#ColoradoRiver District Annual Water Seminar September 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2020 #COriver #aridification

Click here to register and for all the inside skinny:

Topic: Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar: Zooming in on West Slope Water

Description

Monday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “West Slope Water 101.” This session will cover how water rights are deployed in irrigation, drinking water and recreation. Transmountain diversions will be described as will be the importance of water rights associated with irrigation in the Grand Valley and the Shoshone Hydropower Plant.

Tuesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Water Works: the Colorado River District in Action.” Learn how the Colorado River District overcomes challenges with its partners and constituents to protect the water security of western Colorado while promoting better water use and protection of the environment with projects across the district.

Wednesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Heating Up the Talk About Why River Flows are Down.” Rising temperatures are robbing the Colorado River system of flows. Drought, aridification of the West and reduced river flows are driving down Lakes Powell and Mead while impacting local water use at the same time. A panel of speakers will review the current science, the on-the-ground impacts and how two major water providers are planning for a new normal

Thursday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Of Primary Importance: The Secondary Economic Impacts of Demand Management.” The River District and its partners in the Water Bank Workgroup commissioned a study of how demand management of water, meaning not using it and sending it to Lake Powell, would impact communities if water were to become a “cash crop.” Spending patterns could change. How would demand management impact our mainstreet economies? How would it change spending at rural businesses such as local diners and mechanics?

The #ColoradoRiver is awash in data vital to its management, but making sense of it all is a challenge — Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western water in-depth: Major science report that highlights scientific shortcomings and opportunities in the basin could aid water managers as they rewrite river’s operating rules

The Colorado River is a source of irrigation, hydropower and drinking water for 40 million people in seven Western states. Source: The Water Desk via the Water Education Foundation

Practically every drop of water that flows through the meadows, canyons and plains of the Colorado River Basin has reams of science attached to it. Snowpack, streamflow and tree ring data all influence the crucial decisions that guide water management of the iconic Western river every day.

Dizzying in its scope, detail and complexity, the scientific information on the Basin’s climate and hydrology has been largely scattered in hundreds of studies and reports. Some studies may conflict with others, or at least appear to. That’s problematic for a river that’s a lifeline for 40 million people and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland.

From the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah to the urban centers of Arizona, Nevada and California in the Lower Basin, water managers depend on that science to guide their decisions. More than ever, as those managers grapple with a hotter, drier Colorado River Basin and growing demand for a shrinking resource, they need an accessible scientific handbook as they get ready to draft a new set of rules for managing the river.

A new report synthesizes that science and puts it into context. Titled Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science, the report released earlier this year draws from about 800 peer-reviewed studies and agency reports on crucial topics – weather, streamflow, historical hydrology and climate change – to help navigate the future of river management. It doesn’t provide answers but offers a technical manual of sorts for a river system so vital to the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

“It’s attempting to create that two-way dialogue, but to do so in a way that water managers aren’t having to go and read 20 different reports,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which helped fund the report. “It’s a fabulous tool in that [it] is one guiding document to look at if you want to increase your understanding.”

Written by a veteran cadre of more than a dozen scientists and engineers, it pulls no punches in describing a river system in peril.

“The average conditions, over time and across the basin, suggest a (barely) sufficient supply and, by smoothing out the variability, mask existing and prospective shortages,” says the report, produced through the Western Water Assessment, an interdisciplinary research program based at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The report notes that the ultimate aim of integrating new research into practice is to produce more accurate short- and mid-term forecasts of runoff and more meaningful long-term projections of expected water supply.

“The future is and always has been uncertain,” said Jeff Lukas, research integration specialist with the Western Water Assessment and co-lead author of the report. “Now, at a time in which the Basin’s water supply and depletions are in delicate balance at best, system storage is half-full, and climate change is increasingly impacting hydrology, these forecasts and projections have become even more critical.”

Improving Forecasting Tools

A warm spring this year quickly erased what had been a robust snowpack, which melts and feeds the Colorado River and tributaries like the Gunnison River in Colorado. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation

Funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and its partners in the seven Western states that depend on the river, the report emphasizes the need to improve hydrologic forecasts, projections and predictive tools in the Colorado River Basin, all the while acknowledging the need for resilience.

“There is not now, and likely never will be, perfect weather and climate data,” the report says. “Producers of climate information need to communicate, and users should be cognizant of, the strengths and weaknesses of the data they choose and how climate data choices influence their conclusions.”

Terry Fulp, regional director of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, said the report emphasizes that Colorado River Basin hydrology is increasingly volatile and must be planned for accordingly.

“This made it very clear that we can’t rely on the 100-year record,” he said. “You can’t just look at the past and assume it’s replicated in the future. We all knew that, but it is good to have the body of science conclude that, too.”

Brad Udall, a senior climate and water research scientist at Colorado State University who was a technical reviewer for the report, said that while it covers an amazing breadth of material, it has key advice for water managers.

“At the broadest level, the take-home message is, a tremendous amount of science has been done in the Basin,” he said, “and while it may not give us the answers that tell us what to do, it strongly suggests we need to be prepared for a very different kind of future that’s hotter and drier.”

The past 40 years have seen a substantial warming trend, the report says, noting that the period since 2000 has been about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average and likely warmer than at any time in the past 2,000 years.

Authors of the State of the Science report note they did not evaluate current Basin water management, address ecosystem needs or provide recommendations. Instead, they concentrated on assessing the chain of data and models that provide an understanding of the Basin’s hydrology, while recognizing how the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge and its increasing complexity parallel the growing uncertainties about how future climate will affect hydrology. Absent a dramatic increase in rain and snow, the Basin’s runoff and water supply are increasingly being affected by warmth.

With temperature, there is “a very clear signal and that trend … is significant enough that people have a fair amount of confidence it is impacting the hydrology in the Basin,” said lead co-author Liz Payton, Western Water Assessment’s Colorado River Basin assessment specialist.

Those effects were evident this year as a warm spring quickly erased what had been a robust snowpack leading up to April 1.

“I’m still stunned by the 100 percent snowpack and the 52 percent runoff,” Udall said. “That’s just mind-boggling.”

Adding the Climate Change Factor

The white bathtub ring along Lake Mead reflects the effects of years of drought in the Colorado River Basin. Source: Water Education Foundation

The State of the Science report comes at an important time. Fresh from completing unprecedented Drought Contingency Plans in 2019, key players in managing the river will next turn their attention to updating and renegotiating the river’s 2007 Interim Operating Guidelines, which expire in 2026. Crafted in the early stages of a two-decade drought, the 2007 guidelines along with the subsequent Drought Contingency Plans are a testament to managing the Basin’s extreme volatility.

Coming to terms on a new set of guidelines, including their length, will differ from 2007 because the last set of guidelines was based on limited modeling data that didn’t fully incorporate climate change projections, said Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

While it is hard to predict specifically how the science report will inform the renegotiations, its recurring themes of increased temperatures, reduced streamflow and variable precipitation “will almost certainly arise in the context of the modeling efforts undertaken in the renegotiation,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The Colorado River Compact divided the basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The Water Education Foundation)

New revelations about Colorado River Basin science appear with increasing frequency. In a lengthy July thread on Twitter, Udall noted the growing footprint of climate change in the Basin and how the expected pace of warming, which some models project could be as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, would greatly amplify the impacts seen in 2020. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey this year said warmer temperatures by 2050 could reduce the amount of water flowing in the river by as much as 30 percent.

“All of this has a name: aridification,” Udall wrote on Twitter. “Get used to it.”

The State of the Science report helps water managers understand key subjects, such as what climate monitoring is revealing and where uncertainty and errors exist.

Report contributor Carly Jerla, who manages Reclamation’s Modeling & Research Group, called it a “no-nonsense” scientific platform with a clear message. “We know we can’t just let history repeat itself,” she said. “This report clearly lays out that something else has to be done.”

Pellegrino, with Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the report provides a “one-stop shop” for busy river managers.

“Of all the many hats water managers wear, we are not researchers and we are not innovators,” she said. “It’s difficult to have an eye on all of the things we are doing related to species and policy and water supply planning and also be able to comb through the various sources of new hydrologic or climate change data.”

Like many, Pellegrino would prefer a consistent pattern of climate and water supply projections from which to base management decisions.

“It’s really hard for somebody who wants predictability to acknowledge there is going to be wide range of variability that’s going to persist for a very long time,” she said. “But that’s where we are.”

The State of the Science report stems from the 2017 Colorado River Hydrology Research Symposium aimed at giving water resource managers a better understanding of new hydrologic research initiatives, and giving researchers a better understanding of the Basin water system and the tools used by managers. Together, they explored how research could help improve those tools. That was crucial because research not fully grounded in the particulars of the managed system can produce alarming results. Hasencamp recalled one study that gave Lake Mead an even chance of going dry by 2021, a finding that dumbfounded water managers.

“We all looked at it and said, ‘What assumptions are they making?’” he said. “This is not very good science because they didn’t talk to the people who are actually running the system and managing it.”

Reaching Consensus on Science

The historical record illustrates the dramatic swerves in Colorado River Basin hydrology. Some years the snow never stops. Other times, unseasonable warmth and dryness dominates as officials nervously watch lake levels plummet in the river’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Liz Payton. Photo credit: Western Water Assessment

Scientists devote their careers to figuring how forecasts and projections can improve. On the ground, life can be more stressful for water resource practitioners charged with providing a reliable water supply. Report authors acknowledge the conundrum.

“Given the stakes involved, it is reasonable that Colorado River Basin planners and managers desire greater certainty in water supply forecasts and long-term projections,” the report’s authors wrote. “They need some sense of the likelihood of hydrologic shifts, especially shifts to the dry side.”

One area of possible improvement is the 24-month water supply forecasting system that is partly based on assumptions of average monthly inflows to the Colorado River between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, said Payton.

“That’s a significant reach because if there is a lot or not as much inflow as the monthly average, you could shift Lake Mead above or below one of the important thresholds” that determine how much water agencies can draw from the river, she said. “If Mead is right at a shortage threshold and you have underestimated the inflow, you may end up declaring a shortage when you didn’t have to.”

Average conditions, over time and across the Basin, suggest a barely sufficient water supply, the State of the Science report says. Source: Western Water Assessment via the Water Education Foundation

Improvements in forecasting are needed from months to years to even decades out, said Pellegrino, with Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“Obviously, the long-term time scale is probably the most relevant for policy decisions, but the short and mid-terms are just as important,” she said. “The question is, if we knew next year was going to repeat the hydrology we saw in 2002, the driest year on record, would we make different water management decisions? I think the answer to that is yes at all time scales.”

Faced with uncertainty, Pellegrino believes the prudent approach is to be “eyes wide open” to the implications of the wide range of variability.

“Instead of identifying the hydrology that’s problematic or exact streamflow record that’s correct, spend your efforts coming up with the benchmarks for your water management community or basin that really mean something,” she said.

Making Better Decisions

For an area such as Las Vegas, that means preparing for more heat and dryness. Pellegrino said her agency has calculated that the creeping temperature rise could increase per capita water use by nine gallons a day by 2035.

Terry Fulp, director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, which oversees water and power operations along the lower Colorado River to the Mexican border. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

Outcomes like that mean agencies should prepare for as many scenarios as possible, aiming for maximum flexibility, “like a dimmer switch,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director with The Nature Conservancy. Waiting too long to act could be costly.

“We should consider this time before a full-blown crisis as a gift,” she said. “We are on ‘water time,’ and developing new water management tools takes years. We should not squander this time now, because we will never have a perfect picture of what the next year or two holds. Trying to develop these kinds of tools in the middle of the crisis will create chaos, social and economic impacts and unintended consequences. It is much more effective to have the tools ready to deploy before they are needed.”

Fulp, Reclamation’s regional director, said the report helps reframe the basis for near-term planning and gives a glimpse of what to expect further out, uncertainty and all.

“You’re talking about looking at hundreds, if not thousands of different futures and seeing what the statistics tell us,” he said. “Is one decision better under a lot of scenarios or is it only better under a few scenarios?”

The flow of scientific data about the Colorado River Basin will continue. Some reports will generate more response than others. Amid that, the depth and breadth of the Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science stands out.

“We hear about so many studies with dire predictions for the Colorado River but I think the bigger meta message is we have this great collaboration among water agencies to gather more information about the past, present and future of climate hydrology to make better decisions and planning,” said Lukas, with Western Water Assessment. “That’s the story I like to emphasize.”

Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @GaryPitzer

Nestlé seeks more time in Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled” — @WaterEdCO

Arkansas River in Chaffee County. Nestlé is asking to continue exporting water from Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled.” Credit: Wikipedia via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Bottled water company Nestlé is seeking permission to extend its operations in Colorado’s Chaffee County, a move that is generating significant community opposition.

Nestlé Waters North America first won permission to export spring water from Chaffee County in 2009, building a pipeline and trucking the water to Denver where it is packaged.

Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

The company hopes to renew its original 10-year permit to tap Ruby Mountain Springs near Buena Vista, which expired last fall. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

Chaffee County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at an Oct. 20 hearing.

Nestlé Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence declined an interview request, but in an email said the company strives to maintain environmentally sensitive operations and that extending the permit would create no new stress on the springs.

Separately company officials have said repeatedly that preserving water resources is key to their ability to continue selling water. The beverage maker has 25 plants in the United States, including the one in Colorado.

In the meantime, local activists have collected more than 1,200 signatures on Change.org opposing the permit extension.

Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, with 300-plus members, said the permit renewal poses an ongoing threat to local water supplies due to chronic drought and climate change. Activists also say that Nestlé donations of bottled water to local nonprofits increases the county’s recycling costs, and that Nestlé has not followed through on some of the commitments it made to the county, including taking steps to preserve important property along the Arkansas River near the springs.

“We believe we are an environmentally sensitive county,” said Francie Bomer, one of the activists leading the effort to cancel the permit.

“We don’t like plastic and we don’t believe the benefit to the county is equal to the value of the water Nestlé is taking out,” Bomer said.

