“The Roundup” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado water managers unhappy with timing of emergency releases

In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

41st Annual #Colorado Law Conference on Natural Resources Equity in the #ColoradoRiver Basin: How to Sustainably Manage a Shrinking Resource , September 29-October 1, 2021 #COriver #aridification

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona. Photo credit: Getches-Wilkinson Center

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

In any given year of late, demands for water in the Colorado River Basin exceed supply. Chronic drought, record heat, and rampant wildfires are already affecting the Basin’s overall health and resilience, and the historically low levels in Lakes Mead and Powell have caused an unprecedented call on the river. These historic challenges come at a time when several key components of the “Law of the River” are sunsetting in 2026. Key players are already revisiting the 2007 Interim Guidelines, Minute 323, and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. Relatedly, endangered fish recovery programs relevant to the region expire in 2023. Meanwhile, 48% of Tribal households in the U.S. do not have access to reliable water sources, clean drinking water, or basic sanitation. These harsh realities hasten the need to advance sustainable water management, improve watershed resilience, and ensure clean water access through collaborative decision-making. We look forward to bringing together diverse expertise and perspectives from across the region to draw the roadmap to an equitable future in the Colorado River Basin.

Part 1: Universal Access to Clean Water on Tribal Lands (Thursday morning)
Part 2: Ecosystem Health of the Colorado River Basin (Thursday afternoon)
Part 3: CRB Hydrology & Management Guideline Renegotiations (*Friday)

Opening Reception
Wednesday, September 29
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Wolf Law Building, Schaden Commons

We look forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues, as well as
celebrating the 25-year career of Dr. Doug Kenney who retired at the end of 2020.

41st Annual Colorado Law Conference on Natural Resources
Thursday, September 30 and Friday, October 1
9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Wolf Law Building, Wittemyer Courtroom

Conference Program

Conference Registration

#ClimateChange is destabilizing the #ColoradoRiver Basin. Where do we go from here? — Environmental Defense Fund #COriver #aridification

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Christopher Kuzdas):

In June, a portion of my neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, was put on pre-evacuation notice due to a nearby wildfire. A few weeks later, storms dumped heavy rains over a burn scar from a 2019 fire that caused destructive floods through parts of town. So far, this summer has been our third-wettest monsoon season on record, a complete contrast from our two driest monsoon seasons on record in 2019 and 2020.

These extremes are just a few local examples of the havoc that climate change is causing around the world. Here in the West, we are now in uncharted territory with the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River.

What the shortage declaration means

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently confirmed the Colorado River will be operated under never-before-used shortage rules, called a “tier 1” shortage, starting in 2022.

Under the rules defined by the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), other agreements and the river’s operating guidelines, Arizona will absorb the brunt of this shortage. About one-third less water will flow through the Central Arizona Project canal to the Phoenix and Tucson areas, primarily impacting farmers. Nevada and Mexico will also see mandatory but smaller water cuts.

Though overused and overallocated, the Colorado River still provides water for 40 million people in the United States, Mexico and 30 Native American tribes. Water use across the Colorado River Basin has been unsustainable for years, and it was set up to be that way, going back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided up the river. But climate change is now magnifying and accelerating problems in the basin. Photo credit: The Environmental Defense Fund

Even more concerning are water supply projections for 2023 and beyond.

Bureau of Reclamation projections forecast Lake Mead could fall close to a threshold where there are no rules outlining additional water cuts to avoid a crash to dead pool — when no water can flow out of Hoover Dam. This risk of an acceleration in plummeting water levels — which also jeopardizes water levels in Lake Powell — has prompted basin state representatives to initiate meetings to discuss additional actions that might be needed if water levels in Lake Mead fall below 1,020 feet.

It will get hotter and drier

This unprecedented situation offers a glimpse into our future. Warming scenarios from the latest IPCC report suggest that we could exceed 2 degrees Celsius of warming around midcentury, with more than 5 degrees by the end of the century, in the absence of action to curb carbon emissions.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

Why does this matter for the Colorado River? Colorado River flows are highly sensitive to warming, and aridification caused by climate change is already reducing the water flowing in the river. With each additional 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, the Colorado River’s average flow drops by 9.3%, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Colorado River flows could be up to one-third less than the current average within a generation, unless meaningful and immediate reductions in carbon emissions are achieved.

The outlook for the Colorado River is overwhelming. But what our future looks like is still our choice. We can, and should, choose to pursue a just transition to a basin with significantly less water. While in no way comprehensive, below are four ways to get started on that path.

1. Reconcile water demand with our climate reality.

Reconciling demands with our climate reality, at the very least, will involve updating river operating rules, scaling up conservation programs and shifting away from outdated expansionism.

The rules that determine how we balance supply and demand, and the underlying rights and agreements that collectively determine who gets how much water and when, will play a major role in how we transition to a basin with less water.

River operating rules have become more flexible to some extent as they evolved through new agreements like the DCP. However, current river operating rules still don’t account for the full suite of climate change impacts, especially those impacts under more dire climate scenarios. While river operating rules are already a focus of discussion, updating them will require thoughtful leadership, as well as attention to climate and other social and environmental considerations.

Scaling up conservation programs such as system conservation in the Lower Basin and demand management in the Upper Basin will also play an important role. If not for water conserved in Lake Mead, a “tier 1” shortage would have occurred years ago. Our challenge moving forward will be expanding the scale and impact of these programs, and in the Upper Basin, moving much faster to do so.

To fully reconcile demands with our climate reality, we must also finally shift away from legacy expansionism and boosterism that still show up through unnecessary project proposals like the Lake Powell Pipeline. We can do more with less.

Lake Mead water levels have dropped to a record low. Overall water use must also go down, and it must go down significantly to meet our climate reality. Photo: Chris Richards/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Audubon

2. Address long-standing inequities.

Long-standing inequities should be addressed to ensure water security for all. Two of the many considerations are inclusive decision-making and fully recognizing tribal water rights.

Inclusive and transparent processes to make decisions are essential to developing solutions that account for multiple values and goals. In the past, decision-making was often exclusive and responded primarily to a narrow set of private interests. That is changing.

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

For example, Arizona’s DCP process included some tribes and conservation groups, and the process would not have been successful without the leadership of the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes. More diversity at the table enables more creativity and better solutions.

Although the Colorado River Basin’s 30 sovereign Native American tribes have unique rights and claims to a significant portion of the Colorado River’s flow, not all are using their water for several reasons. Those reasons include aging or inadequate infrastructure; limited funding; and significant legal, policy and administrative barriers.

Overcoming such barriers to accessing Colorado River water and confirming and fulfilling tribal water rights will be critical for many tribes to achieve goals such as meeting basic water needs and securing livelihoods. Addressing those barriers is a step toward dealing with long-standing inequity and should be a priority for policymakers.

3. Take a whole-portfolio approach.

A whole-portfolio approach includes new watershed-focused actions to support communities in adapting to and mitigating the steadily compounding risks and extremes of climate change. The recently published Ten Strategies for Climate Resilience report describes a suite of local and watershed-scale projects to do just that, including forest health and restoration, naturally distributed storage, regenerative agriculture and new crop markets.

A whole-portfolio approach also necessitates adequate management and planning for our other water supplies. However, that’s not fully possible across a large part of the basin without changes in state-level water law and policy. For example, Arizona, which makes up almost half the landmass of the Colorado River Basin, already depends on groundwater for 40% of its annual water supply and will only become increasingly dependent on groundwater as Colorado River flows shrink. Arizona does not manage groundwater across most of the state, and local rural communities have little to no power to do so.

Changing this free-for-all approach to groundwater in rural Arizona is critical if we hope to have a water-secure future for all people in the basin.

4. Lead on climate.

More warming means less water in the Colorado River Basin. How much water dries up depends on how fast we can get off fossil fuels. Across the basin, and globally, freshwater agendas must start including actions to stop heating the planet. Climate leadership is water leadership.

The road ahead is difficult. But what our shared future looks like in the Colorado River Basin is our own choice. Let’s choose to collectively pursue a just transition to a basin with less water.

#ColoradoRiver Working Group Kickoff Meeting Set for September 7, 2021 in Rock Springs — #Wyoming Governor Gordon #GreenRiver #COriver #aridification

Panorama of downtown Rock Springs, looking southeast from grant Street. By Vasiliymeshko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108016208

Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

Governor Mark Gordon’s Colorado River Working Group will hold its first meeting from 9 am to noon on Sept. 7 in Rock Springs. The group will discuss important Colorado River matters and monitor potential impacts to Wyoming. The kickoff meeting will be open to the public and led by the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office.

The formation of the Working Group comes in response to continuing drought conditions in the Colorado, Green and Little Snake River basins and associated issues concerning Colorado River Basin management. The Governor’s charge to the Working Group is to discuss and share Colorado River information with interested stakeholders in the Green and Little Snake River Basins. It is a continuation of a coordinated and proactive outreach effort that has been underway in Wyoming since 2019.

This group is made up of representatives of key water use sectors in the Green and Little Snake River Basins. Working Group members are:

Municipal interests

  • Ben Bracken — Green River/Rock Springs/Sweetwater Joint Powers Board (retired)
  • Brad Brooks — Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities
  • Agriculture interests

  • Chad Espenscheid
  • Legislative interests

  • Senator Larry Hicks — Senate District 11
  • Representative Albert Sommers — House District 20
  • Environmental interests

  • Jen Lamb — The Nature Conservancy
  • Industrial interests

  • Aaron Reichel — Genesis-Alkali
  • Ron Wild — PacifiCorp
  • The September 7th meeting will be held at Western Wyoming Community College in Business Office Room #3650 A&B in Rock Springs. More information, including background materials and future meeting agendas, will be posted on the Colorado River Working Group web page on the Wyoming State Engineer’s website: https://seo.wyo.gov/interstate-streams/wyoming-colorado-river-working-group.

    Electric costs in #Colorado set to surge as #LakePowell struggles to produce hydropower — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam is used to produce hydropower that is delivered over a 17,000-mile transmission grid, reaching six states and 5 million people. Photo courtesy Western Area Power Administration.

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The federal agency that distributes electricity from hydropower plants in the Upper Colorado River Basin will ask its customers, including more than 50 here in Colorado, to help offset rising costs linked to Lake Powell’s inability to produce as much power due to drought.

    The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), which distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, is gathering public comments and asking its customers how best to cope with long-term drought conditions that have pushed Powell and other reservoirs to historically low levels.

    As flows in the Colorado River have declined due to climate change and a 20-year megadrought, there is less water in its storage reservoirs and, therefore, less pressure to power the turbines, causing them to generate less electricity.

    WAPA has had to nearly double the amount of extra power it has had to buy this year to ensure it can meet its contract obligations to its customers.

    “It’s all bad news, but it isn’t necessarily unexpected,” said WAPA spokesperson Lisa Meiman.

    WAPA power is among the most sought-after in Western states because it is sold at cost and because it is a renewable power resource, something highly valued in places such as Colorado, where utilities are working to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

    WAPA often buys extra power if for some reason its customers’ electricity needs don’t match up with its hydropower production on a given day. It delivers power over a 17,000-mile transmission grid to six states and 5 million people.

    But as flows in the Colorado River have shrunk, those purchases have become larger and more frequent.

    Last year it bought an extra 413,000 megawatts of power. This year it has already purchased 833,000 megawatts of additional power, according to Meiman, and the agency expects that number to grow this year and likely again next year as the drought continues with no relief in sight.

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    This year, because of the power demands of the West’s growing population and the need for air conditioning to combat ultra-high temperatures, power costs are already soaring.

    Last year WAPA paid $25 per megawatt for its replacement power, Meiman said. This year it is paying $33 per megawatt, a 30% jump.

    In Colorado, WAPA sells power to some of the state’s largest electric utilities, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as well as cities, small towns and rural electric co-ops.

    “We’re watching the situation closely,” said Natalie Eckhart, a spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities, which is a WAPA electric customer and which also draws a significant portion of its water from the Colorado River system.

    “The bottom line is we care about this on all fronts,” Eckhart said.

    Few expected power generation at Lake Powell to decline so quickly. The Colorado River Basin serves seven U.S. states and 30 Native American Tribes. For months, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been nervously watching what’s known as the minimum power pool level at Powell, the lowest elevation at which power can be produced, which is 3,490 feet. If the reservoir drops lower than that, all hydropower production will stop.

    In July, as water levels at Powell continued to plummet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as part of the Upper Basin’s Drought Contingency Plan, began emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs to boost levels and protect Powell’s hydropower production.

    And while those releases are expected to help keep the turbines functioning, the releases won’t be enough to restore them to full production, leaving WAPA little choice but to look at restructuring the way it sells power and to raise its prices.

    WAPA is forecasting a 35% increase in its costs, but is working to minimize the impact on utilities that purchase its power and anticipates a 12% to 14% rate increase as early as December. Some utilities are preparing to buy power elsewhere, when possible, to reduce their costs.

    Holy Cross Energy, a rural electric co-op based in Glenwood Springs that is also a WAPA customer, has spent years converting its power portfolio from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources including wind, solar and biomass, as well as hydropower.

    While WAPA electricity comprises just 3% of its power portfolio, Holy Cross CEO Bryan Hannegan is worried that this renewable, low-cost power source is in jeopardy if flows from the Colorado River into Lake Powell continue to decline, as they are projected to do.

    “It’s one of the cleanest and lowest-cost sources of power for a whole range of utilities,” Hannegan said. “It’s been a bedrock on which we built the West. For it not to be available … it’s a big deal.”

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

    #ColoradoRiver Forecasts Not a ‘Crystal Ball’: Computer models inform key decisions in the Colorado River basin. But they cannot predict the future — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    Every month the Bureau of Reclamation attempts to peer two years into the future of the Colorado River and its reservoirs.

    Reclamation’s 24-month study is a staple forecasting product for the federal agency that manages a chain of dams in the watershed, including those that control lakes Mead and Powell, the country’s largest reservoirs — and currently two of its most consequential. The reservoirs are a key source of drinking water for about 40 million people, plus they store water that irrigates millions of acres of farmland and generates electricity for the Southwest. The reservoirs are also alarmingly dehydrated right now — about one-third full, the lowest since they were first filled. The entire basin is on alert.

    The 24-month study, in the simplest terms, projects water levels for the next two years at 12 federal reservoirs in the Colorado River basin. Produced monthly, it’s one of several forecasting products that give water managers a sense of possible futures. It is also the foundation of essential water management decisions in the basin. Reclamation’s other forecasts, updated less frequently, look at mid-term (five years out) and long-term (multiple decades) scenarios.

    Typically nested in wonkish obscurity, the 24-month study acquired newfound public prominence in recent weeks. The August results are the most important of all the months because they determine how much water will be released in the following year from Mead and Powell. Because Mead is so low, the August results triggered the first-ever Tier 1 shortage on the lower Colorado River, a declaration that means mandatory cuts in water deliveries in 2022 to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Because Powell is so low, dam managers will release a comparative trickle of water next year, so little that Mead is likely to plunge even lower.

    More eyes than usual on a technical product that was designed to guide reservoir operations means more potential for misinterpretation, especially by people unfamiliar with the study and its assumptions. Carly Jerla, Reclamation’s senior water resources program manager, said that the study has its defined uses but also its limits.

    “It’s important to understand that we’re not saying that this is what we think is going to happen this year,” Jerla told Circle of Blue about the reservoir levels outlined in the 24-month study. “We’re not saying, ‘Plan for this and only this because we have crystal ball knowledge of what is going to happen.’”

    Reclamation’s models, in fact, are not a crystal ball. Critics say that they are not pessimistic enough about the potential for extremely dry years. But as the Colorado River basin dries due to a warming planet, Jerla and others are actively considering how best to convey to the public and water managers alike the looming risks to water supplies and to prepare people, at least mentally, for the possibility that reality could turn out much worse than the forecast had projected…

    Accurate mid-term weather forecasts, those that extend out a couple weeks and up to a year, are notoriously difficult to achieve, said Jeff Lukas, an independent climate researcher in Colorado who has worked in the basin for 20 years. It’s especially true in the mountainous terrain of Colorado and Wyoming, where the Colorado River and its main tributaries have their headwaters. Well-known seasonal patterns like the cyclical warming of the eastern Pacific during El Nino years can indicate wetter or drier, but without substantial precision.

    Because the future is hazy, the models instead rely on the recent past as a guide, Lukas said. “We’re basically saying in the absence of real prognostic information, we’ll substitute history.”

    Here’s how that works. The 24-month study process begins with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, a team of scientists operating within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their task is to assess what the rivers might do.

    The River Forecast Center starts with current land and water conditions: soil moisture, snowpack, stream flow. From that baseline hydrologists feed their model, one by one, with historical weather observations from the years 1981 to 2015. In effect, it’s as if the temperature and precipitation from each year were repeated in today’s world. That produces 35 possible hydrological futures, each representing the past laid on top of the present.

    The Bureau of Reclamation team takes those hydrological futures and uses them in its model of the Colorado River system. The aim of this system model, which includes water inflows and water uses, is to simulate reservoir levels as well as hydropower generation. Fed by the output from the hydrological model, the system model also produces future scenarios, called runs.

    The middle result — the most probable — is the one that is presented in the main 24-month study report. It’s the result that determines how Mead and Powell will be operated. It’s called the most probable because it’s in the middle, if each of the runs was ordered from wettest to driest. It means that historically half the time it was wetter than the middle result and half the time it was drier.

    There are drawbacks to this approach. The runs are not assessed as to how likely they are to occur, which means that a repetition of each of the past years is considered equally likely. The problem: there are more wet years in the 1981 to 2015 period than dry ones. (Runoff in 1983, for instance, was so extremely high that it almost broke Glen Canyon Dam.) Because of this imbalance, the middle result is arguably skewed toward wetter conditions, Lukas said.

    Jerla said there is no scientifically valid way to privilege the likelihood of one outcome over another.

    An update of the River Forecast Center’s data sets will soon help reduce the skew. Cody Moser, a senior hydrologist at the Center, told Circle of Blue that data from the years 2016 through 2020 will be added this fall. Instead of 35 historical hydrologies fed through the models, there will be 40. Adding the drier recent years will push the most probable outcome to a drier result, with reservoir projections in the 24-month study likely pushed downward at the same time…

    The 24-month study is most associated with the most probable scenario. But recently Reclamation has expanded its offerings to include two other reservoir scenarios, now produced monthly: the minimum probable and the maximum probable. The minimum probable is the tenth percentile, meaning the third or fourth driest of those 35 historical hydrologies. The maximum probable is the ninetieth percentile, or the third or fourth wettest historical hydrology.

    For the minimum probable, the tenth percentile of flows is used in the first year of the 24-month study, but the second year of the study is calculated with the twenty-fifth percentile, under the assumption that consecutive extremely bad years would not happen.

