#Colorado Ag Alliance February 2, 2021: Planning for #Drought

From email from the Colorado Ag Alliance:

Drought Advisors

Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email droughtadvisors@colostate.edu to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.

Community Agricultural Alliance: 6 critical concepts all Coloradans should know about #water

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Here’s a guest column from Patrick Stanko that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

Do you know the critical water concepts? The Colorado State Water Education plan has identified six critical concepts that all Coloradans should understand about water.

The first concept is “The physical and chemical properties of water are unique and constant.” The physical properties of H2O are unique because its molecular structure gives rise to surface tension. The solid form of water, the white stuff so important to our community, is less dense than the liquid form allowing it to float.

The second concept states, “Water is essential for life, our economy and a key component of healthy ecosystems.” As we all know, there would be no life without water, and the ecosystems need clean water to survive. But the Routt County economy, both recreational and agricultural, depends upon water.

The Yampa Valley receives most of its water in the form of snow, the basin’s biggest reservoir, which is used by the recreational industry to ski and play on. When the spring melt happens, that water is used by agriculture to irrigate and produce the lush green hay fields we all have grown accustomed to, and of course, the river is used for fishing, boating and tubing.

The third and fourth concepts are “Water is a scarce resource, limited and variable” and “The quality and quantity of water, and the timing of its availability, are all directly impacted by human actions and natural events.” One only has to compare the last two years to see how variable and scarce water is in Colorado.

s the weather becomes drier and more variable and the population of Colorado continues to grow, water will become scarer. An update by the Colorado Water Plan predicts that the municipal and industrial gap in water supply will be in the range of 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet of water annually. As a reference, the Dillon Reservoir holds approximately 250,000-acre feet.

The fifth concept is “Water cycles naturally through Colorado’s watersheds, often intercepted and manipulated through an extensive infrastructure system built by people.” Again, the biggest reservoir and storage of water in the Yampa Valley is snow.

In the spring the snow melts, some of the water returns to the atmosphere via sublimation, evaporation or transpiration. If the soil is dry, then most of the water will seep back into the ground filling the aquifers. The water that makes it to the river is used by the agriculture community to irrigate meadows for grazing and crops. Water is also captured in reservoirs, like Fish Creek Reservoir, that supplies Steamboat Springs with drinking water.

The sixth concept states “Water is a public resource governed by water law.” Colorado has a long doctrine of water laws dating back to the 1860s. A water right allows one to put a public resource to beneficial use as well as a place in line, where the junior water right may be curtailed to meet the needs of the senior water right, “first in time, first in right.”

For more information about critical water facts please see the Water Education Colorado SWEAP website at https://www.cowateredplan.org/ or the Colorado Water Plan formed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board at https://cowaterplan.colorado.gov/. And for information on the local water issues, visit Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable at https://yampawhitegreen.com.

Patrick Stanko wrote this column on behalf of the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable public education participation and outreach coordinator.

Coke, Coors Seltzer, water trust announce #ColoradoRiver initiative — @WaterEdCO #COriver

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 coalition of high-profile businesses, including Coors Seltzer and Coca-Cola, as well as the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust have signed up to add additional water for fish, farmers and hydropower generation to a key segment of the drought-stressed Colorado River known as the 15-Mile Reach.

This stream segment begins just east of Grand Junction, Colo., and ends west of town where the Gunnison River merges with the Colorado River.

For decades this reach has been under intense scrutiny, in part because it is a key source of water for Western Colorado ranchers and fruit growers, and it is also considered critical habitat for four endangered fish species: the razorback sucker; the humpback chub, the bonytail and the Colorado pikeminnow.

Dec. 15, the Colorado Water Trust unveiled a 10-year funding commitment from Business for Water Stewardship that will help ensure that there is more water in the river during dry times to keep irrigators, a small federal hydro plant, and the fish healthy.

The Colorado Water Trust is a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to helping secure water rights through purchase, lease or donation to benefit the environment. Business for Water Stewardship is a program of the Portland, Ore.-based Bonneville Environmental Foundation that brings companies together to aid the environment.

Bringing in corporate funders, who have the resources to commit to a multi-year effort is key, according to Todd Reeve, the founder of Business for Water Stewardship. Danone and Intel Corp. are also funders.

“Companies are increasingly realizing the state of our water resources,” Reeve said. “And they are stepping up to support these environmental water solutions.

“This project stands up as an important example of all of these entities coming together. We’d like to see more of them,” Reeve said.

How much money and water will be provided under the agreement isn’t clear yet, according to the Colorado Water Trust, in part because it will depend on weather conditions and the condition of the river each year.

To date nearly $100,000 has been raised to buy water, according to the water trust.

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Experts are concerned that rain on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area could create ash and sediment flows that could pose a threat to fish. Map credit: CWCB

Efforts to preserve Colorado’s 15-Mile Reach are coordinated by the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a federal initiative launched in 1988 that also includes Utah and Wyoming. But because the river has multiple users, from growers to rafters and anglers, to power generators, dozens of other agencies, water users and towns are also involved, according to Kate Ryan, an attorney for the water trust.

The hope, according to Ryan, is that this long-term commitment to the area will build on and add more durability to what others have begun.

Under the agreement, the Colorado Water Trust each year will buy water from upstream sources for delivery to the Grand Valley Power Plant near Palisade. The power plant produces electricity to pump irrigation water to members of the Grand Valley Water Users Association and is operated by the Orchard Mesa Irrigation Company (OMIC).

After the water moves through the plant, it will continue downstream to the 15-Mile Reach.

“The water that comes down through the hydropower plant makes my system work better,” said Max Schmidt, OMIC’s manager. “But it’s also good for the fish.”

As the Colorado River Basin continues to dry out, natural flows in the river will have to be supplemented by water that can be obtained from those who have water in storage that they don’t need and are willing to sell or lease on a temporary or permanent basis.

Ryan said she is pleased the water trust was able to secure the agreements and funding that will allow it to be a long-term contributor to the health of the 15-Mile Reach.

“What was amazing and sobering this year is that the dry-year targets for flow are 650 cubic feet per second (cfs). But most of the summer they were down at 300 cfs,” Ryan said.

Despite the dire water forecasts, the potential for more cooperative efforts on the river appears to be growing.

Schmidt can reel off a list of cities, irrigation districts and water agencies that have stepped up in recent years to help, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado River District, and the cities of Aspen, Snowmass, Palisade and Grand Junction.

That doesn’t count the cash and operating support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the recovery program, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, or the new contributions from the Colorado Water Trust and Business for Water Stewardship.

“When everybody wins, everybody wins,” Schmidt said. “I don’t care if it’s power water, irrigation water or fish water, wet water in the river makes everybody’s lives better.”

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.

Students and faculty urge deeper look at land-grant legacy — @HighCountryNews

A banner hangs on a statue of Cornell University’s founder, Ezra Cornell, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year. Photo credit: Della Keahna Uran via The High Country News

From The High Country News [December 22, 2020] (Jessica Grant):

University officials face pressure to address their history as the recipients of dispossessed Indigenous land.

When High Country News published “Land-Grab universities” last April, the two-year-long investigation shed new light on a dark open secret: One of the largest transfers of land and capital in the country’s history had masqueraded as a donation for university endowments.

HCN identified nearly 11 million acres of land, expropriated from approximately 250 tribes, bands and communities through more than 160 violence-backed treaties and land cessions. Now, in the wake of the investigation, land-grant universities across the country are re-evaluating the capital they built from these stolen Indigenous lands.

More than 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act — the legislation that transferred the lands — new discussions about the universities’ moral and ethical responsibilities have forced Americans to re-examine the law’s legacy. Land-grant institutions have long prided themselves on their accomplishments as beneficiaries: They used the proceeds generated by the land to broaden access to higher education, thereby contributing to economic development across the nation. But many of those institutions paid next to nothing for the public lands they received and sold.

By far the largest beneficiary was Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, which acquired almost 1 million acres from Ojibwe, Miwok, Yokuts, Dakota and other Indigenous nations through 63 treaties or seizures. The land came from 15 states, and by 1935, when the last parcel was sold, Cornell University had generated nearly $6 million for its endowment, the largest of any land-grant institution. Adjusted for inflation, it raised over $92 million.

Now, as the country reconsiders long-standing issues of racial equity and justice — focusing on everything from local political races to national legislation — students and faculty alike are pressuring administrators to address the investigation’s findings.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 12, 2020, members of Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell (NAISAC) put forward a list of 10 demands in the form of a petition. The demands include turning the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program into a university department; recruiting new Indigenous faculty and students, specifically Indigenous students affected and/or displaced by the Morrill Act; waiving tuition for those students; acknowledging the land of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ’, or Cayuga Nation, before every Ithaca-based event; and reinstating an ad-hoc committee on Native American Affairs to oversee the approval of these demands.

“If the president’s office was responsible, then they would meet each of these demands to the extent that we’ve laid them out in our petition,” said Colin Benedict (Mohawk), the external relations chair for NAISAC. “Each of these demands in my mind is completely 100% justified and should already have been implemented by the university decades ago.”

As of Dec. 1, the petition had more than 900 signatures from students, staff, alumni and community members. The president’s office has yet to respond publicly, but in an email exchange, it stated, “The Office of the President is in receipt of the NAISAC petition, and the President is looking forward to working with the Native American and Indigenous community at Cornell on these issues.”

A faculty committee, headed by American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program Director Kurt Jordan, launched the Cornell University and Indigenous Dispossession Project. The project will research Cornell’s Morrill Act land history, identify the Indigenous communities affected, and foster discussion of possible remedies.

“We’ve had a number of statements that have been made by the administration in light of the George Floyd murder, Black Lives Matter, and all of the other things that have been happening this year about the need for Cornell to really address its legacy, its historical roots, its complicity in … to some degree, with white supremacy,” Jordan said. “Benefiting from stolen Indigenous land has to be part of that.”

History professor Jon Parmenter recently discovered that Cornell is in possession of over 420,000 acres of mineral rights in the Central and Southwestern U.S., a portion of which was retained through Morrill Act lands. In its petition, NAISAC urged the university to release a statement acknowledging the amount of land acquired, the interest accrued and mineral rights funds received, and pledging to refrain from mineral and resource extraction on those lands.

OVER 2,500 MILES WEST OF CORNELL, faculty and students at the University of California, Berkeley have also made strides. Established in 1868, the university received almost 150,000 acres from the Morrill Act. The land raised $730,000 for the university’s early endowment, and, adjusted for inflation, has generated over $13 million. The university paid nothing in return.

The presence and history of Indigenous people has been largely erased from the UC system, said Phenocia Bauerle (Apsáalooke), director of Native American Student Development at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years ago, Bauerle and the Native American Student Development center created a land acknowledgment to honor the Ohlone tribal lands that the university sits upon. However, the university has yet to adopt an official acknowledgment.

According to a California audit, UC Berkeley is the worst offender among the schools when it comes to complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which grants Indigenous nations the right to regain ancestral remains and objects from museums. UC Berkeley has only repatriated 20% of its 500,000-artifact collection. In comparison, the University of California Los Angeles has repatriated 96% of its collection.

“A lot of it comes down to, well, they see these issues as historical and not of the present because they see Natives as historical and not of the present,” Bauerle said. Since the dispossession occurred in the past, contemporary people don’t see themselves as responsible, and they feel no pressure to address the issue today. However, “ ‘Land-Grab’ gave us several concrete (points),” Bauerle said. “This dispossession of Native land that this whole country benefits from — here’s a specific way that we can show you that Berkeley actually played a part in it. These are the receipts. This is how much money you got.”

Bauerle partnered with Rosalie Z. Fanshel, a doctoral student in environmental science, policy and management and the program manager for the Berkeley Food Institute, to organize a conference on the Morrill Act and Indigenous land dispossession.

“The UC Land Grab: A Legacy of Profit from Indigenous Land” was held in two parts in September and October. The conference dug deep into the history of California’s genocide and the founding of the University of California. Participants called for action, including shared land stewardship, research opportunities and tuition options for Indigenous students.

More than 500 people attended both days of the conference. David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources in Berkeley, was among them. “I felt like I was learning so much that I had not been aware of,” he said. “This is part of our story, I want to be part of this. I want to learn. I want to figure out where we’re heading.”

Other attendees included staff from the office of UC President Michael V. Drake, the office of the chancellor at UC Berkeley and the governor’s office, as well as deans and administrators from various UC campuses and units.

One of the panelists, Brittani Orona, a doctoral candidate in Native American studies and human rights at UC Davis and a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, was surprised by how many people within the university system had no knowledge of the history of land-grant institutions. “I think with Native people and Native students, you know that our land, our places have been taken away from us, from many different institutions and at many different points of time,” Orona said.

At the conference, Orona spoke about the history of genocide in California. “Scholars of California Indian genocide will say it ended in 1873, but I argue it is a continuous process,” Orona said. “Many Native and Indigenous people in the state and across the world have been made promises since colonization, and they’ve been broken. It’s hard not to remember that legacy; I live in that legacy.”

