña threshold? Again, yes! Nearly all computer models are currently predicting that the cooler-than-average conditions will remain through the winter. Another source of confidence for the Niño-3.4 Index to remain cooler than the La Niña threshold is the large amount of cooler-than-average water beneath the surface of the equatorial Pacific. This subsurface water provides a source for the surface, and it has been intensifying in recent weeks.
The final requirement to get to La Niña conditions is that the atmosphere is showing signs of responding to that cooler-than-average surface water. Over the past month, the low-level winds near the equator, which usually blow from east to west (the trade winds), were stronger than average, as were the west-to-east winds high up in the atmosphere.
These signs, along with more rain than average over Indonesia and less in the central Pacific, tell us that the Walker circulation is juiced up. A stronger Walker circulation is the expected atmospheric response to La Niña. The Walker circulation is driven by the difference between the very warm ocean surface in the far western Pacific and the relatively cool eastern Pacific; during La Niña, this difference is enhanced, leading to a stronger Walker circulation.
Follow the blue brick road, and we get to La Niña!
Buy one, get one free
La Niña has probably earned silver-elite, frequent-flier status here, as this is the fourth time we’ve written a “La Niña is here” post on the ENSO Blog! (Earlier posts are September 2020, November 2017, and November 2016.) That’s four of the seven-and-a-half years we’ve been standing on this digital street corner yelling about ENSO.
Overall, La Niña is not more common that El Niño—in the historical record dating back to 1950, there have been 25 El Niños and 24 La Niñas (counting this year). However, La Niña often occurs in consecutive winters, while El Niño rarely does. The reason for this is difficult to explain in brief, but researchers think it’s partly due to differences in atmosphere-ocean coupling between La Niña and El Niño.
As you can see int he map below, the center of the ocean surface temperature anomaly tends to be a bit weaker and a bit farther west during La Niña than El Niño. The difference in strength and location means the trade winds response is not exactly opposite in La Niña and El Niño—unsurprisingly, the response tends to be weaker and centered farther west during La Niña than El Niño.
El Niño events end when the equatorial temperature anomalies are dispersed away from the equator, and this process tends to be less robust in La Niña. The less-clean end to La Niña means that it’s not hard for the system to tip back into La Niña the next year. For more on how this works, check out Nat’s excellent post on double-dip La Niña.
We’ve already seen one likely effect of La Niña this year—a more active Atlantic hurricane season, with nearly twice as many storms as average so far this year. But the most substantial La Niña effect on North American rain, snow, and temperature happens during winter. In summary, La Niña winters tend to be drier and warmer across the southern third of the U.S., and cooler in the northern U.S. and Canada. The Pacific Northwest, the Tennessee/Ohio Valleys, and parts of the Midwest tend to see more rain and snow than average.
For more information, check out these posts on how La Niña affects the Jet Stream, drougAnd, of course, we’ll be here at the ENSO Blog to keep you updated as La Niña 2021–22 progresses. Till next time!ht during second-year La Niña, snow during La Niña winters, and La Niña’s role in South American climate. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center’s winter weather outlook will be released soon, and you can find the current seasonal forecasts here.
And, of course, we’ll be here at the ENSO Blog to keep you updated as La Niña 2021–22 progresses. Till next time!
From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
The Colorado Division of Water Resources and Community Agriculture Alliance are partnering to educate the community and solicit public comment about the proposal to designate the Yampa River Basin as over-appropriated.
An over-appropriated stream system is one in which at some or all times of the year, the water supplies of a stream system are insufficient to satisfy all the decreed water rights within that system. Two public meetings will be held to outline how the over-appropriation proposal affects new and existing residential well permits.
A recording will be available after the Moffat County event for those who are unable to attend in-person.
For more information on the proposed designation see: https://dwr.colorado.gov/news-article/yampa-river-over-appropriation. To submit comments on or any questions about the proposed plan please contact Erin Light, Division Engineer, Water Division 6, at email@example.com or 970-879-0272 Ext. 3.
WHO: Colorado Division of Water Resources and Community Agriculture Alliance
WHAT: Public Meetings on Proposed Designation of Yampa River as Over-Appropriated and impacts to new and existing residential well permits
Monday, October 25, 2021, 6 PM to 8 PM, Moffat County Fairgrounds, 640 E Victory Way, Craig, CO, 81625
Thursday, October 28, 2021, 5 PM to 7 PM, Routt County Fairgrounds, 398 S Poplar St, Hayden, CO, 81639
From The Colorado Sun (Rebecca Mitchell):
Seven states will negotiate access to what’s left in the river. My job is to represent all of Colorado’s interests.
If you live in Colorado—you get it. We don’t quit when challenged. Whether you live in a city, on a farm or ranch, in a rural town, or somewhere in between—you are part of the dynamic group of people who call Colorado home; people who understand when it comes to protecting Colorado water, specifically the Colorado River’s water, we must rise together to meet the challenge.
From its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River flows broadly across 1,450 miles of the southwestern United States, changing elevation by a remarkable 10,000 feet. More than 40 million people rely on the Colorado, the nation’s fifth-longest river, for drinking water and energy through hydroelectric power. In addition, the river supports an estimated $25 billion recreational economy and an agricultural economy of about $1.4 trillion a year.
About 100 years ago, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin created an agreement known as the 1922 Colorado River Compact and divided the seven states into two groups, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming), and the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). It was the beginning of these seven states acting cooperatively to take the lead in managing and allocating the Colorado River’s annual flow of water.
Yet, in the early 1900s, it was impossible to foresee that in the 21st Century, the dwindling supply of water due to climatic forces, coupled with growing demand, would result in the present-day low water levels in our nation’s two largest reservoirs.
Extensive drought that began over 20 years ago in 2000—and continues to this day—has been a major factor leading to Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border, reaching its lowest level since being filled. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir on the Arizona-Nevada border, also is at its lowest level since filling.
The state of the river is important to every Coloradan – all 6 million of us. It is critical to providing for the needs of current and future generations of Coloradans. More broadly, it is critical to the 40 million people who directly rely on the water of the Colorado River.
That is why all seven states agree that working collaboratively is critical to solving our own river management issues through cooperative agreements like the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.
The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan provides that, should Lake Powell’s water levels fall too low, Upper Basin states would release more of the river’s water from other reservoirs, to be stored in Lake Powell as part of the Drought Response Operations Agreement in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
The agreement has been activated and the states now are in planning mode.
Another tool could involve an effective demand-management program, which provides compensation for water users, such as farmers and ranchers and municipalities, to voluntarily conserve water on a temporary basis — without the loss of their ongoing water rights — while allowing for more water to be stored in Lake Powell with greater downstream water flow.
So, where do we stand? The seven Colorado River Basin States soon will be negotiating new interim guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to coordinate operations of both reservoirs.
As Commissioner representing Colorado’s interest in these negotiations, I am charged with effectively representing and protecting the state’s water and the water users’ interests, while also working collaboratively with the other six states and the federal government. As a state, we will continue leading the effort in conjunction with all the Colorado River Basin states.
Throughout the process, I commit to hearing the voices of tribal nations, key stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, and our fellow Coloradans. To learn how to make your voice heard, visit EngageCWCB.org.
As we continue to face the challenges of climate change, persistent drought, and growing populations, we cannot quit.
Rebecca Mitchell, of Denver, is Colorado commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission.
Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:
Today [October 6, 2021], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $15.8 million in water infrastructure funding for projects that will improve access to safe drinking water for the Tuscarora Nation, the Navajo Nation, and the Alaska Native Village of Tununak. This funding, which will be placed into an interagency agreement between EPA and the Indian Health Service (IHS), will be used to boost public health protections by improving access to safe water for drinking, cooking, and hygiene.
“While most people have access to reliable and safe water, some communities lack this basic necessity—even today,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “With this grant funding, EPA will help build drinking water systems to improve water access and water quality for the Tuscarora and Navajo people and the residents of Tununak.”
EPA is awarding this grant funding to the Indian Health Service, which is prioritizing projects in three Tribal communities through interagency agreements:
The agreement will support the development of an interconnected water source to Tuscarora Nation, which currently relies on private well water from a highly contaminated ground water source or bulk water delivery. The agreement will prioritize $5.6 million in WIIN grant funding to improve water access. The agreement will focus $3.8 million to support three well projects to benefit Navajo Nation. This funding will help address widespread public health concerns and water supply vulnerabilities by improving access to safe drinking water. The agreement will provide over $6.4 to support the Alaskan Native Village of Tununak. The effort will improve water access and support the creation of a new public water system to benefit the community.
“Today’s grant is a step forward for the thousands of Navajo families who have waited too long for access to safe and reliable drinking water,” said U.S. Senator Mark Kelly. “In the Senate, I remain committed to ensuring that the water infrastructure needs of Arizona’s tribal communities are addressed.”