    If you look only at the most probable result, you’re not seeing how bad things might plausibly get. Lake Mead today, when it is one-third full, sits at elevation 1,068 feet. The most probable elevation for July 2023 is 1,037 feet, when Mead would be 26 percent full. The minimum probable elevation for that date is 1,027 feet, when the gasping reservoir would be 23 percent full.

    That’s a significant difference in elevation, and if the drier scenario came about it would change basin operations. But even the minimum probable has a flaw. It is not as pessimistic as it could — or maybe should — be.

    “The minimum probable does not represent a worst-case scenario,” Jerla said. “If you wanted to be the ultimate pessimist, which I think probably makes sense given where the system is, things could be worse than what is provided in that minimum probable because it is only the tenth percentile.”

    In other words, the minimum probable is not the minimum possible. There have been years in the last two decades with worse river flow conditions than what is represented by the minimum probable. Things could be drier still.

    As Jerla puts it regarding the minimum and maximum probable: “There is an area above and below those that have futures that folks should be aware of.”

    […]

    Reclamation already runs its five-year projections with what it calls “stress test” hydrology. This scenario is a replication of the years 1988 to 2019, and represents hotter and drier conditions that have settled over the basin. Udall and others argue that Reclamation should consider running its models with an even more stressful test: the years 2000 to 2004, the last time that Lake Powell almost crashed.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    “That five-year period is really unique,” Udall explained. Annual runoff averaged 9.4 million acre-feet, a fraction of what coursed through the river throughout the last century. The average annual runoff in the years for the stress test hydrology is about 13.3 million acre-feet. That makes the first years of this century unique, Udall said. And frightening. “There’s nothing like it in the 20th century. It’s stunning how bad a period it is, and we could be in the middle of that right now.”

    […]

    The next update of the five-year projections will come out in early September. Five years is a tricky time frame to analyze, Jerla said. It’s far enough in the future that current conditions lose their predictive power. But it’s close enough to be relevant for farmers, city utilities, and marina operators — all of whom need to plan for near-term water supply. Jerla and her colleagues are trying to thread that needle, thinking hard about how to “provide the public with a good understanding of future outcomes and future risks without confusing the heck out of them.”

    Blue Mesa Reservoir releases to prop up #LakePowell impacting recreation — @AspenJournlism

    The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

    That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

    As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

    Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

    “There are tons of people who would like to be out here boating and are very disappointed,” Loken said. “Normally on Labor Day weekend, you can barely find a place to park. So it’s definitely been a big hit to us as a business for sure.”

    The Elk Creek Marina and restaurant are closed for the season, although the boat ramp is still open and is expected to be accessible through the end of the month. The Lake Fork Marina is open through Labor Day, but the boat ramp has closed for the season. The Iola boat ramp is restricted to small boats only and is scheduled to close after Labor Day.

    “We are just trying to make it through the holiday weekend and then we will be shutting up this marina too,” Loken said.

    The Bureau announced July 16 that it would begin emergency releases through early October from three Upper Basin reservoirs: 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo, on the San Juan River; 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge, on the Green River; and 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa, on the Gunnison River. The goal of the releases is to prop up water levels at Lake Powell to preserve the ability to make hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam. The 181,000 acre-feet from the three upstream reservoirs is expected to boost levels at Powell by about 3 feet.

    The three reservoirs are part of the Colorado River Storage Project, and their primary purpose is to control the flows of the Colorado River; flatwater recreation has always been incidental. But the releases at Blue Mesa illustrate the risks of building an outdoor-recreation economy around a highly engineered river system that is now beginning to falter amid a climate change-fueled drought.

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

    Timing concerns

    Although the secretary of the Interior can authorize emergency releases without coordination from the states or local entities, Loken, along with some Colorado water managers, is not happy about the timing or the lack of notice from the bureau. Under normal drought-response operations, the federal government would consult with state and local water managers before making releases.

    “We had very little time to handle this decision that was made that none of us have any power over,” Loken said.

    John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District, said Colorado should make noise and complain about what he called a clumsy execution of the releases. McClow has also served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is an alternate commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    “There’s no reason they couldn’t have waited another couple weeks or another month to release that water from Blue Mesa to get it to Lake Powell,” McClow said. “It goes back to consultation and timing. Had they even asked, it would have been easy to say, ‘Hey, can you wait so you don’t kill our business?’”

    Last month at Colorado Water Congress’ summer conference — a gathering of water managers, researchers and legislators in Steamboat Springs — Rebecca Mitchell, CWCB’s executive director and the state’s representative to the UCRC, told the audience that the impacts of ending the boating season early at Blue Mesa trickle down to all Coloradoans.

    “That means dollars in Colorado. That is who we are in Colorado,” she said. “It’s definitely had an impact in that local community when we talk about the recreation. That is heavy.”

    Mitchell said water managers in the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Utah) will be carefully monitoring the impacts of the reservoir releases and figuring out how to quantify those impacts, which she called devastating. The states will work with the bureau to develop a plan for how to send water to Lake Powell in future years, taking into consideration the timing, magnitude and duration of the releases, she said.

    “Where can the states and the bureau make the best decisions to lessen the impacts?” she said.

    The National Park Service operates the Curecanti National Recreation area, including the campsites, picnic areas, visitors centers and boat ramps that run the 20-mile length of the reservoir. According to numbers provided by the Park Service, Curecanti gets nearly a million visitors a year. The reservoir is popular among anglers for its trout and Kokanee salmon fishing. Blue Mesa is one of three reservoirs — along with the much smaller Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs — on the Gunnison River, collectively known as the Aspinall Unit.

    Barefoot Dance In The Snow New York, New York March 8, 1916. Girls of the Marion Morgan School of Dance in Los Angeles perform barefoot in the snow in Central Park. Underwood Archives by Underwood Archives

    Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce Director Celeste Helminski said her organization is planning an event later this month: the world’s largest snow dance. A big winter would help refill Blue Mesa.

    “The water definitely has me concerned for the future,” she said. “We see a lot of summer recreationists who come and spend the whole summer at several of the campgrounds. It’s just going to take a lot to replace that water. It’s going to take awhile to get back to levels of what recreationists come for.”

    Bureau spokesperson Justyn Liff could not provide any insight into how the timing decision for the releases was made, but pointed out that although lake recreation was impacted, downstream rafting and fishing in the canyon are getting a boost from the roughly 300 cubic-feet-per-second extra water that the releases provide. The Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel diversion, which takes a large portion of the river’s outflow from the Aspinall Unit for delivery to downstream irrigators, was running around 600 cfs the first few days of September, according to USGS stream gauge data. This is a critical data point for boaters running the Black Canyon or Gunnison Gorge sections of the river, which are below the stream gauge. At 600 cfs, the river is flowing 11% above the median for this time of year.

    “If we had waited six weeks, that would have been six weeks less of commercial rafting/guided fishing on the Gunnison River downstream from Aspinall,” Liff said.

    Some boats were still in the water the first week of September at the Lake Fork Marina. Across Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Elk Creek Marina’s boat slips were emptied early because of declining water levels in the reservoir.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Hydropower production

    Although the local impacts to recreation are acute, the impacts of not being able to make hydropower at Lake Powell would probably be much worse. The dams of the CRSP are known as “cash register” dams. The power they produce is used to repay the costs of building the project, maintain operations and provide power to millions of people.

    The Western Area Power Administration distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, including to some power providers in Colorado. According to Water Education Colorado, electric costs will surge as Glen Canyon Dam struggles to produce hydropower because of declining water levels.

    The bureau’s target elevation for Lake Powell is 3,525 feet, in order to provide a buffer that protects hydropower generation; if levels fall below 3,490, all power production would stop. Lake Powell is currently about 31% full, at 3,549 feet, which is the lowest surface level since the reservoir began filling in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to projections released by the bureau in July, Lake Powell has a 79% chance of falling below the 3,525 threshold in the next year. The emergency releases are intended to address this.

    “A loss of power generation is a pretty significant issue compared to a few months of boating on Blue Mesa,” McClow said. “Locally, yes, it hurts, but in the big picture, I don’t know if you can make a fair comparison.”

    As water levels at Blue Mesa continue to fall, Loken worries that this may be just the beginning of an era of empty reservoirs.

    “(The releases) don’t solve the long-term problem,” Loken said. “We are just going to end up with an empty Lake Powell and a bunch of empty reservoirs upstream. I think the powers that be really need to put pencil to paper and figure this out.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    #Drought-Hit Blue Mesa Reservoir Losing 8 Feet Of Water To Save #LakePowell. A Western Slope Marina Feels The Pain — #Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021 via the Montrose Daily Press

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Climate change is drying up Colorado’s water supply

    Climate change is leading to less snowpack, and warmer temperatures mean less water is making it into the Colorado River. Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest reservoir, and it hit its second-lowest level on record for the end of August.

    Parks service officials issued the order because Elk Creek’s floating dock and marina are likely to hit the lake’s bottom. Eric Loken, the head of operations at the marina his family has managed for more than 30 years, said the early closure is cutting six weeks out of his five-month season…

    A 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought has dealt a double blow to Blue Mesa this summer. The dry conditions have led to lower levels directly, but the lake is also hurting from drought problems in other states.

    For the first time, the federal government is taking emergency action by taking water from Blue Mesa to help out another reservoir — Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. Loken said the withdrawals hurt more given Blue Mesa’s low water levels…

    The states that share Colorado River water agreed to this plan in 2019. Low levels in Lake Powell would trigger an emergency release from three reservoirs upstream…

    The water taken from Blue Mesa is being used to make sure hydroelectric power turbines at Lake Powell can keep spinning and generating electricity for millions of people in the West, including customers in Colorado.

    John McClow, a lawyer for the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District, said this scenario is what Blue Mesa and the other reservoirs were built for in the 1960s — drought emergencies, not recreation. It’s a bank of water that states can tap when they need to…

    Although the water in Blue Mesa has always been earmarked for Lake Powell if Colorado needed help meeting its legal obligation to send more flow to downstream states, McClow said the timing of the release was unnecessarily disruptive. He wishes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have waited to take the water until October when lake tourism starts slowing down.

    Erik Knight, a Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist, said that while the timing of the water releases might have hurt the lake, it improved rafting and fishing downstream of Blue Mesa, including parts of the Gunnison River that were so low that commercial rafting was likely to have been canceled.

    #Colorado water policies will reflect first-ever cuts in Southwest U.S. — The #Greeley Tribune

    The rising sun illuminates the desert landscape near Channel Island at the head of Virgin Canyon in Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border (Photo from Arizona). Photo by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry via American Rivers

    From The Greeley Tribune (Bruce Finley):

    Colorado officials plan to measure use more precisely and pay farmers to send more to Lake Powell

    As federal authorities impose the first-ever mandatory cuts in how much water Arizona, Nevada and Mexico take from the Colorado River, the states higher up the river face rising pressure to divert less.

    That has Colorado officials embarking on an effort to install measuring devices across the Western Slope to precisely account for just how much farmers, ranchers and cities siphon out. The state is also developing a program to pay farmers, cities and industries to use less of their allotted shares of river water so that more could be banked in Lake Powell to meet the state’s legal downriver obligations to California, Arizona and Nevada.

    All of this comes after the summer’s emergency draw-down of Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison and other federal reservoirs to leave more water in the 1,450-mile river.

    Monday’s [August 16, 2021] declaration by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation orders Arizona to cut the water it draws from Lake Mead by 18% (512,000 acre-feet), Nevada by 7% (21,000 acre-feet) and Mexico by 5% (80,000 acre feet). The cuts must begin next year.

    The feds also declared that Colorado and its upper basin neighbors (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) will be allowed to deliver a little less water next year to Lake Powell, reducing the amount measured at the top of the Grand Canyon from 8.23 million acre-feet to 7.43 million acre-feet. That’s because shrinking mountain snow, drought and heat are depleting headwaters, authorities said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Still, average annual flows of water in the Colorado River Basin have decreased by 19% since 2000, federal records show. And water levels in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead have been falling steadily for years as 40 million people tap the river. This year’s record low levels (both about a third full) triggered the declaration.

    New projections unveiled by federal hydrologists that the river basin will dry out faster than previously expected may trigger additional cuts before 2025 based on states’ agreed-on operating procedures.

    “It’s all connected, one river system, and we’re just in different points of pain,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy.

    Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch in this August 2020 photo. Compliance with measuring device requirements has been moving more slowly than state engineers would like.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Colorado Division of Water Resources director Kevin Rein met with ranchers and farmers around western Colorado last month seeking guidance on how best to install flumes and other devices to measure how much water they divert…

    Meanwhile, Colorado Water Conservation Board officials have scheduled a working session this month to consider expansion of pilot program efforts to pay farmers, cities and industries to use less water, which analysts have said could cost the state hundreds of millions.

    Board director Rebecca Mitchell, who also represents Colorado in negotiating with other states over the river’s water, said headwaters users “understand the risks and vulnerabilities we face due to severe drought and a potentially hotter and drier future.”

    The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    SHORTAGE DECLARATION

    The Bureau of Reclamation has declared the first-ever official shortage for the lower Colorado River basin, which requires delivery cuts to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico under the 2007 Interim Guidelines for operating Lakes Mead and Powell. The determination was made in response to the Mead elevation projected in the August 24-month Study. This Fact Sheet by the Bureau explains how the declaration was made, how much deliveries will be reduced and details about drought response operations. Under the shortage, Arizona will lose about 18% of its Colorado River supplies, the largest cut. This Central Arizona Project page has details on how the cuts will be allocated and how the state is responding.

    As #ColoradoRiver Basin states confront #water shortages, it’s time to focus on reducing demand — The Conversation #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate


    Water flows into a canal that feeds farms in Casa Grande, Ariz.
    AP Photo/Darryl Webb

    Robert Glennon, University of Arizona

    The U.S. government announced its first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado River on Aug. 16, 2021, triggering future cuts in the amount of water states will be allowed to draw from the river. The Tier 1 shortage declaration followed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s forecast that the water in Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the U.S., located on the Arizona-Nevada border – will drop below an elevation of 1,075 feet above sea level, leaving less than 40% of its capacity, by the end of 2021.

    The declaration means that in January 2022 the agency will reduce water deliveries to the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona and Nevada and to Mexico, but not to California – yet.

    Map of Colorado River Basin.
    The Colorado River Basin drains seven western states. The Lower Basin is more heavily developed than the Upper Basin and consumes more water.
    USGS

    Arizona will lose the most water: 512,000 acre-feet, nearly a fifth of its total Colorado River allocation of 2.8 million acre-feet. Nevada will lose 21,000 and Mexico 80,000. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land, which is roughly the area of a football field, to a depth of one foot – about 326,000 gallons.

    Central Arizona farmers are the big losers in this first round of cuts. The cities are protected because they enjoy the highest priority in Arizona for water delivered through the Central Arizona Project, a 330-mile canal from the Colorado River. From my experience analyzing Western water policy, I expect that this declaration won’t halt growth in the affected states – but growth can no longer be uncontrolled. Increasing water supply is no longer a viable option, so states must turn to reducing demand.

    Conservation remains the low-hanging fruit. Water reuse – treating wastewater and using it again, including for drinking – is also viable. A third option is using pricing and trading to encourage the reallocation of water from lower-value to higher-value uses.

    Interstate collaboration

    The Colorado River Basin states have formally negotiated who can use how much water from the Colorado River since they first inked the Colorado River Compact in 1922. In 2007 they negotiated interim shortage guidelines that specified how much each state would reduce its use depending on the elevation of Lake Mead. A series of subsequent agreements included Mexico, increased the scale of reductions and authorized the secretary of the Interior, ultimately, to impose truly draconian cuts.

    Arizona suffers the biggest cuts because it agreed in the 1960s that it would have the lowest priority among the Lower Basin states.

    California does not take a cut until the level in Lake Mead drops even lower. But that could happen as soon as 2023. The water level is dropping partly because of the Western drought but also because of the shape of Lake Mead, which was created by damming Boulder Canyon in 1936.

    Like most Western river canyons, Boulder Canyon is wide at the rim and narrow at its base, like a martini glass. As its water elevation drops, each remaining foot in the lake holds less water.

    Lake Mead, the largest U.S. reservoir, has lost 5 trillion gallons of water in the past 20 years.

    Lake Mead feeds Hoover Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric generating facilities in the country. The plant produces electricity by moving water through turbines. When Lake Mead is high, Hoover Dam’s generating capacity is more than 2,000 megawatts, which produces enough electricity to supply some 450,000 average households in Nevada, Arizona and California.

    But the plant has lost 25% of its capacity as Lake Mead has dropped. If the water level declines below about 950 feet, the dam won’t be able to generate power.

    Sending water south

    The Upper Basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – will also suffer.

    That’s because the Colorado River Compact obligates the Bureau of Reclamation to release an annual average of 8.23 million acre-feet from Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which extends from southern Utah into northern Arizona.

    The Bureau of Reclamation predicted in mid-July that runoff into Lake Powell for 2021 will total just 3.23 million acre-feet, or 30% of average. To make up for this shortfall, the bureau will release more water from three Upper Basin reservoirs: Flaming Gorge in Utah, Blue Mesa in Colorado and Navajo on the Colorado-New Mexico border.

    These releases will harm farmers and ranchers, who may be forced to raise less-water-intensive crops or fewer animals due to water shortages. The Upper Basin states get much of their water from snowpack, which has declined in recent years as the West warms.

    Doing the math

    The ultimate problem facing the Colorado River Basin states is simple. There are more water rights on paper than there is water in the river. And that’s before considering the impact of climate change and evaporation loss from Lakes Mead and Powell.

    The urgency of the Tier 1 shortage declaration has generated wild-eyed proposals to import water from far-flung places. In May 2021, the Arizona legislature passed a bipartisan resolution calling on Congress to study a pipeline from the Mississippi River that would augment the Colorado River. Space does not permit me to elaborate all the obstacles to this idea, but here’s a big one: the Rocky Mountains.

    Similarly, the city of St. George in southwest Utah has proposed building a 140-mile pipeline from Lake Powell to augment its supply. St. George has some of the highest water consumption and lowest water prices in the country.

    Downtown Phoenix with suburban homes in foreground.
    According to data released on Aug. 12, 2021, from the 2020 Census, Phoenix was the fastest-growing large city in the U.S.
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

    The gospel of growth still motivates some cities. Buckeye, Arizona, on the west side of Phoenix, has a planning area of 642 square miles, which is larger than Phoenix. The city has approved 27 housing developments that officials project will increase its population by 800,000 people by 2040. Yet its water supply depends on unsustainable groundwater pumping.

    Other communities have faced reality. In early 2021 Oakley, Utah, east of Salt Lake City, imposed a construction moratorium on new homes, sending shivers up the spines of developers across the West.

