Colorado’s strong #snowpack eliminated #drought conditions statewide. Here’s what that means for our rivers, reservoirs and wildfire risks — @MSUDenver

From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Amanda Miller):

Coloradans can retire the refrain, “We need the moisture.” At least for the time being.

For the first time in at least 19 years, no area of the state is experiencing drought conditions as measured by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has been measuring conditions since 2000…

While the end of drought conditions is widely considered a positive, water experts warn that existing conditions could be a double-edged sword for Colorado.

On the positive side, the “amazing” June snowpack is good news for Colorado’s river-related recreation economy, said Tom Cech, director of Metropolitan State University’s One World One Water (OWOW) Center for Urban Water Education. Whether the snow melts gradually or in a late-spring or early-summer surge, it’s good news for tourists recreating on the state’s rivers and mountain creeks, though safety will be paramount as flows rise.

Rafters make their way down Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Colorado’s rivers are running high after an epic winter and wet spring. Photo credit: Sara Hertwig via Metropolitan State University of Denver

Likewise, Colorado’s water infrastructure is capable of capturing large volumes of water in reservoirs for flood control and future use, said Thomas Bellinger, Ph.D., a hydrologist who teaches environmental science and policy, snow hydrology and water law in MSU Denver’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science.

“Past high-snowpack years – 1995 and 2003, for instance – proved that the state’s infrastructure can handle these conditions,” he said.

Reservoir storage remains generally low in anticipation of rising stream flows as rivers have yet to peak, the USDA NRCS said in a June 6 press release. Below normal reservoir levels will help in absorbing above normal stream flows.

Just don’t expect those full reservoirs to lead to lower municipal and commercial water prices, Cech said.

“In general, expect water prices to continue to escalate,” he said.

Steamboat Spring’s Fish Creek Falls, photographed the week of June 10, cascades 280 feet. Colorado’s rivers are running high after an epic winter and wet spring. Photo credit: Amanda Miller via Metropolitan State University at Denver

But a stretch of warm days in the High County – especially with rain added in – could melt a lot of snow quickly, sending a “pulse of water” into the Front Range via waterways such as Cherry Creek, Coal Creek, Boulder Creek and other tributaries that merge into the South Platte River north of Denver, Cech said.

Compounding the danger of a fast melt is the fact that the state’s snowpack is actually deeper than the data indicate, Bellinger said. Snowpack data cited in this story and other publications come from “snowpack telemetry” stations – known as SNOTEL – that are between 10,000 and 12,000 feet of elevation.

“There is a lot of snow above that elevation, and while it may melt slower because of cooler temps up there, much of it will melt into already-full rivers,” he said.

While it may defy logic, the current wet conditions in the mountains may increase the danger of wildfires, Bellinger said.

“The mountains are so green right now, and if this snowpack and a wet spring lead to a lot of undergrowth, that could become fuel for forest fires if it dries out in the late summer or fall,” he said.

Cech and Bellinger warn that the current drought-free conditions do not portend a drought-free future.

“This will likely be a good recovery year, but we’re coming out of an El Niño cycle, which tends to be wetter, and entering a La Niñacycle, which tends to be dryer,” Bellinger said.

El Niño patterns develop when water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator warm above average, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. La Niña conditions occur when that water is cooler than average.

Likewise, the long-term trends of climate change point toward extended periods of drought in Colorado, Bellinger said.

“With climate change, we can still expect these periods of relief,” he said. “But the trends point toward extended periods of drought in the American West.”

Watershed Summit 2019 #watershedsummit2019

I’ll be live-tweeting from the Watershed Summit today. Follow along on my Twitter feed @CoyoteGulch or with the hash tag #watershedsummit2019.

Denver: Watershed Summit 2019, June 27, 2019

Click here to go to the Resource Central website for all the inside skinny:

The Watershed Summit is rapidly becoming the region’s top event for water industry leaders. Join 250+ water utility executives, business leaders, conservation experts, and other professionals to gain the new insights you need to help position your organization for success.

Watershed Summit 2019 is produced through a collaborative partnership between the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water, the City of Boulder, Aurora Water, the One World One Water Center, Resource Central, and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Building on the success of the last 4 years, this one-day summit helps you get connected to industry leaders and what works best across the Mountain West.

Standard Registration: $65

We are thrilled to feature a dynamic line-up of experts in the water field who are excited to share their knowledge and join in on the conversation.