“Access to clean drinking water has been and continues to be a challenge for Native American communities across the country. On Navajo Nation, the Diné people—myself included—have struggled to haul water from livestock wells to their homes for cooking, bathing, and so forth,” said Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Valinda Shirley. “This $3.8 million investment in access to clean water will transform the lives of many families across Navajo Nation.”
These projects are funded under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act’s Assistance for Small and Disadvantaged Communities Tribal Grant Program. Under this program, and through an interagency agreement with the Indian Health Service, EPA is awarding a total of $24 million in critical infrastructure needs for Tribal communities. EPA previously awarded $9 million to the Alaskan Native Villages of Tuluksak and Stebbins in April 2021.
For more information, visit: https://www.epa.gov/tribaldrinkingwater/wiin-act-section-2104-assistance-small-and-disadvantaged-communities-tribal
From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):
Happy (belated) Water Wonk New Year! Okay, maybe water wonks don’t get all tipsy and start reciting Western water law at midnight on Oct. 1, but it does mark the beginning of the new water year. That means we can all dump out those precipitation gauges and reset the snowpack statistics and hopefully put the past year behind us. But before we do, let’s take a look back at Water Year 2021 and the good, the bad, and the oh so ugly.
Pretty much everyone west of the Continental Divide—as well as some to the east—will be happy to bid the past water year adieu. Streamflows across the region shrunk; fish died off; reservoir levels declined, taking hydropower generation down with them; irrigators watched their ditches run dry long before harvest time; the bathtub ring around Lake Powell grew to 160 feet high; wildfires raged with unprecedented intensity in northern California, Oregon, and Montana; and a Tier 1 shortage was called on the Colorado River for the first time ever, meaning some users will see cuts next year.
What strikes me most is that seven months ago, as winter turned to spring, the snowpack levels—i.e. the giant reservoir that feeds those depleted streams—did not foretell the dryness to come. Sure, the snow water equivalent was below average at most San Juan Mountain SNOTEL sites, but not disastrously so. The skiing was decent as long as you didn’t get hit by an avalanche and the high country remained blanketed in white into the spring—at least in Colorado.
Columbus Basin is in Southwest Colorado’s La Plata Mountains, which seemed to repel storms last winter, making it one of the driest areas of the state. Other sites further north in the San Juans recorded snow levels as high as 85 percent of average and the Rio Grande headwaters to the east even saw above average snow levels.1 One might have expected the rivers fed by that snowpack to run at 85 percent of average, as well. For the most part, they did not.
It was as if the snow, instead of melting and running off down mountainsides and into reservoirs, just evaporated or soaked into the ground. And that’s pretty much what happened. “It didn’t feel like a low winter to me,” Darrin Parmenter, La Plata County director for the Colorado State University Extension Office, told me this spring. “It just didn’t run off. You have to recharge soil moisture. It has to go through that sponge before it gets to the water table. The Animas didn’t come up until we had our only rain.”
What didn’t soak into the ground, which was parched due to the lack of a 2020 monsoon and two decades of aridification, wafted into the air via evapotranspiration and snow sublimation, phenomena enhanced by dry air, incessant spring winds, warming temperatures, and dust on the snow, which reduces albedo. That left less snowmelt to feed the rivers and reservoirs and left many farmers high and dry early in the growing season.
As you can see from the above graph, the Animas River was unusually low through the spring and early summer. It wasn’t until the monsoon arrived in full force in late July that it showed some signs of recovery. But even that wasn’t enough to replenish reservoirs, especially since the monsoon was not distributed equally across the West.
And even though the rains were plentiful in some areas, so too were the above average temperatures, thus offsetting some of the rain gains.
The result? Widespread drought conditions across most of the Western U.S., with a few exceptions. Over the last year, drought has intensified dramatically in California and the Northwest, while subsiding slightly in Colorado and Arizona. Nevertheless, only a few patches of land remain that aren’t in some stage of drought.
The good news is we are going into the new water year with some new water: A storm just blanketed the San Juan Mountains with white, pushing the snow water equivalent up to two inches at the Molas Pass SNOTEL site. The bad news is, we are in a deep, dry hole left by 22 years of aridification. It will take a lot of big storms, all winter long, to get us out of it.
States in the Colorado River Basin are adjusting to the reality that their rights outstrip the available water by nearly one-third, state and tribal leaders told a congressional panel Friday.
The situation is likely only to worsen as the climate changes, leaving states and tribes in competition for their most vital resource.
Representatives from the seven Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Utah and Wyoming — that depend on the river for drinking water and irrigation said at a U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that they are preparing for a future where the river and their entitlements do not match.
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State officials and lawmakers emphasized how serious the situation was, but offered few solutions during Friday’s hearing — the first of two the panel plans to hold on the drought in the Colorado Basin — beyond general appeals to conservation and collaboration.
States and tribes in the basin are legally entitled to 15 million acre-feet of water per year, with another 1.5 million going to Mexico, but only about 12.4 million has flowed in an average year over the last two decades.
The deficit is the result of a years-long drought that was tied to climate change, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and others said.
“After more than two decades of drought with no end in sight, it’s clear — to most of us at least — that climate change is fundamentally altering the Colorado River,” Huffman said. “It’s decreasing the amount of water available from this key river.”
Ranking Republican Cliff Bentz, of Oregon, said the shortage in the Colorado River Basin could soon be the reality elsewhere.
“This situation the Colorado’s facing is so reflective of what we’re going to be seeing all over the West,” Bentz said, adding that whatever solution was reached could be “a template of some sort.”
Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, chairman of the full Natural Resources Committee, called for “a comprehensive initiative” to plan for lower water levels in the basin.
Representatives from the states testified about the challenges the shortfall created, and how they were preparing for a more dire future, though they offered few specific solutions.
“Drought and climate change are presenting challenges that are likely to increase over time,” Tom Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, said.
Buschatzke said the choice was either to cut each state’s water allocation or to conserve use. Arizona was focused on conservation, he said. Partnerships with tribes, neighboring states and other entities would help, he added.
John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said collaborative, regional projects like a water recycling partnership between his agency and one in Southern California, would be needed to deal with the lower water flows.
“We have a simple but difficult decision to make,” he said. “Do we double down on the promises of the last century and fight over water that simply isn’t there, or do we roll up our sleeves and deal with the climate realities of this century?”
Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said water shortages were forcing “heart-breaking” decisions for the state’s farmers, ranchers and tribal communities.
Some residents had decided to sell multi-generational family farms, she said.
“These decisions have significant psychological, sociological and economic impacts to the communities,” she said.
John D’Antonio, the state engineer for New Mexico, said the partnership between states, tribes and the Mexican government had worked for nearly a century and called for that to continue, even as water levels drop.
“Any future decision-making process should consider science, legal and policy aspects concurrently,” he said. “I am confident that all seven Basin states will strive to employ a fact-based approach that considers that holistic vision.”
Bentz said the ideas of collaboration and conservation sounded good, but raised doubt about what those ideas could do on their own.
Saying he could pose the same question to anyone who had testified, he asked Mitchell how much water conservation measures could save in her state.
Colorado’s water conservation plan could conserve 400,000 acre-feet, Mitchell said, though she said that included areas outside the Colorado River Basin.
Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, told the panel that her government lacked full rights to its share of the water. More than 70 miles of the river runs through the tribes’ lands in Arizona and California.
While the tribes are allowed to divert water for their own purposes, they may not lease it to other communities, a right other tribes enjoy, Flores said. A bill to allow the Colorado River Indian Tribes the same right would help their neighbors, she’s said.
“Without the right to lease our water, we can do little to directly assist communities in Arizona,” she said. “We are simply requesting the right to decide for ourselves how best to use our water.”
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From Audubon Magazine (April Reese):
After prolonged neglect, Mexico’s Colorado River Delta is teeming with life. This summer, Ridgway’s Rails and Least Bitterns prowled in lush marshes. People jumped into the river’s water to escape record-breaking heat, or enjoyed picnics on the shore. Fish long absent shimmered in sunlit water.
This life aquatic was unthinkable until recently. Beginning in 1922, water-sharing agreements among the seven U.S. states in the Colorado River basin and Mexico claimed nearly every drop of the once-mighty waterway, which begins high in the Rocky Mountains and wends 1,450 miles to northwest Mexico, where it empties into the Sea of Cortez. Over ensuing decades, dams and diversions built to sustain farms and growing cities from Colorado to California left little water for downstream stretches south of the border. By the 1960s, when Lake Powell began to fill behind Glen Canyon Dam, the river no longer reached the sea.
Deprived of nourishment, the Colorado River Delta shrank, becoming a sliver of the expanse of lagoons and braided channels that naturalist Aldo Leopold saw when he paddled through a century ago. Ninety percent of its wetlands shriveled. Migratory birds, arriving to find far fewer places to feed and rest, made do with less appealing alternatives, such as agricultural waste ponds.