Orona, who will complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, hopes that future Native and Indigenous students have a different experience than she did. “What does that mean, when you’re having California Native students pay out of pocket on land that has been dispossessed from them? I appreciate the discussions that are going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and when it moves beyond acknowledgment towards actual actionable items that make life easier for Native and Indigenous students and peoples.”

Orona, who will complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, hopes that future Native and Indigenous students have a different experience than she did. “What does that mean, when you’re having California Native students pay out of pocket on land that has been dispossessed from them? I appreciate the discussions that are going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and when it moves beyond acknowledgment towards actual actionable items that make life easier for Native and Indigenous students and peoples.”

As of Dec. 4, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ has yet to respond about the conference publicly. In an email, however, she wrote, “To achieve this inclusive campus culture, we must acknowledge how our history, including the Morrill Land Grant Act, impacts Indigenous people. Now more than ever, we, as a university, must take immediate action to acknowledge past wrongs, build trusting and respectful relationships, and accelerate change and justice for our Native Nations and Tribal communities.”

Jessica Douglas is a fellow at High Country News. Email her at jessica.douglas@hcn.org.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on December 22, 2020.”

@USBR completes review of #ColoradoRiver operations for #LakePowell and #LakeMead #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2020

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Patti Aaron and Linda Friar):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released a report intended to bring partners, stakeholders and the public to a common understanding of the effectiveness of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The technical report documents conservation efforts and operations on the Colorado River since 2007 and provides an essential reference to inform future operations.

“The report presents a thorough review of operations and highlights that we have experienced historic collaboration among states, tribes, water users, non-governmental organizations and the international community in addressing issues affecting one of America’s most important rivers,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Forty million people across seven states and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for life and livelihood, so it’s critical that our actions protect this resource now and into the future. Today’s report highlights both the historic steps taken in the basin, as well as the need for continued progress to meet the growing challenges in the years ahead.”

The report concluded:

– The 2007 Interim Guidelines were largely effective as measured against both their stated purpose and common themes as provided in the 2007 Record of Decision.

– Increasing severity of the drought necessitated additional action to reduce the risk of reaching critically low elevations in Lakes Powell and Mead.

Experience over the past 12 years provides important considerations:

– enhanced flexibilities and transparency for water users

– expanded participation in conservation and Basin-wide programs

– increased consideration of the linkage that occurs through coordinated reservoir operations, particularly with respect to the inherent uncertainties in model projections used to set operating conditions

– demonstrated need for more robust measures to protect reservoir levels

The report and additional information is posted at https://www.usbr.gov/ColoradoRiverBasin/.

The screenshots from Twitter are from yesterday’s “Federal Friday” event hosted by @CRWUA_Water in partnership with @usbr. The conference hash tag was #CRWUA2020.

 

 

Explore drone, aerial and terrestrial imagery from @TheWaterDesk #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Oh no! The Water Desk has created a map index of their photos and other multimedia. Be careful clicking the link since browsing cool photos and such is probably not part of your written job description.

Click here to tour the Colorado River Basin.

#Colorado activates municipal #drought response plan as 2021 water forecast darkens — @WaterEdCO

Dust clouds roll across drought-ridden fields near eastern Colorado’s Lamar in spring 2013. Credit: Jane Stulp via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

The State of Colorado has activated the municipal portion of its emergency drought plan for only the second time in history as several cities say they need to prepare for what is almost certainly going to be a dangerously dry 2021.

Last summer, the state formally activated the agricultural portion of the plan, calling on government agencies that serve farmers and livestock producers to begin coordinating aid efforts among themselves and with growers.

Now a similar process will begin for cities, according to Megan Holcomb, who oversees the drought work for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water policy agency.

Holcomb said the state’s decision to sound the alarm on municipal water supply came in response to requests from several cities, who believe the drought has become so severe that they need to prepare quickly for whatever 2021 may bring. Normally cities don’t make decisions about whether to impose watering restrictions until the spring, when it becomes clear how much water will melt from mountain snows and fill reservoirs.

But not this year.

“Even with an average snowpack we will still be in drought in the spring,” Holcomb said.

Colorado Springs, just last summer, enacted permanent three-days-per-week outdoor watering restrictions.

Kalsoum Abbasi oversees the city’s water delivery system and its reservoirs. She said the state’s decision to activate phase III drought planning makes sense.

“Personally I think it’s a good move for the state to move forward because it will help keep these drought conditions at the forefront of the conversation,” she said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the state is now blanketed in drought, with more than two-thirds of its terrain classified as being in extreme or exceptional drought, the worst condition.

Colorado has experienced four severe droughts since 2000, but the trend has intensified with the drought of 2018 barely lifting before 2020 began seeing searing temperatures and dry weather again.

Going into 2021 soils across the state are desperately dry. As mountain snows melt and runoff makes its way to streams, a large share of the moisture will be absorbed by the thirsty landscape, leaving less for reservoirs and cities to collect.

“Soil moisture is a huge part of this story,” Holcomb said. “I also think 2020 is likely the hottest year on record globally. Long-term forecasts for temperatures show January through October of next year being extremely warm again.”

Colorado is divided into eight major river basins, with the four to the west of the Continental Divide feeding the bigger Colorado River Basin, which extends from the Never Summer Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park to the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal forecasts for this system over the next several months have been dropping sharply. Paul Miller, a hydrologist for the Colorado River Basin Forecasting Center in Salt Lake City, said the amount of water predicted to be generated by this winter’s mountain snows dropped to 5.6 million acre-feet in December, down from 6.45 million acre-feet just one month earlier.

“Even before this recent change there was cause for concern because this past year was very dry and reservoir levels fell,” Miller said.

Local city water officials such as Jerrod Biggs, deputy director of utilities in Durango, said there is little time to waste.

Durango lies in the southwest corner of the state. The region has been hardest hit by the current drought and was similarly hard hit in 2018.

“All the groundwork we can lay today is worth it. Everybody hopes it’s not needed. But sticking our heads in the sand isn’t going to do anybody any good. It’s ugly and it’s getting uglier,” Biggs 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.

#Colorado mitigation “bank” to offset #wetland damage, meet Clean Water Act rules — @WaterEdCO

Here at the confluence of the Big Thompson and South Platte rivers near Greeley, a new conservation effort is underway. It restores wetlands and creates mitigation credits that developers can buy to meet their obligations under the federal Clean Water Act to offset any damage to rivers and wetlands they have caused. Credit: Westervelt Ecological Services

From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

Developers often dropped by unannounced at the Allely farm to ask if the family would consider selling their 70-acre property south of Greeley at the confluence of the Big Thompson and South Platte rivers. The answer was always no — the Allelys did not want their land, which had been in the family since in the early 1960s, to be developed, now or in the future.

So when staff from Westervelt Ecological Services first approached the Allelys about creating a habitat preservation program on their farm roughly three years ago, the family was skeptical. But over the course of many months and long conversations, they began to warm to the idea and eventually agreed.

Instead of selling their property to the highest bidder or leaving it to the next generation, the family established a conservation easement — a permanent agreement to never develop the land — and, for a fee, allowed Westervelt to create the new Big Thompson confluence mitigation bank. The project broke ground in late October.

Now, a developer who disrupts wetlands or streams elsewhere along the Front Range and in parts of eastern Colorado can offset that impact by buying credits generated from floodplain and ecosystem restoration work completed on the Allelys’ land. Purchasing credits from this new mitigation bank allows developers to meet their obligations under the federal Clean Water Act.

“It’s a very important piece of property to us as a family,” said Zach Allely, the fifth-oldest of the six children who grew up on the farm. “If there’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘No, this is a place where native fauna, native flora can thrive forever,’ we’ll take that.”

Mitigation banks, explained

Mitigation banks are not new in Colorado — there are some 21 pending, approved, sold-out or suspended throughout the state, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ database — but this is the first new mitigation bank approved on the Front Range in 20 years.

Across the country, mitigation banks have become more popular since 2008, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressed a preference for mitigation banks (over other types of mitigation) and offered clearer guidance, standards and timelines for these projects.

Mitigation banks like this one are a byproduct of the federal Clean Water Act, first enacted in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and then expanded and reorganized in 1972. More specifically, they relate to Section 404 of the act, which aims to protect the country’s wetlands from the discharge of dredged or fill materials during the construction of dams, levees, highways, airports and other development projects.

Under Section 404, developers must take steps to avoid and minimize damage to wetlands and streams by adjusting the scope, location, design and type of project they wish to undertake. After avoidance and minimization, they must turn to a third mitigation type: compensatory mitigation.

Under compensatory mitigation, developers can restore, establish, enhance or preserve wetlands at the project site or somewhere else nearby. But this type of work isn’t always practical or possible, which is where mitigation banks come into play. Instead of going to all that trouble, a developer can pay for someone else to do the heavy lifting at a different, nearby location.

A mitigation banker, in this case Westervelt, pays for the upfront costs of finding a suitable piece of land, gaining approval from the right regulatory agencies, and doing the actual mitigation work. Then, depending on the scope and size of the project, the banker can sell a certain number of credits to offset the impacts of future development within the bank’s general vicinity.

Restoring historical floodplain

Today, crews are hard at work on the Allely property, re-establishing the historical floodplain to help restore the ecosystem for plants and animals and improve flood resiliency for nearby communities.

This restoration work also creates 34.76 wetland credits and 460 stream credits — released in phases — that developers, public agencies, mining companies and others can buy to help mitigate the unavoidable damage their projects will cause to other Colorado wetlands and streams.

Lucy Harrington, the Rocky Mountain region director for Westervelt Ecological Services, declined to say how much the company is charging for credits from the new 72.4-acre bank, citing variable pricing and bulk discounts.

But the Colorado Department of Transportation, which regularly buys credits from mitigation banks across the state, recently paid $200,000 for a credit from the new bank to help offset the impact of its Central 70 highway improvement project, said Becky Pierce, CDOT’s wetlands program manager.

To find potential mitigation bank sites, Westervelt staffers perform geographic information system (GIS) analyses that take into account a property’s proximity to streams, hydrology, oil and gas infrastructure, and proximity to other conserved properties, among other factors, Harrington said.

The company, which opened its newest regional office in Centennial in 2016, also looks at community-identified areas for wetland restoration and conservation, as was the case with the new Big Thompson confluence bank. Westervelt staff worked with the Middle South Platte River Alliance to understand local priorities and identify possible sites for the new bank. The alliance helped introduce Westervelt to the Allely family.

“It’s really a confluence of technical work, relationship-building and a little bit of luck, to be perfectly honest,” Harrington said.

Westervelt and other mitigation bankers often buy property outright. But in this case, Westervelt paid the Allely family an undisclosed amount to use their land for the mitigation bank and, in return, the Allelys protected the property in perpetuity with a conservation easement, which comes with its own tax benefits and incentives. Westervelt and the Allelys also established a long-term endowment for the site’s management with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

After creating a detailed plan and getting approval from regulatory agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and others, Westervelt began work.

Credits going fast

The company has released its first round of credits, which includes 8.69 wetland acres and 115 functional feet of stream credits. So far, the company has sold more than half of the wetland credits, Harrington said.

“Any project, whether it’s a highway widening that may cross a river, home development that may affect ephemeral or perennial drainage, a Walmart parking lot that’s expanding, a pipeline going in, any of those development items that could impact wetlands and streams, instead of having to provide a wetland offset themselves can just come to us, write a check and just walk away,” Harrington said. “We take on all the liability of the site in perpetuity.”

Meanwhile, the Allely family knows that their property will never be developed and is instead being restored to its historical conditions. They can also still access the land under the conservation easement, which is held by the nonprofit land trust Colorado Open Lands.

Staff at Colorado Open Lands say they hope the success of the Big Thompson mitigation bank will inspire other landowners to conserve their land.

“It’s just another tool, another way for us to look at getting creative about protecting open space in Colorado,” said Carmen Farmer, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. “Traditionally, we protect land throughout the state using state tax credits and federal tax deductions and incentives. Sometimes the traditional model doesn’t necessarily pencil out for landowners. This is another way for us to go about incentivizing landowners to help protect their properties and make sure they’re compensated for doing so.”

Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

Milestone #ColoradoRiver management plan mostly worked amid epic drought, review finds — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western Water Spotlight: draft assessment of 2007 interim guidelines expected to provide a guide as talks begin on new river operating rules for the iconic southwestern river

At full pool, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume, but two decades of drought have dramatically dropped the water level behind Hoover Dam as can be seen in this photo. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Twenty years ago, the Colorado River Basin’s hydrology began tumbling into a historically bad stretch. The weather turned persistently dry. Water levels in the system’s anchor reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead plummeted. A river system relied upon by nearly 40 million people, farms and ecosystems across the West was in trouble. And there was no guide on how to respond.