    Enabling farmers to be more efficient

    The Tier 1 declaration gives states and local communities reason to remove barriers to transferring water. Market forces are playing an increasingly critical role in water management in the West. Many new demands for water are coming from voluntary transfers between willing sellers and desperate buyers.

    Water markets threaten rural communities because farmers cannot hope to compete with cities in a free market for water. Nor should they have to. Water remains a public resource. I believe the states need a process to ensure that transfers are consistent with the public interest – one that protects the long-term viability of rural communities.

    As the West enters an era of water reallocation, most of the water will come from farmers, who consume more than 70% of the region’s water. Cities, developers and industry need only a tiny fraction of that amount for the indefinite future.

    What if municipal and industrial interests created a fund to help farmers install more efficient irrigation systems instead of simply flooding fields, a low-tech approach that wastes a lot of water? If farmers could reduce their water consumption by 5%, that water would be available to cities and businesses. Farmers would continue to grow as much food as before, thus protecting the stability of rural communities. This could be a win-win solution to the West’s water crisis.

    [You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The Conversation

    Robert Glennon, Regents Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Arizona

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The American West is drying up — The Economist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    West Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.

    From The Economist:

    The effects of climate change are being exacerbated by a century of bad policy

    There are two main reasons water shortages loom. The first is climate change. Both reservoirs straddle the Colorado River as it meanders from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains down through the desert south-west to northern Mexico (see map). Warmer winters caused by rising greenhouse-gas emissions have diminished the snowpack that melts into the river each spring. In addition, parched soils have soaked up some of the runoff before it can reach Mead and Powell. Since 2000, when the so-called “Millennium Drought” began, the river’s annual flow has shrunk by nearly 20%. Multiple studies in the past five years have attributed up to half of that decline to human-caused climate change.

    Second, poor policy choices 100 years ago all but guaranteed that the water available to westerners could never meet expectations. After laws such as the Homestead Act encouraged white settlers to move West in the second half of the 19th century, the federal government financed the dams and pipelines needed for cities and agriculture to thrive in the desert. “By moving water around from more water-rich areas to water-poor areas, we sort of enabled these people to migrate and settle,” says Newsha Ajami of Stanford University. “Regardless of the fact that it’s dry, or it’s hot—if the water is flowing, you think anything is possible.”

    Boosterism for shiny new reclamation projects in the early 1900s led to dubious decision-making. The Colorado River Compact, which divvied up the river in 1922, used data from historically wet years to estimate the average annual flows. John Fleck, the director of water resources at the University of New Mexico, says a government scientist was ignored when he testified in the 1920s that the river could not meet its projected demands. The compact and its addendums, known as “the law of the river”, hold that the seven states and Mexico are to split 20.4bn cubic metres of water each year (or in American terms 16.5 million acre-foot of water, where an acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to submerge one acre of land one foot deep.) The river has not lived up to those aspirational figures, says Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University. Between 1906 and 1999 annual flows averaged 15.2m acre-feet; since 2000 the river has mustered only 12.4m.

    Drought almost seems too puny a word to describe the water scarcity that the south-west is experiencing. “In some ways drought implies that it’s ephemeral,” says Kristen Averyt, Nevada’s climate policy coordinator. But the region’s future could be hotter and drier still, according to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. When discussing the outlook for Las Vegas, John Entsminger, who runs the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), prefers to talk in terms of aridification, or the long-term drying of the region. “I’m past talking about droughts,” he says.

    The region’s rich cities have been planning for this. Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas all get water from the Colorado River—and all have diversified their water supplies. Investing in conservation, recycling programmes and desalination technology has allowed south-western metros to save water even while their populations have soared.

    Perhaps no place is more spooked by Lake Mead’s decline than the Las Vegas valley, which gets 90% of its water from the nearby reservoir. That dependence has spurred innovation. All water that goes down a drain is recycled, according to SNWA, and the city has ripped out grass in favour of desert landscaping. These measures, along with water restrictions and incentives, helped the valley cut its water use by 23% since 2002 while adding about 800,000 residents to its population. “People always assume that population growth and water consumption is more or less a one-to-one correlation,” says Mr Entsminger. But “you can add more people to the equation and simultaneously use less water.”

    A herd of elk could be seen roaming amid the irrigation sprinklers of Crystal River Ranch on Thursday. Ranch owner Sue Anschutz-Rodgers has told the state she is making progress toward building two dams and reservoirs on the property. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    But cities only account for a fraction of water use on the Colorado. Irrigated agriculture slurps up about 70% of the river each year. Cuts to the water supply may push farmers to grow different crops, fallow fields or return to pumping groundwater to get by. Pumping isn’t a sustainable option either. Years of overuse have depleted aquifers in parts of Arizona and California.

    Meanwhile, some demands on the river are growing. Thanks to generations of neglect, many Native American households do not have access to clean drinking water. Tribes also lack the plumbing needed to take the water they already have rights to. The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last week includes $6bn to help remedy that. As the river shrinks, will such attempts to right enduring wrongs go down the drain?

    Opinion: Yes, we’re facing a water shortage on the #ColoradoRiver. No, it’s not yet a crisis — AZCentral.com #COriver #aridification

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

    From AZCentral.com (Joanna Allhands):

    Opinion: A Tier 1 water shortage on Lake Mead might sound scary, but it’s not the problem we should be worrying about.

    There’s a lot of freaking out about the first Tier 1 water shortage at Lake Mead, which is expected to be announced on Aug. 16.

    There has been breathless coverage for weeks in the national press about how bad things are now for those of us who rely on the Colorado River.

    But that’s the thing. A Tier 1 shortage is far from a crisis.

    Pickepost Peak, Pinal County, Arizona. Photo credit: Matt Mets from Brooklyn, NY, USA – Uploaded by PDTillman, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18072691

    Oh, this level of shortage will be painful, especially for farmers in Pinal County who are losing their only source of renewable water. They have no option other than to turn back to groundwater, which already has dwindled to the point that it cannot meet the long-term demands of all Pinal users. Some farmers are already beginning to make tough choices about which fields to fallow and which of their most productive lands are worth saving.

    But cities in metro Phoenix will not yet feel any ill effects of a Tier 1 shortage (and few will notice the impacts of a deeper Tier 2 shortage, a growing possibility for 2023). And those with the highest priority on-river water are even more insulated from pain, even if things get worse than that.

    A Tier 1 shortage isn’t our problem now

    Arizona has known for years that this day would come. We planned for it in a statewide implementation plan, which provides a complex web of temporary water supplies and compensation to help those who must shoulder these cuts. The plan gets progressively more painful, especially once we hit a Tier 3 shortage that will impact even the largest cities in metro Phoenix, but it’s all spelled out.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    If anything, the measured progression of cuts provides a bit of certainty in the chaos of the hotter, drier, more unpredictable future we face.

    So, while I know everyone will be talking about this first shortage because it’s new, and for those who haven’t been following the situation, reading the words “water shortage” will seem scary, forgive me if I view it as old hat.

    The Tier 1 declaration isn’t our problem. It’s the other numbers contained in the reports that also will be released on Aug. 16, which have turned grim with a speed that has surprised even the experts. The upstream Lake Powell is dropping quickly, thanks to already low lake levels and near-record low runoff this year. The lower Powell falls, the less water Lake Mead gets.

    That’s our problem.

    It’s likely that we are in for multiple years of 7.48 million acre-feet releases, down from the 8.23 million acre-feet (or more) releases on which we have come to rely. This is consequential, considering that until now we’ve only had one 7.48 million acre-feet release in 2014, when Lake Mead was nowhere near shortage levels.

    Lake levels never recovered from that lower release.

    Less water from Lake Powell is driving the tank

    And now Mead, which is V-shaped, is significantly lower in elevation – meaning it takes progressively less water to lower lake levels. Multiple years of 7.48 million acre-feet releases will cause lake levels to plummet (the forecast already says two in a row are likely, and that there’s a decent chance of them continuing through 2025).

    In fact, the latest modeling suggests there may be nearly a 40% chance of Lake Mead reaching a Tier 3 shortage – the most severe for which we have planned – by 2025.

    And if the projections hold, the states that rely on Mead could be meeting as soon as November to decide what other actions we can take (likely, it’ll be even more cuts) to keep the lake from falling below a critically low level of 1,020 feet of elevation. The modeling suggests that if we do nothing additional, the lake could drop to near 1,000 feet in a worst case by 2025.

    Consider that. Arizona could take its worst-case 720,000 acre-feet of cuts in a Tier 3 shortage and still the lake could tank.

    We must conserve – and by “we,” I don’t just mean Arizona. Demand certainly drives part of the equation for why Mead is dropping, which means we all need to use less. Permanently.

    But so does supply, and if the lake could get 750,000 acre-feet less than usual for several years – or maybe from here on out, in an effort to keep Lake Powell from tanking – this can’t just fall on Arizona’s shoulders, even if we are the state with the junior-most water rights.

    Whatever we do, it must be a shared sacrifice

    The good news is that other basin states seem to recognize this, that if the lakes have any hope at sustainability, it’s going to require an additional shared sacrifice to get them there.

    What that sacrifice looks like is anyone’s guess. Everyone knows it will be painful, which also will make it hard for everyone to swallow. The name of the game will be to choose actions that everyone can live with, not one that everyone likes.

    Because we’ve entered a new era of shortage. This is our reality, our new normal – and, in fact, it probably won’t be long before we consider a Tier 1 shortage as a time of excess.

    It can and probably will get worse from here, and yes, we’re planning for that, too. So that when that day arrives, we can say we’ve got this.

    It’s going to hurt. But there is no need to freak out.

    Reach Allhands at joanna.allhands@arizonarepublic.com. On Twitter: @joannaallhands.

    Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

    Reclamation to address 2022 operating conditions for #LakePowell and #LakeMead during virtual press event

    As #LakePowell woes worry West, experts call for yet more reduced use — The #Montrose Daily Press #aridification #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) via the Montrose Daily Press

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    “The inescapable truth is that the Colorado River system is seeing declining flows and for the foreseeable future, is likely to continue on that trend. So we have to adjust expectations and water use accordingly,” [Andy Mueller] said…

    Year after year of dry conditions hammered the river and, this year, dropped Powell so low that Blue Mesa Reservoir and others in the Upper Basin had to release water to keep Powell’s power turbines turning.

    “It’s our water balance. Last year and this year have been terrible,” said Anne Castle, former assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science during the Obama Administration, during an Aug. 5 webinar hosted by the Colorado River District. Castle is currently senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado law School…

    Given climate science predictions, the poor water years have not been a surprise, she said — but Powell dropped 50 feet last year, equating to 4 million acre feet of water no longer available. The reservoir is projected to drop within six months to the dreaded 3,525 feet elevation, the baseline for power generation and meeting the river compact requirements…

    On top of it, the compact prohibits the Upper Basin from depleting more than 75 million acre feet over 10 years (so that it can deliver an average of 7.5 million acre feet a year to the Lower Basin)— a “guarantee,” as far as the Lower Basin sees things, while the Upper Basin’s perception is Lower Basin states are vastly overusing their water.

    Under that rolling 10-year average, the Upper Basin has delivered 92 million acre feet, which is well above its obligation, but that is projected to drop to 82 million over 10 years and, if poor hydrology continues, could plunge even further, which stands to put the Upper Basin below its obligations…

    Lake Powell not only provides a “savings account” to meet the Upper Basin’s compact obligations, but generates hydropower that is used throughout the basin, [Steve] Wolff said.

    That hydropower in turn generates revenue, which flows back to the Upper Basin for infrastructure, Endangered Species Act compliance programs and salinity control…

    Changing the rules will have ripple effects on both users and the economy, she said. Although the Upper Basin sees overuse by the Lower, the Lower Basin says it has cut use; is doing what the compact allows, and that the Upper does not have a plan for demand management, [Castle] also said.

    “Everyone’s got their grievances and their legal theories. … There’s not enough water for any of the lawyers to be right 100%,” Castle said.

    The task is to equitably manage use — and that means reducing it, she said.

    Powell is sitting at 32% full and Mead, at 35% full, Mueller said…

    The Colorado River Compact accords to the Lower Basin an additional 1 million acre feet. The Upper Basin’s argument is that this is supposed to account for use from the Gila River, a tributary. The 1.5 million acre feet to Mexico under treaty is to be provided from surplus, unless there is a shortage on the river.

    What constitutes a shortage is a point of contention between Upper and Lower Basin states, but Mueller said it’s the Upper Basin’s position that the Lower Basin is undercounting its consumptive use.

    The Upper Basin uses 4 million to 4.5 million acre feet per year, well below its allocation, while the Lower Basin and Mexico (most years) use their full allotments.

    The Lower Basin has use of 2 million to 2.5 million acre feet in tributaries and loses another 1 million to 1.3 million acre feet in federal reservoir evaporation or loss during transit.

    Mueller said that evap is not accounted for in the Lower Basin’s consumptive use, which even without it is at 7.5 million acre feet. Evaporation from the Upper Basin’s reservoirs, including Blue Mesa, is counted as consumptive use, and the Upper Basin is still only using 4.5 million acre feet of its allocation, Mueller said…

    Through reservoir evap, transit losses, system losses, Lower Basin tributary consumption (excluding Mexico deliveries), species conservation and purported inefficiencies having to do the groundwater storage in Arizona, more than 1.1 to 1.3 million acre feet a year is being lost. Taking the low end of those estimates, over 10 years, more than 11 million acre feet of water would be available in the system had the overuse been addressed, Mueller said…

    Climate change and rising temperatures concern everyone in the Southwest, [Mueller] also said.

    “It’s not a political statement from me. It’s a fact we’re seen that temperature increase,” Mueller said Aug. 5, referring to data between 1895 – 2018.

    For every 1 degree rise in temperature, streamflow in the Colorado River system decreases 3 to 8%, he said, citing U.S. Geological Survey data.

    “The bottom line is, we have seen and should expect to continue to see decreasing flows in a system that is already stressed,” Mueller said…

    For the Upper Basin, such parched conditions in areas that don’t operate below large federal reservoirs mean a cut in consumptive use — or even near-cessation. Upper sub-basin ranchers and farmers on direct flow ditches don’t have water…

    The Uncompahgre and Grand Valley systems do have some reservoir storage above them and can continue to produce…

    Farmers and ranchers have been feeling the pinch for the past two decades. They cull herds because there is insufficient water for cattle and/or to grow their feed.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Paper: Sources of Controversy in the Law of the #ColoradoRiver: An Upper Basin View — Lawrence J. MacDonnell #COriver #aridification

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

    Click here to read the paper. Here’s the introduction and summary:

    Introduction

    The first two decades of the 21st Century have been characterized by prolonged periods of drought in the Colorado River Basin, causing some to argue that the region’s hydrologic system has shifted into long-term aridification. One effect has been to highlight the disparity between the amounts of water allocated for use under various legal arrangements and the physical availability of water, even in a system with over sixty million acre-feet (maf) of storage. This prolonged and deepening shortage of water also highlights other disagreements in the legal framework governing uses of the system’s total water supply. Serious disagreements respecting key provisions of the Law of the River were largely avoided when the system contained enough water to satisfy all interests. That is no longer the case. The purpose of this working paper is to explore some of the uncertainties in the Law of the River most likely to cause conflicts in times of water shortage and to consider ways for their resolution. The paper concludes that some long-standing assumptions about aspects of the Law of the River must give way to the realities of growing water scarcity. The paper begins with a brief summary of the conclusions from each of the six areas of uncertainty.

    Summary

    1. Uncertainties Concerning Mainstream Water Use Entitlements in the Lower Basin Interpretation: Consumptive uses of water from the main Colorado River for the three mainstream states are not a fixed allocation but aspirational and adjustable according to water availability after accounting for water for Mexico and losses and need to be adjusted accordingly.

    2. Uncertainties Respecting Uses of Water from Lower Basin Tributaries Interpretation: All beneficial consumptive uses of tributary water in the Lower Basin are included within the Articles III (a) and (b) apportionment and need to be fully identified and accounted for annually. The effect of these uses on water availability in the main Colorado must be taken into account. Uses exceeding 8.5 maf/year may constitute a violation of the Law of the River under certain circumstances such as if their existence causes a failure to meet treaty obligations with Mexico.

    3. Uncertainties Respecting the Status of Article III (b) Water
    Interpretation: Authorization for the Lower Basin to increase its consumptive uses an additional one million acre-feet (maf) resulted in an agreement limiting the Lower Basin to total protected consumptive uses of 8.5 maf/year, including those in the tributaries. Uses exceeding 8.5 maf are contingent and need to be identified and managed, if necessary.

    4. Uncertainties Respecting the Meaning of Article III (d) in an Era of Climate Change- Induced Water Shortages
    Interpretation: The Upper Basin’s obligation not to deplete flows at Lee Ferry below 75 maf over consecutive ten-year periods (75/10) must take into account climate-change-induced reductions in water availability unrelated to Upper Basin depletions and find more flexible ways to satisfy this obligation that reflect actual water availability.

    5. Uncertainties Respecting the Sources of Water to Satisfy the Mexico Treaty Obligation
    Interpretation: The traditional view that the Upper Basin has an obligation to provide 750,000 acre-feet per year to meet the Treaty obligation to Mexico needs to be reconsidered when Lower Basin uses exceed 8.5 maf/year, when Mexico adjusts its delivery requirements to reflect shortages, and in view of the fact that, in some manner, the treaty water is a national obligation.

    6. Uncertainties Respecting Uses of Tribal Water Rights, including Existing but Unquantified Rights
    Interpretation: Tribes with reservations in the basin have rights to more than 20% of the system’s water. The states and the United States should search out opportunities to enter into voluntary, compensated agreements with willing tribes to forego uses of portions of their water rights as needed to help maintain and increase system water.

    John Fleck takes a look at the uncertainties in this post on Inkstain, “Sources of Controversy in the Law of the River – Larry MacDonnell.”:

    As we lumber toward a renegotiation of the operating rules on the Colorado River, one of the challenges folks in basin management face is the differing understandings of the Law of the River. There’s stuff we all know, or think we know, or stuff Lower Basin folks think they know that Upper Basin people may disagree with, and stuff Upper Basin folks think they know that Lower Basin people may disagree with.

    Larry MacDonnell, one of the Law of the River’s great legal minds, has written a terrific treatise to help us untangle this. It’s clearly written from an Upper Basin perspective (“Yay!” said the guy – me – who drinks Upper Basin water!), so Lower Basin folks may disagree with some of what Larry is saying. That’s OK, the important thing is to understand that the answers to these questions are not given – that there are genuine disagreements on this stuff, and the negotiations to come need to wrestle with these questions.

    A “gut punch” as water rushes from #FlamingGorge to save #LakePowell’s hydropower system — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Boaters at Cedar Springs Marina on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir’s levels are expected to drop 2 feet a month under an emergency release of water designed to keep Lake Powell’s hydropower system operating. July 22, 2021 Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    John Rauch and his family have operated the Cedar Springs Marina here since 1986. But three weeks ago, when the federal government suddenly ordered millions of gallons of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River to Lake Powell, Rauch wasn’t prepared.