This year, however, marks a turning point in the delta’s long-sought revival: From May through October, 35,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water—about 11 billion gallons, or enough to supply at least 70,000 Southwest households for a year—is snaking from the U.S.-Mexico border to the river’s fan-shaped terminus 100 miles away. It is the first time since a brief period in 2014 that the Colorado reached the sea. And thanks to tireless advocacy by Raise the River, a binational alliance of six conservation groups, and a series of delicate negotiations between the two nations, the delta’s future is awash in promise. By 2026 it will receive 210,000 acre-feet of water in total.
This moment was a long time coming. After years of talks, the United States and Mexico did a test release, a 105,392-acre-foot “pulse flow” for two months in spring 2014. The surge, along with small deliveries made possible in part by Mexican farmers, helped biologists restore 1,400 acres of riparian systems, which involved planting more than 47,000 native trees and acquiring water rights.
The delta bloomed in response: Bird abundance rose 20 percent and avian diversity increased 42 percent, showing even a modest amount of water can make a big difference. “You almost can’t believe how quickly an area can be transformed from a pretty decimated landscape and disturbed ecosystem into something that really conjures the river of the past,” says Jennifer Pitt, Audubon’s Colorado River Program director. “A lot of hard work in the hot sun made something miraculous happen.”
“We know that we are never going to have the delta like it was 100 years ago, no,” says Gabriela Caloca Michel, water and wetlands conservation program coordinator at Pronatura Noroeste, a coalition member group. “But we know that we now have more birds, we have restoration, we have people working there—because we have some water.”
Buoyed by the results, in 2017 conservation groups convinced the two nations to ink a longer-term deal to send regular surges downstream and, along with nonprofits, contribute to a total of $18 million for restoration, science, and monitoring. Minute 323, an addendum to a 1944 Colorado River water-sharing accord, was born.
Crucially, the agreement not only allocated water to the delta, but also called for both nations to make voluntary cuts in dry times and required the United States to fund water-efficiency projects in Mexico to ease the way. “Getting the two countries aligned was harder than I ever imagined it would be,” says Pitt. “And keeping them aligned remains complicated. But knowing what that takes makes it all the more special to see.”
The design of this year’s release, the first under the new accord, builds on lessons from 2014. This time, to ensure as much water as possible reaches the delta rather than sinks into the thirsty riverbed on its journey south, the water’s path is diverted near the border through irrigation channels to bypass a 35-mile dry stretch. Some irrigation water, purchased from Mexican farmers, is also sent to the river’s floodplain instead of fields. Overall, the volume dedicated to the delta is less than one percent of the river’s total average flow. But again managers expect a little will go a long way, boosting restoration efforts and transforming desiccated areas into verdant habitat for Vermilion Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and more of the 380 avian species using the delta.
What makes the win even more extraordinary is that it comes amid extreme challenges. The Southwest, and two-thirds of Mexico, is in the grips of one of the most intractable droughts the region has ever experienced, fueled by climate change. This year the Colorado River Basin’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, dropped to record low levels. In August the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that in 2022, for the first time, it would reduce water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico and may have to impose more cuts in coming years.
With hotter, drier times ahead, some advocates worry that water dedicated for the delta and other basin ecosystems could begin to look tempting, as farms and cities try to harness every drop. Yet despite painful shortages, those working to resurrect the delta remain cautious optimists. “The water that we’re putting in the river isn’t only for wildlife,” says Francisco Zamora Arroyo, the Sonoran Institute’s senior director of programs. “It’s for the people, too.” With locals again connected to their river, he says, the case to keep it flowing will only strengthen.
After all, Pitt adds, the same agreements that are re-watering the delta enable Mexico’s commitment to share in shortages. In an exception to the norm, an ecological revival—made possible by sharing rather than fighting over water—has inspired a new way to value the region’s most precious resource. “I see the two countries saying, ‘We need to figure out how to sustain this,’ ” says Pitt. “And that really is so important and amazing.”
This story originally ran in the Fall 2021 issue as “Vital Signs.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.
From Water for Colorado:
When Coloradans voted to legalize sports betting in November 2019, they made Colorado’s water the winner.
Colorado places a 10% tax on casinos’ sports-betting profits, which has already begun raising millions of dollars each year to protect and conserve our water resources, fund grant projects specified in the state’s water plan and ensure there’s enough water for everyone. In fact, in its first year, sports betting raised $6.6 million for water.
Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams face increasing pressures from population growth and climate change. We must invest to protect and conserve our water so Colorado remains a world-class place to live, work and recreate.
Up to 93% of revenue from the tax on casinos will go to fund the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. Check out our Colorado Water Plan Grant Projects Map below to learn more about the type of projects these funds will benefit.
So, you want to help Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams? You bet!
From The Summit Daily (Jenna deJong):
When environmental projects garner support from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, it’s a sign to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources that they fall in line with the Colorado Water Plan, thus making it easier to obtain grants and other funding. There’s a caveat though: The roundtable only updates its list every five years. If projects want to be added to the list, they must appeal to their representative…
The roundtable’s focus is on the Colorado River Basin, one of nine watersheds in the state and one of the largest, according to the roundtable’s website. The eight counties in the basin that have representatives sitting on the roundtable include Summit, Grand, Routt, Gunnison, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa.
The roundtable completed its own implementation plan in 2015 that outlines specific goals of the Colorado River Basin. Projects must fall in line with both this and the state plan, in addition to one of the roundtable’s six focus areas:
Encourage a high level of basin-wide conservation Protect and restore healthy streams, rivers, lakes and riparian areas Assure dependable basin administration Sustain agriculture Develop local water-conscious and land-conscious strategies Secure safe drinking water
“If your project is listed on the basin’s implementation plan, then you have a better probability of obtaining the funding,” [Peggy] Bailey said “…Through their vetting process, (the roundtable) looks at what it does for the basin and if it’s in alignment with the interests of the basin’s implementation plan. Then they will put it on this list and they will also write a letter of endorsement for the project. Then that makes it easier for the project proponents to obtain funding.”
Projects are divided into different tiers. Projects in the first tier are ready to launch, supported by an entity and determined to be of importance to the roundtable. Projects in the second tier are nearly ready to move forward, but still need to be pursued. The third-tier projects have less data, don’t have a clear entity supporting them and need to be fleshed out. Projects in the fourth tier are supported, but need to be tweaked before moving forward.
Projects in the first tier include the Swan River restoration project and the Blue Valley Ranch fishery restoration on the lower Blue River. These projects are already well underway and have organizations securing funding that are responsible for moving them along.
Another project in the pipeline is the second phase of the Blue River integrated water management plan. Backed by the Blue River Watershed Group, this was one that Bailey said she helped push forward when the roundtable was updating its list. Formerly in the second tier, this project moved to the first as the group began collecting data over the summer…
Other projects in the second tier include the Silverthorne Kayak Park, backed by the town of Silverthorne, and cleanup measures in the French Gulch mine drainage, which is backed by the town of Breckenridge and Summit County government.
Bailey pointed out that all of these projects are meant to protect the natural beauty and splendor of not just of Summit County but the entire basin, and that much of the county’s way of living is highly dependent on this single resource.
From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):
Colorado may have more locations where dangerous PFAS “forever chemicals” are stored and used than any other state in the U.S., according to a database released by the EPA after challenges from a watchdog group.
About 21,000 industrial sites in Colorado appear on the previously undisclosed EPA database of locations that “may be handling” PFAS, with more than 85% of those places related to oil and gas, and heavy concentrations of possible locations at the industry’s core in Weld County, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which forced EPA to release the data.
PFAS chemicals repel water, lubricate, and prevent stains better than many other substances, and have been used in firefighting foam and thousands of common household and industrial products worldwide.
The national database includes more than 100,000 possible PFAS locations, according to the watchdog group that forced EPA to release it, far more in the most recent analyses of PFAS ubiquity throughout the country. A map released in July by the Environmental Working Group put the number of Colorado locations possibly handling and discharging PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) into the environment at 501.
State officials investigating PFAS contamination and solutions in Colorado said they are not surprised by the extent of the EPA PFAS listings…
Colorado starts foam buyback
Colorado in September launched a new program to help local fire departments replace stores of firefighting foam containing PFAS with a safer alternative, and store the chemicals until the state figures out a disposal method, Dani said. Municipal water supplies covering 90% of state residents have been tested for the chemicals, and the state now encourages anyone using private well water to sign up for testing.
PFAS, which encompasses thousands of chemicals with slight variations, can run off into groundwater and accumulate in fish, animals and humans. While federal and state officials are still establishing safe human consumption limits for PFAS, the EPA says studies show the chemicals cause “reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals,” as well as tumors. High cholesterol levels in those exposed are also common impacts.
The chemicals, also used as repellents or lubricants, and previously in nonstick pans, as well as thousands of other products including fast-food wrappers, do not appear to break down or lose their potency, thus earning their “forever” label.