Special Guest: Phil Weiser, Attorney General for the State of Colorado

  • J. J. Ament, CEO, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation
  • Ze’ev Barylka, Marketing Director US, Netafim
  • Cynthia S. Campbell, Water Resources Management Advisor, City of Phoenix
  • Beorn Courtney, President, Element Water
  • Lisa Darling, Executive Director, South Metro Water Supply Authority
  • Carol Ekarius, Executive Director, Coalition for the Upper South Platte
  • Jorge Figueroa, Chief Innovation Officer, Americas for Conservation
  • Brent Gardner Smith, Journalist, Aspen Times
  • Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources
  • Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, State of Colorado
  • Jim Havey, Filmmaker, HaveyPro Cinema
  • Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager, Denver Water
  • Peter Marcus, Communications Director, Terrapin Care Station
  • Fernando Nardi, Professor, Università per Stranieri di Perugia, Italy
  • Cristina Rulli, Professor, Milan Polytechnic, Italy
  • Luke Runyon, Reporter, KUNC
  • Harold Smethills, Founder, Sterling Ranch
  • Jamie Sudler, Executive Producer, H2O Radio
  • Weston Toll, Watershed Program Specialist, CO State Forest Service
  • Chris Treese, External Affairs Manager, Colorado River District
  • Larry Vickerman, Director, Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms
  • Scott Winter, Water Conservation Specialist, Colorado Springs Utility

Panel Topics Include:

  • The Colorado River
  • Water and Business
  • Agriculture
  • Watershed Health
  • Conservation and Storage

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum scholarships for water resources students and working professionals

Bents Fort photo via Greg Hobbs

Click here for all the inside skinny and to apply:

Scholarship Details

With the assistance of our sponsors, the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum offers scholarships each year offers scholarships each year to students and working professionals in support of their education and research in water resources, watershed studies, hydrology, natural resources management, and others. We offer scholarships in the amount of $2,000 and $1,000, plus free admission to the 2019 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.

The requirements of the scholarship are as follows:

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (ARBWF) preference to award students scholarships who are from the Arkansas Basin and whose work the ARBWF Board expects will provide a benefit to Colorado’s Arkansas River Basin.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

The Fall newsletter is hot off the presses from the @OWOW_MSUDenver

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

Student Water Field Conference

Join us September 21-23, 2018 on Grand Mesa in Western Colorado. Spend a September weekend in the aspens on western Colorado’s Grand Mesa learning about water management, snow science and aquatic ecosystems with college students from across the state! A registration fee of $20 covers lodging in cabins at Vega Lodge as well as some meals.

For registration, itinerary, and event details Click Here

How the emerging practice of capturing vapor may provide an answer to drought – and a tasty lunch

From MSU Denver Red (Cory Phare):

As you read this, you’re surrounded on all sides … by water.

Even in the driest of climates, it’s everywhere, found in gaseous form as an integral part of Earth’s hydrosphere. And though not as apparent as its solid and liquid counterparts, vapor may prove a crucial tool in the future of sustainable humanitarian and agricultural infrastructure.

“There’s largely untapped water resource all around us,” said Michael May, a senior sustainable-systems engineering

MSU Denver sustainable-systems engineering senior Michael May talks about the atmospheric water capture appliance at Denver Botanic Gardens and how it utilizes two energy methods. Photo by Alyson McClaran
major at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “It was intuitive to ask about accessing it – and how to put it to use in a dry environment.”

With nearly half of Colorado experiencing extreme drought, potential solutions to scarcity have never been more timely.

One approach that water futurists such as May are interested in is coupling “horizon materials” – those that aren’t yet feasible to scale – with existing technologies to bridge the gap between imagination and reality.

“Think about silica-gel packets that come with new shoes; they absorb moisture, and you can extract the water, but it requires too much energy to do so at scale,” May said. “Right now, though, there are some promising studies happening in this area, and we could see a potential increase by an order of magnitude – 10 times over on the low end.”

Another budding area of development is community partnerships to harvest that ever-present vapor around us.

“We brought in an expert who talked about technologies like fog nets for air-based extraction,” said Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd, director of marketing at Denver Botanic Gardens and co-director of the One World One Water Center at MSU Denver. “That planted the seed – if we could use renewable resources to harvest water without burning fossil fuels, it would be a game-changer.”

Shown here outside of the Jordan Student Success Building, the device’s center panel is solar electric to run fans, a pump, recharge a battery and operate other moving parts. Either side of the solar electric portion of the panel is solar thermal. Heat is used to facilitate the condensation process of vapor into liquid. Photo by Elizabeth Moreno

After subsequent research, Denver Botanic Gardens then acquired several atmospheric-water-capture devices, called SOURCE, from Arizona-based Zero Mass Water.

The apparatus uses solar-electric and solar-thermal panels to power fans that draw in ambient air; vapor is then passed through a condenser and collected via an onboard reservoir.

In addition to three at its York Street headquarters and one at its Chatfield location, Denver Botanic Gardens donated a device to MSU Denver, currently outside the Jordan Student Success Building (another was donated to University of Colorado-Boulder as well).

May was also involved in the equipment deployment as a guest lecturer for a CU Boulder environmental-design class.

Though SOURCE is devised to provide potable water to drink, Denver Botanic Gardens is also the first location to test modified versions for irrigation purposes, with one located next to the Hive bistro for a tasty slice of stewardship.

“The garden we’re using it in is producing squash, tomatoes, herbs and other ingredients you can order on your pizza,” Riley-Chetwynd said.