The conflict comes as bottled water manufacturers across the U.S and Canada face mounting criticism over their use of groundwater. Five states, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, are moving to ban or sharply limit the industry.

Earlier this year Nestlé opted to sell its Canadian operations, exiting a country in which local opposition had grown strong, according to published reports.

Under its Chaffee County permit, Nestlé is required to monitor water levels in the Ruby Mountain Springs and to replace any water it takes under a replacement plan overseen by the Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

Such plans are often required under state law, and are designed to ensure water users downstream of diversion sites with more senior water rights aren’t harmed by upstream diversions.

Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water District, Terry Scanga, said the replacement plan relies on water from Turquoise Lake in Leadville, which fully covers any water removed from Chaffee County by Nestlé. Scanga said the district has no plans to contest the permit renewal.

Nestlé is required to monitor water levels and habitat conditions as part of its agreement with the county. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it extracted 89 acre-feet of spring water, 5.6 percent of the 1,573 acre-feet of overall flow measured. An acre-foot is equal to nearly 326,000 gallons.

If its permit is renewed, the company estimates annual production would grow at 2 percent annually, but would still be well below the amount to which it is legally entitled.

In addition, ongoing monitoring by the company shows that the spring recovers quickly as water is extracted and that no harm to habitat has been noted since 2010.

“To date, spring water production has been well below the permit limitations and at no time over the last decade of monitoring has stress to the spring system resulted in conditions where pumping was required to be reduced, either to meet criteria under the permit or due to observations that indicated operations were negatively impacting upstream or downstream users or the ecological and biological systems,” the report states.

Bomer is skeptical of those reports because they have not been independently verified by outside experts.

Earlier this year, in advance of the permit renewal effort, the county hired experts to evaluate Nestlé monitoring data, according to Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis.

Whether Chaffee County will become another bottled water hot spot in the international battle isn’t clear yet.

“We are a tiny county. Are we part of that bigger effort? No. We’re just trying to protect our resources so they will be here when we need them,” Bomer said. “But if we contribute to to that effort, that would be okay.”

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.

Meeting the Financial Challenges of Improved Water Management in the West: Session One: Expanding the Toolbox of Water Financing Options, Sept. 15, 2020 — Getches-Wilkinson Center

Flaming Gorge Reservoir July 2020. Photo credit: Utah DWR

Register here

From email from the Getches-Wilkinson Center:

Improving the performance of water systems in western basins such as the Colorado River can entail a variety of expensive changes to infrastructure, policy, and management. Throughout much of the 20th century water development era, federal appropriations were sufficient to cover major investments. Today however, other sources of governmental and non-governmental funds and funding mechanisms are essential to improving water management and system performance. Determining the “how” and “who” of water financing raises several thorny questions about what approaches are most efficient, practicable, and equitable. In this webinar series, we will explore issues such as the rise of creative funding mechanisms, the role of private investments and water markets, leveraging the resources of the business community, and the linkages between healthy landscapes, climate adaptation, and improved water management resiliency.

Gone are the days when funding western water needs was merely a task of gaining Congressional authorization and appropriations for new dams and reservoirs. Today, federal funds are limited, and much of what needs to happen does not involve new infrastructure. A vast toolbox of potential funding strategies are, at least theoretically, available, although many options are unproven. Many such strategies are under consideration in Colorado for implementing the State Water Plan.

@ColoradoStateU joins global team to study ecosystem, #climatechange interactions in thawing #permafrost #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

A footbridge has broken due to permafrost thaw at the study site in Sweden. Photo by Patrick Crill via Colorado State University

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jeff Dodge):

Colorado State University is one of 14 universities from around the globe that have collectively been awarded $12.5 million by the National Science Foundation to launch a new Biology Integration Institute called EMERGE. It will focus on better understanding ecosystem and climate interactions — such as the thawing of the Arctic permafrost — and how they can alter everything from the landscape to greenhouse gases.

EMERGE, which stands for “EMergent Ecosystem Response to ChanGE,” is a five-year project that will concentrate on discovering how the processes that sustain life and enable biological innovation operate and interact — from molecules and cells to species and ecosystems — under dynamically changing conditions. The end result will be a new “genes-to-ecosystems-to-genes” framework to create models that could help predict ecosystem response to change.

The research will be done in Stordalen Mire, a long-studied peatland in northern Sweden where permafrost thaw drives changes in the landscape, plants and microbes. The institute, launching in September, will also have a strong training, education and outreach component and will involve biologists at the postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate levels.

Scientists at the long-studied peatland Stordalen Mire. Photo by Patrick Crill via Colorado State University

The project will be led by Ohio State University researchers and consist of a team of 33 scientists representing 15 specialties. The partnership brings together expertise inside and outside of biology, such as ecology and evolution, organismal biology, team science, and modeling and computational science.

CSU role

Jeni Cross, Associate Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University, February 6, 2019

Jeni Cross, a professor in CSU’s Department of Sociology, and Kelly Wrighton, an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, are co-principal investigators on the project. Cross and her colleagues in the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences will provide facilitation and team science training for the large team, helping the various scientists from different fields communicate and work together effectively.

Wrighton is a soil microbiologist who will study the microbes at the site during summer, specifically examining the methane they emit when the permafrost thaws and provides the microbes with the carbon and water they need to thrive.

“When microbes get carbon and water, you’re basically opening up the donut store,” Wrighton said with a laugh.

“It’s like a giant feeding frenzy,” Cross added, explaining that the more the permafrost warms, the more the atmosphere warms due to the microbes’ emissions. “Climate change is accelerating faster than what we had modeled 10 years ago.”

While Wrighton will be looking at the small-scale processes that contribute greenhouse gases to global warming, other scientists who look at climate change at a larger scale will be examining the big-picture effects of Wrighton’s work. The goal is to identify key predictors of methane and other greenhouse gases to create models that can be applied to other areas of the globe.

Kelly Wrighton via Colorado State University

“I think it’s going to be a really neat melding of the disciplines,” said Wrighton, who came to CSU from Ohio State in 2018 and has worked with some of the researchers there. “I was really excited to be invited to be on this team; this is the ‘who’s who’ of scientific research on permafrost. Everyone coming to the table is really looking forward to having this conversation.”

‘Pressing societal need’

Other team members agreed that the team will be doing important work.

“Being able to predict how ecosystems respond to climate change is a pressing societal need,” said Ruth Varner, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of New Hampshire and co-director for EMERGE. “We have assembled a large interdisciplinary team to tackle the complex research questions that face our world today, like whether thawing permafrost could increase emissions of the greenhouse gas methane and actually further accelerate climate change.”

“Ecosystems respond to changing conditions, like a new agricultural practice or changing rainfall patterns, in a way that is greater than the sum of the responses of individual parts,” added Virginia Rich, associate professor of microbiology at Ohio State and co-director for EMERGE. “To address this challenge head on, our team will pull cutting-edge ideas and methods from across biology and beyond into a unified vision for seeing what each discipline, alone, cannot — piecing back together the forest from the trees, if you will. It is incredibly exciting.”

In addition to CSU, UNH and Ohio State, participating universities include the University of Arizona, Florida State University, Case Western Reserve University, University of California at Berkeley, Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Joint Genome Institute, all in the United States; Lund University, Umeå University and Stockholm University, all in Sweden; and Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

The Department of Sociology is in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts. The Department of Soil and Crop Sciences is part of CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

AWRA CO-CGWA Virtual Symposium: Thinking Outside the Box- A Holistic Approach to Water Resources Planning, August 31 – September 2, 2020

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

Update LAST CALL! From email from Karlyn Armstrong:

I am emailing because AWRA Colorado and CGWA are hosting what I would like to think is a really awesome event, and its about to go LIVE! Tonight is a virtual happy hour with technical presentations starting tomorrow morning. Since its virtual, we can let registrants at any point! If you would be willing to share this “last call” with your networks it would be greatly appreciated!!

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register. Here’s the agenda:

This field near Carbondale is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state has wrapped up the first year of an investigation into a program that could pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Colorado Water Congress Day 2 recap

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.

The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.

Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path…

“It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.

Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.

Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity…

Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.

The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.

#Colorado farmers, ranchers hit by double, triple whammy — @WaterEdCO #drought #COVID19 #coronavirus

A farmer uses a center pivot to battle drought on a field in Center, Colo., in the San Luis Valley on Aug. 24, 2020. Credit: Allen Best

From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

After a hard winter finally broke in March, Patrick O’Toole hoped for a good year. Operating at the Ladder Ranch north of Steamboat Springs, along the Colorado-Wyoming border, O’Toole and his wife, Sharon, have several bands of sheep as well as cattle.

Sheep normally graze through winter amid the high desert sagebrush of Colorado’s northwest corner. Last winter’s snow was so deep, the sheep had to be moved.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy via Flickr

Then came COVID-19, the pandemic that barred entry by a third of the sheepherders who normally arrive from Peru to tend the sheep grazing around Mt. Zirkel and other peaks of the Park Range. The O’Toole family figured out remedies, even putting grandchildren on the range for cattle and finding other alternatives for sheep. “We really had to improvise to have all the sheep handled correctly,” O’Toole says. A bigger issue has been the closed restaurants and cruise ships that have dampened demand for lamb chops. “Those markets fell of the edge of the table,” he says.

And then there’s the drought. The deep snows of winter—water content was still 111 percent of average in northwestern Colorado on April 1—were eviscerated by what is seemingly becoming a new normal, a warm spring robbing soils and vegetation of moisture and hence less water in the Little Snake River. It is in line with what happened across the West, a more than 100 percent snowpack in the Colorado River Basin yielding just over 50 percent of average runoff. At the headwaters north of Steamboat, O’Toole sees “crispy” surroundings and risk of wildfire that, with a dry lightning storm, would be terrifying. “The whole forest is very, very dry.”

Colorado farmers and ranchers have patience in abundance. Agriculture demands it. This year many might want a special consultation with Job. Commodity prices have sagged, COVID-19 has caused multi-faceted disruptions, and then there’s drought. Maps show the state blanketed in blotches of yellow, tan and blood red, the latter most notable in the state’s southwestern section. Conspicuously absent has been green. The summer monsoon has been stingy.

“It’s hard to find a lot of bright spots on the ag scene these days. Starting with the commodity prices, corn prices are low, wheat prices are low, livestock prices bounced off decades-lows recently,” says Tom Lipetzky, director of marketing programs for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “A lot of this goes back to the pandemic.”

COVID-19 has affected everything from how wheat-threshing crews were organized to where food gets delivered. Dairies accustomed to filling cartons sent to schools and restaurants had to shift supplies to larger demand in grocery stores. Something similar happened to beef supply lines after the dark curtain of the coronavirus descended. Normally half of Colorado beef goes to restaurants, half to groceries. As with milk, groceries picked up the slack after restaurants closed.

There’s been a shift to local connections. The rapid spread of the coronavirus in meat-packing plants stopped production at the JBC plant near Greeley and slowed it at the Cargill plant in Fort Morgan. Smaller companies could barely keep up with demand for slaughtering and processing to fill new freezers in basements.

Highlands Square farmers market in Denver. Photo credit: Colorado.com

Farmers markets benefited from the new attention to local sourcing. Rosalind May, executive director of the Colorado Farmers Market Association, relays reports of brisk business at markets in Montrose, Durango and Alamosa.

But for farmers who depend on regional and global markets, this has been a year of struggle.

“In some ways, [COVID-19] has been the lesser of our worries,” says former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp from his farm south of Lamar, in southeastern Colorado. “Low commodity prices are the most negative. There was downward dollar pressure in the cattle sector when the packing plants shut down because of [COVID-19] in their employees. The tariffs and trade wars hurt individuals and our communities. And drought—no stranger to southeast Colorado—aggravates the situation.”

Production of wheat, which is harvested in early summer, was down 53 percent this year in Colorado, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s 46.5 million bushels compared to 98 million bushels last year. “That’s just a huge reduction,” observes Les Owen, director of conservation for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Drought has scorched southcentral Colorado’s San Luis Valley. On Tuesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg met with farmers and ranchers at the potato-growing powerhouse of Center, as well as with farmers at Alamosa and Saguache.

Impacts of drought have been broad but not uniform. Kelly Spitzer and her husband, Greg, own and operate three grain elevators on the Eastern Plains, one at Wiley, just north of Lamar. After five good years, she reports, they project harvest of corn for grain will be down 80 percent to 90 percent around Wiley, due in part to reduced irrigation water supplies from the Arkansas River. At the grain elevators they own at Vona and Bethune, located 160 miles southeast of Denver along Interstate 70, production is down only 50 percent. More corn there comes from areas irrigated with Ogallala Aquifer water. In both places, she reports it being “really hot and dry” for the last several weeks, creating need for even more water. “It’s been bad for the corn crop,” she says.

Most of the corn from the Wiley area will be reduced to silage, the entire plant ground up for lower-value feed for cattle, with no attempt to shell the grain. This produces less income for local communities. Still, the cattle need their feed, which will cost operators of feeder operations for both cattle and hogs more money.

The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

Near Cope, 120 miles east of Denver, Troy Schneider produces wheat, corn and cattle on 1,250 acres of irrigated land and 2,600 acres of dryland. Drought has reduced the yield he can expect from the 320 acres of dryland corn he planted this year, but he hopes careful allocation of his permitted Ogallala water will deliver normal yield from his 875 acres of irrigated corn despite hot summer winds. But what price will he get for that corn?

Trade uncertainty coupled with coronavirus made the market wobbly. “The shutdown of the economy did a number on us. It definitely did,” says Schneider. Normally, he ships his corn north to the big feedlots at Yuma and also to the ethanol plant. Roughly a third of Colorado corn goes to ethanol production. But ethanol production has dropped, reflecting sliding prices for petroleum. The virus suppressed travel even as Russia and Saudi Arabia engaged in a price war, swamping global markets. And, of course, there’s the drought, part of what Schneider calls a double whammy. Some of the dryland corn will be baled, to be used for lower-quality cattle feed.