So key players across the Basin’s seven states, including California, came together in 2005 to attack the problem. The result was a set of Interim Guidelines adopted in 2007 that, according to a just-released assessment from the Bureau of Reclamation, mostly worked. Stressing flexibility instead of rigidity, the guidelines stabilized water deliveries in a drought-stressed system and prevented a dreaded shortage declaration by the federal government that would have forced water supply cuts.

Carly Jerla, one of the review’s authors. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Those guidelines, formally called “Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead,” are set to expire in 2026 As stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin — including water agencies, states, Native American tribes and nongovernmental organizations — prepare to renegotiate a new set of river operating guidelines, Reclamation’s assessment is expected to provide a guide for future negotiations.

“We find that the guidelines were largely effective,” said Carly Jerla, modeling and research group manager with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region and one of the report’s authors. However, the Interim Guidelines could not solve all of the challenges brought by what has become a two-decade-long drought in the Basin. Said Jerla: “We saw risk getting too high and needed additional assets.”

Preserving Lake Mead

With the guidelines as a foundation, those assets arrived in 2019 through drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Basin – voluntary reduction commitments that built a firewall against the likelihood of Lake Mead dropping to critically low levels.

Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said the guidelines achieved their objective, considering that the drought has essentially persisted since 2000. Even with the severity and longevity of the drought, the guidelines kept the two reservoirs at about 50 percent of capacity since 2007.

“To my mind that’s a pretty good marker that we were generally successful,” Harris said.

Matt Rice, who directs American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, argues that future river operating guidelines should factor in environmental considerations. (Source: American Rivers)

Reclamation’s review of the Interim Guidelines was released for public comment in October. It is expected to be finalized in December. After that, discussions are expected to begin to hammer out a new set of operating rules that would be ready to take effect when the existing guidelines expire in 2026.

Reclamation’s review, which was required under the guidelines, focused solely on how effectively the Interim Guidelines managed water shortages and storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. It did not include existing environmental management programs such as the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program that are independent of the guidelines. The 2026 guidelines should take a broader view, said Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado River Basin Program.

“Not just looking at the two big buckets [reservoirs], but how do we ensure the river is healthy and has water for its environmental needs,” he said.

“How do we ensure that communities are considered, certainly the tribes, and how do we evaluate additional future demands, projects like the Lake Powell pipeline (a proposed project to deliver Lake Powell water to Southern Utah).”

Ensuring Tribal Participation

Tribal water rights are a key consideration to future Colorado River water use. Ten federally recognized tribes in the Upper and Lower Basins have reserved water rights, including unresolved claims, to divert about 2.8 million acre-feet of water per year from the river and its tributaries, according to Reclamation’s 2018 Tribal Water Study. These tribes anticipate diverting their full water rights by 2040.

Reclamation’s review emphasizes the need for listening to all voices, most notably tribes. Tribal representatives were largely overlooked in the development of the 2007 Interim Guidelines and tribes want to make sure their voices are heard when the next set of operating rules are drawn up.

“We hope that the review will remind Reclamation of the importance that Indian tribes have played in the stewardship of the Colorado River and underscore the importance of meaningful and sustained participation of the Lower Basin tribes in any future guidelines development regarding management of the Colorado River,” Jon Huey, chair of the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Arizona, wrote in a letter to Reclamation.

Jerla said Reclamation recognizes how important it will be to include the tribes in future discussions.

“We definitely heard that loud and clear,” she said. “I think the critical role that tribes have played in the activities since the Guidelines … their desire to be more involved and more included, they will absolutely be a key part of efforts going forward, no question.”

Balancing Water Uses

There is inherent tension in balancing Colorado River water uses between the two basins. Part of the problem is users in the Lower Basin can use Lake Mead as a bank account, having water released downstream to them as they need it. Lake Powell, on the other hand, sits at the bottom of the Upper Basin’s drainage and water that flows into Powell is largely beyond reach of Upper Basin users.

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

“The guidelines have been partially successful in that they have achieved their principal objective of preventing Lower Basin shortage, as well as establishing a Lower Basin conservation mechanism and avoiding litigation in the Basin,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “However, from the standpoint of the coordinated operations of Lakes Powell and Mead, a secondary objective of the Guidelines, they have come up short.”

Haas pointed out that between 2015 and 2019, Lake Powell was required to release 9 million acre-feet of water annually under the Guidelines, even with poor inflows into Powell and below-average hydrology in the Upper Basin watershed. That’s more than has historically been required.

“Meanwhile, Lake Mead elevations have not substantially increased under the Guidelines due in large part to overuse in the Lower Basin, also known as the structural deficit,” she said. “These issues must be addressed in the post-2026 operational criteria.”

Protecting the Colorado River

Drought wreaked havoc on the Colorado River Basin between 2000 and 2004, with record dryness that depleted the combined storage of Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Conditions worsened quickly. At the beginning of the 2000 water year, the review said, the combined storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead was 55.7 million acre-feet. After the worst five-year period of inflow on record ended in 2005, that storage fell to 29.7 million acre-feet – a striking loss of nearly half of the water in the two anchor reservoirs.

Something new had to be done. The business-as-usual approach of determining drought conditions for the Basin on a yearly basis was not going to provide long-term stability or prevent conflict under such historic dryness.

“Failing to develop additional operational guidelines would make sustainable Colorado River management extremely difficult,” Reclamation’s review said.

The Interim Guidelines in 2007 opened the door for Lower Basin water users and Mexico to get creative about how water is managed and used. One example that grew out of the guidelines is Intentionally Created Surplus, allowing downstream parties to bank water in Lake Mead that they could draw upon later.

“One result of this new flexibility was that critical Lake Mead elevations could be protected through the conservation of this water in the lake,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “The Basin states, meanwhile, continued to seek ways to protect reservoir levels and the health of the Colorado River system.”

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. Geological Survey via The Water Education Foundation)

Saving Intentionally Created Surplus water in Lake Mead turned out to be a critical drought response tool, said Reclamation’s Jerla, ensuring that the lake’s water level did not drop to where water users would be required to take cuts.

Reclamation’s review of the Interim Guidelines notes that there are other areas of interest beyond its scope that should be considered in future discussions, such as impacts of river operations to environmental, recreational and hydropower resources, and more meaningful engagement of Basin partners, stakeholders, tribes and states.

The review notes that since the Interim Guidelines were adopted, Reclamation has expanded its long-term modeling assumptions and worked to identify appropriate methods for analyzing uncertainty.

“Even though the true probability of any combination of conditions … cannot be assessed, a wider range of hydrology and demand assumptions and attention to those ranges … are useful for supporting a common understanding of system vulnerability,” the review says.

The Next Set of Guidelines

The 2007 Interim Guidelines have set the table for the next version of a Colorado River operations agreement. In retrospect, things have generally occurred as expected, Jerla said.

“In terms of where the reservoirs landed, what types of releases Powell made and how successful the Intentionally Created Surplus mechanism became, that is all within the range of what we were projecting,” Jerla said. “It’s informative to know that now and use that thinking about how risk influenced our decisions and how that translates into the next set of action levels.”

Sustaining Lake Mead for the benefit of downstream water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin has been a key objective of the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. (Source: Lighthawk via The Water Desk)

The Interim Guidelines instilled a degree of greater cooperation and innovation on the river and that has fostered partnerships, initiatives and actions that demonstrate what can be done in a Basin that is steadily getting drier.

“Those things have to continue,” Jerla said, adding that Reclamation’s review is one of many sources officials will consult as they draft the next set of guidelines.

Rice, with American Rivers, said he’s optimistic about the prospects of a broad group of stakeholders building the next set of Interim Guidelines.

“I am not suggesting that it’s going to be easy or straightforward by any means,” he said. “We certainly hope there will be greater participation from more stakeholders. The tribes are at the top of the list, but also nongovernmental organizations, which traditionally have not been part of these interbasin negotiations.”

The talks are likely to be frank and will explore thorny issues related to equitable water management.

Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, says the Lower Basin’s structural deficit must be addressed. (Source: UCRC)

Arriving at a satisfactory operational plan beyond 2026 means the Lower Basin’s structural deficit has to be addressed and balancing releases between Lake Powell and Lake Mead should be revisited to reflect actual hydrology, said Haas, with the Upper Colorado River Commission. “Also, the new guidelines should contain a mechanism whereby operations can be adapted and adjusted to meet changing conditions, something the current guidelines are not equipped to do.”

How the next set of river operating guidelines will take shape remains to be seen, but Reclamation’s review suggests the 2007 Interim Guidelines proved their worth in showing how water users can work together and think creatively, lessons that will be invaluable for the future.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines, the review said, “created the operational stability that became the platform for the collaborative decision-making that protected the Colorado River system from crisis.”

Reagan Waskom retiring after over 30 years of service to @ColoradoStateU

Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

Reagan Waskom via Colorado State University

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Center, is retiring after over 30 years of service with Colorado State University. Waskom is a member of CSU’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, where he has worked on water-related research and outreach programs, in addition to overseeing the Extension Water Outreach program.

The Colorado Water Center is one of 54 Water Resources Research Institutes created by the Water Resources Act of 1964, which collectively form the National Institutes for Water Resources. As a division in the Office of Engagement and Extension, the Center aims to connect all water expertise in Colorado’s higher education system with research and education needs of the state’s water managers and users, building on the rich water history at Colorado State University.

“CSU has a long history in water-related research, education and outreach, areas that grow increasingly critical to our world every day,” said President Joyce McConnell. “Reagan’s deep wisdom and expertise as the director of the Colorado Water Center has been matched by his humanistic, thoughtful approach to this work. We are grateful to him for his incredible research and leadership, and we will continue the strong engagement he has modeled with the many water faculty, students, stakeholders and users across the state.”

“Reagan is a respected water expert and leader. Colorado has benefitted from his expertise, CSU is better from his service, and our future conversations on water are strong with our Center leadership and researchers,” said Blake Naughton, vice president of Engagement and Extension.

Gimbel interim director

With Waskom’s retirement, Jennifer Gimbel, currently a senior water policy scholar, will serve as interim director of the Water Center. At the center, Gimbel’s focus is on Colorado River issues and developing curriculum and teaching an interdisciplinary graduate class on Western water issues.

Gimbel was the principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science for the U.S. Department of Interior from 2014 to 2016, during which time she oversaw the department’s water and science policies and was responsible for the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Geological Survey. She also served as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board from 2008 to 2013. She brings unique skills and experience working with the water community at the state, regional and federal level, as well as a proactive and creative approach to problem-solving. She has a bachelor of science and Juris Doctorate from the University of Wyoming and a master of science from the University of Delaware, and has authored numerous articles and presentations on state and federal water law.

Supporting Gimbel in this role, Julie Kallenberger will serve as associate director, assisting in leading and ensuring execution of research and education programs, outreach activities, communications and operations in support of the center’s mission. She will work directly with the center’s senior research scientists, CSU Extension water specialists, and water experts to advance knowledge and solutions to priority water challenges. Since 2008, Kallenberger has served as a water education specialist. She holds a bachelor of science degree from South Dakota State University and a master of science from CSU.

Additional information on the search for the next director of the Water Center will be available in 2021.

@CSUSpur “Water in the West” symposium recap #CSUWaterInTheWest

The findings pinpointed basins around the world most at risk of not having enough water available at the right times for irrigation because of changes in snowmelt patterns. Two of those high-risk areas are the San Joaquin and Colorado river basins in the western United States. Photo: Kevin Bidwell/ Pexels

From AgInfo.net (Maura Bennett):

The Symposium is hosted by Colorado State University and sponsored in part by the Colorado Dairy Farmers.

It’s the farmers like Chris Kraft of Kraft Family Dairies near Fort Morgan whose livelihoods depend on the increasingly scarce resource.

Kraft: “Without that, we don’t do what we do. So this is critically important for us.”

Kraft says times have changed with more people living in Colorado and a growing dairy industry making water issues more severe.

Kraft:” We’re interested in all the ways water is being discussed. A lot of the water that we use in on dairy farms in Colorado is historically old water rights, some of them going back to before statehood. Our industry doesn’t exist without that water. We have to have that water and we’re interested in making sure that we’re at the table when these kinds of discussions are going on.

Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners was asked for his focus on the power of storytelling. A panel discussion focused on how social movements, campaigns, and storytelling shape public sentiment.

A dialogue between Vilsack and Axelrod concluded the symposium.

John Wesley Powell. By Painter: Edmund Clarence Messer (1842 – 1919) – Flickr, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7299882

From Ag Journal Online (Candace Krebs):

Highlighting [John Wesley] Powell’s devotion to science, his foresightedness and his willingness to speak up was the starting point for the recent annual Water in the West Symposium, hosted by Colorado State University’s new SPUR campus in Denver. Keynote speaker Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners and former president and CEO of the National Geographic Society, related Powell’s story as he sketched out a history of how early exploration of the West led to formation of the National Park Service and an ethic of conservation that was soon interwoven into the American mindset.

