@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 under an Interagency Agreement with the National Science Foundation and Cooperative Agreement #58-0111-18-015.

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

    Crop Residue Management and Water

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

    Watch the webinar here!

    Gary Knell to keynote virtual Water in the WestSymposium

    Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

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

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

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

    Aquifers: sustaining life in the desert — @CAPArizona

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

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

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

    From Water Education Colorado (Caitlin Coleman):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    Topic: Yampa Valley State of the River

    Description:

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

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

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

    Agenda:

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

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

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

    Photo credit: Western Water Assessment

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

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

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

    CU Boulder Center for Environmental Journalism welcomes new class of fellows

    Congratulations to friend of Coyote Gulch, Grace Hood.

    Here’s the release From the University of Colorado:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How much should healthy food cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The role of governments

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

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

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

    The human cost of cheap food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

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

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


    The Aging Infrastructure Issue

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

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

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

    NARROW WOTUS ON HOLD IN CO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The timeline for the BIP update is as follows:

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

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

    Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    About this Event

    Join us for a digital presentation on crop residue management:

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

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

    From Colorado State University (Anne Manning):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Expanding knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

    Economic tradeoffs, incentives

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

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

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

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

    Taking action now

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

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

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

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