Physicians for Social Responsibility claimed in a July report that oil and gas companies in some states used PFAS or chemicals that break down into PFAS in fracking wells between 2012 and 2020. Colorado was not among the six states listed in that report.
California, a much larger state by population, is second in in the database’s total of “may be handling” sites, at about 13,000, with Oklahoma third, according to PEER, a nonprofit that provides legal and technical support to whistleblowers. PEER won release of the EPA’s PFAS registry and database through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The vast reach of PFAS chemicals and potential water contamination should put pressure on federal and state regulators to finally complete long-running studies on how to set a strict national drinking water standard, demand safer substitutes and force cleanups of spills, PEER advocates said.
“Colorado has become the PFAS capital of the United States,” said PEER’s Rocky Mountain director, Chandra Rosenthal. As EPA consistently delays moving its PFAS “guideline” to a specific cap in drinking water, Rosenthal said, “it is imperative that the state set a drinking water standard ASAP. Offering filters and bottled water to impacted communities isn’t sufficient.”
From Public Employees for Envinronmental Responsibility:
To address the threat posed by toxic PFAS chemicals, EPA announced a PFAS action plan almost three years ago. One of the steps in that plan was the development of an interactive map that would show sources and concentrations of PFAS in the environment.
When that map was never produced as promised, PEER sent a records request to EPA for data and information about the map. After months of delay and stonewalling by the Trump administration, PEER sued and finally began receiving documents. We felt EPA was hiding something, and we were determined to find it.
Under the Biden administration, we continued our records request. Finally, we received an EPA data set with information on some 120,000 industrial facilities “may be handling” PFAS, a figure that is over three times higher than outside experts had estimated. These figures show a scale of potential PFAS contamination in this country that is gargantuan.
The EPA figures indicate that the listed sites involving PFAS manufacture, import, handling, or storage –
Are in areas with more than 25% minority residents, with nearly 40% located within a three-mile radius of those communities; Are found in all states and territories, but that three states, Colorado, California, and Oklahoma (in that order), house more than one-third of all the facilities listed; and Include more than 6,000 facilities with a history of environmental violations.
The agency categorizes more than half of these facilities (around 57%) as active, with one-quarter (around 27%) categorized inactive, while the status of the balance (around 16% or more than 20,000 sites) is listed as “unknown.”
“PFAS” refers to a family of human-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS are used as non-stick coatings, firefighting foams, stain and water protection for fabrics, and protective coatings; more recently, they have been used in food packaging, cosmetics, medical devices, and other commercial products, like artificial turf.
Why was EPA sitting on this data?
Probably because these revelations have huge implications for our nation’s battle to contain PFAS pollution. PFAS are associated with a variety of ailments, including suppressed immune function, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney disease, cancers, and liver damage. Because PFAS have a strong carbon-fluorine bond, they do not easily break down in the environment and are called “forever chemicals.” As a result, they are virtually impossible to destroy and there is no know safe way to dispose of PFAS.
Despite the serious nature of this problem, EPA is taking a lax approach to regulating these chemicals, even as communities around the country are spending millions of dollars to clean up contaminated water supplies. This data is another indication that EPA is not doing its job and seems more worried about appeasing the chemical companies than protecting public health and the environment.
PEER is advocating regulation of PFAS as a class of chemicals, removing them from our drinking water and food supply, and removing them from consumer products. In addition, PEER has been asking EPA to treat PFAS as a hazardous waste from manufacture to disposal, employing a so-called cradle to grave approach.
From The Guardian (Carey Gillam and Alvin Chang):
List of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of the US appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.
The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.
The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.
The tally far exceeds a previous analysis that showed 29,900 industrial sites known or suspected of making or using the toxic chemicals.
People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health…
A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.
In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil…
The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly…
The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)
Here’s the release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Joe Szuszwalak):
Action follows years of stakeholder collaboration to save this unique Colorado River Basin fish
Thanks to the hard work of state, regional, Tribal and federal agencies, as well as private partners, significant progress has been made conserving and recovering the humpback chub. Following a review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing that it has reclassified the humpback chub from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Today’s announcement follows the publication of the proposed rule in January 2020 and subsequent public comment period.
“Today’s action is the result of the collaborative conservation that is needed to ensure the recovery of listed species,” said Matt Hogan, Acting Regional Director for the Service. “Reclassifying this distinctive fish from endangered to threatened is the result of many years of cooperative work by conservation partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. We thank everyone involved for their efforts as we look toward addressing the remaining challenges in the Colorado River Basin.”
The humpback chub was first documented in the Lower Colorado River Basin in the Grand Canyon in the 1940s and the upper Colorado River Basin in the 1970s. It was placed on the list of endangered species in 1967 due to impacts from the alteration of river habitats by large mainstem dams. This fish is uniquely adapted to live in the swift and turbulent whitewater found in the river’s canyon-bound areas. The fleshy hump behind its head, which gives the fish its name, evolved to make it harder to be eaten by predators, and its large, curved fins allow the humpback chub to maintain its position in the swiftly moving current.
The Upper Basin Recovery Program’s conservation and management actions have resulted in improved habitat and river flow conditions for the humpback chub over the past 15 years. These efforts have increased the Westwater Canyon population to more than 3,000 adults and stabilized populations in Black Rocks, Desolation & Gray, and Cataract canyons. All populations in the Upper Basin have stabilized or increased, even as Lake Powell elevations have declined. Flow conditions have also improved during this period, as partners have refined flow management.
Water releases along the river continue to support this and other endangered species in the basin. In the Lower Basin population, there are now more than 12,000 individuals in the Little
Colorado River and the Colorado River at their confluence and increasing densities in the Grand Canyon’s western end due to the receding Lake Mead exposing river habitat. Additionally, successful efforts to reintroduce humpback chub into Havasu Creek and upstream portions of the Little Colorado River have expanded their range.
Ongoing multi-stakeholder partnerships are managing flows to improve habitat conditions for listed and sensitive riparian species in the Colorado River Basin, even as storage in the lakes decline. Drought conditions in 2021 highlight the continued importance of multi-stakeholder partnership programs in managing river conditions for these species and human needs. The final rule to reclassify the humpback chub from endangered to threatened does not relinquish ongoing monitoring or conservation actions; ESA protection to the species continues under this status.
Humpback chub conservation partners include the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as Tribal agencies, water users, power customers, recreational interests, and environmental organizations. Federal partners include the Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, and the Western Area Power Administration. These partners have all played a critical role in reaching conservation milestones for the species.
In response to public comments, the final rule includes updated monitoring data demonstrating populations are more resilient than previously described. It also includes updated information on the potential effects of climate change on water availability in the Colorado River Basin.
Ongoing threats to the humpback chub that Recovery Program partners are addressing include threats from non-native species such as smallmouth bass in the upper basin, uncertainties related to river flow, and the outcomes of a new cooperative agreement among partners in the Upper Basin Recovery Program.
As part of the final rule reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened, the Service has also finalized a 4(d) rule that reduces the regulatory requirements for state fish and wildlife agencies and other non-federal stakeholders when working to protect and recover the humpback chub. Examples of this work include creating refuge populations, expanding the range of the species, removing non-native fish species and creating catch-and-release fishing opportunities.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A rapids-loving, odd-looking native fish found locally in the Colorado River is now officially considered to be at a reduced risk of extinction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday said it has reclassified the humpback chub from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act, thanks to significant progress made by conservation and recovery efforts of federal agencies, states, tribal entities and private partners.
“It’s a major milestone that we feel very proud of,” Kevin McAbee, acting director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, told The Daily Sentinel. “We believe that it demonstrates the collaborative conservation efforts that we’ve been undertaking with our partners over the last three-decades-plus are working. It’s really something that we’ve been working towards for many years and we’re just very excited about it.”
According to the agency, the fish was first documented in the Grand Canyon in the 1940s and the upper Colorado River Basin in the 1970s, and placed on the list of endangered species in 1967 due to impacts from changes in river habitats caused by large dams.
Feeding on insects, crustaceans and plants, the humpback chub can live 20 to 40 years, grow up to 19 inches long and produce up to 2,500 eggs per year. A warm-water species, it is uniquely adapted to live in the turbulent whitewater found in rivers’ rocky canyon areas, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Its namesake, fleshy lump behind its head evolved to make it harder to be eaten by predators, and large, curved fins let it stay in place in swift currents.
These traits have helped it survive in the Black Rocks area of the river in western Mesa County and in Westwater Canyon just across the Utah border, where the Fish and Wildlife Service says the most recent estimates indicate there are populations of 430 and 3,300 adults, respectively. The Westwater Canyon population has been growing and the Black Rocks numbers are stable, but a large number of juveniles may boost the Black Rocks population in the future.
Other stable populations exist at the Desolation/Gray canyons area on the Green River in Utah and Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah. The Grand Canyon is home to the largest number of fish, including an estimated 12,000 in a core area in the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River around their confluence.