“Facts belong in the domain of science, but the best stories make the facts relevant in ways people can visualize and identify with,” he said. “Embrace the power in your own story to change hearts and minds, and together we can change the world.”

[…]

Stories nestled within other stories is how this year’s symposium served to illustrate many of the ideas the speakers shared as they reflected on the role of storytelling to motivate change, address challenges and produce lasting results.

Water issues are complex, and perspectives are wide-ranging, which means listening and respecting is as important as speaking, for writers and photographers as well as influencers and advocates, Knell said…

Gary Hirshfield, co-founder and now “Chief Creative Officer” of Stonyfield Yogurt, emphasized repeatedly the importance of making the message “visceral,” by relying on ingenuity and originality.

“We launched an organic yogurt company in 1983 at a time when nobody was eating yogurt and no one knew what organic was,” he recalled.

Hirshfield had to come up with creative ways to persuade consumers to buy an unfamiliar product at a steep price premium to conventional brands.

“We had no money, but we had cows. So we came up this very simple idea that if you sent in five yogurt labels, you would get to adopt a cow,” he recalled.

He also used “moos-letters,” farm cams and Yo-Tube, his original version of a YouTube message channel, to sell a fun hip image, while reaching out to bloggers and influencers to spread brand recognition and enthusiasm to millions of followers.

“We had fun. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously but focused on keeping it upbeat, positive and funny,” he said.

Social media “is an artform now,” he added. “It’s highly refined and oversaturated, so how you cut through that is critical.”

Keep the message simple, don’t overwhelm with facts, be positive and solution-oriented, and listen instead of doing all the talking, he advised…

Justin Worland, a journalist covering energy, environment and climate for Time Magazine, talked about choosing to pursue articles that educate and move a larger conversation forward…

Sarah Soule is an academic researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has written extensively on corporate responsibility and social movements.

“Why are some social movements successful when others are not? That’s one of the big research questions we study,” she said.

Key factors include how the issues are framed, the overall political environment, available resources and the role of media.

High Plains researchers to help protect Rocky Mountain National Park — Agrilife Today

From Texas A&M University (Kay Ledbetter):

A Texas A&M AgriLife-led team will work with the Colorado Livestock Association and a large team of Colorado stakeholders to refine and evaluate management practices to reduce agricultural ammonia emissions into Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Dream Lake with Hallett Peak in the background, one of the Rocky Mountain National Park’s most distinctive summits. Photo credit: Texas A&M University

Agricultural operations along the northern Front Range of Colorado, including livestock operations, are believed to be a significant source of gaseous ammonia and other reactive nitrogen species in the atmosphere. Some of these may travel with air masses into Rocky Mountain National Park under so-called “upslope” conditions.

The Colorado Livestock Association, CLA, has been at the forefront of the nitrogen deposition issue for the last 15 years. Over that period of time, the association has acknowledged that animal agriculture is a source of ammonia and does contribute to ammonia deposition.

Last year, CLA conducted a survey of feedlot and dairy operations in Weld and Larimer counties to determine their use of best management practices recognized as effective in reducing ammonia emissions and the related barriers to adoption of those practices. Going forward, CLA is committed to communicating to the ag community and the public about the progress and results of the research.

Texas project outlined for Rocky Mountain work

Reducing ammonia emissions from livestock operations during upslope events will be the goal of the project led by Brent Auvermann, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Research biological and agricultural engineer and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center director, Amarillo.

This Trail Ridge Road view of the Colorado Front Range shows how the upslope conditions are created. Photo credit: Texas A&M University

“Upslope conditions bring rain and snow to the eastern side of the Continental Divide,” Auvermann said. Some of the reactive nitrogen in the atmosphere ends up dissolved in that precipitation and lands inside the national park, a process known as “wet deposition.”

Auvermann’s research team has operated a wet-deposition monitoring site on the rim of North Cita Canyon in Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo since 2008.

“Our site is nearly identical to the monitoring sites in the (Rocky Mountain National) Park, where ecologists first discovered nitrogen enrichment changing the park’s vegetation and water chemistry,” he said.

Although not all of the atmospheric ammonia along the Front Range comes from agriculture, agriculture has an important role to play, he said.

“It doesn’t all come from Front Range sources either,” Auvermann said, noting that some of the nitrogen drifting into the national park comes from hundreds of miles away. “Still, we can make some good headway with the emitters nearby.”

Joining Auvermann on the research team are Ken Casey, Ph.D., AgriLife Research air quality engineer, Amarillo; and David Parker, Ph.D., research agricultural engineer and leader of the Livestock Nutrient Management Research Unit, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Bushland.

The research team has a lot of experience with ammonia from cattle feed yards and dairies, having developed the emissions-reporting mechanism that was adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2009 to 2019.

“EPA’s reporting instrument was based on research conducted right here in the Texas Panhandle,” Auvermann said. “Dr. Casey and Dr. Parker are widely known for their expertise in reactive nitrogen emissions.”

The new research project is funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS.

Colorado’s “glidepath” approach

Stakeholders, consultants, and state and federal agencies have been working on a strategy to reduce nitrogen enrichment in Rocky Mountain National Park for nearly 20 years, Auvermann said.

Rocky Mountain National Park entrance. Photo credit: Texas A&M University

Their ultimate goal is to return the national park’s nitrogen budget to where it was many years ago using a strategy called the “glidepath.” The glidepath’s goal is to reduce the rate of nitrogen wet deposition in the park to 1.5 kilograms per hectare, or 1.34 pounds per acre, per year by 2032, with milestones along the way.

“That’s a little less than half of what’s landing in the park right now,” Auvermann said.

The Colorado team designed an early warning system, EWS, to notify crop and livestock producers of weather events that are expected to move the atmospheric nitrogen from Colorado’s eastern plains toward the Continental Divide.

“With a little advance notice, we think producers can make short-term changes that will reduce nitrogen loads in the park,” said Auvermann. “Now we need to figure out how to optimize those changes and make them work cost-effectively.”

Auvermann said while the effectiveness of those practices is proven scientifically, their project will deal with timing, amount, frequency, mode and operational variations of those practices. These details have not been worked out within the specific context of the EWS and components such as the forecast timing, duration and intensity of the upslope conditions.

Details determine management practices success

“We plan to help develop a decision tool for the voluntary implementation of two key practices by livestock producers in northeastern Colorado, both of which are intended to reduce ammonia emissions,” Auvermann said.

The two tools are:

  • Applying water to open-lot pen surfaces via sprinklers or water trucks. Variations include timing, depth and frequency of application, plus injection of acidifying or enzyme-inhibiting agents.
  • Diluting irrigated wastewater with fresh water having a low concentration of dissolved nitrogen. Variations include the method of dilution – in-pipeline mixing, alternating effluent and freshwater applications – and injecting acidifying or other ammonia-suppressing agents.
  • Once the research is complete, the team will work with producers to optimize site-specific operational variables, and gain consensus for including those practices in cost-sharing programs, such as NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP.

    Some practices may be part of routine agricultural management and can be delayed or rescheduled due to the upslope conditions with little additional cost or management effort. Others, however, may be more labor-intensive or costly, in which case producers may incur significant costs in increased expenses and/or foregone revenue.

    The team believes eligibility to receive EQIP cost-sharing funds to help defray the cost of implementation will increase the potential for voluntary adoption of those practices.

    “Rocky Mountain National Park is the crown jewel of the national park system as far as I am concerned,” Auvermann said. “It’s a real privilege to be invited to help protect her.”

    #ColoradoRiver managers turn eyes to new #LakePowell-#LakeMead deal — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A 2007 deal creating guidelines governing how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are operated in coordination isn’t scheduled to expire until 2026. But water officials in Colorado River Basin states are already beginning to talk about the renegotiations that will be undertaken to decide what succeeds the 2007 criteria.

    “I think the guidelines have been a big success,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said Wednesday during the 10th annual Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum. The forum is put on by Colorado Mesa University’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center and this year is taking place online due to the pandemic.

    The 2007 criteria dictate how much water must be released each year from Powell into Mead, in an effort to equalize water levels in the two reservoirs. The criteria are important to Colorado and other states in the Upper Colorado River Basin because those states rely on Powell water storage for meeting long-term delivery obligations to downstream states based on a 1922 interstate compact.

    Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which represents Upper Basin states, said she thinks the 2007 guidelines have reduced the “safe yield” of water for the Upper Basin. Even with low inflows into Powell, the guidelines resulted in releases of 9 million acre-feet a year of water from Powell every year from 2015-19, compared to the 8.3 million acre-feet negotiated average minimum objective, she said.

    Entsminger called that a simplistic analysis that cherry-picks data. He says his entity’s modeling indicates that under the 2007 criteria there is more water in Powell and less in Mead than otherwise would have been the case.

    Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said that with the guidelines in places, Powell water levels largely have remained around 50% of capacity “through some horrendously dry years” and only three or four years of above-average inflows.

    The criteria encourage water conservation and provide rules for determining water shortages and reducing water use by Arizona and Nevada.

    Entsminger said the 2007 agreement increased cooperation and communication among states in the river basin, provided certainty by operating the two reservoirs together, and headed off litigation only two years after states were close to going to the Supreme Court over river water issues…

    Those states are evaluating the possibility of demand management measures to temporarily curtail agricultural, municipal and other use during droughts. The goal is to bolster Powell levels with water that could be reserved for compact delivery obligations. But Haas said it’s important to assess the risk of curtailment of Upper Basin uses occurring as well. Such a curtailment has never happened.

    Millions in new taxes approved for #WestSlope, #FrontRange #water districts — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Water won big in Colorado on Election Day as voters in two multi-county districts approved property tax increases to fund water projects and programs.

    Voters in two local water districts — the Colorado River Water Conservation District on the West Slope and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District on the Front Range — said yes to ballot measures that will generate millions of dollars in new money for conservation, water education, stream health, storage and agriculture.

    Based on vote totals as of 4:30 a.m. this morning, 72 percent of voters in the Colorado River District approved ballot issue 7A, with nearly 28 percent voting against the measure.

    Meanwhile, 69 percent of voters in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District approved a separate ballot issue 7A, with 31 percent voting against.

    Though statewide funding for water projects has historically been a tough sell for Colorado voters, local initiatives with a more direct connection to residents are finding more success at the polls in recent years. These 2020 water funding ballot measures come on the heels of similar successes in 2018, when voters in Denver, Eagle, Chaffee and Park counties approved tax increases, new taxes, and tax extensions for water and land-focused initiatives.

    “Passing any type of fiscal measures statewide in Colorado is going to continue to be an extreme challenge but it’s a much different story on the local level and the regional level,” said Matt Rice, director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers, which supported the Colorado River District measure. “People in Colorado like to make their own decisions locally about fiscal issues, but also about how we manage and protect and restore our rivers for the environment, for agriculture and for local economies.”

    In deciding to ask voters for more money this year, the two districts’ leaders cited factors like growing demand for water, drought, higher temperatures, population growth, declining oil and gas revenue, and declining property tax levels under the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

    Those reasons resonated with voters on both sides of the political spectrum across the state. On the West Slope, for example, voters in right-leaning counties like Mesa and Montrose and left-leaning counties like Pitkin and Summit approved the ballot measure. (Of note: Nearly 80 percent of voters in Pitkin County approved the ballot measure, despite opposition by three county commissioners and the county’s representative on the district’s board.)

    “It’s really a testament to what can happen if people put aside partisan differences on water issues,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Voters in Colorado are seeing the effects of rising temperatures, changing climate and the impact it’s having on water resources, and they know that we need to adapt and mitigate and that it’s going to cost money to do that.”

    An angler casts a line on the Roaring Fork River upstream of Basalt in Pitkin County. West Slope voters said yes to millions in new taxes for the Colorado River District. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    West Slope says yes

    In the large Colorado River District, which includes 15 counties and some 500,000 residents, voters approved a mill levy increase that will double the district’s budget by generating an additional $4.9 million every year starting in 2021.

    The district spans an area that covers 28 percent of the state and encompasses the Colorado River and its major tributaries, which include the Yampa, the White, the Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers.

    With the passage of the ballot measure, West Slope voters approved a median residential property tax increase of $7.03 per year for residents of Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties. The increase represents an additional $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of home value.

    The district, which has 22 employees, will use the new funding for projects related to agriculture, infrastructure, water quality, conservation, efficiency, and other key priority areas determined by local communities and river basin roundtables.

    District leaders say they will also stretch the extra money further by using it to solicit matching funds from state, federal and private sources.

    Water funding on the Front Range

    It was also a historic night for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, where voters approved a property tax increase for the next 10 years. This is the first time in nearly 50 years — since its founding in 1971 — that the district has asked voters for more funding.

    The district’s board thought long and hard about how best to approach voters — and whether this was the right year to do it. But in the end, their approach paid off.

    “The discussions were good and essentially resulted in consensus and agreement with the board,” said Chris Smith, board vice president representing district 3, which encompasses northwest Longmont and parts of unincorporated Boulder County. “It was all done in a very thoughtful manner, which speaks a lot to having a board that represents, geographically, the entire watershed.”

