#Climate variability normal, but extent of warming during spring #runoff is not — The Mountain Town News @MountainTownNew @ActOnClimate

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Warming temperatures but especially so during spring months

In Pennsylvania, the groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil saw no shadow this year. That is supposed to portend an early spring.

In the Rocky Mountains, early springs have been coming no matter what. This was a cold winter in many places, but on average the climate has been warming for several decades. It’s sure to get much warmer yet.

A case in point is Colorado’s North Park, headwaters of the North Platte River but a short distance from the headwaters of the Colorado River and also the Steamboat ski area.

There, according to Dr. J.J. Shinker, an associate professor from the University of Wyoming, the temperature overall has increased 1.44 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1909.

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

But warming during the spring months of March, April, and May has been disproportionate, rising almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.21 degrees C) on average since 1909.

“That’s a lot of warming in a short period of time,” she told members of the Colorado Water Congress at a recent conference. She also pointed out that warming at high elevations has been disproportionately greater than the global average.

(But Jeff Lukas of Western Water Assessment, the lead author of “Climate Change in Colorado,” the 2014 synthesis report sponsored by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, points out that “there is no robust and consistent evidence that higher-elevation regions in Colorado are warming at a different rate than lower-elevation regions.”

But of disproportionate warming during spring, there is no dissent. And that produces earlier runoff in the North Platte and other rivers in Colorado. On average, runoff occurs five days earlier for every degree Celsius in warming.

This matters to water managers, who try to ensure the irrigation ditches still have enough water come August and September. It also matters to mountain resorts as warming springs shrink the backend of ski season.

But everybody should be concerned for two more reasons, says Shinker. First, the worst droughts we’ve seen, the worst on record since Eurosettlement about 150 years ago, don’t come close in depth and intensity to those of the past. Forest fires of the past were also giant affairs.

This was part of natural variability. But now there is the overlay of what might be called unnatural variability, this overlay caused by human forcing of the climate.

“The warming that we are seeing is occurring at a rate that is outside the range of natural variability,” Shinker said in an interview after her talk to Colorado water managers. “And it’s occurring as a result of the greenhouse gases that result from human activity.”

Paleoclimatologists can tell much about shifting climates of the past 12,000 years by studying high mountain lakes. Consider Emerald Lake, which is in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, near the trailheads to the state’s two highest mountains, Elbert and Massive. Scientists studying lake sediments and other clues have documented shorelines that a millennium ago were much lower. The droughts then lasted for decades, even hundreds of years, what are called megadroughts.

Lake of the Woods, which is located in Wyoming along the Continental Divide south of Jackson Hole, also offers evidence deciphered by scientists of a megadrought 5,200 years ago.

The point, said Shinker, is that natural variability has always occurred in the interior West. So, too have, extreme events, such as the wildfires that accompanied a megadrought in North Park about 2,000 years ago.

In the Colorado River Basin, scientists have reached much the same conclusion. Undeniably, there have been several hard drought years since 2000. But Brad Udall of Colorado State University and other scientists have concluded that it’s not a drought as conventionally understood. Rather, rising temperatures have begun causing more evaporation and transpiration, resulting in less water getting downstream.

That doesn’t mean conventional climatic forces don’t have swagger. From her post in Wyoming, Shinker studies what causes natural climatic variability in the interior West, such as movement of the polar jet stream north and south. But now there’s an overlay to those natural climatic variations, one created by human activities.

Scottsbluff, #NE: Becky McMillen’s “Rising Water” to screen on March 2, 2019

Nebraska Rivers Shown on the Map: Beaver Creek, Big Blue River, Calamus River, Dismal River, Elkhorn River, Frenchman Creek, Little Blue River, Lodgepole Creek, Logan Creek, Loup River, Medicine Creek, Middle Loup River, Missouri River, Niobrara River, North Fork Big Nemaha River, North Loup River, North Platte River, Platte River, Republican River, Shell Creek, South Loup River, South Platte River, White River and Wood River. Nebraska Lakes Shown on the Map: Harlan County Lake, Hugh Butler Lake, Lake McConaughy, Lewis and Clark Lake and Merritt Reservoir. Map credit: Geology.com

From Farm & Ranch (Spike Jordan):

Water is a contradiction for Western Nebraska. It’s both seemingly abundant, yet simultaneously finite and scarce.