One year is bad enough. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued Monday, 64 percent of the state is now considered to have poor or very poor conditions on pasture and range. Two years would be devastating. Faced with a two-year drought in 2012-2013, some cattle ranchers such as the Flying Diamond of Kit Carson expanded into the Wet Mountain Valley to become more diversified geographically.

“Widespread economic impacts of multi-season drought is something we’re not in the middle of right now and hopefully will not be,” says Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. A second year of drought, he says, will cause livestock producers to start liquidating holdings.

“That’s why I’m really counting on this winter being a significant snowfall winter,” says Fankhauser. “It will be necessary, without a doubt.”

Allen Best is a freelance writer and editor of Mountain Town News, based in Arvada, Colo. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.

#Colorado Water Congress Summer Meeting Day 1 recap #CWCVirtual2020

Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Colorado Politics (Joey Bunch):

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Colorado can’t conserve its way out of a deep drought and a decades-long struggle over the state’s water, as he spoke to the state’s water managers Tuesday…

He said he had passed more water legislation than the rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined during his six years in the Senate and four years in the U.S. House before that. Gardner also is a former state legislator.

“We have such diverse water needs in our state,” Gardner said, noting his Yuma County community depends on groundwater and that a canoe would dam up the nearest river 30 miles away. He also cited his work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver fresh water to the parched farm region east of Pueblo, a project on the books since 1983 that only this year got federal funding, as well as other funding for endangered species recovery on the Colorado River.

He spoke of the complexity of solutions given the diversity of users and suppliers, plus the Front Range’s dramatic and steady growth.

“No. 1, we have to have more water storage, that’s an absolute,” Gardner told the Water Congress. “We have to have conservation, No. 2. We cannot conserve our way out of our water shortfall, though.”

[…]

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper began his recorded statement by noting he’s spoken in-person to the Water Congress before. He then spoke of the challenges created by COVID-19 “made worse by the reckless action of the United States Senate,” before he pivoted to climate change and wildfires.

Hickenlooper spoke of his time building bridges with Denver and the rest of the state, recalling how he visited the Western Slope soon after he became mayor of Denver in 2003 and received a standing ovation for his remarks.

“Unfortunately today’s politics almost begs us to be partisan, assuming the worst in each other, raising suspicions between neighbors on either side of the Continental Divide,” Hickenlooper said. “At the federal level Washington is as dysfunctional as a broken septic system.”

He said water provided grounds to put partisanship aside.

Hickenlooper spoke of water often during his eight years as governor and adopted the Colorado’s first statewide water management plan. Hickenlooper did not acquire legislative or public support for funding the plan – an estimated $100 million a year – during one of the state’s strongest period of economic growth…

Pollster Floyd Ciruli interviewed Republican strategist Cinamon Watson and Democratic strategist Rick Ridder after the two candidates spoke.

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

Current Situation: Successful firing operations occurred on Spruce Ridge yesterday. There was some lightning reported Monday afternoon, as well as strong outflow winds causing fire activity to pick up in several areas within the perimeter of the fire. Containment of the fire has increased to 44 percent.
CDOT reopened the I-70 corridor for through traffic from Gypsum to Glenwood Springs, urging drivers to use extreme caution while driving in this corridor as fire crews are still using the road to access the fire. The interstate is open to through traffic only, and there will likely be periodic closures due to mudslides and other events. No stopping is allowed, and rest areas are closed. Reduced speed limits are also in place. A flare up at mile marker 126.5 yesterday evening, temporarily closed the highway, while helicopter’s utilized buckets to drop water.

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

FIRE AND WATER

The Grizzly Creek Fire has incinerated dessicated vegetation on the steep canyon walls on both sides of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, engulfing the usual intakes for the domestic water supply for the City of Glenwood Springs. This Colorado Sun article discusses the potential long-term impacts on the river.

@AudubonRockies Afterschool: Migration Mayhem, Thursday, September 10, 2020

From Audubon Rockies:

Learn about bird migration in this virtual youth education program.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
4:00pm – 5:30pm Mountain
Online Event

Sandhill Cranes. Photo: Tara Tanaka/Audubon Photography Awards

We’re excited to continue our youth virtual learning opportunities this fall with Audubon Afterschool! Kids between the ages 7–11 years-old are welcome to join our Community Naturalists to learn about nature in monthly sessions. Each hands-on, interactive program will include an activity kit mailed right to your home.

Migration occurs every year for many species of birds. Learn about the incredible physical traits birds have that help them survive their epic journeys and prepare yourself for an obstacle course wrought with migration perils! Registration closes September 4.

Cost: $15 per camper
Register here

#ColoradoRiver District “State of the River” meeting video recordings now online #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

Click here to watch the video recordings:

Every year, the Colorado River District works with its partners to host educational meetings about water issues in each river basin in the 15-county district.

Learn more about the water we all rely on…Local experts present on how much water we expect to see in local rivers, ditches and reservoirs as well as up to date information about regional, statewide and local water issues.

State to host public confabs on next steps in study of #LakePowell drought pool — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

A statewide public effort to determine whether Coloradans should engage in perhaps the biggest water conservation program in state history enters its second year of study this summer, but the complex, collaborative effort on the Colorado River has a long way to go before the state and its water users can make a go/no-go decision, officials said.

On Aug. 26, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will hold a virtual public workshop to unveil some of the key findings from the first year’s work, as well as to gather more input on where to go from here. Another meeting is scheduled for Sept. 2 to brief the agency’s board members and discuss next steps. It will also be open to the public.

More than a year ago, Colorado launched the study involving dozens of volunteer ranchers, environmentalists, water district officials, and others to determine if water users should opt to help fill a newly authorized drought pool in Lake Powell. The concept has been dubbed demand management.

Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District in Cortez, said farmers in his district remain skeptical of the conservation effort primarily because there isn’t enough clarity about how it would work.

“Clearly, one of the themes of our conversations down here has been momentum. There has been a lot of talk but it’s not out there as a policy with well-defined terms that can be read,” he said. “That tells us that we’re nowhere near a demand management program.”

The 500,000 acre-foot pool, approved by Congress last year as part of the historic Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, would help protect Coloradans if the Colorado River, at some point in the future, hits a crisis point, triggering mandatory cutbacks in the Upper Basin above Lake Powell.

But finding ways to set aside that much water, the equivalent of what roughly 1 million average Colorado households use in a year, is a complex proposition. Although the concept is still evolving, most agree the voluntary program, if created, would need to pay water users who agree to participate. And it would mean farmers fallowing fields in order to send their water downstream and cities convincing their customers to do with less water in order to do the same.

The Colorado River Basin includes seven U.S. states, Mexico, and more than two dozen sovereign tribal nations. Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico comprise the Upper Basin, while Arizona, California and Nevada make up the Lower Basin before the river crosses the U.S.-Mexican border.

The drought pool would belong to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Each of those states is examining whether filling it is doable and desirable.

In Colorado, eight demand management work groups involving dozens of volunteers and experts on such issues as agriculture, economics, stream health, and water law met throughout the past year. Among the overarching conclusions to date, based on a report issued in July, is the need for equity between rural and urban communities, the need to analyze environmental impacts and benefits, and the need for a multi-pronged approach to funding such a program, which could include taxes, water-user fees, and cash from the federal government. The CWCB is funding and facilitating the process.

“This has never been done before,” said Russell George, a former Colorado Speaker of the House who helped create the state’s hallmark system of local water governance, where each of its eight river basins, as well as the Denver metro area, is represented by a public roundtable.

“What we’re doing is writing the textbook from whole cloth,” he said.

Bart Miller is healthy rivers program director at Western Resource Advocates, which has participated in the work groups. Miller said the first year of work was noteworthy because no one was able to identify “a fatal flaw. No one came up with a reason this can’t be done,” he said.

Despite the pandemic and deep state budget cuts, the CWCB has enough funding to move forward with another year of work, according to Amy Ostdiek, deputy chief of the Federal, Interstate and Water Information Section at the CWCB. The agency spent nearly $268,000 in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, and has set aside another $396,000 for the current year.

George said the work done to date represents only the beginning of the collaborative search for a statewide drought protection plan on the Colorado River.

“When we started this, we didn’t want to foretell the answer to the question, ‘What does the end look like?’ I don’t think we’re ready to say yet. This is still the beginning,” George said.

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

2020 Summer Convening of the Colorado Water Congress

From the Colorado Water Congress:

Water Congress will hold a virtual summer meeting beginning August 25 and will continue for 4 weeks. Sessions will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at noon with each one running 60 to 75 minutes. More information on specific topics and related workshops will be released in the upcoming weeks.

Hundreds of San Luis Valley farm wells at risk as state shortens deadline to repair #RioGrandeRiver — @WaterEdCO

A center pivot irrigates a field in the San Luis Valley, where the state is warming farmers that a well shut-down could come much sooner than expected. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Caitlin Coleman):

The race against time continues for farmers in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, with the state’s top water regulator warning that a decision on whether hundreds of farm wells will be shut off to help save the Rio Grande River could come much sooner than expected.

July 28, at a virtual symposium on the Rio Grande River, the state warned growers that they were running out of time to correct the situation.

“We’ll see in the next couple of years if we can turn around this trick,” said State Engineer Kevin Rein. “If we’re not turning it around, we need to start having that more difficult conversation.”

The valley is home to the nation’s second-largest potato economy and growers there have been working voluntarily for more than a decade to wean themselves from unsustainable groundwater use and restore flows in the Rio Grande. Thousands of acres of land have been dried up with farmers paying a fee for the water they pump in order to compensate producers who agree to fallow land.

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

The San Luis Valley, which receives less precipitation than nearly any other region in Colorado, is supplied by the Rio Grande, but under the river lies a vast aquifer system that is linked to the river. It once had so much water that artesian springs flowed freely on the valley floor.

As modern-day farmers began putting powerful deep wells into the aquifer, aquifer levels declined, and flows in the river declined too as a result, hurting the state’s ability to deliver Rio Grande water downstream to New Mexico and Texas, as it is legally required to do.

Between July 2019 and July 2020 the valley’s unconfined aquifer, which is fed by the Rio Grande River, dropped by 112,600 acre-feet. All told the aquifer has lost around 1 million acre-feet of water since the drought of 2002.

Through a plan written by growers in the valley and approved by the state in 2011, farmers had 20 years, from 2011 to 2031, to restore the aquifer. But multiple droughts in the past 19 years have made clear that the region can’t rely on big snow years to replenish the valley’s water supplies because there are fewer of them, thanks to climate change.

“So what is the future, the short-term future, if we can’t count on climate? And let’s admit we can’t,” Rein said. “If climate’s not cooperating the only thing that can be done is consuming less water.”

A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

Adding to pressure on the region is a proposal by Denver developers to buy thousands of acres of the valley’s farm land, leaving some of the associated water rights behind to replenish the aquifer, while piping thousands of acre-feet of water northeast to the metro area.

Rein said drastic steps, like drying up more fields and sharply limiting how much growers can pump, are needed. But this could result in bankruptcies and could cripple the valley’s $370 million agriculture economy, which employs the majority of workers in the region. Worse still, though, would be the shutdown of all wells in the region, which is what could occur if farmers aren’t able to make progress toward aquifer sustainability.

While the deadline to restore the aquifer is set for 2031, if it becomes clear before then that growers aren’t able to restore groundwater levels, Rein will be forced to take action early by turning off all wells.

Rein said his decision likely won’t come as early as next year. But, he said, “Do we wait until 2031, the deadline? Probably not.”

The groundwater challenges and associated deadline stem from Colorado’s historic 2002 drought which led to more groundwater pumping than ever before and resulted in a falling water table, decreases in water pressure, and failing wells.

Groundwater declines have been so severe that they’ve affected surface water levels in parts of the valley. In 2004, state lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state to begin regulating the aquifer to make it more sustainable.

Landowners within the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) responded by forming a groundwater management district known as Subdistrict 1—that was just the first of what will soon be seven approved subdistricts.

Subdistrict 1 set goals and developed a plan of water management in late 2011 that spelled out how to reduce groundwater depletions and recharge the aquifer.

In 2012 they began paying a fee for every acre-foot of water used. That revenue helps pay irrigators who elect to participate in voluntary fallowing programs and other efforts to replenish the river and reduce stress on the aquifer.

Colorado Drought Monitor August 7, 2018.

And by 2017, irrigators had restored 350,000 acre-feet of water in the aquifer, halfway to their goal. But drought and disaster struck in 2018. With less surface water available and high temperatures, irrigators pumped heavily to maintain their crops. And by September 2018, farmers had lost about 70 percent of the groundwater gains they had worked so hard to recover.

“2018 was extremely frustrating,” said Cleave Simpson, manager of the RGWCD who is also a fourth-generation grower. ”It really kind of set us back to where we were when we started this in 2012.”

It’s not over yet. Some of that groundwater lost in 2018 has been recovered and this year participation in the fallowing program is higher than ever, with more than 13,000 acres enrolled, according to Amber Pacheco who manages the RGWCD’s subdistrict programs—that’s in addition to the 8,800 acres fallowed through the conservation programs that have been running since 2012.

Simpson and others, faced with another severe drought year, are deeply worried about the success of their conservation efforts, but dire times are also boosting motivation to solve the problem, Simpson said.

“There’s a sense of urgency from the board of managers that we’ve got to keep doing more,” Simpson said. “We’ve got to get back what we lost.”

Caitlin Coleman is the Headwaters magazine editor and communications specialist at Water Education Colorado. She can be reached at caitlin@wateredco.org.

San Luis Valley Groundwater

Report provides new framework for understanding climate risks, impacts to U.S. agriculture — @ColoradoStateU

CSU’s Peter Backlund was part of a team that looked at the U.S. agricultural system and identified climate stresses. Backlund is associate director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability. Photo: Joe Mendoza/CSU Photography

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

Agricultural production is highly sensitive to weather and climate, which affect when farmers and land managers plant seeds or harvest crops. These conditions also factor into decision-making, when people decide to make capital investments or plant trees in an agroforestry system.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture focuses on how agricultural systems are impacted by climate change and offers a list of 20 indicators that provide a broad look at what’s happening across the country.