    Smith said he was happy to see the West Slope ballot measure pass, too.

    “The people of Colorado have really keyed in on the importance of water,” he said. “There are so many new people moving to Colorado, it’s good to see that they’re carrying on that mantle of protecting our most important resource.”

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand district encompasses some 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties. Voters agreed to a mill levy increase from 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills through 2030.

    The tax increase will generate an additional $3.3 million per year for the district starting in 2021, up from the $421,000 generated annually by the current mill levy. On a $350,000 home, the tax increase represents an additional $2.61 per month; on a $500,000 commercial building, it’s an extra $15.10 per month.

    District leaders say they will use the extra money for projects related to water quality, river and creek health, water education, agriculture, storage and conservation, among others.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    High marks and worries on home #water #conservation: Is #Colorado’s effort stalling? — @WaterEdCO

    Castle Rock Water Conservation Specialist Rick Schultz, third from the right, inspects and tests a new landscape watering system in Castle Rock. In a Fresh Water News analysis of water conservation data, Castle Rock leads the state, having reduced its use 12 percent since 2013. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The summer days of 2019 in Castle Rock were hot and endless. School teacher Kirsten Schuman, pregnant with her second child, wearily watered her suburban yard only to see it go brown almost immediately, week after week.

    But then a friend told her about a new city contest to win an $11,000 yard makeover, one that would remove the beleaguered bluegrass and install an array of low-water use plants, trees and grasses.

    Prospects for her lawn suddenly took an exciting turn. In a matter of minutes, the Schuman family mobilized.

    She and her husband, a high school football coach, painted slogans on their cars. They posted on neighborhood message boards, and on Facebook and Twitter. They made a video of their oldest child in an empty plastic pool.

    “It was intense,” she said. “My husband and I are both very competitive.”

    That fighting spirit paid off. They won and now have a low-water use landscape that blooms freely and costs less.

    Kirsten Schuman, her husband, Max Schuman, and daughters Mayla, 11, and Eleanor, 1, stand in their newly installed landscape in the front yard of their home on July 30, 2020 in Castle Rock. The family won the ColoradoScape Makeover contest, which resulted in the new water-conscious landscape. Credit: Jeremy Papasso, special to Fresh Water News

    And that’s what it’s like to live in Castle Rock, a fast-growing community where water is scarce and the pressure to conserve runs high.

    Conservation as buffer

    Colorado water officials hope more communities follow in Castle Rock’s footsteps. The state wants to dramatically reduce water use in the next 30 years as a buffer against intense drought and looming water shortages caused by population growth.

    But a new analysis of residential water use by Fresh Water News shows statewide savings in recent years may have stalled out, with some cities seeing conservation efforts pay off big, while for others use remains flat or is rising.

    The analysis used data collected by the state from 2013 through 2018, the latest year for which complete data sets were available, and examined only metered, residential indoor and outdoor use. Under state law, data must be reported by water utilities and districts delivering more than 2,000 acre-feet of water annually, and who wish to borrow money from the state. Depending on the year, 40 to 45 communities report data. To see how much water your home town uses, click here.

    Nine of those, including Denver, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Durango, and Grand Junction, among others, have succeeded in cutting residential water use since 2013. Castle Rock leads the state with a 12 percent reduction over the six-year period, while Denver saw its water use drop 8 percent. Grand Junction reduced its use 4 percent and Colorado Springs has ratcheted its use down 3 percent.

    The struggle to conserve

    At the same time, however, several communities, including ski towns and the fast-growing south Denver metro community of Parker, continue to struggle. Vail, for instance, saw its water use rise 17 percent between 2013 and 2018, while use at the Parker Water and Sanitation District rose 20 percent.

    Statewide, when combining results for all 15 cities examined, per capita water use during that period showed virtually no reduction. Daily per capita use in 2013 registered at 73.66 gallons per person per day. By 2018 it was down to 73.13, a reduction of less than 1 percent.

    At 73 gallons per capita per day (gpcpd), Colorado is likely the envy of other states, where that metric is often well over 100 gallons per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has tracked national water use data and reported on trends since 1950.

    Tamara Ivahnenko, a water conservation researcher with the USGS in Pueblo, said Colorado has historically been a leader in reducing water use.

    And she gives the state high marks for establishing the conservation database, something only a handful of states, such as Texas and California, have done.

    “Especially in the West there are water-stressed cities. We really have to be careful,” she said.

    Colorado’s data collection effort comes under a major conservation bill approved by state lawmakers in 2010. They sought to shed more light on water conservation practices and to encourage communities to reduce water as one tool in staving off shortages.

    Bruce Whitehead, a former state senator from Durango, was a sponsor of that legislation. He said getting down to real numbers was and remains critical to successful conservation.

    “Without having the law in place, the way things were being reported prior to that was inconsistent,” he said. “If you can start zeroing in on what these numbers are, it gives you a starting point.”

    Xeriscaped gardens are a conspicuous feature throughout Las Colonias Park in Grand Junction, Colo., Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. According to state data, residential water usage in Grand Junction declined 4 percent between 2103 and 2018. Credit: Barton Glasser, special to Fresh Water News

    Kevin Reidy, water conservation specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, oversees the state’s conservation programs and the database.

    The more recent data could indicate that things have stalled, he said. But he said it’s also difficult to gauge how much conservation is occurring in such a short period of time because of the high variability caused by wet and dry years. The state started collecting the data in 2013.

    A technical update to the Colorado Water Plan released last year examined an earlier time period, from 2008 to 2015, and used data based on river basin geography rather than town-by-town. That analysis showed statewide water use had dropped roughly 5 percent, Reidy said.

    Uphill battles

    Communities in Douglas County and other fast-growing areas are often served by water districts that have little if any control over how cities regulate development. That means that things such as lawn size and requirements for water-saving appliances are typically out of the water district’s control. Such is the case at the Parker Water and Sanitation District.

    Billy Owens, who tracks the data for the district, said her district has worked hard to bring down water use, in part because it is fast-growing and it relies heavily on non-renewable groundwater. In addition to the town of Parker, the district serves parts of Lone Tree, Castle Pines and unincorporated Douglas County.

    That 2018 was a hard-hitting drought year likely bumped up their use numbers, Owens said, as residents used more water on lawns and gardens. That same year the district also began serving several large new developments, where initial watering needs were high.

    Reducing water use has also been a challenge for ski towns. Many have introduced elaborate conservation strategies, but the influx of visitors every winter and summer, and the prevalence of second homeowners who have lush landscapes to water and who may be less sensitive to high-priced water bills make it difficult to achieve savings, ski town officials said

    All four ski towns in the analysis, Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat, have relative low per capita daily use, in part because their transient tourist populations are included in the equation even though tourists aren’t contributing year-round to those communities’ water use statistic.

    But even at the lower per capita numbers, the analysis shows their water use has increased at varying levels since 2013.

    For example, in 2013, the Vail region was using 77 gallons per person per day, according to the Fresh Water News analysis, a number that rose to 90 by 2018.

    Jason Cowles, manager of engineering for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which serves the region, said the rise likely reflects the area’s ongoing struggle to manage second-home water use, climate change, and the dramatic influx in visitors every year.

    In the region, more than 50 percent of homes are occupied by part-time residents, whose landscapes are watered even when owners aren’t in residence.

    Because hot weather is arriving earlier and staying longer due to climate change, residents are turning on sprinkler systems in May and leaving them on into the fall, Cowles said.

    The winning formula

    Castle Rock has achieved significant savings with an innovative collection of initiatives, including aggressive water pricing, leading-edge construction technologies, and popular community outreach programs. The ColoradoScape Makeover, introduced in 2019, has helped lure hundreds of homeowners like the Schumans into the water-saving fold.

    “When we bought our house, we realized we were dumping a lot of water into the front and back yards. But it didn’t look like we were doing anything and it was expensive,” Schuman said. “So the contest and makeover were amazing.”

    Even more effective, according to Mark Marlowe, Castle Rock’s director of water, are the strict guidelines developers must follow if they want to build new homes. Lot sizes are sharply limited; bluegrass is no longer allowed; homeowners have custom water budgets; and development parcels that haven’t been grandfathered in must show how new technologies will reduce water use beyond existing baselines.

    “We let developers tell us how they’re going to do better. We want them to be a little creative,” Marlowe said.

    Castle Rock also offers generous rebates to homeowners who buy water-saving toilets and other appliances. But if they want a rebate, they have to go to special water conservation classes. And those routinely sell out, according to water conservation specialist Linda Gould. In recent years more than 3,300 people have gone through the city’s classes.

    The city also takes a dim view of landscapes that don’t perform as promised. If a developer or homeowners’ association uses a registered landscaper and the system doesn’t perform properly, the landscaper can lose their license to work in the city.

    Marlowe says the tight coordination between the planning department, the water resources division, and the city council are paying off.

    “The council has been very supportive of everything we’ve been trying to accomplish, and our ratepayers are motivated,” he said.

    Lawn sizes in Castle Rock are sharply limited to save water, with some homeowners opting to use artificial turf for convenience and to help keep water bills low. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    Will Colorado reach its goal?

    The Colorado Water Plan, an initiative coordinated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) aimed at making sure Colorado has enough water for its cities, farms and environmental needs, has set a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050.

    That’s part of a wider plan that also envisions developing new water supplies, as well as reusing and recycling more water to make supplies last longer.

    Heather Cooley is director of research at the San Francisco-based Pacific Institute. She said communities across the West are making healthy strides in conserving water, and new technologies, as well as leak detection initiatives, should allow states such as Colorado to do much more.

    “We think there is still significant opportunity to reduce use even further,” Cooley said.

    Castle Rock hopes to cut its overall water use number to 100 gallons per capita per day by 2050, down from its current level of 115 gpcpd. This number includes commercial and industrial uses, not just residential uses, which Fresh Water News examined.

    To help cities hit their goals, the CWCB has also launched an ambitious program to help utilities plug leaks in their systems, a problem that is common and wastes millions of gallons of water a year. At some utilities, that loss can be as high as 10 percent of delivered water.

    Jeff Tejral, manager of water efficiency at Denver Water, said the state as a whole is making good progress on the water conservation front.

    “I think that there are things to be done that we haven’t actually worked on yet, like how to engage fully with our customers. But some things are working. I take these numbers as a win,” Tejral said.

    Technical finesse

    Cooley said technology is advancing rapidly as well, offering hope for even more savings. New devices continue to set low-use records. Clothes washers coming out this year are using even less water than those sold just five years ago. Homeowners can attach rain monitors to their houses that automatically shut down sprinklers when it rains. Almost anyone can now install an app on a cell phone that alerts them when their water use rises beyond a set level.

    The CWCB’s Reidy said Coloradans are becoming more water savvy all the time.

    “We’re definitely more engaged than we were a decade ago and way more engaged than we were 20 years ago,” Reidy said. “And we have 30 years to hit the goal. I think we’re on a good path.”

    Former lawmaker Bruce Whitehead said he remains concerned, particularly about the ongoing disconnect between land used for new growth and water conservation plans.

    He also thinks the pressure to conserve will continue to rise. And because Colorado sits at the top of the drought-stressed Colorado River system, the state needs to be able to demonstrate to its neighbors to the south that it can use each drop well.

    “We need to know what’s actually taking place,” Whitehead said. “If we’re looking at taking additional water from the Colorado River [as some Colorado cities are], we should be doing everything we can statewide to put conservation practices in place.”

    Data journalist Burt Hubbard contributed to this report.

    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.

    Water symposium brings big speakers, national context — @ColoradoStateU

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):

    In its third year as an offering of the future Denver-based CSU Spur campus, opening in 2022, the Water in the West Symposium on Nov. 18-19 will bring together diverse experts to discuss water issues in the West and beyond — a topic of increasing importance as fires and droughts top headlines.

    The Symposium has always highlighted water solutions and collaboration; yet, the 2020 Symposium will take that a step further and focus on igniting action.

    “To fashion the creative solutions needed to assure the future water demands in Colorado and the West, a powerful story needs to be told that motivates us all to action,” said Tom Vilsack, advisor on the CSU Spur project and former U.S. secretary of agriculture.

    “The Water in the West Symposium this year focuses on how to weave that powerful story that reaches hearts and minds,” Sec. Vilsack continued. “Learning from both messaging successes and failures during this year’s Symposium will better equip all those who attend to create a powerful and persuasive story about why now is the time for action on water in the West.”

    The keynote address from Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners — who previously led National Public Radio and Sesame Workshop — will focus on the power of storytelling. How messages are shared will continue with a panel titled “Moving Minds: How Social Movements, Campaigns, and Storytelling Shape Public Sentiment,” featuring speakers from TIME, Stonyfield Organic, and Stanford University. A full list of speakers is available at csuspur.org/witw.

    The event typically sells out, but the Symposium’s virtual format this year provides an opportunity for a greater number of attendees and for all geographically dispersed audiences to attend.