A new film by a local award-winning documentary filmmaker explores this contradiction and tells the story of water in the Panhandle, from the founding of the numerous irrigation and natural resources districts that line the North Platte valley, to the legal fights surrounding the regulation, distribution and control of that water.

Insight Creative Independent Productions Executive Producer and Director Becky McMillen’s “Rising Water,” was originally designed to be a web series, and viewers will get a first peek at it when the film premiers at the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering on Saturday, March 2, at 1 p.m. The screening of the documentary is in conjunction with The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street the Water/Ways” exhibit, which is open now until April 13 at Legacy.

“Everyone knows how to use YouTube, and they’ve gotten used to web series,” McMillan said. “They’re used to watching short pieces.”

In essence, each of the segments of the film is a self-contained documentary which covers a different facet of the story of our water, she said.

The hour and fifteen minute feature is the product of more than three solid years of work, with much of the footage and information gathered over a greater period of time. McMillen said that her father, Udell Hughes Sr., helped her with much of the technical research for the film. It also contains material gathered during production of McMillen’s last major project, “River of Time: Wyoming’s Evolving North Platte River,” a half-hour program which premiered on Wyoming PBS in November 2012.

“We’ve been sort of building up towards this film,” she said. “A lot of my historical research was actually done at Legacy of the Plains.”

The film contains interviews with managers of irrigation districts, farmers, UNL researchers and footage from public hearings concerning water issues.

“I knew that I needed to talk about the Ogallala Aquifer, but it took me a while to understand that issue,” McMillen said.

So she consulted UNL research hydrogeologist Jim Goeke, who is known as “Mr. Water.” Goeke researched the aquifer and arguably knows more about the water under our feet than any other human being.

McMillen said she was surprised by how candid Goeke.

“He gave me courage to address issues that probably weren’t very popular and won’t be very popular,” she said. “We have sucked so much water out of the aquifer and I’ve been watching the Pumpkin Creek battle for years, but lost track of it.”

The challenge for McMillen was to tie together the surface water and ground water portions of the story.

And it was a lawsuit over the little western Nebraska stream that became a big State Supreme Court case.

In 2009 The Spear T Ranch settled with more than a dozen upstream ranchers and farmers in a dispute between irrigators feuding over water in Pumpkin Creek.

“I was thinking about Pumpkin Creek, but I didn’t have any visuals,” she said. “I’d filmed a meeting of farmers years ago, but the camera went south on me and there was no way I could recover the footage.”

Then synchronicity struck. McMillen’s bookkeeper was from the Spear T Ranch, and the family over time had saved all of the newspaper clippings about the fight.

“That helped me tie it all together,” McMillen said. “You just have to be able to listen and when you hear something say ‘What was that?’”

And the hunger for investigative work is what fuels most of her projects.

“I have to tell myself to stop, take notes and check things out,” she said. “I hear stories all the time and I’d love to go chase them, but I have to be responsible and pay my bills.”

McMillen said a lot of the project has been self-funded because she couldn’t kick the habit once a lead seemed promising.

Newspapers also provided McMillen a window into the issues. As the “first draft of history,” clippings are featured at prominent portions of the film.

“The Star-Herald is in a lot of these stories that I brought back from the past,” she said. “There was so much information that really help me understand what was going on at the time.”

Another portion of the film is spent exploring contamination concerns, especially the 2015 fight against a Colorado company who sought permission to use an abandoned oil well in Sioux County as a wastewater disposal site. Sioux County landowners eventually won their appeal and state lawmakers reformed the process in which permits are granted.

“I documented almost everything, and there is a lot of that in there, along with newspaper clippings” she said. “The physical thing is really important, because I couldn’t have told any of this story without the work of reporters from back in the 1800s on to the present day.”

And those are the little things, McMillen said.

“I saw articles where they hung effigies of law makers because they were going to shut the water off,” she said. “There’s always a fight about water. One guy will say ‘I was here first,’ and another guy will say, ‘hey I need that.’ And just because you were here first doesn’t mean you get to have all of it.”

And over the course of making the film McMillen said that she’s learned that there needs to be change to protect and preserve not only the Valley’s greatest gift, but the way of life for Farmers and Ranchers who live here.