The report, “Climate Indicators for Agriculture,” is co-authored by Colorado State University’s Peter Backlund, associate director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability.”>Climate Indicators for Agriculture,” is co-authored by Colorado State University’s Peter Backlund, associate director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability.

Backlund said the research team started with the scientific fact that climate change is underway.

“We looked at the U.S. agricultural system and examined the climate stresses,” he said. “This report outlines data that farmers and land managers can use to understand how climate change is affecting their operations, and, hopefully, guide the development of effective adaptation.”

In the report, the authors outline how the changes taking place in agriculture affect the system that many people make their livelihoods from.

“We want to help farmers, ranchers and land managers adapt better under climate change, which requires understanding what is actually happening on the ground. These indicators offer ways to measure the impacts of change,” said Backlund.

20 climate indicators, based on robust data

The climate indicators described in the report are arranged in five categories, including physical (extreme precipitation and nighttime air temperature), crop and livestock (animal heat stress and leaf wetness duration), biological (insect infestation in crops, crop pathogens), phenological (timing of budbreak in fruit trees, disease vectors in livestock) and socioeconomic (crop insurance payments, heat-related mortality of agricultural workers).

Backlund said the research team chose these indicators based on the strength of their connection to climate change and availability of long-term data, which is needed to identify how impacts are changing over time and whether adaptive actions are having the desired effect.

“We want to help farmers, ranchers and land managers adapt better under climate change,” said Peter Backlund, Associate Director, School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University.

“There had to be a measurement of a variable strongly coupled with climate,” he said. “As we go forward, we will better understand the impact of climate change by using these indicators.”

Researchers opted to include nighttime air temperatures as opposed to general temperature because nighttime temperatures have a big effect on the way plants develop.

Some of the indicators have national data, while others are more regional. Heat stress on livestock, a huge issue for feedlot operators, will be of interest to farmers and ranchers in states including Colorado.

“Heat interferes with the rate of reproduction and rate of weight gain,” Backlund said. “This presses on the whole operation; it’s not just that a few more animals will die from getting too hot.”

The crop insurance payment indicator offers insight on the repercussions of climate events.

“You can see if you have a big climate event, like drought, one region will be much more affected than another,” he said. “If farmers have good irrigation, they’ll be much more capable in dealing with periods of low rainfall.”

Backlund said the indicator covering weed range and intensity was also notable. As carbon dioxide concentrations increase, researchers are seeing extreme northern migrations and expanded ranges for weeds.

“Climate Indicators for Agriculture” was produced through a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research under an Interagency Agreement with the National Science Foundation and Cooperative Agreement #58-0111-18-015.

Video: Crop Residue Management and Water Resources — Colorado Ag Water Alliance

Crop Residue Management and Water

Watch the recent webinar with CSU’s Joel Schneekloth on crop residue management.

Watch the webinar here!

Gary Knell to keynote virtual Water in the WestSymposium

Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

The CSU System is excited to announce Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners, as its keynote speaker for the 2020 Water in the West Symposium.

Prior to joining National Geographic in 2014, Mr. Knell served as president and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), and CEO of Sesame Workshop. At the 2020 Symposium, Mr. Knell will share his perspective on the role of storytelling in connecting a broad range of water-related issues.

This year’s Symposium will be hosted virtually on Nov. 18-19 and will include dozens of diverse speakers focused on water issues and solutions. Additional details will be released in the coming months. Register today to reserve your spot.

Aquifers: sustaining life in the desert — @CAPArizona

Infographic credit: The Central Arizona Project
Graphic credit: The Central Arizona Project

Denver’s Highline Canal a study in using something old to solve new problem — @WaterEdCO

Old cottonwoods line the banks and trails of the historic Highline Canal, which is being converted into an ultra modern stormwater system even as its trail systems continue to serve metro area residents. July 21, 2020 Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Caitlin Coleman):

Infrastructure built more than a century ago still endures, but some of Colorado’s old irrigation ditches have been repurposed to meet the moment. The High Line Canal—a 71-mile-long former irrigation conveyance turned greenway and stormwater filtration tool—winds its way through the Denver metro area as an artery of infrastructure boasting a story of adaptation.

The canal, built in the 1880s to move irrigation water, was purchased by Denver Water in the 1920s. But the metro area changed around it. By the 1960s, people were sneaking onto the service road alongside the ditch and using it as a walking trail, says Harriet Crittenden LaMair, executive director of the High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit working to preserve, protect and enhance the canal.

By the 1970s, municipalities and special districts began negotiating with Denver Water to allow residents to legally enjoy the tree-lined trail. While this opened the canal up to public enjoyment, it also divided it through a series of leases and use agreements. “[The public] saw it as a greenway but it was being cared for as a utility corridor,” Crittenden LaMair says.

Highline Canal trail map. Credit: Google maps via Water Education Colorado

So sparked the development of a working group, and eventually the Highline Canal Conservancy, to create a larger, unified vision for the waterway. “In urban areas, people are rethinking the uses of old infrastructure that has outlived its original purposes,” Crittenden LaMair says. “Parks advocates are working with utilities and thinking, ‘Wow, what additional benefits can be seen from this infrastructure?’”

With the public using the trail as a recreational resource, Denver Water has been weaning customers off of water delivered through the canal, having them instead rely on more efficient conveyances. While there are still a few dozen customers receiving water via the High Line Canal, they will switch to different sources within the next few years. In the meantime, the canal will capture and filter stormwater. “It’s amazing that parts of the actual infrastructure built in the 1880s can be used, with modifications, for stormwater management,” Crittenden LaMair says.

The Conservancy’s 15-year plan for the canal, completed in 2018, comes with a price tag of more than $100 million in improvements, including the stormwater management infrastructure, underpasses, interpretive signage, and more. Work will be incremental, but four individual stormwater projects are already underway to filter runoff before it makes its way to receiving streams, helping municipalities and special districts meet their stormwater discharge permitting requirements.

A rendering of the High Line Canal shows people recreating along the greenway and the canal itself operating as a green infrastructure system to manage stormwater. Credit: High Line Canal Conservancy via Water Education Colorado

That stormwater benefit is even lessening the new infrastructure that some developments and cities would have had to build, says Amy Turney, director of engineering for Denver Water and the utility’s stormwater lead on the High Line Canal work. “As development and roadway projects get designed close to the canal, developers and cities are realizing that using the canal is a better option than having to build new detention ponds and storm sewers.’”

Work on the High Line Canal hasn’t been without its challenges. Public perception has been high on that list with people cherishing the canal as a recreational greenway while the utility was using the canal as a piece of water delivery infrastructure.

“We had a maintenance road that turned to a path and [neighbors] didn’t want maintenance trucks anymore. There’s been no shortage of public ownership. This is their backyard—literally,” Turney says. But it will be worthwhile in the end. “The long-term success of the infiltrated stormwater helping the greenway prosper and improving receiving stream health is a legacy for us, as well as an amenity throughout the Denver metro area that thousands enjoy every year. We’re really proud of it,” she says. “Anyone who hears about this and cares about water gets excited about how we are saving water, and simultaneously using water for the best purposes.”

Caitlin Coleman is the Headwaters magazine editor and communications specialist at Water Education Colorado. She can be reached at caitlin@wateredco.org.

This article first appeared in the Summer of 2020 issue of Headwaters Magazine.

Yampa Valley “State of the River” July 29, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Topic: Yampa Valley State of the River

Description:

Whether it’s for clean water from your kitchen tap, water for hay or livestock or flows to paddle or play on, we all rely on the Yampa River and its tributaries.

Learn about current Yampa Basin water issues, ongoing drought and challenges facing West Slope water users at the virtual Yampa Valley State of the River meeting hosted by the Colorado River District, the Community Agriculture Alliance and the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable.

If you’re busy for the live event, register to receive a recording of the webinar by email to watch later.

Agenda:

• Protecting West Slope Water in Times of Uncertainty – Jim Pokrandt, Director of Community Affairs at the Colorado River District
• Snowpack and Runoff updates in the Yampa River Basin – Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District
• Recreation in the Yampa River Basin – Lindsey Marlow, Program Manager at Friends of the Yampa and Josh Veenstra, owner of Good Vibes River Gear
• How you can participate in Yampa River planning and the Integrated Water Management Plan – Marsha Daughenbaugh, Rocking C Bar Ranch and Nicole Seltzer, Science & Policy Manager at River Network
• Conversation with the Division Engineer – Erin Light, Division 6 Engineer at the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Jackie Brown, Natural Resource Policy Advisor, Tri-State Generation and Transmission

Time: Jul 29, 2020 06:30 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

Online workshop: ‘#Snowpack, #drought and #water management in a warming Mountain West’ — Western Water Assessment

Photo credit: Western Water Assessment

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Western Water Assessment (WWA) is hosting a virtual workshop focused on municipal water planning in the Mountain West. The workshop will feature talks from scientists and water professionals on the current water year, and on recent trends and future projections in snowpack, drought, and water supply. In addition, we will provide demonstrations of several tools and data sources on this topic. There will be several opportunities to engage in discussions with scientists, water managers, and other experts, including a panel discussion with several water utilities.

We look forward to seeing you online! If you have additional suggestions or questions about the workshop, please contact Seth Arens at wwa.arens@gmail.com, or Lineke Woelders at lineke.woelders@colorado.edu. You can learn more about WWA at https://wwa.colorado.edu.

CU Boulder Center for Environmental Journalism welcomes new class of fellows

Congratulations to friend of Coyote Gulch, Grace Hood.

Here’s the release From the University of Colorado:

The Center for Environmental Journalism is proud to welcome its 24th class of Ted Scripps Fellows, who will spend nine months at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information working on long-term, in-depth journalistic projects and reflecting on critical questions.

The group brings a depth of experience across a range of media, with backgrounds covering local issues as a public radio reporter and a photojournalist, overseeing a non-profit news organization and a science magazine, and reporting abroad as a Moscow correspondent.

“We’re thrilled to welcome these incredibly accomplished journalists to the Center for Environmental Journalism,” said Tom Yulsman, CEJ director. “We gain as much from their presence as they do from spending a year at the university.”

The 2020-21 Class of Ted Scripps Fellows in Environmental Journalism includes:

Vasquez Boulevard/ Interstate 70 Superfund site. Map view via DenverGov.org

Stacy Feldman, co-founder of InsideClimate News (ICN), a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-profit news organization providing reporting and analysis on climate change, energy and the environment. Serving as executive editor from 2015 to 2020, she’s spent the past 13 years helping to build and lead ICN as it transformed from a two-person startup to an operation with nearly 20 employees and a model for national and award-winning non-profit climate journalism.

As a fellow, she plans to study new approaches to local journalism that could help people connect environmental harm and injustice to their own health and their communities’ well-being.

Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old. Photo credit: The High Country News

Grace Hood, who has covered water, science and energy topics across the American southwest as Colorado Public Radio’s environment and climate reporter since 2015. Throughout more than a decade in public radio, she’s profiled octogenarian voters worried about climate change, scientists tracking underground mine fires, a visually impaired marijuana farmer and a homeowner who lives next door to Colorado’s first underground nuclear fracking experiment.

As a fellow, she plans to study how cities and states monitor air quality near oil and gas sites. She has a particular interest in the rise of citizen science when it comes to measuring air pollution across the West.

Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – images.fws.gov (image description page), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5787251

Alec Luhn, an independent journalist with a focus on the changing communities and ecosystems of the far north. Previously a Moscow correspondent for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, he’s been published in The Atlantic, GQ, The Independent, MAXIM, The Nation, The New York Times, POLITICO, Reuters, TIME, Slate and WIRED, among others. During a decade abroad, he’s reported from the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth and covered the conflict in eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, war-torn Syria and Chernobyl reactor four, as well as covering oil spills, permafrost thaw, reindeer herding, polar bear patrols, Gulag towns and the world’s only floating nuclear power plant in the Arctic.

As a fellow, he plans to study how climate change and resource extraction are altering the fragile environment of the north, with deep repercussions for reindeer and caribou and the indigenous peoples that depend on them.

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

Amanda Mascarelli, managing editor of Sapiens, an award-winning digital magazine that covers anthropology and archaeology for the general public. She has led the publication since before its 2016 launch and has overseen the production of hundreds of stories on topics including Holocaust archaeology, schizophrenia, fracking, cultural appropriation, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she spent more than a decade as a freelance science journalist specializing in health and the environment. She’s been published by outlets including Audubon, Nature, New Scientist, Science, Science News for Students and The New York Times and worked as a health columnist for the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.

As a fellow, she will study the social inequalities of health in vulnerable communities in the Denver metro region and elsewhere in Colorado, with an eye to exploring the health and social impacts of industrial expansion, fossil fuel extraction, and a planned massive urban redesign.

Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

RJ Sangosti, who has been a photojournalist at The Denver Post since 2004, where he’s covered events spanning from Hurricane Katrina to presidential elections. Over more than a decade, he has documented the people and landscape of eastern Colorado, where years of drought and a loss of agricultural earning power continue to hurt farmers. Most recently, he completed a story about a Denver neighborhood in one of the country’s most polluted urban zip codes, whose residents continue to be impacted by a huge interstate construction project. His work was included in the 2012 Time Magazine top 10 photos of the year, and he was honored to be part of the 2016 jury for the centennial year of The Pulitzer Prizes.

As a fellow, he will report on the effects pesticides and fertilizers have on aquifers and groundwater, and he hopes to gain new skills in research and writing.

To reduce world hunger, governments need to think beyond making food cheap — The Conversation


Iraqis buy produce at a street market in Baghdad during the COVID-19 pandemic, July 14, 2020.
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Fakhri, University of Oregon and Ntina Tzouvala, Australian National University

According to a new United Nations report, global rates of hunger and malnutrition are on the rise. The report estimates that in 2019, 690 million people – 8.9% of the world’s population – were undernourished. It predicts that this number will exceed 840 million by 2030.