    The Symposium will eventually be held at the CSU Spur campus’s Hydro building, which breaks ground Oct. 27 and will be complete in 2022. Hydro will be open to the public with educational exhibits, have a backyard space with access to a restored South Platte River, and also will be home to research labs and Denver Water’s water quality lab. Hydro is a building meant to create understanding of and connection to water, and the Symposium is meant to be a distinct convening of that conversation — neither focus is new to CSU.

    “CSU has been a global leader in water issues and education for more than a century, and our Water in the West Symposium leverages that expertise to get us talking about the most pressing water challenges facing Colorado and the planet,” CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank said.

    “The beauty of Water in the West is that it brings together policymakers, practitioners, nonprofit and government leaders, academics, scientists, and students to really engage in depth around issues that are core to our way of life. It’s part of our CSU System commitment to convene conversations around important global issues — and inspire the next generation to get involved and take action.”

    The 2020 Symposium is sponsored by Colorado Dairy Farmers, CoBank, Leprino Foods, Swire Coca-Cola, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Mighty Arrow Family Foundation, Denver Water, and High Line Canal Conservancy. Learn more about this year’s sponsors at http://csuspur.org/witw.

    WEBINAR: Municipal Water Infrastructure for Tomorrow October 22, 2020 — @WaterEdCO

    Click here to register.

    NASA Researchers Help Analyze a Historically Powerful, Costly Storm

    A team of NASA researchers used this satellite and radar imagery to help officials in Iowa better understand the effects of a derecho that ripped through the state in August.
    Credits: NASA, University of Oklahoma, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, National Weather Service, and the Iowa Environmental Mesonet

    From NASA (Joe Atkinson):

    The powerful, fast-moving, line of thunderstorms known as a derecho, blasted across Iowa Aug. 10 with extreme winds. The derecho did catastrophic damage to corn and soybean crops, caused widespread utility and property damage, and resulted in fatalities. NOAA estimates damage totals to be $7.5 billion, making it one of the most costly severe thunderstorm events in U.S. history.

    To help officials in Iowa better understand the scale and scope of the disaster, a team of NASA researchers, led by Kris Bedka, a severe storm expert at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and colleagues at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and the University of Oklahoma, analyzed the storm using data and imagery from multiple Earth-observing satellites and weather radars on the ground.

    “We’re trying to understand and demonstrate how state-of-the-art satellite and radar data can be used to identify the most intense areas of the storm and the damage they produced,” said Bedka.

    His team’s analysis is helping to reveal a layered picture of a storm that was historically intense — even for a derecho.

    “There’s evidence based on damage patterns in pockets throughout the state of Iowa that they saw winds exceeding 140 mph, which is extremely uncommon in these derecho systems,” said Bedka. “I mean, 100 mph is usually kind of your upper end. When you get to 140, that’s just a whole new level.”

    These winds weren’t sustained like they’d be in a hurricane, but even just a minutes-long burst of 140 mph wind is enough to do significant and lasting damage to vegetation and structures.

    The imagery Bedka and his colleagues analyzed — visible in the compiled image series above, with the swath of the state that took the most damage outlined in white — showed remarkable agreement between what was happening in the clouds and the damage patterns the ground.

    The first two images in the series are color composite synthetic aperture radar visualizations of ground vegetation taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite — the first before the storm, the second after. In the second image, the lighter green and some brown areas show large areas damaged by wind and, in some cases, hail, which can strip vegetation of its leaves.

    The third image in the series superimposes ground wind reports, radar-detected swaths of possible hail and National Weather Service (NWS) wind estimates with the damage patterns visualized in the second image.

    In the fourth image, which comes from several NWS NEXRAD Doppler weather radars, the maroon and pink represent areas of high reflectivity, a telltale signature of hail. Also, the pattern of the radar echoes changed as the derecho moved across Iowa, becoming more arc-shaped. The arc, often referred to by meteorologists as a “bow echo,” indicates where the strongest winds were occurring, which is aligned well with NWS estimates and damage evident in the Sentinel-1 data.

    “Because of how the instrument aboard Sentinel-1 collects data, we were able to compare data acquired both pre- and post-derecho to understand how the structure of vegetation, especially mature agricultural crops, were impacted and changed,” said Jordan Bell, research scientist in the Earth Science Branch at Marshall. “Synthetic aperture radar is being used for more and more applications, so it was exciting to provide impactful analysis for this event.”

    The cool blues in the next-to-last image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite East-16 (GOES-16) represent areas where tall, cold clouds that penetrated deep into the stratosphere were likely driving powerful wind downbursts. These are also areas where updrafts suspend water droplets long enough to form hail.

    The warm yellows and reds in the final image, also from GOES-16, are areas of high lightning flash density, another indicator of storm intensity.

    This layered analysis has been a valuable resource to Justin Glisan, state climatologist in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, as he continues to unravel what happened.

    “The remote sensing products produced by the NASA team have given us a tremendous set of tools to study the agricultural damage produced by the Aug. 10 derecho event that impacted 57 of Iowa’s 99 counties, one of the most significant weather events Iowa agriculture has experienced,” said Glisan. “As state climatologist of Iowa, having these additional and remarkable products in the toolbox will provide excellent guidance as we continue analyzing this catastrophic event.”

    The analysis has even been useful to officials in neighboring Illinois, which also experienced severe weather from the derecho as it plowed east into the northern part of the state.

    “In the several days after the event I was reaching out to folks around northern Illinois to try to determine the extent and severity of damage. Unfortunately, that kind of search usually turns up photos and reports of the most severe damage, but no context as to the extent of that damage,” said Trent Ford, climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois. “The satellite data and analysis shared with me by Kris and his team were very valuable to both better understand the extent of derecho damage and confirm reports of severe damage in both northwest and northeast Illinois.”

    This project was funded by NASA’s Earth Science Disasters Program.

    Bark beetle outbreaks benefit wild bee populations, habitat — @ColoradoStateU

    A high-elevation spruce beetle-affected forest. Photo credit: Seth Davis via Colorado State University

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Karina Puikkonen):

    When southern Rocky Mountain forests are viewed from a distance these days, it may not look like much is left. Large swaths of dead, standing Engelmann spruce trees tell the tale of a severe regional spruce beetle epidemic in its waning stages. But among those dead trees, researchers have found good news. Zoom-in to the ground cover of these forests and there is life, even more abundant because of this disturbance.

    New research led by Colorado State University and published online in Scientific Reports suggests that spruce beetle outbreaks may help create habitat for pollinator communities in wilderness settings. The research team found significant increases in floral abundance and wild bee diversity in outbreak-affected forests, compared to similar, undisturbed forest. Lead author Seth Davis said it may seem counterintuitive that landscape-level damage by one type of insect could still benefit another.

    “Disturbances from bark beetles are typically regarded as undesirable for ecosystem function and human use,” said Davis, an assistant professor in the Forest and Rangeland Stewardship department. “But there is conservation value in post-outbreak forests; they appear to be the areas supporting more robust bee populations.”

    This is good news for wild bee communities, which have been declining in recent years. The different bee species identified in this high-elevation study are made for harsh, cold environments. The fact that a natural disturbance can boost their presence is a boon to these rare, endemic creatures not found in warmer habitats. It’s also a benefit for these forests, because wild bees perform essential pollination services in ecosystems with very short growing seasons.

    A blue vein trap at one of the study sites. Photo credit: Seth Davis via Colorado State University

    A serendipitous observation

    Davis regularly works in high-elevation forests. A few years ago, during another research project with department colleagues, he noticed a correlation between the number and diversity of bees observed, and the structure of the forest. He has since opened up this new thread of bee diversity research by combining it with his training in bark beetles.

    “Disturbance studies on bees have primarily focused on fire,” said Davis. “There hasn’t been a lot of research looking at bee responses to beetle outbreaks.”

    For this new study, his team developed a natural experiment, collecting parallel data in 28 beetle-affected and undisturbed alpine sites in north-central Colorado. They collected bees for two years at three different times across each growing season, and also recorded standard tree measurements and understory, or ground cover, plant data at the collection sites.

    The team found that average floral abundance in spruce beetle-affected stands was 67 percent higher than in non-affected stands. The average number of bee species was also 37 percent greater in beetle-affected stands, with more species present in June than later in the growing season. Davis said the relationship between these insects and their surrounding vegetation may be more complex.

    “It appears there are different controls over bee abundance and diversity,” Davis said. “Bee abundance was correlated to the floral species, while the diversity is more related to the forest structure, both of which are affected by bark beetles.”

    In other words, bark beetles directly changed the forest structure which indirectly improved wild bee populations by providing a more robust food source for the buzzing insects on the ground.

    Spruce beetle-affected forests offer a few advantages for understory plants and wild bees. Tree mortality typically opens up the forest canopy, allowing more light to reach plants and flowers on the forest floor. Dead trees also remain standing for up to 25 years after this disturbance. This offers more cavities for wild bees that nest in trees and dead wood.

    Davis said he is interested in exploring this topic further to better understand these relationships over a longer time period and at a larger scale. As forests recover from outbreaks, he would like to see how long this benefit lasts. There is also the size disparity between small bee populations in one locale and the regional magnitude of these disturbances. It will be important to understand how well one small spot predicts these results at the landscape level.

    While bees were captured for the purposes of this study, previous research has shown that the bee capture methods employed do not affect the overall bee community.

    #Colorado reservoirs down 25 percent as #drought persists — @WaterEdCO

    Standley Lake in Westminster. May 14, 2019. As Colorado emerged from drought in 2018, its reservoirs were struggling to refill. The ongoing drought, which shows no signs of easing this fall, has left Colorado’s reservoirs at just 84 percent of average capacity statewide, down from 112 percent of average last year at this time. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Colorado’s reservoirs are 25 percent lower than they were last year at this time, as a hot, dry summer continues into the fall.

    Statewide reservoir levels are at 84 percent of average, according to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Sept. 30 report, well below last year’s mark, when they stood at 112 percent of average.

    The 2020 water year, which began Oct. 1, 2019, and ended Sept. 31, is now Colorado’s third driest on record, trailing behind only 2018 and 2002 for lack of precipitation, according to Peter Goble, service climatologist and drought specialist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center.

    “The water year was certainly drier than average. We finished it out with some pretty startling hot, dry conditions,” Goble said.

    Colorado averaged 13.09 inches of precipitation in water year 2020, which was 72 percent of the 18.01-inch historical average, Goble said.

    It was also the 12th warmest year on record, with much of that warmth concentrated in the summer and early fall during a poor monsoon season, Goble said.

    August, in particular, was extremely hot — it was the hottest August on record in Colorado since 1895, when record-keeping began.

    Denver Water’s storage system has held up reasonably well this year, thanks to standard watering restrictions and a strong snowpack in 2019.

    Denver’s reservoirs are 82 percent full, not far below the 87 percent average for this time of year, according to Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s water supply manager.

    Since 2002, Denver Water has implemented drought rules that prohibit outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and encourage residents to water no more than three days a week from May 1 to Oct. 1. The water utility also has tiered rates to encourage conservation.

    “We’ve had one of the hottest, driest summers and, despite that, our customers have still been really careful with their water use. We didn’t see extreme demand this year, despite the extreme weather,” said Elder, who added that a strong 2019 water year carried over into 2020 storage.

    In the southwestern part of the state, however, reservoir storage levels are much lower. In the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins, reservoir storage levels finished September at 59 percent of average; in the nearby Upper Rio Grande Basin, levels were 67 percent of average.

    Much of the state continues to experience severe, extreme and exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

    The lack of precipitation, hot temperatures and high levels of evaporation have left Colorado’s soils very dry, which has made winter wheat farming and ranching a challenge, Goble said.

    “A number of ranchers across the state have had to sell cattle, and winter wheat for the coming season has had to be drilled in in many locations because the soil moisture is too lacking to plant conventionally,” Goble said.

    It has also been a bad year for wildfires, with two of the largest fires on state record — the Pine Gulch and Cameron Peak fires — occurring this year.

    The record-breaking snowstorm much of Colorado saw on Sept. 8-9 was helpful, but didn’t ultimately make a big difference for drought conditions, even in places like the San Luis Valley, which logged up to 14 inches in some places.

    “It was one of the biggest snowstorms on record in the Alamosa area, regardless of time of year, so it did improve drought conditions in the San Luis Valley, but in an ecosystem that’s so streamflow fed and reliant on seasonal snowpack, it didn’t provide the level of relief that a good seasonal snowpack would,” Goble said.

    Looking ahead, climate scientists are forecasting weak La Nina conditions and warmer-than-average temperatures continuing into the fall and winter.

    A weak La Niña likely means more snow for Colorado’s northern mountains and less snow for the southern mountains, Eastern Plains and Front Range, although the exact conditions are hard to predict, Goble said.

