Taking the temperature of streamflow forecasts: #Climate information improves forecast accuracy in the U.S. Southwest

From AtmosNews (UCAR/NCAR):

Adding temperature predictions into seasonal streamflow forecasts in the U.S. Southwest could increase the accuracy of those forecasts, according to a new study that analyzed historical conditions in the headwaters of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.

Many rivers in the western United States are fed by melting snow in the spring and summer. Regional water managers depend on seasonal water supply forecasts that estimate the amount of runoff the snowpack will yield to determine how much water to allocate to farmers and ranchers, city residents, and other users.

These forecasts, which are based on snowpack measurements taken in the winter and spring, tend to assume that the climate is stable and that the relationship between the amount of snowpack and the amount of runoff is also stable.

But a recent study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Bureau of Reclamation found that warmer temperatures reduce the amount of meltwater that actually makes it into a stream, a finding that highlights the importance of accounting for changing climate conditions when forecasting streamflow.

Building on this work, scientists at NCAR tested whether incorporating seasonal temperature predictions into statistical streamflow forecasting models could improve their accuracy. The temperature predictions reflect the recent warming trend as well as whether the months after the forecast date are likely to be warmer or colder than this trend. Results of the new study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Adding temperature predictions into streamflow forecasts will not only improve the information that water managers have today, but it also has the potential to mitigate some of the loss of predictability that we now expect in the future, as the climate continues to warm,” said NCAR scientist Flavio Lehner, who co-led the study with NCAR scientist Andy Wood.

The research contributes to an NCAR effort, in collaboration with several federal agencies, to build better tools and models for analysis and prediction of water resources. The new study was funded by the NOAA, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Other study co-authors include Angus Goodbody from the National Water and Climate Center, which issues streamflow forecasts for the western United States; Florian Pappenberger from the forecast department of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts; and Douglas Blatchford and Dagmar Llewellyn, both from the Bureau of Reclamation.

COMPARING “HINDCASTS” WITH AND WITHOUT TEMPERATURE PREDICTIONS
To test whether the addition of seasonal temperature predictions could improve streamflow forecasts, the scientists created “hindcasts” for the headwaters of the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers (both located in Colorado) for the three decades between 1987 and 2016.

The team used historical observations of snowpack, precipitation, and streamflow to issue and evaluate a series of forecasts — on Jan. 1, Feb. 1, March 1, April 1, and May 1 — for each year. These hindcasts emulate the current method of issuing streamflow forecasts, including the calendar dates when those forecasts are issued.

The scientists also issued a second set of hindcasts, this time with the addition of seasonal temperature predictions for the region. The seasonal predictions were drawn from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which together comprise eight state-of-the-art models used for seasonal climate forecasts.

The team found that incorporating temperature predictions improved the accuracy of seasonal streamflow forecasts at the majority of river gauges across the headwaters of both basins. The amount of improvement varied between about 1 percent and 10 percent, averaged across the basins.

“We think that model-based temperature predictions could be used to improve water supply forecasts in other watersheds that rely on runoff from snowpack — across the western United States and in other parts of the world,” Lehner said “But the degree of improvement will certainly depend on the individual area.”

SMOOTHING THE PATH TO ADOPTION
To make it as easy as possible for existing operational forecasting centers to begin incorporating the research findings, the scientists chose to modify existing forecasting techniques to include temperature predictions instead of inventing an entirely new forecasting method.

“It’s a well-known challenge to transition methods from a research experiment to an operational setting,” Wood said. “Here we chose a baseline of a current operational water supply forecast technique so that the approach is an extension to the existing practice, and more likely to be supportable.”

Fostering these kinds of applications is the overarching goal of the Postdocs Applying Climate Expertise program that supports Lehner’s research. PACE is run by the Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Science, a community program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

“This project has enabled stakeholders and scientists to work together directly to tackle a concrete water-related problem arising from the variability and trends we’ve observed in our regional climate,” said Llewellyn, a scientist at the Bureau of Reclamation and study co-author.

ABOUT THE ARTICLE
Title: “Mitigating the impacts of climate non-stationarity on seasonal streamflow predictability in the U.S. Southwest”

Authors: Flavio Lehner, Andrew W. Wood, Dagmar Llewellyn, Douglas B. Blatchford, Angus G. Goodbody, Florian Pappenberger

Journal: Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2017GL076043

Take Me to the River — Lesley Adams and Kate Hudson

Here’s a profile of Cindy Medina and her work with the Alamosa Riverkeeper via the Waterkeeper Alliance (Lesley Adams and Kate Hudson). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Inspired by the leadership of Alamosa Riverkeeper Cindy Medina, a community united to bring the Alamosa River back to life.

The San Luis Valley and the headwaters of the Alamosa River rest between the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado rest. Rising more than 14,000 feet above sea level, the “Blood of Christ” mountains are the southern tip of the Rockies and stretch over the New Mexico border to where the Kapota Ute Indians once lived.