If you also include the number of people who the U.N. describes as food insecure, meaning that they have trouble getting access to food, over 2 billion people worldwide are in trouble. This includes people in wealthy, middle-income and low-income countries.

The report further confirms that women are more likely to face moderate to severe food insecurity than men, and that little progress has been achieved on this front in the past several years. Overall, its findings warn that eradicating hunger by 2030 – one of the U.N.‘s main Sustainable Development Goals – looks increasingly unlikely.

COVID-19 has only made matters worse: The report estimates that the unfolding pandemic and its accompanying economic recession will push an additional 83 million to 182 million people into undernourishment. But based on our work serving as independent experts to the U.N. on hunger, access to food and malnutrition, under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, it’s clear to us that the virus is only accelerating existing trends. It is not driving the rising numbers of hungry and food-insecure people.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) is a global reference for measuring food insecurity. SDG Indicator 2.1.2 measures progress toward the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030.
FAO, CC BY-ND

How much should healthy food cost?

Experts have debated for years how best to measure hunger and malnutrition. In the past, the U.N. focused almost exclusively on calories – an approach that researchers and advocacy groups criticized as too narrow.

This year’s report takes a more thoughtful approach that focuses on access to healthy diets. One thing it found is that when governments primarily focused on making sure people had enough calories, they did so by supporting large transnational corporations and by making fatty, sweet and highly-processed foods cheap and accessible.

[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

This perspective raises some important issues about the global political economy of food. As the new report points out, people who live at the current global poverty level of US$1.90 per day cannot feasibly secure access to a healthy diet, even under the most optimistic scenarios.

More broadly, the U.N. report addresses one of the longest-running debates in agriculture: What is a fair price for healthy food?

One thing everyone agrees on is that a plant-heavy diet is best for human health and the planet. But if prices for fruits and vegetables are too low, then farmers can’t make a living, and will grow something more lucrative or quit farming altogether. And costs eventually go up for consumers as the supply dwindles. Conversely, if the price is too high, then most people can’t afford healthy food and will resort to eating whatever they can afford – often, cheap processed foods.

What it will take to achieve a zero-hunger world.

The role of governments

Food prices don’t just reflect supply and demand. As the report notes, government policies always directly or indirectly influence them.

Some countries raise taxes at the border, making imported food more expensive in order to protect local producers and ensure a stable supply of food. Rich countries like the U.S., Canada, and in the EU heavily subsidize their farming sectors.

Governments can also spend public money on programs like farmer education or school meals, or invest in better roads and storage facilities. Another option is to grant people living in poverty food vouchers or cash to buy food, or to ensure everyone has a basic income that allows them to cover their fundamental spending. There’s a host of ways in which governments can make sure food prices allow producers to make a living and consumers to afford healthy meals.

The human cost of cheap food

The U.N. report focuses on trying to make sure that food is as cheap as possible. This is limited in a number of ways.

New research highlights that mostly focusing on cheap prices can promote environmental damage and brutal economic systems. That’s because only large corporations can afford to compete in a market committed to cheap food. As our research has shown, today and in the past, people’s access to food is usually determined by how much power is concentrated in the hands of the few.

One current example is meatpacking plants, which have been coronavirus transmission centers in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Europe. To keep prices low, people work shoulder-to-shoulder processing meat at an incredible speed. During the pandemic, these conditions have enabled the virus to spread among workers, and outbreaks in factories have then spread the virus to nearby communities.

New international standards allow factories to continue to operate, but in a way that protects workers. In our view, governments are not adequately enforcing these safety standards to stop the spread of the virus. Globally, four corporations – Brazil’s JBS, Tyson and Cargill in the United States, and Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods – dominate the meat-producing sector. Studies have shown that they are able to lobby and influence government policy in ways that prioritize profit over worker and community safety.

Our work has convinced us that the best way for governments to make sure that everyone has access to good food is to view a healthy diet as a human right. This means first understanding who has the most power over food supplies. Ultimately, it means making sure that the health, safety and dignity of people who produce the world’s food is a central part of the conversation about the cost of healthy diets.The Conversation

Michael Fakhri, Associate Professor of International Law, University of Oregon and Ntina Tzouvala, Senior Lecturer in International Law, Australian National University

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

A world-renowned #climate research site near #CrestedButte is now protected by a #conservationeasement — The #Colorado Sun

Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4795644

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic has spent almost a century working to protect pristine swaths of wild lands. The research site, which draws scientists from across the globe every summer and ranks among the world’s largest, oldest and most productive field stations, now is permanently protecting its entire 270-acre research site.

As part of a deal announced Thursday, the lab above Crested Butte — known locally as “Rumble” — is protected under a conservation easement with Colorado Open Lands, ensuring that the hundreds of scientists and students who convene at the remote research station can continue their ecological research free from the ever-creeping threat of development…

Formed in 1928 in the abandoned mining town of Gothic, the lab’s natural landscape in the headwaters of the Elk Range’s East River has hosted a rotating array of scientists who have published more than 1,900 studies. Landmark research into wildlife, insects, habitats, soil, water ecology and the roaming impacts of climate change has flowered in the undisturbed high-altitude terrain surrounding the laboratory.

And the lab has played a critical role in conservation in Colorado, working with advocacy groups to manage protected land. The lab manages the Mexican Cut Preserve atop the Elks’ Galena Mountain, which was the first property protected by The Nature Conservancy in Colorado in 1966. The lab has helped many conservation groups with the management of protected landscapes, including, most recently, the protection of 4,377 acres of working ranch land — the venerable Trampe Ranch — in the Gunnison River and Upper East River valleys. That easement — funded with a $10 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the group’s largest single transaction — protects acreage that borders Rocky Mountain Biological Lab…

“From an ecological standpoint, this is the capstone of the conservation work in that basin. This is at the very top of the Trampe Ranch conservation easement, which protects the whole valley,” said Tony Caligiuri, the executive director of Colorado Open Lands.

There was potential that a deep-pocketed developer with big dreams could scheme a ski resort or community development around Gothic, Caligiuri said, which could threaten the work done to protect the Trampe Ranch. The conservation easement also protects RMBL’s water rights, which were among the first in Colorado and helped establish the now commonly accepted value of leaving water in streams to support wildlife, habitat and recreation…

Caligiuri said about half of all the working ranchland in the Gunnison River Valley has been protected with easements that prevent development. Colorado Open Lands has protected 69 properties totaling more than 25,000 acres in Gunnison County, where voters in 1997 passed a 1% sales tax to fund the protection of open space…

“In some places with high development pressures, agriculture can become a small niche. The Gunnison River Basin is a place that will be guaranteed to remain in agriculture for as long as we can imagine. And now it continues and can be economically viable,” said Caligiuri, who believes the conservation easement over an entire historic town and surrounding acreage — all owned by Rocky Mountain Biological Lab — is a first for Colorado.

Gothic may have been established as a silver mining camp, but it has survived on science. The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab has built housing, research areas, a community center and more since it moved in. Now, as many as 150 biologists gather at the lab every summer. (In the winter, Gothic is accessible only by a long walk or ski.)

The science that flows from the lab’s visiting researchers is one of the world’s largest collections of ongoing research. Those note-takers include Gothic’s longest running resident, billy barr, the capital-letter eschewing citizen scientist who moved to a remote cabin in Gothic 48 years ago and began tracking observations on the weather. (He’s not going anywhere, by the way.)

His daily measurements have made the reclusive barr a sort of accidental apostle among climate researchers, with hundreds of notebooks detailing decades of daily high and low temperatures, snowfall, snowpack and snow water equivalent.

Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

His data are now some of the country’s most detailed observations of a warming climate with shrinking winters and climbing temps.

Headwaters Summer 2020: Keeping Up With Aging Infrastructure — @WaterEdCO


The Aging Infrastructure Issue

Colorado has grown and changed around the water infrastructure installed decades to more than a century ago, leaving today’s water users and managers to grapple with the prospect of failing pipes, dams and ditches—the result of age and a lack of routine maintenance. Now, though the challenges and costs to rebuild and repair are significant, Coloradans have new opportunities to do so thoughtfully. View or download a flipbook of the magazine.

The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins #Water Center #DirtyWaterRule

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

NARROW WOTUS ON HOLD IN CO

The adoption of narrower Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands is currently blocked in Colorado, as a result of a court ruling on the state’s challenge to the new federal rule. Details are in this Bloomberg Law report.

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

June/July 2020 Newsletter is hot off the presses from The Water Information Program

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

Basin Implementation Plan Update
Ed Tolen, SW Basin 1st Vice Chair, explained that in January a sub-committee was set up to select a local expert to work with the SW Basin Roundtable on updating the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). From the proposals received the committee chose Harris Water Engineers to be local expert. Steve Harris (Harris Water Engineering) will no longer participate on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) or the SW Basin Roundtable, and Carrie Padgett, P.E. of Harris Water will also step down from the SW Basin Roundtable. Roundtable elections will take place in October, Officer elections will take place in July.

There will be a team approach to working on the BIP update that will include the SW Basin Roundtable, the Local Experts (Harris Water Engineers), who work with the General Contractor (Brown and Caldwell) and the CWCB.

Matt Lindberg with Brown/Caldwell, the General Contractor, gave a presentation on next steps regarding the BIP review process. The purpose of the review and update is to improve project data, unpack technical update, revisit goals and objectives and invest in process efficiency.

The timeline for the BIP update is as follows:

  • March – August 2020 – Local Expert Workshops, Work Plans and Project lists.
  • September – December 2020 – Basin Analysis/Study
  • January – December 2021 – Update the Basin Implementation Plan
  • December to March 2022 – Incorporate Updated BIP’s into the Water Plan Update
  • To view the full Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan go here.

    Discussion with @JoelSchneekloth, Regional Water Resource Specialist at @ColoradoStateU, on crop residue management, July 28, 2020

    Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    About this Event

    Join us for a digital presentation on crop residue management:

  • What impact can crop residue have on retaining soil moisture and water resources?
  • What does the current science say about the possible benefits of crop residue?
  • How can I implement crop residue management on my farm?
  • What are realistic outcomes and goals of implementing a crop residue management program?
  • Water for tomorrow — Colorado State University #OgallalaAquifer

    The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    From Colorado State University (Anne Manning):

    Stretching 174,000 square miles across the High Plains, bringing life to fields of corn, cotton and wheat, lies the vast geologic resource known as the Ogallala Aquifer.

    The largest freshwater aquifer in the world, the Ogallala has been an entire generation’s primary source for agricultural and public groundwater in eastern Colorado and six Great Plains states. Ninety percent of its pumped water is used for irrigation, making a fifth of the annual U.S. agricultural harvest possible, and helping support 30% of livestock produced in the nation.

    Over the past eight decades, intensive reliance on this precious natural resource to support irrigated agriculture has led to crisis levels of water scarcity and water quality declines in many parts, threatening the very future of U.S. agriculture and the livelihoods of thousands of crop producers. Farmers, ranchers, scientists, community organizations and policymakers must work together to guide and implement strategies that will extend the life of the aquifer.

    Since 2016, a Colorado State University-led consortium of eight western universities and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service have worked tirelessly to address these very challenges. The team of close to 100 experts, students and partners was formed through a $10 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Water for Agriculture Challenge program, under the leadership of two CSU faculty members: Meagan Schipanski, associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Reagan Waskom, professor in the same department and director of the Colorado Water Center.

    The Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project includes CSU, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, New Mexico State University, Texas Tech University, West Texas A&M University, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service. Through the past several years, the project has integrated research, extension and thoughtful evaluation of social policies and economic strategies to make science-based recommendations for extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer for generations to come and preparing for transitions away from irrigation when and where the aquifer depletes.

    Most importantly, the USDA-funded work was intended to foster engagement with the people most affected by the declining water supply – the farmers and producers who rely on it and who, above all others, are dedicated to saving it.

    “Over these past four years, we have focused not just on the science, but on the impact of that science, and on the network our project has helped foster,” said Schipanski, who recently led the procurement of a no-cost, fifth-year extension of the grant to continue the work into 2021. “We’ve become a trusted actor in this multi-state space, to lead these conversations.”

    Expanding knowledge

    Supported by the USDA grant, the team has developed a large body of research on critical topics related to the Ogallala Aquifer. These include optimizing water use through advanced cropping and irrigation management in both dryland and irrigated production systems; investigating socioeconomic factors that influence water use and decision-making; assessing potential impacts of policy and farm-level practices on regional outcomes; and developing data-based support tools and technologies that are both effective and user-friendly.

    As an example of new scientific insight that could inform management practices, a recent paper co-authored by researchers from Stanford University, CSU, Kansas State University, West Texas A&M University and others, outlines the scale of threatened areas in the aquifer projected through 2100. While studies often assume that irrigated farming will transition to dryland farming once portions of the aquifer dry up, the researchers found that 13% of the land projected for irrigation losses is not suitable for such a transition and will likely go to pasture or other uses.

    Others on the team have uncovered critical connections between soil health and water conservation in the Ogallala region, with a focus on soil organic matter accrual and the state of the soil microbiome. The expected transition to more dryland production will even further increase crops’ reliance on soil health, the researchers say.

    Still, others have provided technical insights into deficit irrigation management of corn crops from across the Ogallala Aquifer region. Deficit irrigation is a watering strategy in which less water than a crop might fully use is applied, and water volume is timed to match the crop’s peak needs.

    Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

    Economic tradeoffs, incentives

    A large focus area for the team has centered on the economic, social and behavioral ramifications of different management strategies and policies for the region. Particularly important has been a deep assessment of the attitudes and motivations of the farmers in the region, and how those might differ across ages and generations.