    “Even a strong La Niña doesn’t guarantee us a good winter in the Northern Rockies,” he said. “We could still see anything from quite dry to quite wet. It tilts the scale a little bit on the wet side for places like up near Steamboat and even Summit County, but it’s not as strong a predictor in Colorado as it is in some other places, like the Pacific Northwest.”

    Spring 2021 is likely to be a repeat of last year, with parched soils soaking up more runoff, according to Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the National Resources Conservation Service.

    “It’s very, very dry and we do expect that to carry into the spring and how that affects our streamflow runoff next spring,” he said. “A lot of that snowmelt will be absorbed into the soil structure and may not make it to the streams. If we have a near-normal snowpack again, we would expect less-than-normal runoff with the severe drought that we’re going into winter with.”

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    @ColoradoDNR Announces New Initiative to Reduce Deaths and Accidents Around #Colorado Low Head Dams

    Photo credit: Colorado Department of Natural Resources

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

    The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today a new initiative to increase public safety around low head dams which have caused a number of accidents and fatalities on Colorado rivers in recent years. The effort includes new and planned signage around targeted low head dam sites, emergency responder education, public outreach and partnerships with private and non-profit organizations, local municipalities, and landowners and the launch of a new interactive map and webpage on DNR’s website: https://dnr.colorado.gov/colorado-low-head-dams

    “DNR’s low head dam initiative is a positive step to increase public safety and awareness around low head dams across Colorado,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Colorado has seen an increase in outdoor recreation in recent years, particularly on our rivers and streams, but this has also led to tragic fatalities on some of our low head dam structures. These fatal accidents are avoidable and are a strong motivation for our Department to increase our public outreach and education initiatives. While some of our efforts are already underway, we know we need to do more to educate Coloradans to reduce these unfortunate accidents and ensure all Coloradans can safely recreate in our great outdoors.”

    Low head dams are engineered structures built into and across Colorado’s stream and river channels for a variety of purposes, including to divert water from streams for agricultural purposes, protect stream channels from degradation and provide recreational amenities.

    Low head dams, sometimes referred to as the quintessential “drowning machines,” can be dangerous because water flowing over dams produces recirculating currents that can trap recreators. Rafters, kayakers and those floating our rivers for recreation are often unaware of these structures and the dangers resulting from them.

    Low head dams can be difficult to detect by river users approaching from upstream due to their height, and the fact that the relatively tranquil pool they create provides no indication of the dangers just beyond the visual horizon created by the dam and ponded water. This can limit reaction time and boaters’ ability to exit the river upstream of the dam.

    General currents upstream and downstream from a low-head dam. Graphic via Bruce a. Tschantz

    “I appreciate the work being done by the Department of Natural Resources to address public safety at low head dams. Colorado rivers and streams are an enormous amenity for both water enthusiasts and fishermen,” said Ruth Wright, former Colorado legislator, public safety advocate and founder of Wright Family Foundation. “The low head dam initiative will provide valuable information to the public to help to prevent tragic and needless harm from the dangerous hydraulics of low head dams.”

    Several high profile incidents in Colorado in recent years, including 4 fatalities, and 13 since 1986 point to the need for increased education and outreach efforts as well as closer coordination with local emergency responders. The average ages of those involved with low head dam-related incidents are between 13 and 30 years of age. DNR and a private ditch company recently installed warning signs at a low head diversion dam on the South Platte River adjacent to the Jean K. Tool State Wildlife Area. This diversion dam between Ft Morgan and Brush is the site of unfortunate drowning fatalities in 2016 and 2019.

    “The Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA) is proud to work alongside the Department of Natural Resources and the water community at large through this initiative,” remarked Amber Weber, DARCA Executive Director. “Some of DARCA’s members have been touched by the loss of life due to a low head dam structure, and irrigators know the dangers a low head dam has. DARCA is glad to take part in this effort as agriculturalists join with recreationalists to make our waters safe to traverse.”

    In response to these incidents, the DNR formed the Colorado Low Head Dam Safety Steering Committee to address safety issues around low head dams. The team of experts included; Colorado Water Conservation Board, Division of Water Resources – Dam Safety Branch, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Mile High Flood District, and Wright Water Engineers. The Steering Committee oversaw the inventory study of Colorado low head dam sites, which identified and digitized the locations of diversion, grade control, and recreational structures across Colorado.

    The Low Head Dam webpage on DNR’s website includes an interactive map produced from the inventory study enabling Coloradans to research and locate potential low head dam structures before embarking on trips down their favorite river or stream. The webpage includes additional resources on low head dams, links to partner organizations, and a feedback form for Coloradans to help identify missed features on Colorado Rivers which could be included on the interactive low head dam map.

    “American Whitewater has been pleased to partner with DNR on this low head dam inventory project. Safe enjoyment of our nation’s rivers is central to our mission,” said Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies Stewardship Director, American Whitewater. “We hope to integrate the data into our web based national whitewater inventory to help river users plan for and avoid these hazards. We are hoping to help crowdsource information to prioritize low head structures and to find solutions to improve their safety.”

    DNR’s low head dam outreach initiative is funded in part from a $31,250 Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Water Plan grant, matched with $20,000 from FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program state assistance grant and $15,000 of in-kind services from Wright Water Engineers, and a generous $20,000 donation from the Wright Family Foundation for additional signage. These donations will help future efforts including ongoing public education, increased outreach during spring months, when the Colorado recreation water season is in full swing, installation of warning signage both above and below highly visited low head dam structures, and additional outreach and education for emergency responders.

    Check out DNR’s Low Head Dam Webpage

    The October 2020 newsletter is hot off the presses from the #ColoradoRiver District #COriver #aridification

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

    The Colorado River District works across • The Lower Gunnison Project near Montrose,
    the West Slope to improve infrastructure and restore rivers as part of its work to protect water supplies for all stakeholders.

    During the District’s Annual Water Seminar: Zooming in on West Slope Water on Sept. 22, speakers highlighted three projects that with the help of many partners, advance the District’s mission to protect Western Colorado’s water security.

    • The Elkhead Reservoir expansion near Hayden and Craig, completed in 2006, provides water for irrigators and the power industry while ensuring water is available to maintain river flow for endangered fish in the lower Yampa River.

    • The Lower Gunnison Project near Montrose Delta and Hotchkiss, is a multi-benefit project spearheaded by the District to modernize irrigation delivery systems.

    • The Windy Gap Bypass Channel Project in Grand County, still on the drawing board, will modify Windy Gap Reservoir to re- create a Colorado River channel and nearby flood plain.

    A recording of the webinar and presentation slides can be found at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/annual-seminars/

    Water Connections: Former #ColoradoRiver District Manager Eric Kuhn Joins Speaker Lineup October 14, 2020

    Here’s the release from the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District and the Four Corners Water Center:

    Register Here

    Eric Kuhn is the the latest addition to the speaker lineup for “Water Connections: SW’s Virtual Water Cooler,” an online event jointly hosted by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday, October 14th from 4:00-5:30 p.m.

    Author and former general manager of the Colorado River District, Eric Kuhn will address this question: “What can the last 20 years tell us about the future of Colorado River hydrology?” For a preview, check out this white paper he recently co-authored on the topic.

    Register now to reserve your spot (it’s free). You’ll hear short state and local water updates. It’s like visiting the water cooler to get the latest local scoop and connect–only virtual.

    Kate Greenberg (Colorado Department of Agriculture) and Celene Hawkins (Colorado Water Conservation Board) will speak to the status of Colorado’s agriculture and state water funding in the midst of a pandemic.

    Rob Genualdi (Division 7 Engineer), Bob Hurford (Division 4 Engineer), and Susan Behery (US Bureau of Reclamation) will provide a summary of the dismal 2020 water year in southwest Colorado. Ken Curtis (Dolores Water Conservancy District), Gretchen Rank (Mancos Conservation District), and Simon Martinez (Ute Farm and Ranch) will add observations from the season and provide a look ahead to what it might mean for water year 2021.

    Finally, we’ll hear the latest from various local water agencies and organizations in short “pop-up” updates from across southwest Colorado.

    This event is about making connections, so be ready to engage via the chat, poll questions, and interesting content. See you next week!

    These hay fields may know something we don’t: how to save the #ColoradoRiver — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

    Research technician and Grand County rancher Wendy Thompson collects hay samples as part of a far-reaching experiment to see if ranchers can fallow hay meadows and conserve more water for the Colorado River. Credit: Dave Timko, This American Land. Aug. 12, 2020 via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Grand County rancher Paul Bruchez stands in a hay field near Kremmling, holding a small tuft of hay between his fingertips, twirling it back and forth, seeing how quickly it disintegrates after a summer without water.

    The plant, known as timothy, is native to Colorado and feeds thousands of cattle here in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    This hay species and others are being closely watched this year as part of a far-reaching $1 million science experiment, one designed to see if ranchers can take water off of hay fields and successfully measure how much was removed, how much evaporated, and how much was used by plants. They also need to know how reducing their irrigation in this fashion affects the nutritional value of the hay.

    If certain hay species retain more nutrients than others when they’re on low-water diets, then ranchers know their cattle will continue to eat well as they evaluate whether they can operate their ranches on less H20—not all the time, but perhaps every other year or every two to three years.

    “We’ve spent centuries learning how to irrigate these lands,” Bruchez said. “Now we’re learning what it’s like not to irrigate them.”

    Any water saved could be left in the Colorado River, allowing it to become more sustainable, even as the West’s population grows and drought cycles become more intense.

    Scaling up

    While similar small-scale experiments on five or 10 acres have been done before, this one by comparison is vast in scale, involving 1,200 acres of high-altitude hay meadows, nine ranch families, a team of researchers spread across Colorado, Utah and Nevada, and the backing of powerful water groups, farm interests, and environmentalists.

    “We’ve never had a project this large in the state of Colorado,” said Perry Cabot, a Colorado State University researcher who is the lead scientist on the project.

    The undertaking is sponsored by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, whose members include Bruchez.

    “We set out on a mission to ensure we have as much science and data as possible,” Bruchez said.

    The data being collected serves several needs. It should help ranch families see if they can afford to participate in these modern-era conservation efforts.

    It will allow researchers to better understand what works on the ground and what to do, for instance, when rambunctious bulls destroy research equipment enclosures 25 miles from the nearest town.

    And it will give policy makers insight into the political problems that will have to be solved, as well as how much money could need to be raised, to make large-scale conservation on the Colorado River feasible.

    The $1 million, three-year project is being funded by the state and several environmental groups, with the money being used to pay researchers, buy equipment, and compensate ranch families who temporarily fallow their fields.

    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

    Water for Powell?

    Agriculture uses some 80 percent of the water in the seven-state Colorado River Basin, and hay meadows that grow feed for cattle are among the basin’s largest water users.

    Last year, under an historic drought agreement on the Colorado River, a new specially protected drought pool in Lake Powell was authorized.

    Now Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, the four states that comprise the Colorado River’s Upper Basin, above Lake Powell, are studying whether they can or should help save enough water to fill that drought pool. The pool, authorized at 500,000 acre-feet, is intended as further insurance that the Upper Basin won’t be forced to involuntarily reduce water use from the river under the terms of the Colorado River Compact.

    Colorado expects it would need to provide roughly half the water for the drought pool, and, led by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is working out difficult questions about how that water would be saved and ushered downstream to Lake Powell under a possible voluntary program known as demand management. The research being done near Kremmling will help answer several critical questions.

    Wendy Thompson is a rancher who also serves as the research technician for the pilot program, cutting hay samples and gathering soil moisture and precipitation data, among dozens of other tasks. She has driven hundreds of miles across Grand County this summer, checking each of the program’s 24 research sites every week or so, lugging an aging laptop from one meadow to the next.

    She knows better than most that ranch families will need real information, such as how fallowing affects crop yields and soil health and production costs, in order to make decisions about whether to join in a voluntary multi-state conservation effort or to back away.

    Intuition vs. facts

    “The experiment is important to us,” Thompson said. “We want to make decisions based on the science and the data, not a gut feeling.”

    Much of the work is grueling, like cutting hay samples week after week, and low tech, like measuring water levels in rain gauges.

    But dramatic advances in satellite imagery and global evapotranspiration databases are helping people like Perry Cabot create science-based templates that eventually will be useful not just in Colorado, but Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and perhaps even farther downstream, on cotton fields in Arizona and avocado groves in California’s Central Valley.

    “We now have the ability to measure the whole field,” Cabot said. “It’s becoming more accurate and it’s tremendously convenient if you’re trying to get a good understanding of patterns. We don’t have to rely on one data point anymore.” [Editor’s note: Cabot sits on the board of Water Education Colorado, which is a sponsor of Fresh Water News.]

    A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    That this particular team has agronomists, economists and environmentalists pitching in with their expertise is also helping move the science forward.

    Brass tacks

    “What makes this different is the scale and the depth of the questions we’re asking,” said Aaron Derwingson, an agricultural water specialist with The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program, which is helping to fund the project.