Globally, the fish exists only in that handful of core population areas. Another population in Dinosaur National Monument appears to have died out. McAbee said the Westwater and Black Rocks populations combined are the largest population upstream of Lake Powell, making them the home of the largest combined population in the world of humpback chub outside of the Grand Canyon, and an important core population just downstream of Grand Junction…
Two multi-stakeholder efforts, the Upper Colorado River program and Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, have worked to try to help recover the species. In the Upper Colorado River, these efforts have included protecting river flows; managing and removing predatory, nonnative fish; and installing and operating fish passage structures where dams otherwise can impede fish travel.
Water-release measures involving upstream reservoirs have helped manage river flows to benefit the fish despite drought conditions that largely have prevailed over the last two decades. The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that current river flows and temperatures are largely adequate despite climate change, so it doesn’t put the fish at immediate risk of extinction, which would mean it’s endangered. But the agency found that uncertainty about the possible severity of future water-supply declines poses a threat to the fish in the future, so it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future — the criteria for determining that it is threatened…
Some conservationists oppose downlisting of the humpback chub and razorback sucker, based on concerns ranging from the adequacy of current population numbers to declining water volumes in rivers and impacts from nonnative fish. The states of Colorado, Utah and Arizona all support the downlisting of the humpback chub, along with a separate finalized Fish and Wildlife Service rule that will reduce regulatory requirements for state fish and wildlife agencies and other non-federal stakeholders when working to protect and recover the humpback chub.
That rule allows for some exemptions from a prohibition protecting the fish from “incidental take,” such as death or harm, occurring during activities such as creating refuge populations, moving fish to new waters, removing non-native fish species, and creating catch-and-release fishing opportunities outside of core population areas to boost public awareness about the humpback chub.
Here’s the release from Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):
On October 6, 2021, Audubon’s Colorado River Program Director gave the following testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power. This is slightly edited for length. The full testimony can be found at the bottom of this page.
Chairman Kelly, Ranking Member Hyde-Smith and members of the subcommittee, thank you for holding this important hearing on drought in the West, it is an honor to testify before you today.
My name is Jennifer Pitt, I serve as the Colorado River Program Director for the National Audubon Society (Audubon), and I have more than 20 years of experience working on water issues in the Colorado River basin. Audubon is a leading national nonprofit organization representing more than 1.8 million members. Since 1905, we have been dedicated to the conservation of birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the- ground conservation. Audubon advocates for solutions in the Colorado River basin that ensure adequate water supply for people and the environment.
As you consider options to support drought management in the West, it is important to recognize the consequences of severe drought in the Colorado River basin. The myriad rivers, wetlands, and lakes of the Colorado River basin have extraordinary value, economically, culturally, ecologically, and spiritually. While these freshwater-dependent resources cover only 2% of the landscape, they support 40% of all breeding birds. Water year 2021 is now the worst year on record for many farmers and ranchers, wildlife managers, and businesses and communities who rely on water supply from the basin, putting these irreplaceable resources at risk.
In the Colorado River basin, like other places across the arid West, climate change and drought are already worsening impacts on freshwater-dependent habitats long starved for water. While we cannot completely stop the impacts that are already occurring, with coordinated efforts and smart investments, we can avoid losing key habitats, and promote a stronger, more resilient basin for the future. In order to avoid the worst outcomes for birds and other species, Audubon has worked to ensure that water infrastructure does no additional environmental damage, worked with water managers to dedicate flows for the environment, and supports investing in habitat restoration.
Federal Investment Needed to Help Manage Drought Impacts
Federal leadership is needed to provide the resources necessary to address this challenge. Congress should use all available options to invest in immediate and long-term solutions to mitigate current disasters and enhance the climate resilience of states affected by historic drought conditions. Audubon supports immediate disaster relief for communities hit hardest by compounding issues of drought, fire, COVID-19, and historic inequalities. Funding for a suite of common-sense strategies including natural infrastructure that creates distributed storage, forest management and wildfire mitigation, ecosystem restoration, upgraded agricultural irrigation infrastructure, binational water conservation and habitat restoration, water recycling and improved science will provide the means to help enhance overall climate resilience for people, wildlife, and economies throughout the Colorado River basin. Audubon’s federal funding priorities include:
Emergency Drought Response: Emergency drought relief funding is needed to respond to the historic drought conditions affecting tens of millions of Americans. There is no funding provided for immediate emergency response in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, so additional investment is needed.
USGS Monitoring and Research: Federal investment in monitoring and science, including Open ET, will allow water managers to replace and add new stream gages, comprehensively forecast, model and track water availability throughout the basin.
Reclamation’s binational program: Minute 323 carries forward the cooperative approach originally forged in Minute 319, and includes binational agreement to invest in agricultural infrastructure improvements in the Mexicali Valley that result in water conserved in Lake Mead and improvements to riparian habitats. Binational investments have proven effective since the United States and Mexico initiated the cooperative process 15 years ago, but much more needs to be done. With conservation opportunities and ecosystem restoration projects demonstrating the wisdom of the initial pilot projects, it is time to increase the scale of our binational investments. All Colorado River water users would benefit from additional investment in binational water conservation and habitat restoration. By doing so, we would continue to see the benefits in the water levels of Lake Mead and help slow the decline of these essential reservoirs. Without this cooperative process, governments and water leaders on both sides of the border would be investing precious time and energy to try to create the system we have in place today. With Minute 323, our existing binational framework for cooperation, water conservation and environmental restoration, it is time to increase investments to meet the challenges of drought and climate change that threaten the Basin.
Salton Sea Restoration: Funding will help mitigate the environmental and public health crisis caused by the receding shoreline of California’s Salton Sea.
Indian Health Service Sanitation and Construction Support: Tribal members suffered the highest rates of covid-19 infection and mortality of any ethnic group in the United States, and the fact that thousands of homes on tribal reservations do not have water service is unconscionable.
Reclamation Water Settlement Fund: Tribal water settlements are urgently needed to address long- overdue promises, to allow tribes to benefit from their water rights, and to reduce the uncertainty that unsettled rights imposes on all Colorado River water users.
WaterSMART grants, including the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, with a set-aside for natural infrastructure projects: Community resilience to climate change can be improved with funding for nature-based solutions for restoring rivers and wetlands. Natural infrastructure, including irrigated wetlands and restored high-elevation meadows, can build adaptive capacity in ecosystems and ranching operations to cope with ongoing climate shifts. These investments could also mitigate climate change by reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions and increase economic resilience by providing cost-effective mechanisms to restore degraded working lands, improving land value and profitability of operations.
Reclamation’s Water Recycling and Reuse programs: Technologies are available to help municipal water systems stretch available water supplies through investments in recycling and reuse infrastructure. Federal funding to maximize water recycling and reuse can help maintain the trend already established among municipalities that use Colorado River water whereby population growth is decoupled from water demand.
Reclamation Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program: Beyond the funding in the Infrastructure Bill, additional funding is needed to restore imperiled ecosystems, especially ecosystems facing significant negative impacts caused by historic drought conditions.
Reclamation multi-benefit projects to improve watershed health: Beyond what was included in the Infrastructure Bill, robust funding is needed to improve watershed health and resiliency, especially for watersheds facing significant negative impacts from historic drought conditions.
Ecosystem restoration funding for the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior: Well- managed forests provide numerous benefits, including preventing soil erosion; supporting water filtration and increasing runoff yields; regulating snow melt and water supply; improving water quality; lowering water treatment costs; capturing carbon; and benefiting wildlife habitat and fisheries. Implementing best practices in forest management and forest restoration can help maintain these benefits and mitigate against watershed degradation, severe wildfire, and other climate change impacts. Forest management and restoration can also help in adapting to climate shifts as conditions in the basin change, such as regulating snowmelt runoff and increasing economic resilience through job creation and reduced emergency costs, among other benefits.
Reclamation funding for Aging Agricultural Infrastructure: Ensuring that agricultural infrastructure and operations are up to the challenges of higher temperatures and reduced flows will sustain the economic resilience of rural communities. Improving agricultural infrastructure and operations can reduce pressure on existing water supplies by making operations more efficient, reducing the potential for over-diversion from streams and rivers, and potentially reducing consumptive use.
Improvements can also help the basin’s agriculture become more resilient to the effects of climate change such as reduced stream flows and higher temperatures.
Collaborative solutions are possible in the Colorado River basin
Freshwater-dependent habitats can be restored with effort and investment, and in some cases, restoration may be the key to reaching consensus in binational Colorado River shortage-sharing agreements. Water conservation can be implemented with sensitivity to the species that depend on irrigated habitats. Sensible water policies and state-level investments can help improve western watersheds and water supplies, and leverage federal funding.
We are all in this together, and cooperation and collaboration are critical.