    “It was a total gut punch,” he said on a recent hot, sunny morning. As visitors trekked down to rent his pontoon boats, and others slid their fishing craft into the reservoir, Rauch and his employees were already planning which boat docks and ramps would have to be relocated to keep them afloat. The reservoir is projected to drop as much as 2 feet a month through the fall as water is released.

    Drought has plagued the Colorado River Basin for 20 years, but it hit crisis proportions this summer, pushing lakes Powell and Mead to historic lows and triggering, for the first time, emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs.

    All told, 181,000 acre-feet of water are to be sent to Lake Powell by the end of December. Powell has dropped so low that its hydropower plants, which supply millions of homes with electricity and generate revenue for such things as a critical Colorado River endangered species program, may stop operating as early as next year if water levels continue to drop as they have been. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 3 percent chance of this occurring next year and a 29 percent chance of this occurring in 2022. But given the speed of the Powell’s decline, no one wants to risk a hydropower shutdown.

    Savings accounts

    Since their construction in the 1960s these reservoirs, known as Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, have acted as a giant savings account, helping ensure that if a crisis erupted on the river, the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico would have enough water on hand to fulfill their legal obligation to deliver water to Nevada, Arizona and California, known as the Lower Basin states.

    Credit: Chas Chamberlin

    Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, part of the Aspinall Unit, is already low, at just 43 percent of capacity as of last month. Fed by the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, the reservoir is tourism hot spot on Colorado’s West Slope.

    Kathleen Curry, a former Colorado lawmaker, sits on the Colorado River District Board. She said she understands the need for the releases, but she said the changes in the shoreline at Blue Mesa aren’t going unnoticed.

    “It’s taking residents and visitors by surprise, just because I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” she said.

    The releases come under a special Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved by Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in late 2018. A similar drought plan is in place for the Lower Basin, and they have been cutting back withdrawals from Lake Mead for the past two years.

    Still the river system is drying out. And water leaders in Colorado are deeply worried that their carefully protected savings account is going to dry up too quickly to solve the Colorado River’s long-term problems.

    Will it work?

    “I understand and support the necessity of the Secretary [of the Interior] taking this action,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “The major concern I have is that Reclamation says the 181,000 acre-foot release will raise Lake Powell three feet. But I don’t know that they can even show that. I don’t know that they have accounted for transit losses and other losses.

    “It’s important when these releases are made that they are accounted for, that we know where this water is going. If it doesn’t actually get down to [Lake Powell] to accomplish what it was designed to do, we should have kept it in that savings account,” Lochhead said.

    Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River region, said the agency is working to create a hydropower buffer in Lake Powell and believes the releases are adequate to accomplish that. But Reclamation is not yet doing the kind of precise tracking and accounting known as water “shepherding,” to ensure flows make it downstream, that Lochhead is requesting.

    On Aug. 1, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at 3,553.8 feet above sea level. The action point, or so-called target elevation is 3,525. When that point came close in July, Reclamation moved quickly to order the emergency releases.

    Powell’s hydropower plant stops generating power when it drops to 3,490 feet in elevation, according to Reclamation.

    “Reclamation expects the additional release of water will be sufficient to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation through 2021. That target elevation provides a 35-vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.

    “Shepherding water would be beneficial but is challenging on many levels for Colorado River Basin states,” said Bryant via email.

    Bleak forecasts

    Bryant said Reclamation will continue to consult with the Upper Basin states as it monitors reservoir levels and weather forecasts. Should conditions deteriorate further, the agency could examine whether to declare the releases futile and stop them, as it is allowed to do under the 2018 Drought Contingency Plan.

    The water being released is so-called “system water,” meaning that it isn’t owned by a particular user.

    Held by the federal government for the benefit of the Upper Basin states, the amounts of water specified in the release plan are jaw-dropping: 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge; 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa; and 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.

    If that same amount of water were going to cities, it would be enough to serve more than 362,000 homes for one to two years. If going to farms, it could irrigate more than 113,000 acres, depending on the crop.

    If the historic, 20-plus-year drought cycle doesn’t end soon, refilling those reservoirs is going to be difficult. And that has water managers worried.

    “My level of concern is quite high,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning and policy agency. She also sits on the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Commission, which advises Reclamation on river issues.

    “And I can’t tell yet if [the releases] are going to do the trick,” she said. “But we have to respond to the levels in Powell.”

    Cedar Springs Marina near Dutch John, Utah, on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the early 1960s. In a first, emergency releases are being made under the 2018 Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Photo courtesy of the Rauch family.

    Legal reckoning?

    Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) [per year, 75 maf per 10 years] of water to the Lower Basin on a 10-year running average. Right now, the Upper Basin is delivering roughly 9.2 maf, Mitchell said, meaning that there is still time to help the system come back into balance before the Lower Basin states could legally call for more water than they currently receive.

    Lake Powell is the Upper Basin’s largest storage pool on the system and is designed to be the four Upper Basin states’ major source of protection. Because of their legal obligations, Colorado water users are closely monitoring this year’s plunge in Powell, with the threat to hydropower production being seen as a dangerous antecedent to a compact call.

    “That the system continues to deteriorate is concerning,” Lochhead said.

    Roughly half of Denver Water’s supplies are derived from water rights it owns on the Colorado River system. While one portion of its portfolio dates back to 1921, and would therefore trump a 1922 compact call, several other rights were established later, meaning the utility might have to stop pulling from those water sources if Colorado were forced to cut back in order to meet compact obligations.

    Other Front Range water providers, who also have Colorado River rights, are even more vulnerable, including the Pueblo-based Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Southeastern’s rights date only to 1957.

    Contingency v. reality

    Lee Miller, Southeastern’s attorney, said the Colorado River crisis remains a long-term problem for his agency.

    The rapid deterioration this year, however, is prompting everyone to rethink how much time they have to balance the massive river system as drought and a warming climate, as well as population growth, continue to sap its flows.

    “Both the Upper and Lower Basin have now had to initiate elements of their drought contingency plans. When we passed it a couple of years ago everyone thought, “It’s good to have a contingency plan.’ But I don’t think anyone thought we would have to use the plans this quickly. It’s gone from being a contingency to being a reality, and that’s concerning.”

    Back up at Flaming Gorge, John Rauch is watching the levels drop and making his own contingency plans.

    “We are planning for the worst,” Rauch said. “For the foreseeable future, the outlook is dry. If it ends up that by the end of all of this that the reservoir becomes a river channel, we will be down there at water’s edge selling worms.”

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

    #LakePowell — Nation’s Second-Largest Reservoir — Hits Record Low — KUNC #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell is shown here, in its reach between where the Escalante and San Juan rivers enter the reservoir, in an October 2018 aerial photo from the nonprofit environmental group EcoFlight. Colorado water managers are considering the implications of a program known as demand management that would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to take less water from streams in order to boost water levels in Lake Powell, as an insurance policy against compact curtailment.
    CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    The nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell, is now at its lowest point since it filled in the 1960s.

    The massive reservoir on the Colorado River hit a new historic low on July 24, dropping below 3,555.1 feet in elevation. The previous low was set in 2005. The last time the reservoir was this low was in 1969, when it first filled. It’s currently at 33% of its capacity.

    The popular southwestern recreation hotspot on the Arizona-Utah border, which plays host to houseboats, kayaks and speedboats, has fluctuated over the past 21 years due to low river flows exacerbated by warming temperatures. About 4.4 million people visited Lake Powell in 2019, and spent $427 million in nearby communities, according to the National Park Service.

    Lake Powell is now at its lowest point since it first filled in the late 1960s. Credit: U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation

    Demand across the seven U.S. states and two Mexican states that rely on the river hasn’t declined fast enough to match the reduced supply, said Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University…

    Forecasts for Lake Powell’s inflows from the Colorado River grew increasingly pessimistic during spring and early summer this year. Flows from April to July are projected to be 25% of the long term average, placing 2021 into the top three driest on record for the watershed.

    “The hard lesson we’re learning about climate change is that it’s not a gradual, slow descent to a new state of affairs,” Udall said…

    Emergency water releases from smaller reservoirs upstream of Powell will take place over the next six months. They’re meant to maintain hydropower production at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.

    “I’m very alarmed,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Interior Department. “It’s not only focused on hydropower concerns, we’re concerned operationally in general. We’re acting in coordination with the states about these decisions.”

    Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, also on the Colorado River, is at a record low. Both Powell and Mead are projected to decline further this year…

    The river’s current managing guidelines are set to expire in 2026. An update to those guidelines passed in 2019 included a potential demand management program in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. In its conceptual form, the program would pay water users to voluntarily forgo water deliveries in exchange for payment. The saved water could be banked in Lake Powell to buffer against a potential Colorado River Compact call from downstream states.

    None of the Upper Basin states has committed to fully implementing a plan to rein in demands on the river’s water in order to fill Lake Powell with conserved water. The plan remains in an investigatory phase.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Opinion: Will the #Drought Contingency Plan be enough to save #LakeMead? Maybe – for now — AZCentral.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

    The rising sun illuminates the desert landscape near Channel Island at the head of Virgin Canyon in Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border (Photo from Arizona). Photo by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry via American Rivers

    Here’s a guest column from Bruce Babbit that’s running on AZCentral.com:

    It’s too soon to tinker with key parts of the Colorado River Compact. For now, our best bet may be to temporarily extend the Drought Contingency Plan.

    Lake Mead is disappearing. It has already fallen more than 146 feet since 2000.

    Last week the Bureau of Reclamation forecast that it will likely drop another 42 feet in the next five years, drawing the lake surface down to a level barely sufficient to generate power and release water for downstream water users in California and Arizona.

    To manage this decline and stabilize the lake is not rocket science. Cities and farms are simply taking more water out of Lake Mead than is coming in from the Colorado River. The lake is like a bank account: on average, you can only take out as much as is being deposited by the Colorado River.

    We’ll need all of DCP’s cuts to stabilize Lake Mead

    When the current drought began in 2000, the three Lower Basin states that take water from the lake (Arizona, California and Nevada) suddenly awakened to the problem. After several years of difficult negotiations, they agreed on a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) that, with previously agreed cuts, would bring the lake into balance.

    Hoping the drought would lift before too long, the DCP negotiators agreed to spread the cuts over coming years in response to changing lake levels. However, as the drought continues and intensifies, the Drought Contingency Plan is looking more like a Drought Certainty Plan.

    It now appears that the full schedule of DCP reductions will be needed to bring the lake into balance at approximately 1,025 feet of elevation. The next reduction begins in 2022, a further cut is likely in 2023 with even deeper remaining cuts likely to occur by 2026, the year in which the current DCP will expire.

    By that time the states that share the Colorado River must reach a new agreement. Their first task will be to decide whether still more reductions beyond the present DCP will be necessary in a new “DCP Plus.” It will be a close call, for the existing DCP schedule may be enough to bring the lake into balance, albeit at a very low level.

    The negotiators will then face a newly emerging problem – the threat that the Colorado River might run so low, there will not be enough inflow to stabilize the lake, even with the full agenda of DCP reductions.

    It works if we keep getting the minimum flow

    So far Arizona and the Lower Basin states have managed through the drought by counting on a steady average minimum of at least 7.5 million acre feet of new water released annually from upstream reservoirs into Lake Mead. This minimum flow “guarantee” is contained in Article III(d) of the Colorado River Compact, the basic law governing the river.

    This combination of a guaranteed minimum inflow from upstream reservoirs, paired with scheduled DCP reductions, makes it possible to plan with some confidence for Central Arizona Project (CAP) deliveries.

    The Central Arizona Project aqueduct will not run dry and disappear alongside the ancient Hohokam canals. It will continue to deliver water up from the river to the Phoenix and Tucson areas.x

    As long as the scheduled DCP cuts are carried out, and as long as the minimum anticipated inflow guaranteed by Article III(d) remains in place, the CAP should deliver into the future an average of about 40% less than the delivery forecast in 2020.

    As its shoreline shrinks, Lake Mead will be a smaller lake, but it should hold steady at a level sufficient to generate power and deliver water through its outlets. And it will remain a beautiful and inviting National Recreation Area.

    A warming climate could upend the law of the river

    However, there is an elephant in the room. It is called human caused global warming.

    As the climate continues to warm, rising temperatures cause more of the runoff from rain and melting snow to both evaporate and soak into drying soils before reaching the Colorado River.

    Scientists predict that as the climate continues to warm, river flows could continue to decline by as much as 20% to 30% by 2050.

    If these predictions hold, there will come a point at which the guaranteed Article III(d) flows into Lake Mead could so severely limit water use in the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming that the entire law of the river, including the Colorado River Compact, will be up for discussion and reconsideration.

    We have not reached that point.

    More studies are necessary and the predictive power of science is still evolving. The natural drought cycle that exists apart from global warming may lift. The Upper Basin states have yet to curtail any of their water uses in order to send flows to the Lower Basin.

    For now, it might be smart to extend DCP

    It is, therefore, too soon to be tinkering with Article III(d) or other provisions of the Colorado River Compact.

    From the vantage point of today, the best alternative for a new agreement in 2026 will be to extend the existing DCP for another 10 years.

    The negotiators will surely need to make adjustments to the amount and timing of DCP reductions. And there is certainly some flexibility to simultaneously adjust the amount and timing of the Upper Basin’s releases to the Lower Basin.

    The Colorado River is a magnificent and wildly unpredictable resource. Managing it will always require our ongoing vigilance and commitment to working together to create fair and equitable outcomes.

    Bruce Babbitt is is a former Arizona governor and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Reach him at brucebabbitt2000@yahoo.com.

    Demand management discussions continue amid worsening #ColoradoRiver crisis — @AspenJournlism #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell is shown here, in its reach between where the Escalante and San Juan rivers enter the reservoir, in an October 2018 aerial photo from the nonprofit environmental group EcoFlight. Colorado water managers are considering the implications of a program known as demand management that would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to take less water from streams in order to boost water levels in Lake Powell, as an insurance policy against compact curtailment.
    CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    CWCB not yet ready to adopt next-steps timeline

    The crisis on the Colorado River is not waiting for the state of Colorado to develop a program to avoid water shortages.

    That was the message that Colorado Water Conservation Board members received from some commenters at their regular meeting Wednesday. The state water board is investigating the feasibility of a program known as demand management, which would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to not irrigate and instead use that saved water to meet downstream obligations on the Colorado River.

    James Eklund, former head of the CWCB and one of the architects of the Drought Contingency Plan, which allows for the possibility of a demand-management program, urged the board in the public-comments portion of the discussion to take swift action on what he called arguably the largest water crisis Colorado has ever faced.

    “Time is not your or our collective out. If you wait, that’s a decision that you make to determine whether or not we have a hand on the steering wheel as we move forward with this river,” he said. “The waiting is, I think, folly.”

    In written comments, some environmental nonprofit organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, said they were in favor of a demand-management program and urged the state to move forward more quickly.

    The state received the comments in response to a draft framework released in March of what a demand-management program could look like, with three tiers of implementation options, guiding principles, threshold issues, trade-offs and equity considerations. The framework matrix is based on the findings of nine workgroups assigned to tackle different aspects and challenges of a potential program.

    In addition to written comments, Trout Unlimited Colorado Water Project’s director, Drew Peternell, also told board members at the meeting that the group has concluded that demand management should be one tool Colorado uses to avoid compact curtailment.

    “We realize you are taking on some very tough issues, but I also want to urge you to pick up the pace,” he said. “Hydrology on the West Slope is not good. Additional shortages on the system are likely. They would be painful. Now is the time to get something done.”

    Gail Schwartz, who represents the main stem of the Colorado River basin on the nine-member board, noted the gravity of the situation and invoked the warnings of 19th-century explorer and river runner John Wesley Powell, after whom the second-largest reservoir in the country and ground zero for many of the basin’s most pressing problems is named. In 1893, the prescient Powell said the American West was “piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply these lands.”

    “I think that we are at this extraordinary moment in time,” Schwartz said. “This is a desert and we are going to empty every bucket, we are going to empty every river, and this is the inevitable unless we can develop the courage and the ability to step forward.”

    The controversial water-banking program, which some fear could harm agriculture on the Western Slope, has sparked a lot of discussion but little agreement over the past two years. Some have expressed frustration with what they say is the state’s slow pace of a program rollout and want to begin pilot projects to test the program’s feasibility. Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, urged the board in his comment letter to take aggressive action.

    “The only way to really raise the important questions and to identify the positive and negative consequences of our actions is to try something,” Harris said. “There is no other way to advance the agenda without taking some well-considered risk.”

    Water from the Government Highline Canal pours into Highline Lake in Mack. Water from the Government Highline Canal pours into Highline Lake in Mack. The Grand Valley Water Users Association – the group that regulates water flow in the canal – is calling for the state to take more aggressive steps to test out the concept of demand management.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Drought Contingency Plan

    Under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, signed by the seven Colorado River basin states, the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) can develop a program to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of saved water downstream to Lake Powell as a kind of insurance policy to bolster levels in the reservoir and help meet Colorado River Compact obligations. If the Upper Basin states were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the Lower Basin (Nevada, Arizona and California), as required by the 1922 agreement, it could trigger what’s known as a compact call, which would force involuntary cutbacks in water use.

    Over the past two decades, climate change has been robbing the Colorado River system of flows, and levels in the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, have plummeted to record lows. Federal officials have begun making emergency releases from Upper Basin reservoirs to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydroelectric power. But some water managers say unless this Upper Basin reservoir water is replenished with big snow next winter, the releases may be a one-time, stopgap solution.

    In addition to the urgency imposed by the worsening hydrology, the clock is ticking on the storage agreement laid out in the Drought Contingency Plan, which allows for the development of a demand-management program. It expires in 2026, when a new round of negotiations begins. All four Upper Basin states must agree to move forward with a demand-management program; Colorado cannot go it alone.

    The “bathtub ring” at Lake Powell evidences lower flows coming into the reservoir. Federal officials are making emergency releases from upper basin reservoirs to prop up levels and Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydroelectric power.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Decision making roadmap

    Despite the sense of urgency expressed by some members, the CWCB did not approve the next step forward that was recommended by staff: adopting a decision making roadmap, which sets out a timeline for determining if demand management is achievable and worthwhile for Colorado. Tackling whether demand management is achievable was set to tentatively begin in September, and looking into whether the program is worthwhile for Colorado was supposed to begin in November.

    Schwartz made a motion to adopt the roadmap but later withdrew it after some board members said it was too broad, left too many questions unanswered and did not incorporate feedback from the board.

    “I feel this roadmap is incomplete, and until I see the roadmap with the comments from the board, I don’t feel comfortable moving forward,” said Jackie Brown, who represents the Yampa and White river basins.