    Jordan Suter, CSU associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, has been among those working in the area of understanding the decision-making of agricultural producers. His work — in collaboration with others in his department as well as researchers in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering — has undertaken the complex endeavor of combining spatial, hydrologic and economic models to support new insights into the delicate tradeoffs of different water policies.

    Recently, Suter co-authored research on longstanding water conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a federally funded collaboration with state and local water districts that incentivizes agricultural producers to retire groundwater wells in the interest of preserving the aquifer. In their recent analysis, Suter and colleagues found that the program, which pays farmers to take their wells offline, attracts participation primarily from wells that irrigate lower-quality land, in areas of the aquifer where less water is available. In other words, the program might not be as effective as hoped and could benefit from some restructuring of the incentives offered.

    Among the most prominent themes of Suter and colleagues’ work is the need to balance short- and long-run outcomes of different management strategies. “I think most people are prepared to make sacrifices to provide for the long run, but how much and what is the best course of action is ultimately in their hands to decide,” he said. “Hopefully we can help provide empirical evidence to allow for informed decisions.”

    Taking action now

    Equally as important to answering research questions has been the strengthening of extension activities and programs to help water users take action now, whether that means changing how they approach irrigation or vetting technologies to help them manage water more sustainably.

    An example of such work has been the growth and success of the Master Irrigator Program, which originated in the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Texas in 2016, was recently adapted and launched earlier this year in Colorado, and is now moving into Oklahoma.

    The expansion of Master Irrigator programs was catalyzed by the Ogallala project’s help in coordinating an eight-state Ogallala Summit in 2018 with the Kansas Water Office that identified actionable, replicable activities for the benefit of the region. Colorado’s Master Irrigator program is a four-day, intensive educational course available for Republican River Basin irrigators and farm managers, offering training in advanced conservation- and efficiency-orientated irrigation practices.

    Participants in the inaugural Colorado Master Irrigator Program, which took place in February and March, manage more than 20,000 acres within all eight Republican River Basin counties in northeastern Colorado.

    Attendees at the first Ogallala Aquifer Summit, April 9 and 10, 2018, Garden City, Kansas, were broken into diversified focus groups by the organizers to better hash out issues that affect all eight states that sit above the aquifer. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

    With support from the Ogallala team, the locally run Colorado Master Irrigator program has secured funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to continue for at least another two years, said Amy Kremen, the Ogallala grant program’s project manager. In addition to supporting development and delivery of the program, the funding makes possible participation stipends of up to $2,000 to course graduates who agree to share how they’ve used the information they’ve learned.

    Community engagement and the satisfaction of participants in year one of the Colorado Master Irrigator program was very robust, Kremen said. “By laying out a smorgasbord of technologies and strategies for water management and providing a forum for practical discussion on potential benefits as well as costs and limitations, it puts farmers in the driver’s seat,” she said.

    In keeping with the theme of advancing technologies, the Ogallala project has also supported the growth of a Nebraska-based program called TAPS, or Testing Ag Performance Solutions. In 2017, Ogallala team collaborators based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln launched a series of farm-management competitions that provide a no-risk environment for farmers to try out agricultural technologies to produce a crop. As a result of the team’s connections, a new TAPS program was launched in 2019 in cooperation with Oklahoma State University in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Over the next three years, a grant from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service will support further development of TAPS programs and explore possibilities for expansion in Colorado and Kansas.

    “The TAPS program has been this incredible, impactful integration of industry, research and extension,” Schipanski said.

    Ogallala Aquifer Summit

    This and other successes from the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project are set to be shared with over 200 partners at the Ogallala Aquifer Summit, to take place in early 2021 in Amarillo, Texas. The biennial event, postponed from earlier this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is themed “Tackling Tough Questions.”

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    In Brief: #Colorado wins injunction against new Clean Water Act rule — @WaterEdCO #DirtyWaterRule

    Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    A federal court has granted Colorado’s request to temporarily halt a new Clean Water Act rule that leaves thousands of miles of fragile streams and wetlands in the state unprotected. The rule was set to take effect today.

    The court said that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser had met the requirements for a temporary injunction to be granted. The decision came as a federal court in California rejected a similar request that was nationwide in scope and backed by several states including California and New York, according to Bloomberg business news.

    The decision means the state will have more time to set up a new regulatory program to replace at least a portion of the protections lost under the new Waters of the U.S. rule, or WOTUS, as it is known.

    TomTalks Episodes 5 & 6: #Colorado- The Headwaters State — @OWOW_MSUDenver

    Join the OWOW Center for Episode 5 of TomTalks where co-director Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd joins an online conference hosted by Environment America. Jennifer presents the importance of the Colorado River and our state’s role as a headwaters state.

    In part 2 of Colorado- The Headwaters State, co-director Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd talks with Environment America about how Colorado provides water for 19 states and Mexico through thick and thin.

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    Webinar: The Latest on Demand Management – Creating an equitable, feasible program: Where does #Colorado stand — @WaterEdCO

    During this May 8, 2020 webinar we heard an update on progress and current thinking around demand management in Colorado. Speakers discuss what “equity” might mean and how a pilot project slated to begin this summer could help answer some technical questions around feasibility. Join us to hear from leaders around the state working to move this exploration forward.

    With Speakers:

  • Amy Ostdiek, Deputy Chief of the Federal, Interstate and Water Information Section, Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Paul Bruchez, Reeder Creek Ranch and Outfitter
  • Kyle Whitaker, Water Rights Manager, Northern Water
  • Mark Harris, General Manager, Grand Valley Water Users Association
  • Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez’s daughter and nephew sit in a hay field at the family ranch near Kremmling. Bruchez is helping spearhead a study among local ranchers, which could inform a potential statewide demand management program. Photo credit: Paul Bruchez via Aspen Journalism

    Webinar: “Gunnison State of the River” — The Colorado River District #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Upper Gunnison watershed May 2019. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    Gunnison State of the River

    Description
    Learn about current Gunnison Basin water conditions, drought, and water planning at the virtual Gunnison State of the River meeting hosted by the Colorado River District.

    Agenda

    •Bob Hurford, Division 4 (Gunnison Basin) engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, will talk about the weak winter snowpack, the dry spring and how these factors are affecting streamflows, reservoir storage and water rights administration.

    •Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, will address the “Protection of West Slope water as we face an uncertain future.”

    • Molly Mugglestone, director of communications and Colorado policy for Business for Water Stewardship, will present on a study that found Colorado’s rivers are major economic drivers producing nearly $19 billion in output annually from people recreating on or near rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and waterways.

    • Tom Alvey, head of the projects committee for the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, and Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the River District, will discuss hot water topics in the basin including drought, fruit freezes, an update of the roundtable’s water plan for the region, how the new crops of hemp and hops are working and the River District’s Lower Gunnison Project.

    Time
    Jun 24, 2020 06:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

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

    Chatfield Reservoir’s $171M redo complete, with new storage for #FrontRange cities, farmers — @WaterEdCO

    A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer heads out on patrol at Chatfield Reservoir. A $171 million redesign at the popular lake is now complete, providing more water storage for Front Range cities and farmers. But environmental concerns remain about the project’s impact on hundreds of bird species. June 8, 2020 Credit: Jerd Smith/Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Chatfield Reservoir, one of the largest liquid playgrounds in the Denver metro area, will take on a new role this year, storing water under an innovative $171 million deal completed last month between the state, water providers, environmental groups and the federal government.

    For millions of boaters, campers, cyclists, runners and bird watchers, the 350,000 acre-foot reservoir that sits southwest of the city is a year-round recreational hot spot, with 1.6 million annual visitors.

    But for thirsty Front Range communities and farmers nearby and downstream, including Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, the Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and six other water providers, Chatfield represents a rare opportunity to transform a reservoir once designed strictly for flood protection into a much-needed water storage vessel, a key goal of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Thanks to the redesign, the reservoir will be able to hold an additional 20,600 acre-feet of water, an amount sufficient to serve more than 40,000 new homes or irrigate roughly 10,000 acres of farm land, while maintaining its ability to protect the metro area from flooding, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    “It is cool to see it done,” said Randy Ray, manager of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and president of the Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company, Inc., which oversees the project. “It will be better when it fills up with water.”

    Originally built by the Army Corps in 1975 to help control the South Platte River during floods, by the 1990s water agencies and others began looking at ways to actually store water there.

    It wasn’t easy. To raise the shore level, hundreds of acres of land along the reservoir’s banks were revegetated to replace low-lying areas that will be inundated as water is stored. The cove that houses the marina was dredged, new boat ramps were built, and new habitat for birds was created downstream in Douglas County.

    A 2,100 acre-foot pool of water for environmental purposes was also set aside. It will be used to provide water for recreation and improve flows for the South Platte River through Denver, Ray said.

    Though the project has been praised for its multi-purpose nature, it also triggered a long-running battle with the Denver chapter of the Audubon Society, which feared the construction damage to bird habitat would not be adequately repaired in the reservoir’s new design.

    The society’s lawsuit to stop the project ultimately failed. But Polly Reetz, the chapter’s conservation chair, said they plan to closely monitor how habitat and birds respond.

    “We’re still not convinced it’s going to work,” Reetz said. “They’ve done some good work out there. Plum Creek is much better. But we plan to watch it very carefully and see what happens.”

    The project’s $171 million price tag was paid by the cities and farmers who will store water there, with additional funds provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the federal government.

    “This project is a great example of federal, state and local authorities working together to address vital water supply issues along the Front Range,” said Army Corps Omaha District Commander Col. John Hudson in a statement.

    That the reservoir is a highly valued part of the outdoor recreation scene in metro Denver was clear Monday morning. More than two dozen cars waited patiently to enter the park, campgrounds were brimming with visitors, and paddle boaters and sailors were already gliding across the lake.

    Elizabeth Jorde and her son Jeremiah were waiting at the marina, hoping to reserve a slip for their family pontoon boat on Father’s Day.

    Jorde said she’s looking forward to seeing what a fuller reservoir will look like on the many days she and her family come out to relax. But she also said the $171 million price tag seemed steep for the amount of water the project will store.

    “I was flabbergasted,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if it is worth it.”

    For Randy Ray the project will provided 4,274 acre-feet of critical new storage space for the farmers in his district, who anteed up $20 million to help get the deal done.

    And he said it is proof that collaborative solutions to Colorado’s looming water shortages can be found.

    “We rolled up our sleeves, put our differences aside and got this thing built,” Ray said.

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

    Fresh Water News is an independent, nonpartisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at wateredco.org.

    New Study Shows Global Warming Intensifying Extreme Rainstorms Over North America — Inside Climate News

    From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

    The current warming trajectory could bring 100-year rainstorms as often as every 2.5 years by 2100, driving calls for improved infrastructure and planning.

    Students in Sam Ng’s Field Observation of Severe Weather class hit the road every spring to observe storm structures, like this mesocyclone in Imperial, Nebraska. Photo by Sam Ng via Metropolitan State University of Denver

    New research showing how global warming intensifies extreme rainfall at the regional level could help communities better prepare for storms that in the decades ahead threaten to swamp cities and farms.

    The likelihood of intense storms is rising rapidly in North America, and the study, published [June 1, 2020] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, projects big increases in such deluges.

    “The longer you have the warming, the stronger the signal gets, and the more you can separate it from random natural variability,” said co-author Megan Kirchmeier-Young, a climate scientist with Environment Canada.

    Previous research showed that global warming increases the frequency of extreme rainstorms across the Northern Hemisphere, and the new study was able to find that fingerprint for extreme rain in North America.

    “We’re finding that extreme precipitation has increased over North America, and we’re finding that’s consistent with what the models are showing about the influence of human-caused warming,” she said. “We have very high confidence of extreme precipitation in the future.”

    At the current level of warming caused by greenhouse gases—about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial average—extreme rainstorms that in the past happened once every 20 years will occur every five years, according to the study. If the current rate of warming continues, Earth will heat up 5.4 degrees by 2100. Then, 20, 50 and 100-year extreme rainstorms could happen every 1.5 to 2.5 years, the researchers concluded.

    “The changes in the return periods really stood out,” she said. “That is a key contributor to flash flooding events and it will mean that flash flooding is going to be an increasing concern as well.”

    Better Science, Better Forecasts

    The 2013 floods in Boulder, Colorado that killed nine people and caused more than $2 billion in property damage are a good example of how such climate studies can help improve flood forecasts, said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

    “That was an exceptional event and the rain was like tropical rain. The radars greatly underestimated the magnitude as a result,” said Trenberth who returned to his home in Boulder during the floods with a broken foot, only to have to climb on his roof to direct the gushing water away from his house.

    Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

    A subsequent study found that the rain resulted from an unusual atmospheric brew over Colorado. Mountain thunderstorms mingled with a juicy atmospheric river from the tropics, dropping up to 17 inches of rain in a few days, nearly as much as Boulder’s annual average total. Human-caused climate change “increased the magnitude of heavy northeast Colorado rainfall for the wet week in September 2013 by 30%,” the study found.

    A separate study concluded that global warming actually decreased the likelihood of the 2013 floods. The conflicting results hint at the complexities of climate research, but, since then, the influence of human-caused climate change on extreme weather has become more clear.

    The risks will continue to increase as the atmosphere warms, said David R. Easterling, a climate extremes researcher and director of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. “The detection has been there for a while on a lot of extreme events,” said Easterling, who was not involved in the new study. “We’re going to see increases in extreme events, and we need to be prepared.”

    Easterling said most current infrastructure, such as dams and bridges, was designed based on rainfall values from the mid- to late-20th century and was not built to withstand the more frequent extreme rains identified by the new research.

    “There are going to be much more damaging floods that are going to wash out a lot of the infrastructure,” he said. “You’ll see more floods and bigger floods and major impacts to our civil engineering infrastructure.”

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the percentage of total precipitation coming from intense single day events has increased significantly since about 1980, with nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events occurring since 1990. The EPA’s precipitation indicator website also shows similar changes at the global scale.