Why Action is needed now: drought has launched the Colorado River into crisis, and climate change means this is not a temporary condition
Climate change has come barging through the front doors of the Colorado River basin. The Colorado River has lost 20% of its historic flows in the past 20 years. Fifteen years ago, water managers pointed to drought, which has recurred periodically over the past century. Today it is clear – and Colorado River water managers understand – that the shrinking water supply is largely due to climate change, with increased temperatures accounting for 33% of the 21st century decline. In 2021, the Colorado River basin snowmelt measured 90% of average, but runoff – the snowmelt that filled the rivers – was only 30% of average. That discrepancy demonstrates an impact of climate change between the ridgetops and the valley bottoms: warm temperatures that drive evaporation, soil desiccation, and increased water use by every living thing.
What we do know is stark: Climate change and aridification are permanently changing our landscapes, threatening our way of life, jeopardizing our ability to produce hydropower and placing further strain on our communities. The possibility of severe declines at Lakes Mead and Powell should be a wake-up call to anyone who wants their children or grandchildren to be able to survive and thrive in the West.
Drought is devastating Colorado River habitats and the wildlife that depends on them
Because freshwater-dependent resources in the Colorado River basin support 40% of all breeding birds, these birds, like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, are telling us that the basin is in trouble. Birds like the Yellow Warbler and Summer Tanager, once familiar sights along the Colorado River, have experienced significant regional declines. The outlook for Yuma Ridgway’s Rail, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, all listed as federally endangered, is especially bleak if current trends continue.
Today, rivers in the basin suffer from reduced flow and changed seasonality of flows, resulting in a diminished river, and in loss of much of the native forest that flourished on the river’s banks. The loss of aquatic and riparian habitats has had devastating impacts on wildlife, particularly fish and birds.
The combination of drought and heatwaves – as witnessed this summer – can push birds to their physiological limits, leading to lethal dehydration. In drought times, birds may also congregate at remaining, dwindling water spots, causing conditions ripe for the spread of disease.
At the Salton Sea, declining inflows in the wake of the 2003 Imperial Valley to San Diego transfer is resulting in exposed playa, which creates significant air quality problems for communities that already suffer high asthma rates. The shrinking lake impacts wildlife too: colonial seabirds began abandoning nesting sites en masse in 2013, and shallow, marshy habitat areas at the sea’s edge have begun to rapidly vanish. As less water flows into the Sea, it is becoming more saline and inhospitable to birds, fish, and insects. In the Colorado River Delta, the near complete elimination of flows resulted in an 80% reduction of what had been an expansive, 1.5 million acre ecosystem of wetlands and riparian forests.
In the past couple of years, we have gotten a glimpse of how climate change impacts will compound with shattering consequences for the environment. With the increase in hot, windy, and dry days, fire season has more than doubled since 1973 in many parts of the West. Forests devastated by 20 years of beetle kill, drought stress, and low soil moisture have burned at record rates. In 2020, Colorado’s Grizzly Creek Fire burned more than 32,000 acres on the Colorado River above Glenwood Springs, and in 2021 rainstorms over the burn area triggered mudslides, repeatedly closing Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, interrupting travel and trade, and choking the Colorado River, clogging fish breeding grounds and dumping untold volumes of ash and sediment into the water supply.
2021 river temperatures up to 80º F impacted numerous recreational fisheries leading to voluntary and mandatory closures. Warm rivers also boost populations of non-native bass and pike, which prey on protected Colorado River native fishes including the razorback sucker and humpback chub. 2021 also saw rivers like the Dolores go completely dry, which is not friendly habitat for any kind of fish.
This is a sobering and scary time for everyone and everything that depends on the Colorado River.
As Congress considers priorities and funding opportunities, Audubon supports increasing federal investments and leadership for the Colorado River Basin and natural resources across the West. After this year’s historic drought and catastrophic wildfires, we urge Congress to ensure that federal agencies receive critically needed resources to prepare now for the effects of climate change by promoting nature-based solutions for restoring watersheds and ecosystems. In addition, Congress has several pending bills with bipartisan support that respond to the many needs of tribal communities and western states’ water supply needs that we are supporting, including access to clean water and water settlements. It is imperative that our communities have the resources they need to prepare for and respond to the drought crisis that touches every living thing.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify and I would be happy to answers your questions.
Here’s the release from the Water Information Program:
The updated Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) documents are out now for public comment through November 15, 2021. There’s no one better suited to inform local planning than people like you, who live, work, and recreate in the basins and understand the critical role that water and healthy rivers play in our economy, environment, and everyday lives.
This represents a critically important opportunity to learn more, engage in local conversations, and help shape the content of these plans which inform how water is managed at a local level. The Public are invited to review the BIP’s and provide comments! Feedback will be delivered to each basin for consideration. Check out the BIPs at: https://engagecwcb.org/bip-public-comment-period
It’s especially important to engage right now. The Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) — locally driven documents identifying goals and actions in each of Colorado’s nine river basins — are undergoing updates and will help inform the update of the state’s Water Plan, due to be final in late 2022.
Basin Implementation Plan: Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) are developed in a collaborative process by basin roundtables to help frame regional issues as part of the overall creation of Colorado’s statewide water plan. While the Colorado Water Plan seeks to address statewide water concerns, BIPs are more focused on local needs, plans, projects, and goals that provide a pathway to success. The BIPs are developed by basin roundtable members with support from the community and ultimately help inform the statewide water plan as well as direct spending priorities for the Roundtables. The new BIPs advance the basin roundtables’ 2015 efforts.
For the first time, a shorter and standardized Volume 1 BIP strategy document makes comparing BIPs easier.
Basin Roundtable: The basin roundtables were developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2005 to “facilitate discussions on water management issues and encourage locally driven collaborative solutions” (CWCB Basin Roundtables). These roundtables are composed of local volunteer members who represent a variety of interests including basin agriculture, environment, and recreation. Each basin has its own bank account and funds local projects. Monthly meetings are open to the public, and are where funding and other strategic decisions are made. This means you, and others who care about water conservation can participate and help influence the decision making process. Better yet, you can join these meetings virtually from the comfort of your home.
The first step toward responsibly managing water is working to ensure the public helps shape these plans.
The Public Comment Period for the BIPs runs from October 13, 2021 – November 15, 2021.
For more information: email@example.com
Click here to read the discussion:
ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory
Synopsis: La Niña conditions have developed and are expected to continue with an 87% chance of
La Niña in December 2021- February 2022.
In the past month, La Niña conditions emerged, as indicated by below-average sea surface temperatures(SSTs)across the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. In the last week, the Niño-3.4 and Niño-4 index values were -0.6oC and -0.7oC, respectively. The Niño-3 and Niño- 1 + 2 indices were not as cool, with values at -0.3oC and 0.1oC. Below-average subsurface temperatures (averaged from 180-100oW) strengthened significantly in the past month, as negative anomalies were observed at depth across most of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. Low-level easterly wind anomalies and upper-level westerly wind anomalies were observed over most of the equatorial Pacific.Tropical convection was suppressed near and west of the Date Line and enhanced over Indonesia, while the Southern Oscillation Index and Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index were both positive. Overall, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system was consistent with La Niña conditions.
The IRI/CPC plume average of forecasts for the Niño-3.4 SST index favors La Niña to continue through the fall and winter 2021-22. The forecaster consensus also anticipates LaNiña to continue through the winter, with ENSO-neutral predicted to return during March-May2022. Because of the recent oceanic cooling and coupling to the atmosphere, forecasters now anticipate a 57% chance of one season (November-January) reaching-1.00C or less in the Niño-3.4 index. Thus,at its peak, a moderate-strength La Niña is favored. In summary,La Niña conditions have developed and are expected to continue with an 87% chance of La Niña in December 2021- February 2022 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).
La Niña is anticipated to affect temperature and precipitation across the United States during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal temperature and precipitation outlooks will be updated on Thurs. October 21st).
The global temperature for September 2021 was the fifth highest for the month of September in the 142-year NOAA record, which dates back to 1880. The year-to-date (January-September) global surface temperature was the sixth highest on record. According to NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook, it is virtually certain (>99.0%) that the year 2021 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record.
This monthly summary, developed by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.
Monthly Global Temperature
The September 2021 global surface temperature was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th-century average of 59.0°F (15.0°C) — the fifth-warmest September in the 142-year record. The eight warmest Septembers have occurred since 2014. September 2021 also marked the 45th consecutive September and the 441st consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average.
Much-warmer-than-average temperatures were observed across parts of North, Central, and South America, Africa, western Europe and southern Asia, as well as across parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Temperatures were cooler than average across parts of Alaska, Greenland, western and eastern parts of Russia and central and southern Pacific Ocean.
The Southern Hemisphere’s September 2021 surface temperature departure of +1.26°F (+0.70°C) was the warmest September in the 142-year record. Meanwhile, the Northern Hemisphere had its fifth-warmest September on record.