“We’re going to have to look beyond what we’re calling ‘traditional practices,’” she said. “We can continue on the same track that we have been. We can’t keep expanding and still be able to sustain that.”

It was her discussions with farmers that drove home the point for her.

“I think we need to look at it as growing food,” she said. “I would like us to grow more food that doesn’t have to be shipped, because we’re going to have to address climate change and reverse it.”

And at the same time, caution needs to be exercised when employing solutions, she said.

“What we think are the solutions are not always the best way of doing things,” she said. “We can’t just blindly forge ahead just because we think it’s a good idea. At the time we’re looking at sustainable energy, we’re also wanting to put it in places that will never be the same.

“We need to work within the infrastructure we already have and not go to condemning land so that we can use it for transmission lines or wind farms. There is plenty of space for that without tearing up areas that can’t be returned to their natural state.”

#Colorado, desperate for snow, explores new takes on the old idea of #cloudseeding — @ColoradoSun

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From The Colorado Sun (Jennifer Brown):

…as Colorado’s drought intensifies and the state grows desperate to increase snowpack, a new study is helping create buzz around cloud seeding. And for the first time, Colorado is stepping up its game and plans to try cloud seeding not just from generators on the ground, but by airplane.

Cloud seeding, or weather modification, is mentioned multiple times in the Colorado Water Plan.

And a drought contingency plan approved this month by half of the seven states that make up the Colorado River Basin coalition includes three key components: reducing water consumption, managing reservoirs and “augmenting” the water supply through cloud seeding and removal of water-sucking tamarisk, or salt cedar trees.

“By itself, cloud seeding is not a drought buster, but it is one proven method to use along with demand management and reservoir operations,” said Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer for the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs.

A breakthrough study of cloud seeding by aircraft involving University of Colorado and University of Wyoming researchers took place in 2017 in the mountains of southwest Idaho. It captured attention after its results were published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For the first time, researchers — in a second aircraft flying near the cloud-seeding plane — could see silver iodide enter the clouds and form snow crystals.

“We unambiguously can show it works in the atmosphere,” said Dr. Katja Friedrich, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at CU and one of the study’s authors. “That was very revolutionary.”

In the experiment, funded by the National Science Foundation with support from Idaho Power Co., the cloud-seeding airplane passed through the clouds dropping flares of silver iodide, a compound that attaches to water molecules and forms crystals. The turboprop soaring above the Payette Basin also flared silver iodide from its wings as it flew through clouds rich with supercooled water droplets, ripe for seeding.

The research plane flew near the seeded clouds and was able to record via radar that silver iodide caused the water molecules in the clouds to freeze. The researchers’ radar detected water molecules inside clouds becoming “glaciated” and growing heavier after they were seeded with silver iodide, forming snow.

Now that they’ve proved cloud seeding works, follow-up work is needed to determine how much snow it actually produces and whether it’s an efficient way to increase snowpack, Friedrich said. Cloud seeding in Colorado is a $1.2 million annual operation, and according to the best estimates of researchers, can increase snowfall anywhere from 2 to 15 percent per storm…A turboprop plane, a King Air C90 owned by Weather Modification International, recently began seeding clouds in southern Wyoming. Now the North Dakota-based company is working with Jackson County, Colorado, on plans to boost snowfall in the lower Medicine Bow Range northwest of Fort Collins.

Snowpack from that mountain range ends up in the headwaters of the North Platte River and Walden Reservoir, northeast of Steamboat Springs. Jackson County water officials have filed permits for the project with the state Department of Natural Resources and final approval is only a matter of paperwork..

@USBR Releases Draft Environmental Documents for Platte River Recovery Extension

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Brock Merrill):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Final Environmental and Biological Assessment (EA) and signed the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension. Reclamation, working with the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, water users, and environmental and conservation organizations, proposes to extend the First Increment of the basin-wide, cooperative Recovery Implementation Program by 13 years. Reclamation participates in the Program to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

The purpose of this action is to continue implementing Program projects in order to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce flow shortages in the Platte River aimed at conforming with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service target flows
  • Continue land management activities necessary to provide habitat for target threatened and endangered species
  • Continue integrated monitoring, research, and adaptive management, in order to assess the progress of the Program and inform future management decisions
  • The final EA and FONSI evaluates and discloses the potential impacts of the proposed 13 year extension of the Program’s First Increment. The final EA and FONSI does not represent the final decision of the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Governors of the states of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, to extend the Program. The final EA and FONSI informs the Secretary that the potential impacts of the proposed extension do not warrant the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. The formal decision by the Secretary regarding whether or not to extend the Program in cooperation with the Governors will occur at a later date.