    Warmer Air, More Moisture and Shifting Storm Tracks

    One way to visualize the planet’s climate system is as a heat-driven pump that tries to balance the planet’s energy by circulating it around the globe and cycling it from oceans, to land, to the atmosphere. Global warming puts more heat into the pump and that energy is manifested elsewhere in the system. For instance, for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, the atmosphere holds 7 percent more moisture that can fall as extreme rain, hail or snow.

    But global warming can increase rainfall by much more than 7 percent in individual events. In Hurricane Harvey, for example, the estimated boost in rainfall was about 30 percent, said Trenberth.

    “The outcome depends on the kind of storm. If the rainfall is in or near the center of the storm, as for a hurricane, then the extra oomph from the latent heat release intensifies the storm and makes it bigger and longer lasting,” he said. “This can also happen for an individual thunderstorm.” He was not involved in the new study.

    For storms outside the tropics, the most rain happens away from the center, which doesn’t necessarily make the rain more intense, but can affect the way the storms move and develop, he added.

    “This is the atmospheric river phenomenon and requires the weather situation to remain stuck for a bit, as a river of moisture from the subtropics, like the pineapple express, pours into a region,” he said. A 2019 study showed that atmospheric rivers cause most of the flood damage in the Western United States already, and global warming is projected to intensify those events.

    In addition to simply having more moisture in the atmosphere, global warming may also drive more extreme rainfall by shifting global weather patterns, said climate scientist Peter Pfleiderer, with Climate Analytics in Berlin.

    In a 2019 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Pfleiderer and other scientists looked at how global warming changes weather patterns in ways that make heat waves, droughts or rainstorms longer or more intense. With global temperature increases of 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (the range to which the Paris climate agreement hopes to limit warming), periods of heavy rain would increase 26 percent—the most of all the weather phenomena studied—the research found.

    Friederike Otto, acting Director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford, said new research showing how global warming affects extreme rain regionally complements studies that identify the effect on individual events.

    As a co-investigator with World Weather Attribution, Otto has been involved in a series of recent studies looking at how global warming affects droughts, heat waves and extreme rain. The strongest signal, as she expected, was with heat waves, but she expects rain events “far outside the observations so far.”

    “One thing I only started to realize in the last year, is how important attribution is for making projections,” she said. Climate attribution studies show how the warming of the planet makes some extremes more likely, and intensifies other weather events. Linking measurements of what actually happens with model predictions “gives you more confidence that the changes are because of climate change,” she said.

    Escalating Impacts Require Adaptation and Resilience

    Floods caused by extreme rain are among the costliest climate-related disasters. A NOAA compilation of billion-dollar disasters lists a long string of deadly catastrophes caused, at least in part, by extreme rain. These include the January 2020 floods in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin, where significant damage along the shoreline of Lake Michigan was compounded by extremely high water levels in the lake, as well as a lack of seasonal ice cover.

    2019 Nebraska flooding. Photo Credit: University of Nebraska Lincoln Crop Watch

    In 2019, extreme and persistent spring rainfall in the Midwest led to one of the costliest inland flooding events on record. Floodwaters inundated millions of acres of farms, along with numerous cities and towns and Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska—the third U.S. military base to be damaged by a billion-dollar disaster in a six-month period. In all, that wave of flooding caused $10.9 billion in damage, NOAA estimated.

    Earlier this month, persistent heavy rains contributed to the failure of a dam in Michigan, and Easterling said heavy rains were also implicated in the 2017 Oroville Dam failure that cost $1.1 billion and forced the evacuation of 180,000 people. The flooding caused by record rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a big part of the $125 billion worth of damage caused by the storm.

    Extreme rain can also have an impact on a smaller scale. In mountainous areas, heavy precipitation over even a small area can be disastrous. In the Rocky Mountains, such cloudbursts have caused toxic floods of acidic water from abandoned mines, and in the European Alps, scientists say extreme rains are unleashing larger and more destructive rockfalls and landslides.

    “We are going to get more intense, extreme precipitation, this is one of the things we are sure about,” said Hannah Cloke, a University of Reading natural hazards researcher and hydrologist specializing in flood forecasting.

    The United Kingdom has been hit repeatedly by extreme rain in recent years, including Storm Desmond in 2015, which was linked with global warming and caused at least $550 million in damage, flooding nearly 10,000 homes and businesses. Cloke said the recent flooding has apparently even shaped her daughter’s world view. For a recent school assignment, the nine-year-old used plastic bottles to build a floating house reminiscent of the movie Waterworld.

    “Most of the design standards for storm infrastructure are not high enough for the predictions, or even what we’re seeing right now,” she said. “We have to get away from the idea that you can just carry on business as usual. We have to adjust our expectations of what could happen. We need to get people out of harm’s way and be realistic about where we live.”

    Cloke said the certainty of increased extreme rainfall means that communities have to adapt by creating or restoring natural areas that can soak up the rains in the uplands, and cities need to be redesigned with green roofs and other measures to prevent flood waters from piling up and destroying property. More and more, flood experts are thinking in terms of socio-hydrology, she said.

    “You can’t just look at the water, at the heavier rain, and how fast it’s running down the rivers,” she said. “It’s about how humans and water interact at all levels, and how politics controls where the water is. It’s about who is at risk of flooding and whether those people have any agency to reduce the risk.”

    New research like the PNAS study that shows the regional fingerprint of global warming on extreme rainfall can help reduce the risk, she said, because it enables better short-term forecasts.

    “We have a lot of the right science in place but we still can’t predict the exact locations and amounts,” she said. “We don’t quite understand the development of the water cycle and we often underestimate rainfall for those reasons. But we shouldn’t be surprised that these rains are happening. We’re going to see entire cities at a standstill.”

    POLITICO’S America’s Environmental Future: The Water Solution Monday, June 15 Virtual Event Begins at 8:20 AM MT/10:20 AM ET #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #politicoenvironment

    Here’s the release from Politico/Live:

    RSVP HERE

    Even in these tumultuous times with significant challenges arising each day – there are some issues that continue to require our attention and effort. One of those issues is water security. Water is becoming increasingly scarce around the United States, particularly in the West. Access to safe and affordable water has become even more critical because of its role in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. In the Colorado River basin — which has a population of roughly 40 million and accounts for 15 percent of the country’s agricultural production — demand already outstrips supply. Climate change could also worsen the situation. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Trump administration is rolling back a number of Obama-era environmental rules that have implications for water quality and water quantity. As Congress tries to respond to the pandemic and rescue the U.S. economy through trillions of dollars in federal aid, there is a push to include water infrastructure improvements as part of the solution.

    Join POLITICO on Monday, June 15, at 8:20 AM MT/10:20 AM ET for this virtual deep-dive panel discussion on the policies and legislation needed at the state, regional and federal levels to meet the water needs of Western states and secure long-term solutions at a time when the attention and resources of local and state leaders are consumed by the pandemic crisis.

    Agenda:
    8:20 AM MT — Opening Remarks
    8:30 AM MT — A Conversation with Governor Jared Polis, Colorado
    8:45 AM MT — POLITICO Editorial Panel Conversation

    Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community
    Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    Water Education Colorado Racial Justice and Equity Statement June 9, 2020 @WaterEdCO #BlackLivesMatter

    Click here to read the statement From Water Education Colorado:

    In January 2020, the Board of Trustees of Water Education Colorado adopted a set of Equity Principles to guide our programs. These principles followed meetings with Black and Latino colleagues. We learned from their personal experiences how racism devastates people of color and their families. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery shockingly demonstrate how Black people and other People of Color continue to suffer from institutionalized racism and crimes perpetrated against them. We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in its insistence for justice and equity.

    In our conversations, we are trying to listen more than we speak. We hear from our Black, Latino, and other non-white friends, neighbors and colleagues about the inequities they are more likely to experience in terms of access to education, access to outdoor recreation, and access to equal representation in decision making bodies, all of which affect their ability to influence the future of water for our state. With our Equity Principles (also in Spanish), we established our clear commitment to breaking down barriers to participation and providing opportunities for equipping all Coloradans, regardless of background, race or demographic, with the knowledge and skills needed to engage in making smart decisions for a sustainable water future.

    In 2002, WEco’s formation was catalyzed by an act of the General Assembly providing startup funds and a legislative mandate to “help Colorado citizens understand water as a limited resource and make informed decisions.” We believe this mandate includes ALL people who call Colorado home.

    For the past 18 years, we have worked to provide reliable, trustworthy, impartial water reporting and educational opportunities that help advance democratic systems for water management and protection. We have done so according to our values (read them here), which include that “Water is Life,” and therefore necessary to every person and living thing, and that “Information is for All,” and should be accessible to anyone who wants to understand and engage.

    We are making strides to ensure our programs are available to assist diverse community members in understanding water well enough that they can confidently participate in the discourse around water issues at local, regional and state levels, for the benefit of current and future generations.

    We recognize these small steps on our part are merely a start, but we hope they ripple through the Colorado water community as we work with our members, partners and program participants to be an agent for change. We are committed to scrutinizing our internal policies and procedures to ensure they are equitable and inclusive, and to continuing to listen and learn.

    Sincerely,

    Lisa Darling, Board President

    Jayla Poppleton, Executive Director

    Jayla Poppleton and Lisa Darling. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    Video Conference: Colorado River Basin #Climate and #Hydrology: State of the Science — Western Water Assessment #COriver #aridification

    Click here to register:

    Topic
    Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science

    Description
    Western Water Assessment’s Jeff Lukas and Liz Payton will be providing an overview of the recently released report, “Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science” and answering audience questions.

    Time:
    Jun 18, 2020 11:00 AM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

    Click here to read the Coyote Gulch post about the paper.

    Video conference: “Eddied Out with WRC — Capturing River Moments Like a Pro” — Western Rivers Conservancy

    Click here to register.

    From email from the Western Rivers Conservancy:

    Rivers provide us with some of our best memories with friends and family. Yet it often feels impossible to do those moments justice through the camera lens. With some coaching from Val Atkinson, one of the world’s most accomplished fly fishing photographers, you’ll come a heck of a lot closer!

    Want to step up your photography game for your next trip to the river? Join us for a live how-to webinar with renowned river photographer Val Atkinson!

    As part of our Eddied Out series, Western Rivers Conservancy is hosting Val for a one-hour instructional session about capturing rivers with your iPhone. He’ll show you:

  • Why light is everything
  • How to compose a great shot
  • The importance of moment
  • iPhone technical tips
  • What makes Val’s and some of WRC’s best river photographs work
  • About Val Atkinson

    Val Atkinson is an internationally acclaimed fly fishing photographer whose work has taken him to over 30 countries. He has published four photography books, and his photography has appeared in more than 100 publications worldwide. This is a rare chance to learn from a true pro, who knows rivers intimately and knows how to capture them unlike anyone else.

    @NOAA: Rise of carbon dioxide unabated, “Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the CO2 record” — Pieter Tans

    Here’s the release NOAA (Theo Stein):

    Seasonal peak reaches 417 parts per million at Mauna Loa observatory

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory reached a seasonal peak of 417.1 parts per million for 2020 in May, the highest monthly reading ever recorded, scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego announced today.

    This graph depicts the last four complete years of the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide record plus the current year. The dashed red lines represent the monthly mean values, centered on the middle of each month. The black lines represent the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. Credit: NOAA

    This year’s peak value was 2.4 parts per million (ppm) higher than the 2019 peak of 414.7 ppm recorded in May 2019. NOAA scientists reported a May average of 417.1 ppm. Scripps scientists reported an May average of 417.2 ppm. Monthly carbon dioxide (CO2) values at Mauna Loa first breached the 400 ppm threshold in 2014, and are now at levels not experienced by the atmosphere in several million years.

    “Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the CO2 record,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. ”We continue to commit our planet – for centuries or longer – to more global heating, sea level rise, and extreme weather events every year.” If humans were to suddenly stop emitting CO2, it would take thousands of years for our CO2 emissions so far to be absorbed into the deep ocean and atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels.

    No apparent response to economic impact of coronavirus

    The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measurements in 1958 at the NOAA weather station. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. Credit: NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    The rate of increase during 2020 does not appear to reflect reduction in pollution emissions due to the sharp, worldwide economic slowdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The reason is that the drop in emissions would need to be large enough to stand out from natural CO2 variability, caused by how plants and soils respond to seasonal and annual variations of temperature, humidity, soil moisture, etc. These natural variations are large, and so far the emissions reductions associated with COVID19 do not stand out. If emissions reductions of 20 to 30 percent were sustained for six to 12 months, then the rate of increase of CO2 measured at Mauna Loa would be slowed.

    “People may be surprised to hear that the response to the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t done more to influence CO2 levels,” said geochemist Ralph Keeling, who runs the Scripps Oceanography program at Mauna Loa. “But the buildup of CO2 is a bit like trash in a landfill. As we keep emitting, it keeps piling up. The crisis has slowed emissions, but not enough to show up perceptibly at Mauna Loa. What will matter much more is the trajectory we take coming out of this situation.”

    Even though terrestrial plants and the global ocean absorb an amount of CO2 equivalent to about half of the 40 billion tons of CO2 pollution emitted by humans each year, the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere has been steadily accelerating. In the 1960s, the annual growth averaged about 0.8 ppm per year. It doubled to 1.6 ppm per year in the 1980s and remained steady at 1.5 ppm per year in the 1990s. The average growth rate again surged to 2.0 ppm per year in the 2000s, and increased to 2.4 ppm per year during the last decade. “There is abundant and conclusive evidence that the acceleration is caused by increased emissions,” Tans said.

    The longest unbroken record of CO2 measurements

    This plaque is fixed to the original building where C. David Keeling began taking carbon dioxide measurements near the top of Mauna Loa in 1958. Credit: Susan Cobb, NOAA.

    Charles David Keeling of Scripps Oceanography, located at the University of California San Diego, began on-site CO2 measurements at a NOAA’s weather building on Mauna Loa in 1958, initiating what has become the longest unbroken record of CO2 measurements in the world. NOAA measurements began in 1974, and the two research institutions have made complementary, independent measurements ever since.