Regionally, South America and Africa had their warmest September on record, surpassing the now-second warmest September set in 2015 and 2017, respectively. North America had its third-warmest September on record, while Asia had its ninth-warmest on record. Although Europe and Oceania had an above-average September temperature, it was their coolest September since 2013 and 2018, respectively.
The September 2021 Arctic sea ice extent was the 12th-lowest September extent in the 43-year record at 1.90 million square miles or 575,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average. According to an analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) using data from NOAA and NASA, the Arctic sea ice extent reached its annual minimum extent on September 16, 2021, marking the end of the summer melt season and the beginning of the winter growth season. The annual minimum extent of 1.82 million square miles was the largest annual minimum extent since 2014; however, it was the 12th-smallest annual minimum extent since records began in 1979.
The Antarctic sea ice extent for September 2021 was 7.12 million square miles, which is close to average. As the Arctic sea ice extent reached its annual minimum extent, the Antarctic reached its annual maximum extent on September 1 at 7.24 million square miles, marking the end of its growth season and the beginning of its melt season.
Global Tropical Cyclones
The global tropical cyclone count from January-September 2021 was 75 named storms — the fifth-highest number of named storms on record for January-September. The Atlantic basin had above-average hurricane activity during September 2021 with 10 named storms (including Ida), tying 2020 and 2010 for the highest number of named storms in September. The eastern North Pacific basin had one named storm, tying with 2010 and 2011 for the fewest named storms in September since 1981. The West Pacific basin had four named storms, two of them reaching Category 5 (Chanthu and Mindulle).
For a more complete summary of climate conditions and events, see our September 2021 Global Climate Report.
Here’s the release from Northern Water:
One year ago [October 14, 2020], firefighters responded to a smoke report in the East Troublesome area of the Arapaho National Forest north of Hot Sulphur Springs. Fighting the fire in extraordinarily difficult terrain amidst shifting winds and historically dry and warm conditions with limited resources created enormous challenges, and the fire grew rapidly, repeatedly crossing containment lines as it grew east toward Colo. Highway 125.
One week later, exhibiting behavior unlike anything scientists and fire managers had ever seen, the fire crossed Colo. 125 and made a 20-mile run across northern Grand County, burning 589 homes and structures and taking two lives before jumping the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and heading toward the Town of Estes Park.
A winter storm Oct. 25 brought very cold temperatures and snow, resulting in a dramatic drop in fire behavior with smoldering and reduced fire spread on both sides of the Continental Divide. The fire was declared contained on Nov. 30, 2020. At 193,892 acres, East Troublesome is the state’s second largest fire in history. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
As Sheriff Brett Schroetlin reflected on the firestorm and resulting devastation from the East Troublesome Fire, he shared, “I am humbled by the strength of the people that make up the Grand County community and their resilience to persevere through the last twelve months of their very personal recovery.”
In the 12 months since these devastating events, recovery teams, land managers and water providers have turned their attention to post wildfire emergency response and recovery efforts. A collaborative stakeholder group continues to meet monthly to discuss priorities, challenges, and successes; and to protect their critical source water infrastructure. This collaborative recovery group includes Grand County, Northern Water, the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and Bureau of Reclamation among others.
Aerial mulching, water monitoring, utility infrastructure protections, and stabilizing and reopening trails and roads has been a critical part of the work.
“In the weeks and months following the East Troublesome Fire, Northern Water recognized the significant impacts the fire would have on the Upper Colorado River watershed, which is the source of water for more than 1 million residents in Northeastern Colorado,” said Esther Vincent, Director of Environmental Services for Northern Water. “That’s why we partnered with Grand County to be the local sponsors for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”
Using funds through the federal EWP Program, matched with money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water and Grand County have worked with private landowners and other public agencies to develop projects that would protect human life and property in the burn area. To date, this effort has focused on more than 5,000 acres of aerial seeding and mulching and installing debris booms to protect key water infrastructure during summer monsoon events. More work is planned in 2022, and the effects of the fire on the watershed will be felt for years to come.
“A vast portion of the burned area was Arapaho National Forest lands that are a critical part of the Grand County tourism and recreation economy,” said acting Sulphur District Ranger Kevin McLaughlin. “Our focus has been on reopening as much of our road and trail system as we safely can.”
Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews spent the summer working with partners, collaborators, and hundreds of volunteers coordinated through Grand Lake Trailgrooming Inc. and Headwaters Trails Alliance to cut more than 10,000 burnt, broken and fallen trees from 120 miles of trails. Crews also dug hundreds of drainage bars to prevent trail washouts and hundreds of miles of roads were reopened after road crews worked to stabilize them.
“This has been a truly massive undertaking to this point and there is an incredible amount of work yet to be done,” McLaughlin said, noting that an estimated 50 to 70 bridges, boardwalks and turnpikes burned in the fire and all need to be replaced next year in addition to various campground infrastructure that burned and roads that were impacted by the monsoons this summer. “We wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we have without our partners, and we look forward to continued collaboration on fire recovery in the years to come.”
The Grand County Board of Commissioners released this statement: “On the anniversary the worst disaster in recent Grand County history, the Commissioners would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the emergency agencies, volunteers, organizations, and companies that helped our community survive, recover and rebuild. While there is still recovery work to be done, we have no doubt the strength and resilience of our Grand community will see us through.”
To commemorate the anniversary of the East Troublesome Fire, the Grand Lake Chamber has planned two events at Grand Lake Town Park: “We gather to Acknowledge” at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 with a moment of silence followed by the ringing of a bell to acknowledge the night we left our homes; and “We gather to remember” at 11 a.m. Oct. 23, which includes a free Community lunch, local music, a community art piece, and an opportunity to thank first responders over a shared meal.
From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):
In response to decreasing irrigation and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for Monday, October 18th, at 4:00 AM.
Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Be advised, due to low storage and forecast levels in WY 2022, the minimum release of 250 cfs, as documented in the Navajo Record of Decision (2006), may be implemented this winter as long as that release can satisfy the target baseflow.
From KUNC (Alex Hager):
The West’s dire drought issues took a national stage on Friday, as a roster of prominent Western water experts from the region testified in front of the U.S. Congress.
Water decision-makers representing seven states and two tribes within the Colorado River basin spoke about drought in a virtual hearing held by the Committee on Natural Resources’ subcommittee on water, oceans and wildlife.
This week’s hearing, and a similar set of testimonies in front of the U.S. Senate last week, comes at a time of crisis for water in the West. More than two decades of drought are straining the region’s supplies, and forecasts predict a hotter, drier future due to climate change. Declining levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, have forced mandatory cutbacks for some users and projections indicate that more will be necessary in the next few years…
As leaders are faced with the challenge of allocating the steadily shrinking resource, many called for collaboration and additional funding for new and improved infrastructure. Some flatly said the only viable path forward includes major reductions in usage…
Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, touched on the sprawling effects of a drought currently touching 90% of the state, including shortages threatening the livelihoods of farmers, and increasingly frequent and devastating wildfires. She also highlighted the heavy impacts the drought had on the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, where an agriculture-dependent economy has been challenged by shortages.
Tribal leaders advocated for greater acknowledgement and respect for tribal sovereignty. Darryl Vigil, water administrator of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, urged the federal government to formalize a process for tribal participation in water negotiations.
“We have experience and knowledge developed over many hundreds of years of sustainable and adaptive living,” Vigil said. “We understand the importance of honoring the very things that keep us alive, that feed us and quench our thirst.”
He explained that tribes have senior water rights to at least 25% of the current natural flow of the Colorado River, and said they have historically been “excluded from decision-making or consulted” only after decisions have been made.
“It is my sincere hope that the attention and action of this committee represents the beginning of a new chapter in the management of the Colorado River,” Vigil said. “A chapter in which tribes are treated with the same dignity, respect and responsibility as the other sovereigns in the basin.”
Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado Indian River Tribes, emphasized the need for new water infrastructure that would allow tribes to use it more efficiently. That group is Arizona’s largest single user of water from the Colorado river – but is unable to use its full allocation. Flores highlighted proposed legislation that would allow the tribes to lease water to other users.
From Metropolitan Water District via Smart Water Magazine:
Building on increased collaboration on the Colorado River, water agencies in Southern California and Arizona have forged a new partnership to advance development of one of the largest water recycling plants in the country – a project that would help restore balance to the over-stressed river.
Through an agreement approved Tuesday [October 12, 2021] by Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors, the Central Arizona Project and Arizona Department of Water Resources will contribute up to $6 million to environmental planning of the Regional Recycled Water Program, a project to purify treated wastewater to produce a new, drought-proof water supply for Southern California. Southern Nevada Water Authority signed a similar agreement with Metropolitan earlier this year.
If fully developed, the $3.4 billion project would produce up to 150 million gallons daily, enough to serve more than 500,000 homes.