    This field in lower Woody Creek is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state of Colorado is exploring how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    River District’s interests

    Demand management was also a topic at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s quarterly board meeting in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday. Amy Ostdiek, the CWCB’s deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information gave a presentation on the state’s progress.

    The River District, which represents 15 counties and advocates to keep water on the Western Slope, is conducting its own investigation into the feasibility of demand management through meetings with water users and plans to release a report of its findings. The River District has not yet taken a position on the potential program.

    “My personal view is that we are going to keep pushing to protect the River District’s interests in a demand-management program, but we realize this is something necessary to move forward sooner rather than later,” said Peter Fleming, River District general counsel.

    Board president Marti Whitmore, who represents Ouray County, asked staff to come up with a proposal with specifics on a demand-management program.

    “The time is right to come up with something to put on the table for discussion purposes,” she said. “I’m just looking to break the logjam here, so we are talking some substance instead of just frameworks and process. It could be an opportunity for the River District to provide some leadership.”

    CWCB board members plan to continue discussing demand management at an Aug. 18 workshop.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    The Entire #ColoradoRiver Basin is in Crisis — Audubon #COriver #aridification

    Western Grebe with chick. Photo: Krisztina Scheeff/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon (Karyn Stockdale):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) recently shared alarming news about the unprecedented conditions on the Colorado River and I’ll attempt to explain their complicated projections. Reclamation, the agency that oversees federal water management across 17 western states, publishes some pretty wonky information, even to those of us who regularly interface with this agency and rely on its analyses.

    Just last month, in June, Reclamation shared their new 5-year projections for the Colorado River Basin to further assist drought management within the Basin. They share these projections a few times every year. The big news is that the water situation on the Colorado River is worse than folks anticipated when adopting the shared shortage agreements called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) adopted in 2019.

    To jump to the conclusion: Reclamation’s projections signal that we urgently need to do more than the DCPs envisioned because of the increasingly hot and dry conditions in the basin. Reclamation has continued to revise their projections throughout this shockingly dry spring, resulting in really dire projections for water storage and distribution. In other words, less water for people, and less water in streams that benefit birds, fish, and a robust recreational economy.

    We’ve arrived at the time when the limits of the Colorado River are being reached.

    What does this mean for birds? Birds rely on the riparian habitats of the Colorado River and its tributaries and aquatic birds have come to rely on the big reservoirs on the river too. Surveys of aquatic birds at Lake Powell have documented dabbling ducks, diving species, shorebirds, and more. American Coot and Western Grebe are common. Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, and Green-winged Teal have also been observed. The habitats created by Lake Powell have existed for less than 60 years and can change with the lake level, which can affect birds.

    You may recall that the main reservoirs on the highly-plumbed Colorado River—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—sometimes “equalize” in water accounting flows. Lake Powell is the receiving reservoir from the Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico) meaning that it stores water that runs downstream from these states. Lake Mead is the distributing reservoir for the Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada, and California) and Mexico meaning that water deliveries to each of these places comes from available water in this lake (and legal water rights, of course). The amount of water in Lake Mead—the largest reservoir in the country—determines how much water a state has available for their Colorado River water users.

    Reclamation projects that Lake Mead water levels are, for the first time ever, so low that they will require cuts in water Lower Basin water deliveries, operating in Tier 1 shortage. And they say there is a greater than 99% chance of this shortage in 2022 and a high risk (greater than 80% probability) that Lake Mead will remain under shortage operations for at least the next five years, perhaps with even more aggressive cuts.

    Severe drought conditions are also triggering emergency response (outlined in the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement as part of the DCP here on page 7) whereby Reclamation will release water from reservoirs further upstream to address declining water levels at Lake Powell and protect the ability of the Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydropower. Representatives from Reclamation and the Upper Basin states just announced they will release water from Flaming Gorge and other reservoirs.

    If we have another bad water year, elevations at Lake Mead could even be lower than before Lake Powell was created. It’s getting to the bottom for both of these reservoirs.

    Why does this matter? These unprecedented and exceptional drought conditions are a signal to all of us to take steps to ensure the river flows long into the future and address water security for people and wildlife. The entire Colorado River Basin is in crisis.

    Climate change is here. We have a very limited window to begin implementing innovative tools that are at our disposal in order to adapt to and mitigate climate change. In addition to reductions in carbon emissions and other large-scale solutions for our planet, Audubon continues to focus on federal and state investments in climate resilient strategies that will help stabilize water supplies and better assist economic sectors and ecosystems adapt to changing conditions. Future water projections by Reclamation – and future agreements on the Colorado River – need to account for climate extremes.

    The effects of prolonged drought and climate change affect everyone in the basin. Our way of life is at stake—millions of acres of farmland and ranches, urban and rural communities, recreation on rivers and lakes, our economies, as well as incredible bird life. Our work is more urgent and more difficult. Please join us in advocating for climate solutions that benefit the Colorado River and other important rivers in the West. Sign up for updates here.

    A Massive Plumbing System Moves #Water Across #Colorado’s Mountains. But This Year, There’s Less To Go Around — KUNC

    The Lost Man diversion canal, about to duck under SH 82 above Aspen, in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Public Radio (Alex Hager) via KUNC:

    High up on Colorado’s Independence Pass, a narrow, winding road weaves through the evergreens and across mountain streams, up and over the Continental Divide at more than 10,000 feet. At one point that road crosses a canal.

    It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, but that canal is part of water infrastructure that makes life on Colorado’s Front Range possible.

    The state has a geographical mismatch between where water shows up and where much of the population has settled.

    “Wherever you are in this state, you’re either at the source of the drinking water supply, you’re in the middle of the drinking water supply, or you’re at the end of the tap,” said Christina Medved, outreach director at Roaring Fork Conservancy. “So on the Western slope, we are at the source of the water.”

    About 80% of Colorado’s water falls on the western side of the state. Much of it is high-mountain snow and rain that eventually trickles down into streams and rivers like the ones on Independence Pass.

    But about 80% of Colorado’s people live on the east side of the mountains. Because of gravity, that water doesn’t flow to them naturally. Instead, Colorado’s heavily-populated Front Range relies on a massive plumbing system to keep drinking water flowing to its taps.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    For a century and a half, engineers have carved up the mountains with tunnels and canals that pipe water across the state through trans-mountain diversions. Some of that infrastructure is nestled near the high-alpine headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, which eventually flows through Aspen and Glenwood Springs on its way to the Colorado River. Near Lost Man reservoir, a dam and tunnel create a juncture between water that will follow that natural path westward to the Colorado, and water that will be diverted eastward through the mountains and onto cities such as Colorado Springs.

    A tunnel through the mountains draws in water that will pass through two reservoirs and the Arkansas River on its way to the southern portion of the Front Range. Water diverted from the Colorado River basin, through trans-mountain diversions, makes up 60 to 70% of the water used by Colorado Springs. Denver, Greeley, Fort Collins and smaller municipalities on the Front Range also rely heavily on Western Slope water.

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    And these kinds of set ups aren’t confined to Colorado. Similar systems bring water to big cities all across the region. Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Los Angeles rely on canals and tunnels to ship faraway water into their pipes. New ones are in the works on the Front Range and in southern Utah.

    But these systems aren’t without critics.

    Water from the Roaring Fork River basin heading east out of the end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel (June 2016), which is operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., a member of the Front Range Water Council. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    “When you first learn about it, the concept of a trans-mountain diversion is crazy,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It seems wrong. It seems antithetical to the health of the river. And I have to say all of that’s true.”

    His organization was set up in the 1930s to oppose these diversions and ensure that there is enough water for people on the Western side of the state…

    The issue is, contemporary environmental values aren’t written into the West’s water law. Instead, water use is defined by regulations written when Colorado first became a state in the 1800s. The rules say that if you have rights to use water, it doesn’t matter if you want to use it hundreds of miles away from its source – even if that requires miles of cross-mountain plumbing to do so.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map July 13, 2021.

    At this moment, there is less water to pull from in every part of the state. The Front Range escaped from drought after steady spring rains, but those high-mountain areas that usually provide a dependable source of water for all of Colorado are experiencing a different fate. The western slope is deep in the second year of drought conditions, leaving snowpack and river flows lower than they should be.

    Mueller thinks that only sharpens the need for the Front Range to curtail its water use. Although they retain the legal right to use a certain amount of water, he’s asking them to use less – which he says will promote the health of rivers and their ecosystems west of the divide.

    The ditch that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir to Grizzly Reservoir and then under the Divide to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

    On the Front Range, those on the receiving end of diversions say they are listening to their western counterparts when they put up distress signals during particularly critical times. They also say deliberate conservation work is paying off in the longer term. Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water, said over the past two decades, per capita water use in his district is down by 22%.

    “Everyone in Colorado needs to decrease their use,” he said…

    Amid tension between demands for water on both sides, exacerbated by extreme drought conditions, is the fact that there is not much of an alternative. Colorado’s water system is built to accommodate the fact that the majority of its people and the majority of its water are far from each other. Without fundamental changes to the bedrock of water law, those asking for water will have to work within a system built on trans-mountain diversions…

    Some contingency planning – within the reality of a diversion-centric system – is already in place. In Colorado Springs, which receives some of the flow diverted from the top of Independence Pass, re-use practices are helping the city get more mileage out of the water it’s apportioned.

    Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

    Abby Ortega, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, said reused water accounts for 26% of the city’s total portfolio and the city relies heavily on storage to get through dry years like this one.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    But climate change threatens to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, which has water managers on edge and looking more intently at ways to maximize what’s available.

    “Every water planner in the state has some worry with the rapidly declining hydrology on the Colorado river,” Ortega said.

    Reclamation’s July 24-Month Study implements contingency operations in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification #GreenRiver #SanJuanRiver #GunnisonRiver

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aaron):

    The Bureau of Reclamation today released the July 24-Month Study, confirming declining hydrologic conditions for the Colorado River system. To protect Lake Powell’s target elevation, the study incorporates the implementation of drought operations under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA).

    The July 2021 Operation Plan for Colorado River System Reservoirs 24-Month Study (July 24-Month Study) shows that the Lake Powell water year 2021 predicted unregulated inflow volume has decreased 2.5 million acre-feet in the six-month period between January and July 2021. The current forecast for WY2021 is 3.23 maf (30% of average).

    In addition, 5-year projections released by Reclamation last week predicted a 79% chance that Lake Powell would fall below the DROA target elevation of 3,525 feet within the next year. That target elevation provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Consistent with DROA provisions to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation, the July 24-Month Study includes adjusted releases from the upstream initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project Act to deliver an additional 181 thousand-acre feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of December 2021. The additional releases are anticipated to be implemented on the following schedule:

    Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) planned releases July 16, 2021. The “Last Flush”. Data credit: USBR

    The releases detailed above are in addition to the already established releases determined by operational plans for each of the identified facilities. The additional delivery of 181 kaf is expected to raise Lake Powell’s elevation by approximately three feet. The additional releases from the upstream initial units do not change the annual volume of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in WY2021, as those volumes are determined by the 2007 Interim Guidelines.

    Reclamation publishes a 24-Month Study for Colorado River System reservoirs each month. The August 24-Month Study will set the operating conditions for Lake Mead and Lake Powell for the upcoming year. Reclamation will also release an update to the 5-year projections in early September.

    Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states continue to work together cooperatively to closely monitor projections and conditions and are prepared to take additional measures in accordance with the DROA.

    Reclamation remains committed to reducing the collective risk of both Lake Powell and Lake Mead falling to critical elevations and will continue to work with entities in the Colorado River Basin to ensure that both facilities continue to function as authorized to meet the natural, municipal and agricultural needs of the basin.

    To view the July and prior 24-month studies, visit http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies.

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    The #ColoradoRiver is drying up faster than federal officials can keep track. Mandatory water cuts are looming — The #Colorado Sun #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #YampaRiver #GreenRiver

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

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Plummeting reservoir levels at Mead and Powell solidify Arizona cutbacks next year and near-future threats to all the Compact states, from Colorado to California

    blunt new report based on June runoff conditions from the Colorado River into Lake Powell and Lake Mead shows the reservoirs fast deteriorating toward “dead pool” status, where stored water is so low it can’t spin the massive hydroelectric power generators buried in the dams, and large swaths of Arizona farmland going fallow.

    The enormous, life-sustaining buckets of water in the drought-stricken West are emptying so fast that the Bureau of Reclamation added a new monthly report – on top of three already scheduled this year – to keep up with the dam

    The bureau said the loss of water is accelerating, confirming projections that massive water restrictions will begin in 2022 for the three Lower Basin states in the seven-state Colorado River Compact. Conservation groups believe Arizona will lose more than 500,000 acre-feet of water usually delivered by the Colorado in 2022 through voluntary and mandatory cuts, forcing significant reductions to irrigated farming in the desert state. Some, but not all, of Arizona’s share will be replaced in trades using water already “banked” in the reservoirs.

    The bureau’s report for June, added on to previously scheduled reservoir updates for January, April and August, paints a dire picture. As snowpack runoff disappeared into dry ground instead of hitting the reservoirs, engineers calculated a 79% chance Lake Powell will fall below its minimum target water height of 3,525 feet above sea level next year.

    That minimum provides only a 35-foot cushion for the minimum water level of 3,490 feet needed to spill water into the electric turbines. The bureau said there is now a 5% chance Lake Powell falls below the minimum needed to generate any power in 2023, and a 17% chance in 2024 — the odds are going up with each new report.

    Lake Mead, which feeds the three Lower Basin compact states of Nevada, California and Arizona, is in even worse shape. The compact requires declaration of restriction-triggering “shortage condition” if Mead hits 1,075 feet or lower. Mead is falling now, and the bureau affirmed the shortage declaration will happen in August. Las Vegas, a short drive from Mead and Hoover Dam, hit 117 degrees on July 10, and longtime local users are alarmed at how fast the pool is evaporating into desert skies.

    Mead is also in great danger of hitting “critical” elevations of 1,025 feet, a sort of emergency-stop minimum, and the minimum pool for generating power at 1,000 feet, the bureau’s new report said. The chances of draining past the minimum by 2025 are now 58%, and the chances of falling below a power pool that year are 21%.

    Weather plus climate change

    Long-term climate change is being exacerbated by a short-term drought lasting more than 20 years in the West, scientist and water engineers say. Even with a future snowpack bonanza – not currently in the forecast – the compact reservoirs will remain in deep trouble, said John Berggren, water policy analyst for the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

    The Colorado River basin’s latest snowpack was just about 100% of normal, Berggren noted, but delivered only 50% of normal runoff into the river and the giant reservoirs. Water is soaking into parched ground or evaporating entirely before it can contribute to stream flows.

    “It’s startling how with each new projection, you had thought it can’t possibly get worse,” Berggren said. “Even just a year or two ago, most people would have thought these projections are pretty far away from ever happening.”

    Major water cutbacks for the Lower Basin states are now an unavoidable reality, Berggren said. “This just shows that we no longer have the luxury of thinking it’s a decade down the road.”

    “The June five-year projections for the Colorado River System reaffirm this is a serious situation,” Wayne Pullan, Upper Colorado Basin regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation, said in a statement about the latest river modeling. “We are actively engaged with the Colorado River Basin states and other partners to respond to changing conditions to avoid critical elevations at Lake Powell.”

    The original compact between Upper Basin states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – and the Lower Basin was negotiated in 1922. It was given real teeth in 2019 with a Drought Contingency Plan that first penalizes Lower Basin states if levels and inflows into Powell and Mead fall below trigger points.

    hobbs
    Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    Upper Basin states face future cutbacks in water use as well if they can’t deliver agreed-upon amounts of water to the basin separation point at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, just above the Grand Canyon. Colorado water engineers, agricultural interests and utilities are in ongoing discussions and experiments on how best to leave more in the Colorado should those downstream treaty calls eventually come.

    Mexico is also part of the historic compact. Some states are negotiating with Mexico to build ocean water desalinization plants near the Pacific Ocean, so that Mexico could use that water and the states could keep more river water.

    Stagecoach Reservoir. Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

    Colorado tries to refill the Yampa

    Colorado water managers, meanwhile, are working quickly to mitigate some of the intense near-term impacts of recent drought, including along the severely depleted Yampa River in northwest Colorado, which is a tributary of the Colorado River.

    On July 8, the Colorado Water Trust bought 1,000 acre-feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir, with an option to buy 1,000 more, for releases over the rest of the summer into the Yampa to keep fish alive and keep the river basin healthier in hot temperatures. The Water Trust has made similar purchases in other years, but will likely have to release the water far earlier than usual this season in order to prevent high water temperatures and stagnant flow that stress fish and hurt their spawning chances.

    After spending about $46,000 on the July purchase, the trust has spent just under $500,000 to buy water from Stagecoach’s reserve since 2012. In announcing the deal, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District noted the late-May stream flow into Stagecoach was at less than 10 cubic feet per second, when it should have been more than 100 cfs. The district said it has separately released more than 1,500 acre-feet of its own water from Stagecoach so far this year in order to support river health.

    Cash donors to buy the Stagecoach water include the Yampa River Fund, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, among others. Tri-State operates coal-fired electricity generating units down the Yampa to the west of Stagecoach.

    How will the West solve a water crisis if #ClimateChange continues to get worse? — ABC News #ActOnClimate

    From ABC News (Julia Jacobo):

    The West has more hydrologic variability — more flood years and drought years per average year — than any other part of the country, Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis, and the head of the school’s Center for Watershed Sciences told ABC News.

    But a study published in Science Magazine in 2020 warned that the West is exiting an unusually wet time in its history and heading toward an unusually dry time that could last years — even centuries.

    Some 42% of California’s population is now under a drought emergency — every part of the state except Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday. And if some of the most prominent reservoirs in the West are any indication, residents may be in trouble. Last month, water levels in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, hit historic lows — an alarming notion considering the West is largely dependent on surface water.

    Neighboring Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the U.S., is seeing similar patterns. Lake Mead and Lake Powell will likely never refill to previously normal levels, John Berggren, a water policy analyst with conservation organization Western Resource Advocates, told ABC News.

    “Climate change is definitely challenging the system,” Berggren said. Population growth is straining the system as well, as increasing amounts of water get diverted to more households.

    If the predictions come to fruition, and the recent warm, dry trends persist in coming years, how will the West solve its water crisis?

    For years, states and municipalities are already urging residents, and in some cases enacting laws, to protect the water supply. Some regions on the coast, such as Santa Barbara, California, are installing desalination plants, and other inland areas, such as the state of Arizona, are monitoring ground water supplies as major reservoirs and the Colorado River continue to see the water levels dip.

    The turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River. Photo credit: Lyle Balequah/From the Earth Studio

    Agriculture will be hit the hardest

    Farming uses the largest chunk of water supply, accounting for 80% of consumptive water use in the U.S. and more than 90% in many Western states, according to the U.S. Department of AgricultureYour text to link…, and would likely be the first casualty if supply in the West were strained.