    The Mauna Loa observatory is a benchmark sampling location for CO2. Perched on a barren volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the observatory is ideally situated for sampling well-mixed air – undisturbed by the influence of local pollution sources or vegetation – that represents the global background for the northern hemisphere. The Mauna Loa data, together with measurements from sampling stations around the world, are incorporated into NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, a foundational research dataset for international climate scientists.

    The sun sets west of Mauna Loa on February 20, 2010, seen from NOAA’s Mauna Loa atmospheric baseline observatory, situated near the volcano’s peak. Credit: LTCDR Eric Johnson, NOAA Corps.

    The Keeling Curve

    Keeling was the first to observe that even as CO2 levels rose steadily from year to year, measurements also exhibited a seasonal fluctuation that peaked in May, just before plants in the northern hemisphere start to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere during their growing season. In the northern fall, winter, and early spring, plants and soils give off CO2, causing levels to rise through May. The continued increase in CO2 and the seasonal cycle are the main features of what is known as the Keeling Curve.

    The two research institutions’ CO2 measurements often vary by a small degree. “We use independent instrumentation, calibration gases, and algorithms to compute the average, so small differences are to be expected,” Keeling said.

    The two datasets, however, tell the same story.

    “Well-understood physics tells us that the increasing levels of greenhouse gases are heating Earth’s surface, melting ice and accelerating sea-level rise,” Tans said. “If we do not stop greenhouse gases from rising further, especially CO2, large regions of the planet will become uninhabitable.”

    For more information, contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications, at theo.stein@noaa.gov.

    Powell Inflow Forecast Drops — Hutchins Water Center @WaterCenterCMU #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here to read the latest “E-Newsletter” from the Hutchins Water Center. Here’s an excerpt:

    POWELL INFLOW FORECAST DROPS

    The latest Colorado Basin River Forecast Center Water Supply Forecast Discussion

    (May 17) projects April – July unregulated inflows into Lake Powell to be 61% of average, down from 74% of average forecast on April 17. Other spring reservoir inflow forecasts in the discussion include Fontenelle (88% average), Flaming Gorge (84% of average), Blue Mesa Reservoir (59% of average), McPhee Reservoir (35% of average), and Navajo Reservoir (50% of average). All forecasts are lower than last month, in some cases significantly lower.

    (May 17) projects April – July unregulated inflows into Lake Powell to be 61% of average, down from 74% of average forecast on April 17. Other spring reservoir inflow forecasts in the discussion include Fontenelle (88% average), Flaming Gorge (84% of average), Blue Mesa Reservoir (59% of average), McPhee Reservoir (35% of average), and Navajo Reservoir (50% of average). All forecasts are lower than last month, in some cases significantly lower.

    For information on what the forecast means for the water supply and reservoir operations in the Colorado and Gunnison basins in Colorado, you can review video and access presentation slides from the Mesa County State of the River webinar hosted by the Colorado River District and Hutchins Water Center, as well as the District’s other State of the River webinars.

    TomTalks Episode 4: A Toast to Italy

    One World One Water

    Since 2017, the OWOW Center has been fortunate to establish collaborative connections in Italy with the Universita de Stranieri di Perugi, its water research center WARREDOC, and organizations like UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the UNESCO World Water Assessment Program.

    In the spirit of everything that water does – nourish, support, and protect – we’re Toasting to Italy in this week’s TomTalks and the next couple installments. Alla vostra salute amici italiani!”

    #Water and Resource Monitoring Digital Workshop, June 11, 2020 — #Colorado Ag Water Alliance

    Grants and Opportunities to Fund Infrastructure Projects Middle Colorado Watershed Ditch Inventory Protecting West Slope Water Users in Times of Uncertainty
    Range Monitoring: Strategies for Making it Happen

    Join us on Zoom! Save The Link!
    https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88971288008

    RSVP and Learn More!

    Graphic credit: Colorado Ag Water Alliance

    #Runoff news: Rafting season ready to launch, but #COVID19 worries running high — @WaterEdCO #coronavirus

    Rafters enjoy a day on the Gunnison River near Gunnison, Colo., on May 17, 2020. The Gunnison is flowing at about 80 percent of its normal volume for this time of year. Overall, Colorado’s snowpack is melting faster than usual. Along with lower river flows the presence of COVID-19 is creating challenges for commercial river running companies as well as private boaters. Credit: Dean Krakel/Special to Fresh Water News

    From Water Education Colorado (Dean Krakel):

    With warming temperatures in Colorado’s mountains and spring runoff in full swing, the whitewater boating season should be off to a roaring start.

    But Colorado’s stringent COVID-19 travel and recreation restrictions are forcing commercial rafting companies to create social distance on unruly rivers and face the potential for smaller crowds.

    “The snowpack’s in good shape,” said John Kreski, rafting coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Arkansas River Headwaters Area. “But the phones aren’t ringing. This is very frustrating.”

    Colorado’s highest flows, as of mid-May, are in the northern part of the state, with the Poudre and North Platte at 100 to 120 percent of normal, according to Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

    The upper Colorado, Gunnison, Green and lower Colorado rivers are all flowing at between 70 to 80 percent of normal, while the Arkansas River, from Buena Vista to the Royal Gorge, is flowing at 80 percent of normal.

    Because of an unusually warm and dry April, flows are trending downward in the central and southern mountains.

    The South Platte River and Clear Creek are running at 64 to 70 percent of normal, while the Rio Grande and San Juan River are just 45 percent of normal.

    Northern Colorado rivers, such as the Poudre, will have enough snowmelt to extend flows for boating into late summer. Elsewhere in the state the best floating will occur from May into early July. “Get down into that 70 to 75 percent and you’re looking at a reduced season,” Strautins said. “There’s just not enough snow to extend it.”

    Recreational vehicle: Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Hoping to maximize the early season flows, outfitters are anxiously waiting to see how many visitors will show, according to Bob Hamel, executive director of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, a trade group.

    “Who’s going to travel? Who’s got money? Will we even be traveling or flying to destinations?” he asked.

    Still, Hamel is hopeful that the state’s waterways can be opened for commercial use by early June, bringing some much-needed economic activity to the state.

    Colorado’s rafting industry is the No. 2 contributor to the state’s recreation economy, behind skiing. Centered on the Colorado, Rio Grande, Arkansas and Platte rivers, it contributed nearly $188 million to the state’s economy, according to a report of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. Visitors spent an average of $135 on a river adventure, including food, lodging, gas and souvenirs.

    These numbers don’t include hundreds of homegrown rafters and kayakers who recreate on Colorado’s rivers or the large numbers of boaters from out of state that bring their own gear to the hallmark waterways.

    How COVID-19 will impact the industry this summer isn’t clear yet, though major changes are underway.

    “Every river floating company will have to adapt their own safety procedures to the kind of trips that they offer,” said Hamel. “A half-day trip down the Taylor River can’t be handled the same as a multi-day trip down the Gunnison Gorge. Some rafts are bigger. Some are smaller. The rafting industry can’t do a one size fits all.”

    One set of COVID-19 rafting guidelines developed by Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Resort in Almont, Colo., includes daily screening of employees, non-touch guest check-in, and hand sanitizer in all office and retail areas.

    In addition, directional signs will guide visitors to wherever they need to go, with group size monitored by employees. The number of people on a raft will be reduced to maintain proper social distancing, with spaced seating and open windows on vans and shuttles, disinfection of equipment after each use, and instructions to clients to bring their own water bottles and food.

    Andy Neinas, a river running veteran with Echo Canyon Outfitters in Cañon City, said the rafting industry is well-equipped to handle the COVID-19 restrictions.

    “All of us are juggling things to make it all work. We’re going to being doing it differently, but nobody does it better than Colorado,” Neinas said.

    Dean Krakel is a photographer and writer based in Almont, Colo. He can be reached at dkrakel@gmail.com.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Alex Zorn):

    According to the National Weather Service, rising temperatures this week led to rising river levels.

    In fact, in the past week, river flows at the Colorado/Utah border have climbed from just over 7,000 cubic feet per second to nearly 13,000 cfs, according to flow data from the United States Geological Survey.

    NWS service hydrologist Aldis Strautins said warmer days and nights helped the snowpack melt in the beginning of the week, resulting in higher river flows.

    “Most sites will stay below any flood concerns. A few areas in the northwest part of Colorado, including the Yampa Basin and some of the smaller rivers, may reach higher levels,” he said. “We’re monitoring it right now.”

    Wednesday’s river flow data for the Colorado River at the Utah border had the river flowing at 12,900 cfs. The average for May 20 at that spot in the river is more than 15,100 cfs.

    Flood Mitigation is Messy: An Argument for High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams — Mile High Flood District

    Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)

    Virtual Mesa State of the River, May 20, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here for all the inside skinny.

    #Colorado AG, top water quality regulator vow to challenge new Clean Water Act rule — @WaterEdCO #WOTUS #DirtyWaterRule

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

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado and other Western states will be hard pressed to shield their rivers and streams under a new federal Clean Water Act rule finalized last month, largely because hundreds of shallow Western rivers are no longer protected, and writing new state laws and finding the cash to fill the regulatory gap will likely take years to accomplish, officials said.

    Though many agricultural interests and water utilities support the new Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, as it is known, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Patrick Pfaltzgraff, director of the state’s Water Quality Control Division, said they will take legal action to protect streams that are no longer subject to federal oversight.

    “We are pleased the final rule protects important agriculture exemptions and provides continued assurance that states retain authority and primary responsibility over land and water resources…However, the federal government’s decision to remove from federal oversight ephemeral waters, certain intermittent streams, and many wetlands is based on flawed legal reasoning and lacks a scientific basis,” Weiser said in a statement.

    Legal strategy?

    Whether Colorado will seek an injunction to stop the new rule from being enforced and whether it will join other Western states in a legal challenge isn’t clear. Weiser and Pfaltzgraff declined to discuss their legal strategy, other than vowing to take action.

    The Colorado Water Congress, which represents hundreds of water agencies and agricultural interests, had been largely supportive of the new rule before it was finalized. But Executive Director Doug Kemper said the group hasn’t finished its analysis of the final version.

    Formally adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency April 21, the move to significantly revise the WOTUS rule began after President Trump took office and vowed to reverse policies established under the Obama Administration.

    The new rule has already triggered a handful of lawsuits seeking to stop the EPA from enforcing them. One was filed by cattle growers in New Mexico alleging that the rule is still too onerous, and at least two others have been filed by environmental interests in South Carolina and Massachusetts, who say the rule leaves too many streams unprotected.

    And more are expected.

    The Clean Water Act (CWA) has been legally hamstrung for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches, and what is allowable for industries and wastewater treatment plants to discharge into streams.

    One rule never fits all

    Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, the CWA, now nearly 50 years old, is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been, at times, fiendishly difficult to administer, in part because of the nation’s widely different geographies.

    Go to the East or Midwest, and massive rivers, such as the Ohio and Missouri, are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was considered navigable, it was subject to federal law.

    But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.

    Under the new rule, only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, will be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states would no longer be protected under the law.

    A financial quandary

    And that worries state water quality officials who are responsible for protecting Colorado’s streams.

    They warn that writing state rules and finding millions of dollars in new cash to enforce water quality protections will be difficult, especially as the COVID-19 budget crisis unfolds. Officials of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which includes the Water Quality Control Division, say that until state rules are in place, new housing developments and other projects could be stopped because there is no mechanism yet to issue the permits that were once issued by the federal government.

    “While the specific impacts of this rule still are being determined, there’s no question this rollback removes huge swaths of Colorado’s waters from federal jurisdiction—the most of any administration since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. The state will need to put in significant resources to determine how to continue to protect these waters and to determine how this rule will be implemented as the rule is unclear as written,” the CDPHE said in an email.

    “Specific construction projects and associated permitting processes that were originally covered…won’t be able to move forward without doing so illegally and harming the environment,” the CDPHE said.

    Potential dysfunction

    Melinda Kassen, general counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said it would make sense to pursue an injunction to give the state time to set up its own regulations and find a way to fund them.

    “If you read the economic analysis that accompanies the rule, there are assumptions that the states will step up and take this over. The potential is for it to be really dysfunctional. We’ve got to get something set up,” Kassen said.

    EPA officials have said they don’t expect federal funding to enforce the Clean Water Act will be reduced, even though the new WOTUS rule is smaller in scope and governs fewer waterways.

    Still the CDPHE and most opponents of the new rule believe millions of dollars will be needed to fill in any regulatory gap.

    How far Colorado will go to challenge the new rule isn’t clear. The CDPHE’s Pfaltzgraff said his agency is still analyzing its next steps.

    “It is now up to the state to provide the necessary protection of both Colorado’s economy and the environment,” Pfaltzgraff said in a statement. “We are going to do everything we can, while also addressing the impacts from COVID-19, to ensure Coloradans live in the healthy state they deserve.”

    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.

    Six Feet in Solidarity Week 8: Drinking Water @WaterEdCO

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

    We’ve been sending a weekly “Six Feet in Solidarity” email on Thursdays to stay connected and continue serving up resources to build your water knowledge around different topics while social distancing. We’ve been pulling from our library of publications, news stories, webinars, videos, radio programs, and more, and also sharing key resources produced by others in the water community.

    Thus far we’ve sent emails focused on land use and water, stream management plans in Colorado, environmental justice and equity in the water sector, water reuse, alternatives to ag transfers or ATMs, forest and watershed health, and climate change and its projected impacts on Western water.

    After eight weeks, as Colorado’s stay-at-home order is replaced with its new safer at home, we bring you the last in our Six Feet in Solidarity series. This week is Drinking Water Week, which recognizes the vital role tap water plays in daily life, the infrastructure that is required to carry it to and from homes and businesses, and the important behind-the-scences work of water professionals. To celebrate, we’re focusing our final solidarity email on drinking water. Read on to learn more. Continue to be well and don’t stop social distancing!