    The final EA and FONSI are available for viewing at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nepa/platte_river/index.html. For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the EA or Draft FONSI, please contact Brock Merrill at 307-532-1093 or bemerrill@usbr.gov.

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    Floating #Solar Is Best Solution For Walden’s High Electric Bills — CleanTechnica.com #ActOnClimate

    From CleanTechnica.com (Charles W. Thurston):

    When a town has high electric bills and no available land for a solar farm, a floating solar plant on the pond of a waste water plant makes great sense. Walden, Colorado, population 750, elevation 8,000 feet plus, and land area of 0.34 square miles, is such a town.

    Photo credit: CleanTechnica.com

    “We were spending about $22,000 a month for electricity for the water treatment facility, and this 75 kW solar installation will save us $10,000 a month,” says Jim Dustin, mayor of Walden, Colo. “We’ll pay for the plant in 20 years, and it is still expected to run 10 more years after that,” he says.

    The plant technology was furnished by floating solar specialists Ciel & Terre USA and was installed by GRID Specialists. The $400,000 cost of the plant was offset by a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which manages revenues earned by oil and gas development tax in the state. The project also was supported by the Colorado Energy Office.

    “The Energy Office is interested in this installation because it gets down to minus 40 or 50 degrees in the winter, and we have very high winds. They want to know if the technology will work, because there are irrigation ponds and unused water bodies all over this state,” says Dustin. The energy office has offered $120,000 to move the installation to another location if it doesn’t work in Walden, he adds.

    The Energy Office is also interested in conserving water in the state, where evaporation reduces holding pond levels by up to 90 inches per year, according to Taylor Lewis, a program engineer at the agency. “We have 2,000 man-made reservoirs in the state to keep water so if we can identify a few where it makes sense to cover them with solar, there could be a double benefit of water savings and electricity generation,” he says.

    The concept of covering drinking water bodies to reduce evaporation is not new. “I’ve been looking at claims by the City of Los Angeles that they have saved billions of gallons of water over the past 10 years at four reservoirs, using black floating plastic balls,” Lewis says. “We’re interested in studying the impact with floating solar here,” he adds.

    Johnson Controls came up with the initial idea of a floating solar array for Walden, says Dustin. “The floating solar array is a milestone for the Town of Walden and highlights the potential for Colorado’s overall energy efforts,” said Rowena Adams, a Performance Infrastructure account executive at Johnson Controls, in a statement.

    “It was a practical choice for Walden given the surrounding bodies of water and the town’s energy resiliency efforts at the Town Water Treatment Facility, as well as the desire to conserve water and minimize algae growth,” Adams said.

    Ciel & Terre, the technology provider, has more water projects in mind for Colorado. “With demand for solar power continuing to rise and available real estate becoming more expensive, floating solar is the ideal solution for anyone with a manmade pond or body of water. It’s cost-effective, quick to install, easy to maintain, and offers a variety of environmental benefits,” said Eva Pauly-Bowles, the representative director for the US office of the French company.

    “Floating solar is no longer an exotic niche in the US, but a rapidly growing sector of the solar market. Ciel & Terre USA has other larger floating solar projects under construction and planned across the country,” Papuly-Bowles said.

    Deploying a floating solar array on manmade bodies of water improves energy production by keeping the solar system cooler, Ciel & Terre says. At the same time it reduces evaporation, controls algae growth, and reduces water movement to minimize bank erosion, it says. Floating solar arrays also make optimal use of pond surfaces, providing clean solar energy without committing expensive real estate or requiring rooftop installations, the company adds.

    Established in 2006 as a renewable Independent Power Producer (IPP), Ciel & Terre has been fully devoted to floating solar PV since 2011. The French company pioneered Hydrelio, the first specific and industrialized system to make solar panels float on water, with criteria such as cost-effectiveness, safety, longevity, resistance to winds and waves, simplicity, drinking water compliance, and optimized electrical yield, the company states in its profile.

    Ciel & Terre has floating solar installations in Japan, Korea, China, UK, France, Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, and Taiwan as well as the United States. The company has its United States headquarters in Petaluma, California.