This is all more than pie-in-the-sky, too – the implications are international.

Take the scenario facing Africa, which is home to 1.2 billion people; that number is expected to more than double by 2050. And the impact of that will be felt everywhere, said Aaron Brown, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering technology.

“We all need water to live, and a huge population explosion is going to happen on the poorest continent,” he said. “These kinds of problems are often best solved from a mulitidisciplinary perspective, and here at MSU Denver we look at research in humanitarian technologies for vulnerable populations.

“We’re training students to address the nexus of energy, water, food and health in a holistic, systems way.”

That’s Brown’s approach to this fall semester’s Sustainable Development Strategy course. Following up on a 2016 trip to Bhopal, India, where students worked in a local integrative-health clinic, the class is a launching pad for a study-abroad effort that will map geographic information systems’ health data compared with water delivery and water tables to see if there’s a correlation between pollution migration and health.

It’s part of a comprehensive community-based conservation conversation. And though using technology such as atmospheric water capture to irrigate beyond small plots of land isn’t currently viable, future research is encouraging.

“If you can pull two to three liters of water from the air in Denver, with 25 percent humidity, that’s really promising for more-humid environments,” Brown said.

For May, whose continued commitment to advancing sustainable solutions included a recent Colorado Science and Engineering Policy Fellowship, coupling innovative material with emerging practices is less of a silver bullet than one of many silver BBs, as he quoted John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special policy advisor for water.

And thanks to partnerships such as the one between MSU Denver and Denver Botanic Gardens, today’s water stewardship is built to scale for tomorrow’s world.

“The shared knowledge resources we can access directly led to us being asked to join the United Nations’ Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture,” Riley-Chetwynd said.

“The bottom line is that we’re stronger together.”

Denver: “Innovation in the water” — Clean River Design Challenge recap

Student showcase their winning design at a recent Board of Trustees meeting. Photo: Mark Stahl

From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Matt Watson):

Sometimes putting plastic in the river can be a good thing.

That was the idea put forth by the MSU Trash Getters, one of eight student teams from the Colorado School of Mines, MSU Denver and the University of Colorado Denver to participate in the Clean River Design Challenge.

The Trash Getters designed 3D-printed fish heads to float atop a waterway and collect trash in their mouths. The brightly colored bits of plastic, printed on campus at the Auraria Library, sit in the water and call attention to the very problem the design challenge hopes to combat: trash in our water.

The Greenway Foundation, a nonprofit helmed by Executive Director and MSU Denver Trustee Jeff Shoemaker, works to advance the South Platte River and surrounding tributaries as a unique environmental, recreational, cultural, scientific and historical amenity that links Denver’s past and its future. The foundation held its first-ever student design challenge in 2015-16 and a second competition in 2017-18. The competition is coordinated and led by TGF’s policy and water-resources arm, the Water Connection (TWC).

“The basis of this is to continue to bring awareness that trash in my neighborhood is trash in my waterways,” Shoemaker said. “That’s the education aspect; the other, more pragmatic aspect is we’re trying to create devices that can be taken from a scale version, put into a working prototype and actually be placed in Cherry Creek or the South Platte River.”

MSU Denver faculty, staff and community members pitch in to clean up the Cherry Creek as part of the recent Roadrunners Give Back Day in partnership with the Greenway Foundation.

The student teams were scored in Round 1 on their trash-collection designs in December, with two teams from Mines placing first and third and an MSU Denver team second. The teams with the top six designs were given $1,000 to build scale models, which were then put to the test for Round 2 in April in a flume at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In addition to educating people and looking for innovative solutions, the design challenge provides students with hands-on, competitive experience.

“For students to spend a semester coming up with a concept, then have to stand up in front of a dozen working professionals in the world of water and defend their model – in a competitive way, where there are actually winners and losers – is a very valuable experience,” Shoemaker said.

In the BOR Hydraulics Lab testing, which was Round 2 of the competition, MSU Denver students shined. The first-place team was the Water Association of Student Steward Urban Program, the student water-education club associated with the One World One Water Center. The Trash Getters’ fish-head design finished third behind the Colorado School of Mines, which took second.

The top three models will be displayed July 26 at the 15th annual Reception on the River, where students will get a chance to network with more than 200 people from the water industry. The hope is that one of the models, or a combination of them, will work its way into the water in the coming years. TGF/TWC just got the first draft of professional engineering drawings based on the 2015-16 contest winner and will develop a prototype in the coming months for planned testing in Cherry Creek .

The water-cleanup efforts at the Greenway Foundation and MSU Denver aren’t limited to design and engineering, either. Foundation volunteers regularly pick up trash from Denver waterways, while the WASSUP club has adopted a section of Cherry Creek for a monthly cleanup project and University faculty, staff and students partnered with the Greenway Foundation as part of Roadrunners Give Back Day.

To learn more about Denver’s waterways, contact the Greenway Foundation at info@greenwayfoundation.org.