    In Utah, up to 90% of the water used in the state goes to agriculture, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. In Arizona, a large amount of the water extracted from the Colorado River goes toward agriculture, Erinanne Saffell, acting Arizona state climatologist, told ABC News.

    Overall, between 80% and 90% of the water from the Colorado River system is used for agriculture, Berggren said.

    In California, about 80% of the water use goes toward irrigated farming, Lund said, but agriculture only accounts for about 5% of the economy…

    Alternative solutions like desalination and groundwater aren’t always feasible

    As water levels in reservoirs continue to drop, officials are also exploring other options to retrieve water.

    In Arizona, groundwater is the state’s largest water supply, Saffell said. Lawmakers passed legislation in 1980 in which municipalities agreed to not overdraw the groundwater.

    In the past, when there was not enough surface water and water in reservoirs, states would pump as much groundwater as needed, Cora Kammeyer, a senior researcher at the environmental research nonprofit Pacific Institute, told ABC News. But now, after turning to that solution “over and over again,” they are now seeing both surface water and groundwater shortages, she added.

    Depletion of groundwater in the Southwest has been of concern for many years, especially in Arizona. Increased pumping to support population growth near Tucson and Phoenix resulted in water level declines of 300 to 500 feet in the region by the 1980s, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The installation of desalination plants, which remove mineral components from saltwater to create sources for drinking and agriculture, along the coast are for “some extreme cases,” Lund said, and with it comes “a whole host of challenges,” Berggren said.

    The cost of treating seawater is about $2,000 to $3,000 an acre foot, which is about two or three times the cost of the next cheapest source, which is water conservation, such as buying water from farmers and reusing wastewater, Lund said. Relying on desalination plants would likely double a household water bill, he added.

    And while the technology has been around for a while, desalination also presents environmental challenges, such as where to put the salt and sediments left over from the process, which are bad to return to the sea, because all the extra sediment and minerals essentially pollutes the natural seawater. It would also be inefficient to pump the water from the coast to more inland states such as Colorado, Berggren said…

    Water management and conservation may be the strongest solutions

    Water management and conservation have already proven to be the most effective tactics in maintaining water supplies in the West, experts said.

    Arizona water management is well-equipped to ensure supplies to the desert community, Saffell said. The state has been at a Tier Zero level of shortage, the highest classification for a lake shortage, for the past couple of years. It decreases water allotment slightly, but Saffell expects the state to move to an unprecedented Tier One conservation level in 2022, when they will then decrease their draw rom the Colorado River by 8%.

    It will be the first Tier One shortage ordered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Reclamation in lower Colorado River basin states such as Arizona, California, Nevada and some states in northern Mexico. Once Lake Mead, which supplies water to about 25 million people in the region, reaches a certain level, each state will have to extract less water, Berggren said…

    With every drought in the West, officials have made improvements in water management, Lund said.

    And the efforts to conserve have already made great strides in recent decades. in California, cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are using the same amount of water, or less, as they did 30 years ago, despite substantial increases in population, Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, wrote in 2019.

    Currently, per capita water use is 16% lower than 2013 levels, suggesting there has been some permanent behavior change by Californians since the mid-2010’s drought, California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters on Thursday…

    Conservation mandates are imminent

    Officials have already begun to lay down the law on curbing water usage, and additional restrictions are imminent, experts say.

    Newsom requested that residents voluntarily use 15% less water after signing an executive order adding nine counties to the state’s drought emergency on Thursday…

    On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order mandating that state agencies stop watering lawns and washing windows at state offices and facilities and to stop running fountains that don’t recirculate water. The order also bans the planting of new landscape that requires irrigation.

    Low water levels in #LakePowell could affect #NavajoLake — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Joe Napolitan):

    During a meeting on June 21, members of the San Juan Water Conservation District (SJWCD) board discussed local implications of historically low water levels in Lake Powell.

    “The article that came out today just said that there’s a threshold that Lake Powell has to reach for the CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) to enact some legal movements,” said board member Joe Tedder. “Apparently we’re going to hit that, probably by the end of June.”

    The threshold Tedder referred to is outlined in the Colorado River Drought Contingency Management and Operations Plan (DCP).

    The plan states that if Lake Powell reaches a surface elevation of 3,525 the upper-basin states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) shall take action to send more water to Lake Powell from reservoirs upstream.

    According to the USBR, the surface elevation of Lake Powell was 3,559 feet on July 4. Aside from the drought in 2005, such low water levels have not been seen since the 1960s, when Lake Powell was still filling after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963.

    Low water levels in Lake Powell have implications for the Colorado River Basin, which includes the San Juan River and Pagosa Springs.

    According to a report by the Pacific Institute in 2013, roughly 70 percent of the Colorado River Basin’s water is used to irrigate nearly 5.7 million acres of land for agriculture. The USBR estimates that more than 40 million people depend on the river to support their lives.

    Another report prepared by Southwick Associates in 2012 esti- mated that 5.6 million people over the age of 18 use the Colorado River for recreational purposes each year.

    The same report totals the value of all spending resulting from such recreational expenditures to be $25.6 billion, generating $1.6 billion in federal tax dollars…

    SJWCD board member Doug Secrist outlined provisions in the DCP, stating that in an effort to stabilize Lake Powell, water would be reallocated from reservoirs up- stream, otherwise referred to as initial units…

    “I can tell you that PAWSD is senior to all those reservoirs, so PAWSD water is pretty well protected,” SJWCD Board of Directors President Al Pfister said of the Pagosa Area Wa- ter and Sanitation District. “But it is a very intricate and interwoven issue.”

    […]

    The National Integrated Drought Information System reports that Archuleta County is experiencing its driest year in over a century, and that the initial units from which water is planned to be supplied to Lake Powell are already low in volume and inflow…

    The USBR predicts that the preliminary unregulated flow which supplies the Navajo Reservoir, which presently has a pool elevation 27 feet below the 1981-2010 average, will be 36 percent of the average for the month of July.
    For Blue Mesa, which presently rests 43 feet below the 1981-2010 av- erage, is projected to have an inflow volume 40 percent of average.
    Flaming Gorge, which rests only 3 feet below its average pool eleva- tion, is projected to have an unregu- lated inflow volume of 42 percent of average.

    Bureau of Reclamation Updates #LakePowell’s Status — Lake Powell Life #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From Lake Powell Life (Mike Reilley):

    RECLAMATION RELEASES ADDITIONAL 5-YEAR PROJECTIONS TO SUPPORT DROUGHT RESPONSE PLANNING EFFORTS IN THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN

    As one element of the ongoing implementation of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans for the Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation today released additional 5-year projections on the Colorado River System based on June 2021 conditions.

    Five-year projections are typically modeled in January, April and August of each year. The additional June projections will inform the ongoing drought operations planning efforts at key Reclamation reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin. These efforts are ongoing among Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement.

    “The June 5-year projections for the Colorado River System reaffirm this is a serious situation,” said Wayne Pullan, Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director. “We are actively engaged with the Colorado River Basin states and other partners to respond to changing conditions to avoid critical elevations at Lake Powell.”

    Projections for anticipated runoff in the Upper Colorado Basin have declined over the course of the spring. Using information based on recent hydrology (since 1988 and known as the Stress Test Hydrology), Reclamation notes several key findings for Lake Powell in the June 5-year projections:

    A 79% chance that Lake Powell will fall below its target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet sometime next year.

    Lake Powell’s target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and to meet current operational obligations to the Lower Colorado River Division states of Arizona, California, and Nevada.

    Beyond 2022, Lake Powell’s chances of falling to critical levels also increased.
    There is a 5% chance that Lake Powell will fall below minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet in 2023 and 17% in 2024.

    In the Lower Basin, the updated projections for Lake Mead continue to affirm the high likelihood of a first-ever shortage condition in the Lower Basin in calendar year 2022. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, if Lake Mead’s end-of-calendar-year elevation is projected to be at or below 1,075 feet, Lake Mead would operate in a shortage condition in the upcoming year. The prescribed shortage reductions for Arizona and Nevada would also be coupled with water savings contributions under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Mexico would reduce their allotment and make water savings contributions under Minute 323 to the 1944 U.S. Mexico Water Treaty. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 DCP and Minute 323, operational decisions for 2022 will be made by Reclamation in August 2021.

    Reclamation is also concerned with the longer-term projections, which show a higher likelihood of Lake Mead declining to the critical elevations of 1,025 and 1,000 feet by 2025. Based on the June update, the chance of this occurring by 2025 is 58% and 21%, respectively.

    Reclamation provides projections using two future hydrology scenarios: The Stress Test Hydrology based on the last 32 years, and the Full Hydrology based on the last 114 years. The Stress Test Hydrology provides more plausible near-term outlooks because it embeds the recent warming trend and current drought period. It is about 11% lower on average compared to the Full Hydrology…

    For more information, the 5-year projections from June 2021 and prior can be viewed by visiting https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html

    Brad Udall: Second-worst Powell inflows in more than half a century — InkStain

    From InkStain (Brad Udall):

    Brad Udall on twitter yesterday ran through a striking series of graphs of the current state of the Colorado River. With his permission, I’m posting them here along with a slightly polished version of his accompanying commentary. Some key points that grabbed my attention:

  • Second-lowest Powell inflow in a period of record we use dating to 1964.
  • Risk of Powell dropping next year to levels that could jeopardize power production.
  • Risk of Mead dropping low enough in the next 18 months to trigger much deeper “Tier 2” reductions to Lower Basin water users in 2023.
  • Reclamation’s ‘unregulated inflows’ into Lake Powell show that 2021 will be the 2nd worst year after only 2002 going back to 1964. 2021 will be the RED bar most likely. This is a really grim year for runoff.

    Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation via Brad Udall

    2021 inflow will be only ~3 maf, compared to the 1981-2010 average of 10.3 maf or the 2000-2021 average of 8.3 maf (20% less than 1981-2010 average).(maf = million acrefeet)

    Considering that Powell will release or lose to evaporation ~ 8.5 maf, the lake will lose ~ 5 maf this year or ~55 feet of elevation.

    April 2021 snowpack above Powell peaked at ~85% of normal but will generate about 25% of normal river flow. This comes on top of April 2020 snowpack of 100% of normal that generated about 50% of normal flow.

    Declining runoff efficiency has been noted in multiple peer-reviewed studies. For a recent overview of recent climate change studies on the Colorado River see this written with Jonathan Overpeck:

    Jeff Lukas points out that the twitter thread implied that the low runoff efficiency this year as measured by runoff as a percent of snowpack is all due directly to warming. I did not mean to imply that. The low runoff percent numbers are much more a function of (1) very low spring precipitation in both 2020 and 2021 and to a lesser extent (2) low soil moisture from the previous year. It may be that there is a human-caused connection to the low spring precipitation although there’s no real evidence of this yet. Low soil moisture in the springs of 2020 and 2021 is definitely connected to dry and very warm late summer and early fall from the previous years. Teasing this apart to obtain the actual driver(s) is not simple. That said, no one should doubt that climate change is reducing the flows of the Colorado. Multiple peer-reviewed papers have now supported this finding.

    More from Jeff on this here.

    Here’s what’s going to happen to the nation’s 2 largest reservoirs because of this measly inflow:

    Losses to Mead and Powell. Graphic credit: Brand Udall via InkStain

    Note that combined contents will drop below 30% by late next year.

    Here’s that decline for all years back to 1935 when Mead first filled. These two reservoirs will hold less water than Mead did alone in many years before 1964 when Powell was built.

    Combined storage, Mead and Powell. Graphic credit: Brad Udall via Inkstain

    By next April Powell will hit 5.4 maf, ~185 feet below full. See Red dots. This will be the lowest since its initial fill in 1964. Since 1999, Powell will have lost ~18 maf, 75% of its contents.

    Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain

    At 5.4 maf Powell could be low enough to lose the ability to generate power. (We’re uncertain about how penstocks operate when lake gets low — water in penstocks can not be aerated or turbine damage will occur.)

    Loss of power, while not calamitous, is concerning. Power revenues fund environmental compliance and other important items in the basin.

    As part of the 2019 agreement, the UB can release flows from reservoirs upstream of Powell to prop it up. But there is only about 5 maf for that all together. It is a one-shot deal.

    We’ll have to wait on next winter to understand what happens after April of 2022. But 5.4 maf is very little water in a 25 maf reservoir.

    So what about Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir?

    Reclamation’s current forecasts show January 1, 2022 elevation at 1065’ feet (8.8 maf) , well below the 1075’ needed to avoid a ‘Tier 1 Shortage’.

    Decline of Lake Mead. Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain

    If it ends up below 1050’ on Jan 1 (as projected in August 2022), that will lead to a Tier 2 Shortage (total cutbacks of 721 kaf). Otherwise, Mead will face a 2nd year of Tier 1 shortages. Either way, this is not good.

    Reclamation releases additional 5-year projections to support #drought response planning efforts in the #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

    As one element of the ongoing implementation of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans for the Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation today released additional 5-year projections on the Colorado River System based on June 2021 conditions.

    Five-year projections are typically modeled in January, April and August of each year. The additional June projections will inform the ongoing drought operations planning efforts at key Reclamation reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin. These efforts are ongoing among Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement.

    “The June 5-year projections for the Colorado River System reaffirm this is a serious situation,” said Wayne Pullan, Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director. “We are actively engaged with the Colorado River Basin states and other partners to respond to changing conditions to avoid critical elevations at Lake Powell.”

    Projections for anticipated runoff in the Upper Colorado Basin have declined over the course of the spring. Using information based on recent hydrology (since 1988 and known as the Stress Test Hydrology), Reclamation notes several key findings for Lake Powell in the June 5-year projections:

    • A 79% chance that Lake Powell will fall below its target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet sometime next year.
    • Lake Powell’s target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and to meet current operational obligations to the Lower Colorado River Division states of Arizona, California, and Nevada.
    • Beyond 2022, Lake Powell’s chances of falling to critical levels also increased.
    • There is a 5% chance that Lake Powell will fall below minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet in 2023 and 17% in 2024.

    In the Lower Basin, the updated projections for Lake Mead continue to affirm the high likelihood of a first-ever shortage condition in the Lower Basin in calendar year 2022. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, if Lake Mead’s end-of-calendar-year elevation is projected to be at or below 1,075 feet, Lake Mead would operate in a shortage condition in the upcoming year. The prescribed shortage reductions for Arizona and Nevada would also be coupled with water savings contributions under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Mexico would reduce their allotment and make water savings contributions under Minute 323 to the 1944 U.S. Mexico Water Treaty. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 DCP and Minute 323, operational decisions for 2022 will be made by Reclamation in August 2021.

    Reclamation is also concerned with the longer-term projections, which show a higher likelihood of Lake Mead declining to the critical elevations of 1,025 and 1,000 feet by 2025. Based on the June update, the chance of this occurring by 2025 is 58% and 21%, respectively.

    Reclamation provides projections using two future hydrology scenarios: The Stress Test Hydrology based on the last 32 years, and the Full Hydrology based on the last 114 years. The Stress Test Hydrology provides more plausible near-term outlooks because it embeds the recent warming trend and current drought period. It is about 11% lower on average compared to the Full Hydrology.

    Assumptions about drought operations are included in these projections; drought response operation plans to protect Lake Powell are being developed by Reclamation and the Upper Division states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Pursuant to the provisions of the Drought Response Operations Agreement and the Companion Agreement, Reclamation will consult with the Lower Division states before finalizing drought response operation plans. If actual hydrology demonstrates an imminent need to protect the elevation at Lake Powell, the Secretary retains all applicable authority to adjust releases from the upstream initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project Act (Flaming Gorge, Navajo, and Blue Mesa reservoirs) before those operating plans can be finalized.

    Reclamation and the Colorado Basin states continue to closely monitor conditions to be prepared to meet the goals of the DROA in the months and years ahead.

    A key component of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin activities is the integration of sophisticated modeling tools and scientific research to inform water management decisions. Through a decades-long partnership with the Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Reclamation hydrologic engineers and hydrologists are actively collaborating with climate, hydrology and decision support scientists to provide advanced modeling tools. Their work is helping Reclamation link advances in science to water resource management decisions in the face of greater uncertainty and increased hydrologic and operational risks.

    Reclamation’s modeling and operations teams further refine these tools, such as the 24-Month studies, to make annual operational determinations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead through close coordination with water and power customers throughout the basin.

    For more information, the 5-year projections from June 2021 and prior can be viewed by visiting https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html.

    Why the Southwest’s shrinking water reservoirs matter to #Colorado — The #Denver Post #COriver #ColoradoRiver #aridfication #COleg #COWaterPlan

    Lake Powell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question.
    CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Polis signs latest $20 million infusion for Colorado Water Plan as hotter, drier climate grips Southwest

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has signed off on increased funding for water development projects that state officials regard as critical to meet growing demands. But the state’s plans to secure more water from rivers here are colliding with the hotter, drier climate that’s hammering the Southwest, where Colorado River reservoirs are at record-low levels.

    Federal authorities warn hydropower electricity for millions of people (and their air conditioners) could be jeopardized if water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead — now both about 34% full — fall much lower. That’s partly why water officials from seven states met in Denver this week to size up perils before their next round of negotiations over how states deal with diminishing water.

    Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming (the Upper Basin states along the Colorado River) are facing pressure from Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada, California) to use less water — even though the 1922 Colorado River Compact legally entitles them to use more — to try to save the downriver reservoirs.

    “There’s a reality that we do have a shrinking water supply and we’re all going to have to figure out new ways to reduce our use. We try to stay out of any state’s business, but we also realize there’s not enough water for the Upper Basin to use its full allotted water under the compact,” said Bill Hasencamp, the Colorado River resources manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people in the Los Angeles area and San Diego…

    Colorado leaders over the past six years have awarded more than $500 million in grants and loans for 323 projects in carrying out the state’s water plan — which calls for $100 million a year through 2050. Polis last week signed the latest monetary infusion into law: HB21-1260 for $20 million more to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to go toward increased water storage capacity and supply. The bill provides $15 million for loans and grants and $5 million for the regional “roundtable” panels that have planned 500 local water development projects.

    Polis also signed off on SB21-189 to spend $1.2 million more in construction funds for the implementation of the overall $20 billion water plan, which was launched in 2015 to ensure enough for a productive economy — from cities to farms to the recreation industry — while preserving healthy rivers through efficient water use and carefully designed water projects. Two in progress would siphon significantly more water out of the Colorado River basin — an expanded reservoir for Denver and enlarged Moffat system that diverts west-flowing water to the northern Front Range…

    “We are already actively talking about and experiencing cuts, which have been particularly painful in this very dry year,” [Rebecca Mitchell] said, referring to the state’s allocation system that forces junior water-rights holders to use less in dry times. “These are historically low conditions and we need basin-wide solutions that we work on together.”