    “When we’re done it will be relevant to more people than just the ranchers. We will be able to extrapolate these field conditions and what it means for water savings and the recovery of different species,” he said.

    “It’s tough to figure all that out on paper. Here we’re getting down to brass tacks,” Derwingson said.

    With irrigation season over, Cabot and his team have serious number crunching to do before they begin monitoring next year, measuring how the hay fields survived their fallowed season, how quickly they return to health, and precisely how much water was conserved.

    Early estimates indicate that the ranchers may have saved 1,500 acre-feet to as many as 2,500 acre-feet of water this year. If this process can be replicated, scientists and ranchers could begin to see how long it might take to fill the 500,000 acre-foot drought pool at Lake Powell.

    No collateral damage

    But even more important to Bruchez and state policy makers is the impact the pilot is having on a highly skeptical ranching community, some of whom are deeply worried that they will lose control of their water.

    “We wanted a project that would be as smooth as possible,” Bruchez said. “We wanted to simplify it and ensure there weren’t unintended damages to neighbors who weren’t participating.

    “Some people were comfortable about what we were doing and others had great fears,” he said. “We just had to keep telling them, ‘We are not delivering water to Lake Powell. We are trying to fill data gaps.’”

    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 — Getches-Wilkinson Center

    From email from the Getches Wilkinson Center:

    Click here to register

    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.

    Getches-Wilkinson Center webinar: Meeting the Financial Challenges of Improved Water Management in the West — Session Three A Role for the Business Community

    Click here for all the inside skinny, and to register:

    Meeting the Financial Challenges of Improved Water Management in the West: A GWC Webinar Series

    Session Three

    A Role for the Business Community

    Wednesday, October 14th
    12:00-1:00 p.m. Mountain Time
    Zoom Webinar

    Many members of the business community are increasingly concerned that western water scarcity is a threat to producing and selling their products, and more generally, to maintaining the healthy social and economic conditions that are needed to sustain strong economies. A variety of initiatives are now underway to address this concern, and to address water management issues both within and outside of their sphere of operations.

    Registration (Webinar access will be sent to the email address provided)

    View the full suite of sessions here: GWC Water Webinar Series
    All session are free and open to the public.

    The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

    #Water #conservation payments to #Colorado ranchers could top $120M; is it enough? — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    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

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    With another drought year draining the Colorado River system, a new economic study suggests that a wide-scale water conservation program in Colorado to reduce stress on the river could cost more than $120 million, depending on the amount of water saved for use in the program.

    The study examined how much money it would take to adequately compensate ranchers and farmers who agree to temporarily remove water from Colorado’s West Slope hay meadows and corn fields using a practice known as fallowing. It also looked at how such a conservation program would affect the farm economy and the communities and workers who rely on it for jobs.

    “Potentially the program could be beneficial to the participants,” said BBC Managing Director Douglas Jeavens, a principal with BBC Consulting, which conducted the work. “The payments have to be large enough to offset any losses,” he said.

    The water saved would go into a special drought pool in Lake Powell. The pool is envisioned as a way for Colorado and other states in the Colorado River Basin’s Upper Basin—Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—to further protect their ability to use the river’s water even as Lake Powell continues to shrink.

    Kathleen Curry, a former lawmaker and rancher in the Gunnison River Basin, said the analysis covered all the variables at play.

    “I thought they did a good job,” she said. “The numbers they came up with are reasonable.”

    The study looked at two different scenarios. Under a moderate scenario it examined the impact of fallowing 25,000 acres of West Slope land annually over five years, and an aggressive scenario under which 100,000 acres of land would be fallowed for the same period of time.

    The study, released Sept. 25, was sponsored by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, the Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. It adds important new detail to a statewide discussion about whether Colorado should participate in the drought pool.

    Since the state began studying the pool’s feasibility in 2019, West Slope ranchers have said repeatedly that they can’t make a decision about whether to participate if they don’t know how much money they would be paid and how such a program would affect the local economy.

    The study provides some preliminary answers.

    Across the Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores river basins, under the moderate scenario, ranchers would see a net benefit of nearly $9 million, while under the aggressive scenario, the net benefit would rise to $36 million over a five-year period. The water in the study was priced in a range starting at $194 an acre-foot and rising to $263 an acre-foot.

    The Colorado, Yampa/White, Gunnison and Southwest basins were evaluated for secondary impacts of a demand management program that eventually could include the entire state. From the report: “Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado”. Source: Colorado River District

    Individual ranchers who agree to fallow 100 acres of land could see an annual benefit, after expenses, of more than $50,000 under at least two scenarios, according to BBC’s analysis.

    In modeling changes to the economy, the study found that 55 jobs would be lost under the moderate scenario, while 236 jobs would be lost under the aggressive scenario.

    It also found that hay prices would rise 6 percent as supplies tighten and livestock populations would shrink by 2 percent.

    Another key concern for ranchers and others is whether taking water off the fields could harm other water users on the river farther downstream.

    “This is a critical issue,” said Jeavens. “But we think looking ahead we could design a program that either reduces or eliminates that risk.”

    The pool would be filled with 500,000 acre-feet of water, roughly half of which would likely come from Colorado, should it, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, agree that filling the drought pool is doable.

    Under a broader statewide study also underway, ranchers and cities would be asked to voluntarily set aside water for the drought pool and would be paid for whatever water they contributed to the program.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is conducting the statewide feasibility analysis, declined to comment on the West Slope economic study.

    Whether Colorado’s Front Range will embark on a similar study focusing on its contributions to the conservation program isn’t clear yet.

    Previously Front Range cities have said they would be willing to contribute whatever water and/or cash is necessary to fill the drought pool in a way that is fair to cities and agricultural producers, as well as to different regions of the state.

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

    The Colorado River, which starts high in Rocky Mountain National Park, supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and is also used to irrigate millions of acres of hay meadows, corn fields and other crops on both the West Slope and Eastern Plains.

    But if the drought-stressed river continues its decline, it could feasibly trigger involuntary cutbacks under the Colorado River Compact for the Upper Basin states, affecting both Colorado’s West Slope and Front Range.

    Though such a scenario is still considered unlikely, policy makers and others want to see Colorado develop some kind of insurance against such a catastrophic event.

    Who would pay for the conservation program remains to be decided. Some have suggested that thirsty state’s in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin—California, Nevada and Arizona—ante up any needed cash. Others believe that a new set of fees or taxes could fund the ambitious effort.

    Don Schwindt, a rancher who sits on the board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said the study is a good step forward, but he wants more detailed analyses.

    “These numbers are as good as any that have been generated. But the simple answer right now is that this is not enough money to generate the water. For my operation, I have to have a higher dollar than those averages or I am going to go broke.

    “We’ve moved forward,” he said, “but we don’t have anything we can take to the bank yet.”

    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.

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

    Fire and water connect the West — Hannah Holm

    Here’s a guest column from Hannah Holm that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Lately, I’ve been savoring clear skies like never before. My appreciation was magnified by days of feeling trapped in the smoke from California fires, even as our own Pine Gulch Fire calmed down. Meanwhile, friends and family in Washington and Oregon are choking on airborne soup thicker than anything we’ve had to deal with this summer.

    I feel vaguely guilty that the same weather system that finally brought us rain, cooler temperatures and clear air earlier this month also fanned the heartbreakingly destructive flames farther west. We share the air, and that gives us in western Colorado a direct, tangible connection to the fate of West Coast forests and fires.

    Water connects us, too, even if the connections aren’t as immediate and visible as wildfire smoke. Most of the water that flows into the Colorado River comes from Colorado’s mountains, so a bad snow year (or decade, or two) for us means less water for the 40ish million people that depend on the river, from Denver to Phoenix, Los Angeles and Mexico. Likewise, more snow in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and the eastern side of the Rockies reduces the draw on the river by giving Los Angeles and Denver more source water closer to home. Conservation actions in those cities benefit the river, and the whole river community, for the same reason.

    Downstream conditions affect the headwaters in other ways, too, as desiccated, beat-up rangeland in the Four Corners area sends dust to the mountains that melts the snowpack earlier and reduces the amount of water that runs off into our streams.

    Food also connects us, and food is very directly connected to water. If you like to eat salad in January, you need to keep water flowing to the Southern California farms that produce it.

    Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.

    To bring us back to where we started, fire and water are also connected, just as both fire and water connect far-flung communities. When the Pine Gulch Fire was at its most active, incident managers reported that the moisture content of the vegetation in the fire area was less than what you would typically find in a (perfectly flammable) piece of paper. That was a direct consequence of the same high temperatures and precipitation deficit that have diminished our streamflows and runoff into Lake Powell. Post-fire, we can expect ash and naked soil to run off into waterways, fouling fish habitat and drinking water intakes.

    All of these connections are important to keep in mind as the states that share the Colorado River prepare to embark on a new round of negotiations over how to manage it. Representatives from all the states will face pressure to focus narrowly on enabling local water users to secure access to as much of the shrinking river as they can. That’s fair enough — no one wants to diminish their own future just to be the nice guy. But over the long term, it will help all of us to pursue actions that benefit the Colorado River system as a whole. That includes reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the atmosphere and intensifying both drought and wildfire.

    Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. Learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

    Hutchins Water Center: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #Water Forum, November 4-5, 2020 #COriver #aridification

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

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    10th Annual Upper Colorado River Basin (virtual) Water Forum:
    Coming to Terms with Limits and Uncertainty
    November 4-5, 2020
    An On-Line Gathering

    Highlights
    Keynote: Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez
    Panels of Upper and Lower Basin State and Tribal Leaders`
    Multi-State Ag Producers’ Roundtable

    DRAFT PROGRAM
    REGISTER/SPONSOR HERE

    Many thanks to these early-bird sponsors:
    Four Corners Water Center a Fort Lewis College, Strategic by Nature, Chevron,
    Laurian Unnevehr and the Walton Family Foundation!

    Feds issue red flag warning on #LakePowell and #LakeMead — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

    Risk of severe water shortages in the seven-state Colorado River Basin have risen dramatically since April with new forecasts indicating that lakes Powell and Mead could hit crisis levels much sooner than previously expected.

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said the change in the forecast is noteworthy.

    “We’re dealing with more uncertainty than we thought,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing the two storage vessels and monitoring the mountain snowpack and runoff that feeds them every year.

    As recently as April, when the last forecast came out, inflows to Lake Powell were projected to be roughly 75 percent of average this year. The latest report, however, indicates inflows will be just 55 percent of average.

    In just five months, the risk that reservoir levels could fall low enough by 2025 to threaten power generation and the ability to release physical water to downstream users has risen 12 percent, according to Reclamation.

    Carly Jerla, a hydrologist and water modeling expert, runs the modeling team for Reclamation’s Lower Basin operations.

    The 21-year stretch of drought in the Colorado River Basin has made the system extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, Jerla said.

    “In this system, one year of poor hydrology can influence the ways these reservoirs are impacted for multiple years into the future,” she said.

    Reclamation officials stopped short of saying how states should respond to the dire water supply predictions.

    Seven U.S. states share water from the Colorado River Basin. These include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin. Mexico also relies on the river’s flows.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    The two regions in the U.S. are governed separately, with the Upper Basin states overseen by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Lower Basin overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The river is a major source of water in Colorado, where it supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and irrigation water for ranches, fruit orchards and corn fields on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

    Brad Wind is general manager of Northern Water. It serves cities and farms from Boulder to Greeley and is one of the largest water providers in the state. Wind said the rising risk levels aren’t that surprising.

    But, he said, to help the drought-stressed system regain some semblance of balance will require much more work. “We can’t walk away from this.”

    Last year, for the first time in history, the seven states agreed to adopt a basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan. The Lower Basin component of that plan is now complete and requires cutbacks in water use as levels in the reservoirs fall and reach certain elevations. Arizona has already had to cut back its water use in 2020 as a result of the agreement, and Mead’s levels have risen as a result of these actions and other conservation programs. Now at 44 percent full, the reservoir is the highest it’s been in six years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    But the Upper Basin, though it has agreed to big-picture elements of an Upper Basin plan, has more work to do to define how a major piece of that plan involving large-scale water conservation, called demand management, would work.

    Rebecca Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency managing the demand management study process in Colorado. She also serves on the Upper Colorado River Commission, representing Colorado. In a written statement, she said the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan has provided additional security for the system and that the study will move forward even as conditions on the river worsen.

    “Colorado will continue to track the hydrologic conditions, and work collaboratively with the other basin states,” she wrote.

    With the new forecast, however, pressure to cut back water use is rising.

    Since 2000, lakes Powell and Mead have lost nearly half of their stored water supplies. Back then the system was nearly full, at 94 percent, according to Reclamation. This year the two reservoirs are collectively projected to end what’s known as the water year, on Sept. 30, at just 53 of capacity.

    Climate change and warmer temperatures continue to rob the river of its flows. In fact, water flowing into Lake Powell during that 20-year period was above average just four out of the past 19 years, according to Reclamation.

    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.

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

    #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 unde