    @WaterLawReview: Crisis on the High Plains: The Loss of America’s Largest Aquifer – the Ogallala

    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.

    From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Jeremy Frankel):

    The grain-growing region in the High Plains of America—known as America’s breadbasket—relies entirely on the Ogallala Aquifer. But long term unsustainable use of the aquifer is forcing states in the region to face the prospect of a regional economic disaster. As the High Plains states reach the verge of a major crisis, the states have taken different approaches to conservation with varying results.

    The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture. The High Plains region—where the aquifer lies—relies on the aquifer for residential and industrial uses, but the aquifer’s water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation. The agricultural demands for Ogallala water in the region are immense, with the aquifer ultimately being responsible for thirty percent of all irrigation in the United States. The Ogallala Aquifer has long been unable to keep up with these agricultural demands, as the aquifer recharges far slower than water is withdrawn.

    Aside from the obvious agricultural ramifications from the Ogallala’s depletion, recent studies have shown that groundwater depletion also has a severe effect on freshwater ecosystems in the region. Each state has had to confront the issue in their own way, but the depletion of the aquifer has become severe enough to warrant the attention of the federal government as well. At the state level, the focus has been on maintaining an orderly depletion of the aquifer rather than developing a plan for sustainable use. However, some states have achieved some level of success in slowing down the aquifer’s depletion. Kansas, for example, has recently achieved mild success by adopting a program that put conservation in the hands of the State’s farmers. On the other hand, Nebraska has seen more success than Kansas by being tougher on farmers and exercising its enforcement powers. The federal government has also set up financial and technical assistance for farmers who commit to conservation and is funding large-scale pipeline projects to bring in water to the more desperate areas of the High Plains.

    Recap of the first Ogallala Water Summit

    From The Hutchinson News (Chance Hoener):

    When early explorers Zebulon Pike and Francisco de Coronado came upon the High Plains, they described it as a desert — an impossible region to farm.

    Irrigation changed that. It allowed residents to pull water from the Ogallala Aquifer, and grow crops nearly anywhere. The first irrigation wells in Kansas were drilled east of Garden City in 1908.

    The Ogallala is a massive, underground sponge, spanning from South Dakota and Wyoming, down through the High Plains to west Texas and New Mexico. Over 27,000 of the total 35,000 wells with active water rights in Kansas overlie the Ogallala, with 87 percent used for irrigation.

    But decades of pumping water out, with little return, has taken its toll.

    After 110 years of drilling and draining, the world’s largest aquifer is drying up.

    The Ogallala is the primary source of water for western Kansas farms, ranches and some communities, but projections indicate several areas that will go dry within 25 to 50 years at current usage rates. Some regions in Haskell County may have a decade or less…

    The Ogallala Aquifer Summit was organized by Colorado State University’s Ogallala Water CAP Program — a coordinated agriculture project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The summit brought together scientists, government agents and producers from the eight states situated over the Ogallala to discuss shared challenges and current initiatives to preserve the aquifer.

    Conversations between states had a rocky start, partly because they were spurred out of litigation regarding the Republican River basin along the Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas borders. The conflict led to monthly meetings of the Republican River Compact Administration — comprised of one member from each state — to change the approach and improve water management.

    “No offense to those that are here, but I’m just excited to come to an interstate water conference that doesn’t have more lawyers than it does farmers and ranchers,” Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey said to applause from the summit crowd.

    Nebraska Natural Resources Program Director Jesse Bradley and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown joined McClaskey for the first panel of the summit, discussing the cultivation of interstate conversations.

    Brown joked that the whole problem was Nebraska’s fault — Nebraska native Frank Zybach invented center pivot irrigation while living in Colorado — and Bradley fired back that ‘you always blame the upstream state.’

    She credits interstate conversations regarding the Republican River as a critical factor for changing the tone of the discussion. Instead of fighting over the water, the group is now working together to preserve water.

    “The biggest way we learned this lesson is from the complete 180 we’ve done on the Republican River discussions,” McClaskey said. “In July 2014, we started meeting month-to-month and created a true, long-term agreement, and are using those lessons to expand to all the states.

    “Now, I would call my colleagues from Nebraska and Colorado friends, which may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a lot easier to solve a problem with a friend than with an enemy.”