“This project could help the entire Southwest. We know that eliminating the supply-demand imbalance that threatens the Colorado River will take both reducing demand, through conservation, and adding new supplies, like recycled water,” Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said. “That’s why our partners in the Lower Basin are interested in helping us develop the project.”
The initial investment from Arizona could lead to a long-term agreement with the agencies to help fund the project’s construction and operation – helping offset the project’s significant cost for Metropolitan – in exchange for Colorado River water, Hagekhalil said. But more research and planning must be conducted before such a long-term partnership could be developed, he added.
Environmental planning work on the project began last year and will take approximately three years, at a cost of about $30 million. The work, including a Program Environmental Impact Report and engineering and technical studies, will help determine the value and feasibility of developing the full-scale project.
Under the new agreement, the Central Arizona Project will contribute $5 million and the Arizona Department of Water Resources will contribute $1 million to this planning work.
“We are eager to further our partnership with the Metropolitan Water District to collaboratively explore and develop opportunities to improve the long-term reliability and resiliency of our shared resource – the Colorado River,” said Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke.
The latest agreement reinforces the long-standing commitment between California and Arizona to work together to develop solutions on the Colorado River, including supply augmentation, conservation and storage. This partnership, together with Metropolitan’s collaboration with Nevada, will be critical as the Colorado River Basin states begin to create new operating guidelines for the river. The current guidelines are set to expire in 2025.
“Increasing the reuse of recycled water is critical to augmenting water supplies and creating a more resilient Colorado River,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
Expanding the value of the Regional Recycled Water Program to the entire Southwest could also help earn federal financial support for the project.
Click here to read the report (Adnan Rajib, Qianjin Zheng, Heather E. Golden, Qiusheng Wu, Charles R. Lane, Jay R. Christensen, Ryan R. Morrison, Antonio Annis & Fernando Nardi). Here’s the abstract:
Floodplains provide essential ecosystem functions, yet >80% of European and North American floodplains are substantially modified. Despite floodplain changes over the past century, comprehensive, long-term land use change data within large river basin floodplains are limited. Long-term land use data can be used to quantify floodplain functions and provide spatially explicit information for management, restoration, and flood-risk mitigation. We present a comprehensive dataset quantifying floodplain land use change along the 3.3 million km2 Mississippi River Basin (MRB) covering 60 years (1941–2000) at 250-m resolution. We developed four unique products as part of this work: Google Earth Engine interactive map visualization interface, Python code that runs in any internet browser, online tutorial with visualizations facilitating classroom code application, and instructional video demonstrating code application and database reproduction. Our data show that MRB’s natural floodplain ecosystems have been substantially altered to agricultural and developed land uses. These products will support MRB resilience and sustainability goals by advancing data-driven decision making on floodplain restoration, buyout, and conservation scenarios.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.
On October 31, the world will gather in Glasgow for COP26, a major summit on climate change. As the U.S. rejoins the Paris Agreement, Indigenous Peoples, their traditional knowledge, and relationship with the earth are also at the forefront. Join Colorado Law for a discussion with Indigenous leaders and advocates to learn what’s at stake for all of us.
Wednesday, October 20
12:00-1:15 p.m. MT
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
A long wave trough resulted in seasonal to below-normal temperatures across the western third of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS). A ridge of high pressure dominated the eastern two-thirds of the CONUS leading to above-normal temperatures, with the highest positive anomalies across the Northern Plains and Midwest. Despite the amplified ridge in the East, early in the week an upper level low pressure system drifted slowly northward from the Southeast to the Great Lakes bringing unsettled weather and keeping many areas across the Southeast and Ohio Valley wet. A coastal low pressure system along the coastal Carolinas brought some additional precipitation to coastal and inland areas of the Carolinas, leading to mixed reductions and expansion in coverage of abnormal dryness across the Carolinas and Virginia. In the Northeast, little to no precipitation fell and above-normal temperatures, coupled with long-term deficits, led to degradation and expansion of abnormally dry and severe drought areas across Upstate New York and New England. The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest experienced some of the largest positive temperature anomalies (8-10°F above normal) this week. However, a strong surface low pressure system brought heavy rainfall across the Dakotas and northern Minnesota, leading to broad 1-category improvements. In the wake of this storm system, a surface low pressure system developed in the lee of the Rockies over the Southern Plains dropping several inches of rainfall, further improving drought conditions (1-category improvements) in areas affected by the recent rapid onset and intensification of drought during September. As this low pressure system moved across the Midwest later in the week, it led to further improvements across portions of the western Corn Belt, due to heavy rainfall. Areas that missed out on the rainfall over the Great Plains experienced worsening conditions due to above-normal temperatures and high winds increasing evaporation and leading to increased soil moisture loss. An active storm track in the West, associated with a long wave trough, resulted in improving conditions along fringe drought areas in the Pacific Northwest and the Four Corners, where antecedent wetness leading up to this week resulted in more immediate improvements. Given the intensity and duration of drought across the remainder of the West, more precipitation will be needed to warrant more meaningful improvements…
Similar to the Southern Plains, much of the High Plains region is susceptible to extended periods of above-normal temperatures and high winds. In areas where little to no rain fell, these conditions helped to further degrade ongoing drought east of the Front Range across portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska, where many areas have seen drastic deterioration in topsoil moisture in recent weeks (widespread D1-D4 equivalent NASA SPoRT soil moisture percentiles down to 10 cm). Farther north over the Dakotas, a strong low pressure system brought widespread heavy rainfall over the weekend, where several areas received more than 2 inches of rain, with some localized areas of more than 4 inches. This warranted 1-category improvements across large portions of the Dakotas. However, improvements were targeted in nature due to the longer-term deficits and above-normal temperatures increasing the evaporative demand and slowing soil recharge. Farther south in the High Plains Region, surface low pressure developed late in the period in the wake of the system farther north and moved north-northeastward across the central U.S. Rainfall from this system mainly fell over drought-free areas of eastern Kansas before moving into the Midwest and Great Lakes. However, some locations did receive meaningful rainfall; enough to warrant 1-category improvements in northeastern and southeastern corners of the state. Another storm system began propagating across the western U.S. on the final day of the period (Monday-Tuesday), bringing precipitation in various forms to the eastern Rockies. However, given the intensity of drought in the higher-terrain areas of the High Plains Region, the late arrival of precipitation did little to warrant any improvements this week, given the duration and intensity of drought in those areas…
An active storm track across the western U.S. this week brought seasonal to cooler than normal temperatures and beneficial precipitation to much of the region. Improvements were mainly limited to portions of the Pacific Northwest and Four Corners due to improving soil moisture conditions. For the Four Corners region, this precipitation was on the heels of an active Southwest Monsoon season, so reduced evaporative demand coupled with above-normal precipitation led to immediate improvements. For much of the remainder of the West, more precipitation is needed to recharge soil moisture and increase groundwater levels, stream flows, and reservoir levels. The only minor degradations of drought in the Western Region was in southeastern New Mexico and western Montana, where above-normal temperatures and high evaporative demand warranted expansion of D0 (abnormally dry) and D3 (extreme drought) areas, respectively…
Ahead of a long-wave trough across the western U.S., an area of low pressure developed over the Southern Plains, bringing with it much needed precipitation to areas affected by the rapid onset of drought conditions in recent weeks. This has helped to improve conditions, mainly across parts of Oklahoma, where many locations received 2-3 inches of rainfall (greater than 1 inch positive weekly anomalies). Unfortunately, many locations outside of Oklahoma in the Southern Region continued to see further degradation and expansion of drought conditions in, and adjacent to, areas where the rains did not fall or was insufficient. Worsening conditions were observed across Texas and the Ark-La-Tex region were exacerbated by above-normal temperatures and high winds leading to increased evaporation and evapotranspiration rates…
During the next 5 days (October 14 – 18, 2021), a strong surface low pressure system will track across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, bringing the potential for heavy rainfall. Along the tail end of the trailing frontal boundary associated with this low pressure system, the remnants of Tropical Depression Pamela from the East Pacific are expected to bring a surge of moisture to the south-central U.S. Surface low pressure is expected to develop along the remnant frontal boundary and move quickly northeastward bringing increased chances of rainfall from the Middle Mississippi Valley to the Northeast. Despite the active pattern across the central and eastern U.S., temperatures are likely to moderate across the Northern Plains and Midwest by the end of the week, while in the East temperatures will likely be more variable due to the passage of frontal boundaries. In the West, temperatures are expected to be relatively seasonal during the next 5 days, with an abrupt cool down toward Tuesday.
The CPC 6-10 day extended range outlook (October 19 – 23, 2021) favors below-normal rainfall from the eastern Rockies to the East Coast, with weak tilts in the odds toward above-normal precipitation across portions of the Southern Plains and the Florida Peninsula. Enhanced chances of above-normal precipitation are favored along the West Coast inland to the western Great Basin. Above-normal temperatures are favored across much of the CONUS, with the exception of portions of southern and central California, where near to below-normal temperatures favored.