    State officials in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contend they’re entitled under the 1922 compact to use as much as 2 million acre-feet more water. But those shares are based on century-old calculations for how much water the river can provide — 15 million acre-feet a year — rather than the 12.3 million acre-feet average total flow since 2000.

    Contingency plans for enduring severe droughts are expected to force mandatory cutbacks next year in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

    The #YampaRiver is overdrawn and running out of #water. And it’s hardly the only one — The #Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate #aridification

    Yampa River below Oakton Ditch June 14, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Cross Mountain Ranch, a sprawling cattle, guest and hunting operation near Maybell and the Yampa’s confluence with the Little Snake River, needed water to flood meadows for sheep and other livestock.

    But there was nothing left to divert into the ranch’s ditch at Lily Park. A state official’s snapshot from the time shows no Yampa there at all — just a gravel bar with a stagnant puddle at the base.

    The ranch may be far down river, but it’s high in priority. Under Colorado water law, that means the ranch long ago secured water rights that are vastly senior to many other users on the river. So if the ranch needs it, the state water engineer has to put a “call” on the Yampa and tell junior holders upriver to stop using, letting their water flow on toward Cross Mountain and the Utah border.

    Yampa division engineer Erin Light did just that for the first time ever in 2018. She has an 80-page list of descending water rights holders on the Yampa. The ranch is on page one.

    The easiest way to find enough water to meet the ranch’s rights was to call Craig Generating Station, a massive coal-fired electricity plant holding a variety of river rights and reservoir shares in the Yampa basin. The power station, managed by Tri-State Generation and owned by a variety of Western utilities, has been cooperative on water issues, Light said, and quickly sent more water downstream.

    Then it happened again in 2020. Drought. A nearly dry river by the time the Yampa neared Dinosaur National Monument. And an official state call.

    Yampa River at Stagecoach Res Inlet 10 CFS 5-24-21 May 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

    This year, the Yampa is looking severely troubled again. It’s no longer a fluke, but a trend. And so Light has asked her boss, state engineer Kevin Rein, to approve her 15-page memorandum and request declaring the Yampa officially “over appropriated.”

    Too many users have divided up the river’s dwindling water too many ways, and future ditch diggers and well drillers need to be warned. Dozens of new water rights applications hit the water court for Yampa claims every year, she added…

    Yampa not alone under drought pressure

    The Yampa isn’t the first Colorado river to suffer the indignity of an official declaration of over appropriation. In fact, most of the major rivers were divided too many ways decades ago and therefore need to be managed down to the drop, from the South Platte on the Front Range, to the Arkansas and the Poudre.

    But the fact it’s happening to the Yampa, long running relatively wild and free through the thinly-populated open range of northwest Colorado, is a clear danger sign, according to state officials and conservation groups. Drought in the short term and climate change in the long term are overlaid by relentless economic growth throughout Colorado, turning debates over water use from a distant worry into a current event…

    West Drought Monitor map June 29, 2021.

    Light’s detailed memo justifying the over appropriation declaration for the Yampa noted that water volume delivered by the river has fallen in recent decades from a norm of 1.5 million acre-feet a year to 1.1 million acre-feet. At the U.S. Geological Survey’s Maybell gauge on the Yampa on Friday, the river flowed at about 340 cubic feet per second, less than 16% of the median figure for that day in 105 years of recordkeeping…

    So what would state approval of the over appropriation designation mean in practical terms for northwestern Colorado counties? Developers seeking to drill a new well in the Yampa Basin will see new state scrutiny of their plans to make sure they are not drawing down river water already owned by a senior rights holder. If Light thinks there would be damage, she can require the developer to augment the loss with a different supply, such as stored reservoir water or a pond capturing water during higher runoff periods…

    Anyone with an improperly permitted well will also face new reviews, and demands for augmentation. Because of the way Colorado’s rivers and water tables behave, state engineers consider wells to be drawing down river water just as if they were taking it from the river’s surface.

    People could still apply for new surface rights from the Yampa, but they will be warned, Light said, that their supply is likely to run out by August or September when senior rights holders put in their call to protect what they need.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    The #ColoradoRiver Indian Tribes become key #water player with #drought aid to #Arizona — The Associated Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #LakeMead

    Wheat fields along the Colorado River at the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. Wheat, alfalfa and melons are among the most important crops here. By Maunus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47854613

    From The Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca):

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes and another tribe in Arizona played an outsized role in the drought contingency plans that had the state voluntarily give up water. As Arizona faces mandatory cuts next year in its Colorado River supply, the tribes see themselves as major players in the future of water.

    “We were always told more or less what to do, and so now it’s taking shape where tribes have been involved and invited to the table to do negotiations, to have input into the issues about the river,” first-term Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairwoman Amelia Flores said.

    Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border has fallen to its lowest point since it was filled in the 1930s. Water experts say the situation would be worse had the tribe not agreed to store 150,000 acre-feet in the lake over three years. A single acre-foot is enough to serve one to two households per year. The Gila River Indian Community also contributed water.

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes received $38 million in return, including $30 million from the state. Environmentalists, foundations and corporations fulfilled a pledge last month to chip in the rest.

    Kevin Moran of the Environmental Defense Fund said the agreement signaled a new approach to combating drought, climate change and the demand from the river.

    “The way we look at it, the Colorado River basin is ground zero for water-related impacts of climate change,” he said. “And we have to plan for the river and the watersheds that climate scientists tell us we’re probably going to have, not the one we might wish for.”

    Tribal officials say the $38 million is more than what they would have made leasing the land. The Colorado River Indian Tribes stopped farming more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) to make water available, tribal attorney Margaret Vick said…

    While some fields are dry on the reservation, the tribe plans to use the money to invest in its water infrastructure. It has the oldest irrigation system built by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, dating to 1867, serving nearly 125 square miles (323 square kilometers) of tribal land.

    The age of the irrigation system means it’s in constant need of improvements. Flores, the tribal chairwoman, said some parts of the 232-mile (373-kilometer) concrete and earthen canal are lined and others aren’t, so water is lost through seepage or cracks.

    A 2016 study conducted by the tribe put the price tag to fix deficiencies at more than $75 million. It’s leveraging grants, funding from previous conservation efforts and other money to put a dent in the repairs, Flores said.

    “If we had all the dollars in the world to line all the canals that run through our reservation, that would be a great project to complete,” Flores said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen in our lifetime.”

    The tribe is made up of four distinct groups of Native Americans — Chemehuevi, Mohave, Hopi and Navajo. The reservation includes more than 110 miles (177 kilometers) of Colorado River shoreline with some of the oldest and most secure rights to the river in both Arizona and California.

    While much of the water goes to farming, it also sustains wildlife preserves and the tribe’s culture…

    The tribe can’t take full advantage of its right to divert 662,000 acre-feet per year from the Colorado River on the Arizona side because it lacks the infrastructure. It also has water rights in California.

    An additional 46 square miles (121 square kilometers) of land could be developed for agriculture if the tribe had the infrastructure, according to a 2018 study on water use and development among tribes in the Colorado River basin.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    With #LakePowell levels ‘frighteningly’ low, new director of the newly created #ColoradoRiver Authority of #Utah aims to protect Utah’s interests in Colorado River — KSL.com #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River. Photo credit: University of Montana

    From KSL.com (Ashley Imlay):

    “One of the things I like about the river is that my learning curve is perpetually steep because there are always challenges, there are always one-offs, and there are situations that we are facing on this river that we need to adapt to. Currently, we are facing hydrology and low reservoir conditions the likes of which we have never seen,” Haas said.

    As Utah continues growing and drought intensifies the desert’s water scarcity, lawmakers fear losing some of the the state’s share of the river. Utah’s allocation is 1.725 million acre-feet of water or 23% of the water appropriated to the Upper Basin states that also include Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Utah now uses about 1 million acre-feet and plans to develop about 1.4 million acre-feet of water, according to the Division of Natural Resources.

    That’s where Haas comes in. She will lead the newly created Colorado River Authority of Utah, which begins its work in late July, officials announced last Tuesday.

    A watchdog for Utah’s interests
    Utah legislative leadership in the 2021 session sponsored the Colorado River Amendments bill, HB297, which, with $9 million in one-time money and $600,000 of ongoing money, set up the authority meant to serve as a “watchdog” for Utah’s share of water in the drought-challenged Colorado River.

    Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission, is critical of the 2007 operating guidelines (Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

    Haas has lived in Utah part-time for the past four years for her work in the Upper Colorado River Commission, where she currently serves as executive director. She first began working on water issues about 20 years ago as an attorney in private practice in New Mexico representing institutional and private water interests. She then worked for New Mexico on policy representing that state in its interstate stream compacts.

    Haas said she’s excited to be a part of Utah’s new authority as it forms “from the ground up.”

    “The river is stressed, currently. I think many people know that, and I would like to be a part of sound water management, prudent water management, and I would like to be a part of a team. Utah has been and will continue to be a responsible steward of its Colorado River allocation. And I think that the authority, and the creation of the authority, really represents that Utah is proceeding in a very responsible manner regarding the development of its allocation,” Haas said.

    In her new role, Haas will work with Gov. Spencer Cox, Brian Steed, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, and Colorado River Commissioner of Utah and Colorado River Authority of Utah Chairman Gene Shawcroft “to take full advantage of Utah’s entitlement to the Colorado River while engaging in prudent water management,” she said…

    Lake Powell at historic low

    Haas is stepping into her role even as Lake Powell’s water is at a record-low level. It’s 34% full now, she said, calling it “frighteningly” low.

    “It’s about 35 feet above an elevation where the federal government together with the states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) will develop a plan to operate the reservoir such that the states can meet their obligations under a 100-year-old agreement and also that hydropower generation, which is a very important feature of Lake Powell, can be maintained and will not be jeopardized,” she said.

    If the lake reaches that critical level, the Bureau of Reclamation will go in and shore up its elevations, according to Haas.

    Haas was involved in developing the federally authorized drought contingency plan for the Upper Basin of the Colorado River, which is now being deployed. The plan includes releasing water from federal reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell to store and use in Lake Powell, enhancing cloud seeding, removal of non-native vegetation and additional conservation measures…

    She’s optimistic that the states in the U.S. and Mexico with interests in the river will continue working closely together on its management, as they have done in the past — and that that collaboration will increase due to current conditions. For example, Mexico recently partnered with the Basin states and federal government to take shortages in its allocation of the river, which Haas said helped water managers address constraints.

    Reverence or Pragmatism? The Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin’s Compact Dilemma — InkStain #COriver #aridification

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

    From InkStain (Eric Kuhn and John Fleck). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Unlike the Lower Colorado River Basin States, which have traditionally taken pragmatic and self-serving views of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin States have largely shown the century-old document unwavering reverence.

    The reverence comes from the way the agreement protected Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico against the avaricious impulses of fast-growing Lower Basin states, especially Arizona and California. The Compact promised water that has driven a century of development and dreaming in the Upper Basin.

    Now, however, climate change-driven aridification has the Upper Basin in a vise-like squeeze. Increasing regional temperatures are reducing the river’s natural flow while the compact imposes fixed delivery (or non-depletion) obligations on the four Upper Basin States.

    The net difference between the amount of water flowing from the Upper Basin’s watersheds and the amount that must be passed to the Lower Basin at Lee Ferry is the amount that can be consumed. As recent discussions about implications of “Alternative Management Paradigms for the Future of the Colorado and Green Rivers” by Kevin Wheeler, et al from the Colorado River Futures Project out of Utah State University have shown, state water officials from the upper river are beginning to understand that today’s law of the river places most of the future climate change risk on their states. But their fealty to the compact remains a major factor. (One of us, Eric Kuhn, is a co-author of the report. The other, John Fleck, serves on the project’s advisory committee.)

    This dilemma raises the fundamental question facing the basin as it begins to negotiate the post-2026 river:

    In recent months the paper’s authors have held briefings for state and federal water management agencies, water districts, and environmental NGOs. Most recently, they met (via Zoom) with representatives of the Upper Basin States under the umbrella of the Upper Colorado River Commission. Although the briefings varied in length and how deeply they got “into the weeds” concerning the modelling and science behind the study, the general messages and discussions were similar:

    Balancing the river system’s water budget will require deeper cuts in total system water use than now contemplated by the basin Drought Contingency Plans. Further, future conservation targets and reservoir operations rules cannot be static. They will have to accommodate declining long-term average flows and increased variability. There is a general agreement that the post-2026 guidelines should work effectively down to a mean natural flow of 11-12 million acre-feet per year. Nevada’s John Entsminger suggested 11 maf at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center Conference in 2019 – one of the last and most meaningful public conversations among the basin leadership before the pandemic shut us all down. For comparison, the estimated natural flow at Lee Ferry for the current 2000-2021 period is about 12.4 maf/year…

    Our hope is that collectively, they will be open to a wide range of different future options and that they will pursue different options in parallel. We would also hope that one of those options is to recognize that we now have a fundamentally different river to manage than the one that their predecessors thought they had when the 1922 Compact, 1944 Treaty with Mexico, and 1948 Compacts were negotiated, therefore, managing today’s river may require breaking the chains that unnecessarily tie us to the past.

    The #ColoradoRiver is shrinking. Hard choices lie ahead, this scientist warns — Science #COriver #aridification

    Jack Schmidt, with Utah State University, analyzed the concept of “Fill Mead First.” (Source: Jack Schmidt via the Water Education Foundation)

    From Science (Erik Stokstad):

    On a spring morning in 1996, then–Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt stood at Glen Canyon Dam, a concrete bulwark in Arizona that holds back the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. During a live broadcast on the Today show, a popular national TV program, Babbitt opened valves to unleash an unprecedented experimental flood into the Grand Canyon just downstream. As onlookers applauded, water gushed from gaping outlet pipes. Babbitt called the experiment, which was testing one way of restoring Grand Canyon ecosystems damaged by the dam, the start of “a new era” in environmental management.

    Jack Schmidt was underwhelmed by the scene. He had spent years helping design the controversial experiment—which cost electric utilities nearly $3 million in lost revenue—and fighting to launch it. But compared with the natural deluges that raged down the canyon before the dam was completed in 1963, he remarked to a Los Angeles Times reporter, “This is a pretty wimpy flood.”

    That verdict was typical of Schmidt, a river scientist at Utah State University who thinks big and speaks candidly. During his long research career, he has played a major role in revealing how the Colorado River functions, and how forces—natural and human—are reshaping and often damaging it. Despite his bluntness, Schmidt is a go-to expert for stakeholders and policymakers. He has taken them on river trips to explain key research findings, drawing graphs in the sand. And with other researchers, Schmidt has catalyzed far-reaching changes in how government agencies manage the Colorado River system, a critical source of water shared by seven states and Mexico.

    “Jack looms very large in both the science and the policy of the Colorado River,” says Gordon Grant, a hydrologist and geomorphologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon. “He’s not afraid to push back on the water managers and he’s not afraid to push back on the environmental groups,” says Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “He’s willing to use science to try to find practical solutions.”

    As a warming climate reduces the river’s flow, Schmidt, 70, is making what could be his most important push to shape the fate of his beloved waterway. He and his colleagues are working to inject a dose of scientific reality into public debate over water resources that, the team says, is too often clouded by wishful or outdated thinking. The biggest delusion: that there will be enough water in a drier future to satisfy all the demands from cities, farmers, power producers, and others, while still protecting sensitive ecosystems and endangered species. The hard truth, according to long-term scenarios produced by Schmidt and his colleagues, is that some users will have to consume less water, and that policymakers will face agonizing choices sure to produce winners and losers.

    Those are messages that many players aren’t eager to hear, especially states planning to drain more water from the river to fuel growth. But Schmidt says he and his colleagues simply want everyone to understand the potentially divisive trade-offs. “We ask provocative and uncomfortable questions,” he says.

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

    The moment is ripe, as a record-breaking drought provides a taste of what more climate change could bring. Last month, Lake Mead, a second massive reservoir downstream from Lake Powell, dropped to its lowest level ever. At the same time, government officials are beginning a 5-year process of renegotiating several key agreements over use and management of the river’s water. They have sought Schmidt’s views. “We had Jack and his team present to our leadership because of the high regard we hold for their research,” says Katrina Grantz, assistant regional director of the Upper Colorado Basin for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which operates many major dams.

    Some see Schmidt’s tell-it-as-it-is approach as critical to developing realistic policies. “Jack is never afraid to speak the truth, according to what the research is saying,” says Mike Fiebig of American Rivers, an environmental group that Schmidt advises. And, he adds, Schmidt will speak “to whoever is listening.”

    FOR A CONTINENTAL-SCALE river, the Colorado is not very big, but it has an outsize importance. Rising in the Rocky Mountains, its muddy water has always been crucial to the development of the arid West. In 1936, the Hoover Dam created what is still North America’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. The dam’s 17 turbines generate electricity that lights Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and other cities, and also powers pumps that lift river water over mountains and into southern California. Engineers built hundreds of kilometers of canals to carry the water to cities and farmers. In Colorado, they constructed numerous tunnels, including one below the continental divide, to deliver water to Denver. Today, more than 40 million people in seven states and many Native American tribes rely on the Colorado River.

    Screenshot from the Colorado River Open GIS Data Portal (Lincoln Institute) https://coloradoriverbasin-lincolninstitute.hub.arcgis.com

    The water has long been worth fighting over. In 1922, in a bid to prevent conflicts, states in the watershed divided the rights to nearly 20 cubic kilometers of water, which they assumed was only part of the river’s annual flow. The compact gave half of the water to the lower basin, where cities and farms, especially in California and Arizona, have long used about twice as much water as consumers in the upper basin. The other half was promised to the upper basin, so that states including Colorado and Utah could develop in the future. A follow-on agreement in 1944 gave water to Mexico, where the river’s last drops barely trickle into the sea.

    Lawyers and politicians spent decades disputing the terms of the original compact, parts of which remain contested. Meanwhile, it became ever clearer that the compact rested on flawed assumptions, because it was struck when the region was abnormally wet. After the 1930s, the Colorado River carried considerably less water on average for the next 4 decades (see chart, below). The past 2 decades have seen another decline, as the region endures its worst dry spell in 1250 years; flows have been about 19% less than the entire 20th century average. Climate models suggest an additional 30% decline by 2050, as precipitation continues to decrease and the atmosphere warms. The heat dries the soil and causes plants to transpire more, reducing the runoff efficiency—the fraction of precipitation that reaches the river.

    The impacts are impossible to miss. From the air, bathtub rings of white stone encircle Lake Mead, which has been less than 40% full since 2015, as well as Lake Powell, which has been below 50% capacity since 2013. Boat ramps have been extended to help keep a large recreational industry afloat. Farmers in multiple states are expecting cutbacks in water deliveries next year. Nevada is launching new conservation measures, including a ban on using Colorado River water to irrigate lawns after 2026.

    In some states, the shrinking river has only intensified claims on its flow. “It’s our water,” Utah State Senator Don Ipson (R) proclaimed in March. He was urging his colleagues to support a bill, now awaiting the governor’s signature, that creates a new commission to advocate for the state’s right to develop future water supplies.

    Such assertive political jockeying highlights the challenge facing negotiators. They must grapple with key agreements that expire in just 5 years, as well as an inexorably changing climate. “All of that,” says water policy expert Brad Udall of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, “has combined into this slow-moving trainwreck.”

    SCHMIDT GREW UP far from the Colorado in suburban New Jersey. He first glimpsed southwestern landscapes in undergraduate geology classes at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. An encounter with famed river scientist Luna Leopold during his master’s work at the University of California, Berkeley, inspired his passion for natural resource issues. He went on to a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, studying water policy and how rivers reshape landscapes with one of the field’s top experts, Gordon “Reds” Wolman.

    Soon he was immersed in a conflict over the Colorado River that had begun in the 1970s, not long after Glen Canyon Dam was completed. The barrier nearly doubled the storage capacity for water, but it dramatically changed river conditions in the Grand Canyon. It cut off supplies of sediment that had created vast sandbars, for example, and released clear, cold water that allowed introduced species, such as trout, to displace native fish adapted to warm, muddy flows. Sudden releases of water to meet electrical demand, an operation called hydropeaking, disturbed wildlife, plants, and thousands of rafters who were floating the canyon each year.

    Annual U.S. precipitation changes by percentage from the 1981–2010 U.S. Climate Normals to the newest data in the 1991–2020 Normals, released by NOAA, May 2021. Decreases indicate a drier Southwest, and increases indicate wetter sections of the Northern Plains, Great Lakes region, and Southeast. Courtesy of CISESS.

    Environmental groups sued, demanding that the Bureau of Reclamation do more to protect the ecosystem. In response, in 1982 the federal government launched what became a $12 million research program to probe dam impacts. Schmidt was funded to study the Grand Canyon’s sandbars, which river guides complained were shrinking, depriving them of camping spots.

    Schmidt’s research helped explain the losses, revealing how swirling water digs up sediment in certain places and drops it elsewhere. The work “really has been foundational for all the thinking about sandbar dynamics since,” says Grant, who was a student alongside Schmidt at Johns Hopkins.

    During a chilly rafting trip studying erosion, Schmidt and others discussed what could be done to prevent the losses. By the light of a campfire, they drafted a “beach bill” in his field book, sketching out the kind of federal legislation that could safeguard the canyon’s beaches.

    A few years later, Bill Bradley, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, visited Middlebury College, where Schmidt was a faculty member. He and three students handed the senator a report they had written on sandbar erosion. Bradley took it with him when, the next month, he visited the canyon to see the problems for himself.

    Bradley and other lawmakers were crafting their own bill, which became the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992. It helped set the stage for the experimental floods that began in 1996. The idea, developed by a small group of researchers including Schmidt, was that artificial floods could carry sand downstream. Although Glen Canyon Dam blocks most of the sand that used to wash down the main river channel, tributaries below the dam still supply some. The floods would drop the sediment onto sandbars. Dam operators weren’t eager to cede control to the scientists, though. “Jack had to duke it out,” Grant says.

    The experimental floods have proved only modestly successful, in large part because the tributaries don’t deliver enough sediment to make a huge difference. Rich Ingebretsen, co-founder of the Glen Canyon Institute, an environmental group, says the real significance of the first experiment was that dam operators now consider environmental impacts—and not just the needs of electric utilities, farmers, or recreational boaters—in deciding when and how much water to release. “It ushered in a new world,” Ingebretsen says. “Environmentalists were now working with water managers for the first time in the history of the country.”

    POLICYMAKERS HAVE BEEN slower to grapple, at least publicly, with a question that extends far beyond the river’s ecosystems and recreational opportunities: the limits of its ability to supply all the water the West wants, now and in the future.

    Schmidt remained focused on river dynamics and developing strategies to lessen the impact of dams on ecosystems, first at Utah State and then, starting in 2011, as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC), which helps guide restoration and management efforts. Martin Doyle, who studies river science and policy at Duke University, says he was skeptical that Schmidt would thrive as a government official, in part based on his frank approach to peer-reviewing papers. “He always signed his reviews and it was always just brutal, because he wasn’t tolerant of sloppy thinking.” But Schmidt had remarkable success boosting his staff ’s morale and conditions for research, Doyle says. “He started to turn the GCMRC from a monitoring center to a science center.”

    The new abnormal

    For the first third of the 20th century, the Colorado River supplied plentiful water on average, despite large annual fluctuations (top). Then water supply fell to a relatively constant level while use by cities and farms ramped up. Over the past 3 decades, climate change affected supply as rising air temperatures (bottom) increased water loss from soil and plants. Lower runoff efficiency means less rain and melted snow end up reaching the streams that feed the Colorado River.

    Graphic credit: USBR

    Graphic credit: USBR

    One research goal was to figure out exactly when an experimental flood would most benefit ecosystems. “Jack had a huge influence,” says Anne Castle, a fellow at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who oversaw water and science policy at the Department of the Interior from 2009 to 2014. “He cares about getting it right, that the river is managed in a way that reflects the best science available.”

    The experience at GCMRC also got Schmidt thinking about how regional water supply decisions, often made decades ago, could thwart efforts to improve river management. For example, when his team participated in writing a new plan for operating the Glen Canyon Dam to make sandbars more stable and protect endangered fish such as the humpback chub, it could not consider any changes that were inconsistent with existing water supply agreements. That was frustrating, Schmidt recalls: “Nobody really asked the question: What’s the way to manage the [whole] system that’s the best for Grand Canyon?”

    AFTER SCHMIDT LEFT GCMRC to return to Utah State in 2014, he wanted to explore those possibilities—unhindered by political and institutional constraints. He set up an interdisciplinary research center, and 2 years ago pulled together an all-star team of water experts for the effort, called the Future of the Colorado River Project. Among the collaborators: Udall, a veteran of western water policy; Eric Kuhn, retired general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, a planning agency, who provides a practical perspective; and Kevin Wheeler of the University of Oxford, a master of complex hydrological models.

    The group has so far released six white papers. Some address technical matters, such as how to improve the models used to develop management policy for reservoirs. Others have scrutinized hot-button proposals, such as prioritizing water storage in Lake Mead and keeping less in Lake Powell. This proposal, called Fill Mead First, could be a first step toward dismantling Glen Canyon Dam and restoring the canyon behind it. (Schmidt’s team concluded the approach wouldn’t save much water and would likely greatly perturb the downstream ecosystem.)

    The latest installment, released in February, evaluated for the first time how rising temperatures and declining runoff might jeopardize the regional water supply. The white paper also looked at how demand might change in coming decades. Using the same computer model that the Bureau of Reclamation and state water agencies use, known as the Colorado River Simulation System, the team examined numerous scenarios, including how meager runoff could reduce water storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead to critical levels. At one threshold dam turbines couldn’t generate electricity. If levels fall even lower, the reservoirs can no longer release water to alleviate downstream shortages, leaving users at nature’s mercy.

    Glen Canyon Dam high flow release photo.

    The modeling, done by Wheeler, showed reservoirs might dip into the danger zone, perhaps within 2 to 3 decades, assuming the present drought persists. To maintain a degree of water security, the study found that upper basin users would have to cap consumption at a long-term average, and lower basin states might have to cut their use by as much as 40% by the 2050s. “Colorado River outlook darkens dramatically in new study,” ran a headline in the Arizona Daily Star.

    That is a “really bold and difficult upshot,” Fiebig of American Rivers says. And although it’s not news to veteran water experts, says Elizabeth Koebele, an environmental social scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, “bringing that [message] into the broader policy conversation is pretty provocative now.” The results mean the upper basin can’t develop all of its water rights, Schmidt says. Making that scenario “completely transparent forces everybody to deal with it.”

    Not surprisingly, some groups argue the study is overly pessimistic. Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, notes the white paper uses “obsolete” water demand forecasts from 2007. The more recent forecast predicts less of an increase, she says. (Schmidt says those numbers don’t change the overall picture.) Average demand for water has not risen in recent decades in the upper basin, Schmidt notes, and it will likely stay flat and shift. More water may become available to citiesas coal-fired power plants close and agricultural practices shift. Other change may be in store if Native American tribes decide to assert their water rights and develop or market them outside of their reservations.

    Buschatzke of the Arizona Department of Water Resources says the group’s sobering scenarios are helpful for informing decision-making. “We understand what they’re doing is pushing the envelope, rightly so for academia.” But he says the department must create a water supply plan that is acceptable to diverse parties. Some lower basin groups are likely to oppose any plan that calls for cuts, he says, whereas conservation-minded advocates might push for even larger cuts.

    Upper basin states, meanwhile, remain staunchly opposed to any notion of giving up future development. In Utah, which had the nation’s fastest growing population over the past decade, despite having the second driest climate, officials want to build a 225-kilometer pipeline to tap more water from Lake Powell. They shrug off concerns about how that could affect downstream supplies. Critics of Utah’s new water advocacy agency worry it will simply deny the reality of climate change as it attempts to protect the state’s water rights. “The Utah State Legislature is still mired in an era of unreality,” says Daniel McCool, a political scientist at the University of Utah. The state’s recent moves amount to “a declaration of water war, frankly.”

    THE NEW ROUND OF NEGOTIATIONS over the Colorado compact will reveal just how far the parties are willing to go in acknowledging the worst case scenarios. “It’s all coming to a head,” Koebele says. “The extreme drought … is really highlighting that we do need to think more creatively.” Some of the big ideas floated by Schmidt’s group include new water accounting methods that span the entire basin, which would allow more flexible dam operations, and expand voluntary water banking and market exchanges of water rights.

    Even as Schmidt works to highlight the risks of business as usual, he knows he may have to accept another difficult truth: that, in the end, people might once again decide to sacrifice the Colorado River ecosystems in order to get the water they want for cities, farms, and power.

    Currently, environmental management programs—including some he helped design—mitigate some of the most severe impacts of existing dams and other infrastructure. But that won’t suffice as climate change and new water demands take hold. “We can’t solely rely on tweaking small aspects of reservoir operations to protect river ecosystems,” he says. “We also have to consider how much water rivers need to remain healthy.”

    Schmidt would like that need to be a larger part of the upcoming negotiations. His own priority is to preserve the flows of rivers in the upper basin, which are wilder than the lower basin’s highly engineered reaches. When pressed, he confesses to an “aesthetic and philosophical wish” for a return to vanishing and long-gone landscapes of the Colorado. He recognizes that it may be impossible.

    Still, Schmidt wants officials debating the future of the Colorado to know the region’s vast and growing human presence is not the only thing at stake. Next month, he will lead scientists, water managers, tribal leaders, and other river stakeholders on a raft trip down the Green River, the longest headwaters tributary of the Colorado. During the 5-day trip, organized by his center at Utah State and American Rivers, Schmidt will use sandbars as classrooms, sharing what he and other researchers have learned about the fish, plants, sand, and dams. The goal, he says, is that “when people are sitting in those conference rooms making decisions about water supply, they have in the back of their mind what these rivers are all about.”

    Major Corporations and Foundations Commit Final Funding to Close Gap in Landmark #ColoradoRiver Water #Conservation Deal — Business for #Water Stewarship #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    Wheat fields along the Colorado River at the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. Wheat, alfalfa and melons are among the most important crops here. By Maunus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47854613

    Here’s the release from the Business for Water Stewardship (Sean Keady):

    Business for Water Stewardship, Environmental Defense Fund and the National Audubon Society today announced that corporations and foundations have committed the funding to close an $8 million funding gap required to complete a landmark water conservation project with the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) and the state of Arizona. The announcement marks the completion of one of the largest multi-sector collaborative drought response efforts ever achieved. To date, a combination of Arizona state, philanthropic, and corporate funding has provided over $38 million to secure 150,000 acre-feet of conservation (nearly 49 billion gallons of water) to help shore up Lake Mead through the CRIT system conservation project.

    Funding was provided by leading corporations spanning many sectors. Companies and brands include: Intel Corp.; Google; Microsoft; Procter & Gamble; Reformation; Keurig Dr Pepper; Ecolab; Cascade; Cox; The Coca-Cola Foundation; Silk; Target; Brochu Walker; and Swire Coca-Cola, USA. The corporate funding is joined by private philanthropic funds, led by the Walton Family Foundation and Water Funder Initiative, with additional contributions from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation.

    “How we use, manage, and value water will dictate our future,” said Todd Reeve, CEO of Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Co-Founder of Business for Water Stewardship. “Today is a major milestone made possible by collective impact. We’re redefining how businesses work collaboratively with tribes, community and policy stakeholders, philanthropy, and nonprofit partners to advance solutions that ensure that the people, economies, and ecosystems along the Colorado River have enough clean water to flourish.”

    The funding directly supports the CRIT and their comprehensive system conservation project developed as part of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) negotiations that included Arizona and six other states that rely on water supply from the Colorado River. The project will help shore up declining water levels in Lake Mead, which has fallen to 36% of capacity, the lowest levels since it was filled in 1935, and help delay and reduce future water shortages that would impact Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico. As a result of dry conditions, Arizona is expected to have to reduce its take of water from Lake Mead by 512,000 acre-feet (nearly 167 billion gallons) in 2022.

    “The importance of the DCP cannot be overstated as drought conditions persist,” said Amelia Flores, Chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. “CRIT is proud to play a key role in mitigating water shortfalls facing Arizona. We are able to do so by careful conservation that benefits Arizona while protecting our water rights. The partnerships and alliances that have been forged across all levels of government as well as corporate and non-profit entities demonstrate the level of commitment needed to solve this crisis.”

    “Through our water positive commitment, Microsoft is focused on improving water conditions for people, nature, and society in water-stressed locations around the world,” said Paul Fleming, Microsoft Global Water Program Manager. “We’ve supported the CRIT project because of its tangible benefits to the community and because it has helped to coalesce and scale the activities of individual entities into a collective action framework. By aligning state government, tribal government, the non-profit and philanthropic communities, and the private sector, the CRIT project provides an example of how we can work together to steward a resource that sustains us all.”

    “P&G is continually looking for innovative solutions to protect water for people and nature. We recognize millions of people, hundreds of species and thousands of miles of land rely on the Colorado River to thrive each day,” said Shannon Quinn, P&G Global Water Stewardship Leader. “Being a part of the CRIT project gives P&G the opportunity to collaborate with partners that make a positive impact and build a more resilient future for the states and Tribal Nations that rely on this precious resource.”

    “The stakes couldn’t have been higher for this work, but together with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, philanthropic and private sector support, we were able to find solutions that work for nature and people together,” said Ted Kowalski, Director of the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative. “This needs to be the way of the future. There is obviously still a tremendous amount of work to be done across the Colorado River Basin, and no one sector or group meets this challenge on their own. The only way to meet the challenges of climate change and water is through collaboration.”

    President Biden Announces Five Key Nominations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from the President’s office:

    [June 18, 2021], President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate the following seven individuals to serve in key roles:

  • Xochitl Torres Small, Nominee for Under Secretary of Rural Development, Department of Agriculture
  • Laura Daniel-Davis, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of Interior
  • Hampton Dellinger, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, Department of Justice
  • M. Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Interior
  • Christi Grimm, Nominee for Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Xochitl Torres Small, Nominee for Under Secretary of Rural Development, Department of Agriculture

    The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, Xochitl Torres Small grew up in the borderlands of New Mexico. In 2008, she came home from college to work as a field organizer, working in colonias in southern New Mexico. She continued serving rural New Mexico as a field representative for Senator Tom Udall, where she collaborated with local grassroots leaders, business owners, elected officials, and regional and state economic development officials to help communities access American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Inspired by Senator Udall’s work on water in the West, Torres Small studied water law and worked closely with rural water utilities. In 2018, Torres Small became the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico’s second congressional district, the largest district that isn’t its own state.

    In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Representative Torres Small kept a rural hospital from closing its doors, improved constituent access to healthcare over the phone, and helped secure tens of millions of dollars for broadband in New Mexico through USDA’s ReConnect Program. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Torres Small raised the alarm on broadband disparities, serving on Majority Whip James Clyburn’s Rural Broadband Taskforce and as an original cosponsor of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Torres Small helped build the case for dairy farmers harmed by Canada’s violation of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, and drafted legislation to help local farmers and rural communities invest in infrastructure to navigate new markets. Torres Small also partnered with Senator Udall to introduce the Western Water Security Act, and helped secure key provisions of the legislation in the FY 2021 Appropriations Omnibus. In addition, Torres Small worked closely with the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to secure New Mexico water priorities in the Water Resources Development Act, including Rio Grande ecosystem restoration from Sandia Pueblo to Isleta Pueblo and increased authorization for the Tribal Partnership Program within the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty.

    Laura Daniel-Davis, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of Interior

    Laura Daniel-Davis currently serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, overseeing the important activities of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

    Daniel-Davis has worked to conserve public lands, protect wildlife and address climate change for three decades, prioritizing a collaborative and partnership-based approach. She previously served in the Interior Department during the Clinton and Obama Administrations, serving as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration and Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton Administration.

    She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation and led NWF’s bipartisan efforts on implementing natural infrastructure solutions, including habitat restoration work, along with supporting enactment of the historic Great American Outdoors Act. Daniel-Davis also has experience working in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO).

    Daniel-Davis lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, daughter, two dogs and a cat, and enjoys hiking on public lands and identifying bird calls. She holds a BA in Political Science from Wake Forest University.

    Hampton Dellinger, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, Department of Justice

    Hampton Dellinger is a former Deputy Attorney General in the North Carolina Department of Justice and served as Chief Legal Counsel in the Office of the North Carolina Governor from 2001-2003 where his responsibilities included overseeing the judicial appointment process. In the private sector, he has devoted a significant amount of time to pro bono matters including representing an international coalition of women’s soccer players challenging gender discrimination at the 2015 World Cup.

    Dellinger has written on a wide range of legal topics including publications in the Harvard Law Review, the North Carolina Law Review, and for SCOTUSBlog. Other essays he has authored have appeared in Atlantic.com, Politico, Slate, and the National Law Journal.

    Dellinger received his B.A. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1989. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1993 and served as a senior editor on the Yale Law Journal. He was a law clerk for United States Court of Appeals Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr. He and his spouse, Professor Jolynn Childers Dellinger, live in Durham, N.C. and have two grown children.

    M Camille Calimlim Touton MIT via Twitter (@mitwater)

    M. Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Interior

    M. Camille Calimlim Touton is a Nevadan who has spent her career focusing on water policy. Prior to joining Interior, Camille served as Senior Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Camille’s congressional experience also includes se