Three centuries ago, Spanish settlers came north from what was then Mexico and settled in the San Luis Valley, where they took root amidst the cottonwood and aspen trees along the Alamosa River and became farmers and ranchers with an unflagging commitment to hard work and their Catholic faith. Cindy Medina, a present-day descendant of one of those families, became one of the first women to join the Waterkeeper movement.

Photo credit: Wenck

The middle child of seven girls, Cindy was raised on a farm, helping with chores, playing in alfalfa fields, and splashing around in the irrigation ditch, called an acequia, that brought water to the farm. In her memoir, A Journey into the Heart of the Black Madonna, Cindy wrote lovingly of her family, whose pulsating force sustained her as a girl. Her memories of growing up in the San Luis Valley send aromas through the pages – of fresh tortillas and cinnamon rolls made by her mother, of the home-heating fires fueled by wood gathered in the mountains with her grandfather, of the potent herbal remedies wild-crafted by her grandmother. Her connections to family and the natural world around her were woven together. She wrote: “This lifeblood was no different than the acequia, the ditches lined with dirt that irrigated this arid land with water. . . The acequia was my ocean.”

Cindy Medina photo credit: Waterkeeper.org.

Like many others in the rural West, Cindy left as a young adult to pursue a formal education. She earned a master’s degree in counseling from Arizona State University and relocated with her husband to Seattle. There she began a successful practice as a psychotherapist, gave birth to two daughters and, while on a trip to Zurich, Switzerland to attend a psychology seminar, came across an 8th century statue of the Black Madonna at a Benedictine Abbey and experienced a spiritual transformation that led her to environmental activism. The Black Madonna is considered by some to be the Queen of Nature,” Cindy explains, “and the archetypal energy that fuels change.” She is the mother who fertilizes all life and urgently demands a return to balance and wholeness, honoring the earth. In her memoir, Cindy describes her encounter with the Black Madonna as a spiritual awakening to the interconnectedness of all living things. In 1988, propelled by that journey of self-discovery, Cindy moved back home to southern Colorado, where she found that a pollution crisis threatened the heart of her community, the Alamosa River.

Summitville Mine superfund site

Gold, Greed and Cyanide

The mountains in southern Colorado are rich in minerals, gold and silver, which attracted extensive mining in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. And, in turn, like all boom-and-bust extraction, the mines left a toxic legacy. Acid mine drainage polluted and continues to pollute many Colorado waterways downstream. Mining in high-elevation areas like the San Juan Mountains petered out in the 1920s, and remained dormant for more than half a century, until a new, far more destructive method was developed to allow precious metals to be recovered from otherwise uneconomic ore.

In 1984, Canadian-based Galactic Resources and its subsidiary, Summitville Consolidated Mining Company (named for the local ghost town) acquired 1,230 acres of the San Juan Mountains that loomed above the San Luis Valley, and convinced the state of Colorado to grant them a mining permit for a new “state of the art” mining technique known as “heap leaching” – large-scale open-pit mining that involved slicing off half the side of a mountain and putting the mined ore in a lined open pit (“heap-leach pad”) with sodium cyanide to leach out the copper, gold and silver. This “state of the art” technique was efficient for the mining company, but disastrous for those who lived downstream. The liner of this pit almost immediately sprung leaks, contaminating nearby creeks with heavy metals and acid, and creating a 17-mile dead zone and a massive fish kill in the 51-mile-long Alamosa River.

#Texas v. #NewMexico and #Colorado update

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

From Lexicology.com:

Decisions on these cases are expected by June.

If SCOTUS holds in Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado that the United States has an independent cause of action under the Rio Grande Compact, it could open the door for the federal government to sue states for violating the terms of other interstate water compacts. [11] Depending on the scope of the ruling, it could either set a precedent for claims by the United States in other interstate water disputes or be narrowly limited to the facts of the case. Included at the end of this alert is a map showing all current interstate compacts.

From a practitioner’s perspective, the issues at the crux of Florida v. Georgia highlight the need for clear guidance from technical experts in determining priorities in complex allocations. Moreover, the decision will have implications for how SCOTUS may handle equitable apportionment in future water disputes, such as between Mississippi and Tennessee. [12] There is a dearth of recent case law on equitable apportionment, particularly in Eastern states; the last time SCOTUS equitably apportioned water between Eastern states was 1931, when it resolved a conflict between New Jersey and New York. [13] There also is a lack of precedent as to how the Court will treat considerations of ecological impacts in equitable apportionment. Whether the decision in Florida v. Georgia will provide clear insights into these issues remains to be seen, but if it does, it will certainly impact upcoming interstate water disputes.

Conclusion

The allocation of water from interstate compacts directly impacts the amount of water available to users within the party states. Thus, the outcome of these two cases apportioning water between and among states, and deciding the role of the federal government in that distribution, will have impacts across various economic sectors, including agriculture, power production, municipal water supply, food processing, technology manufacturing, and data storage, to name a few.

Taos Valley Acequia Association Monthly Board Meeting Tuesday February 13, 2018

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

TAOS VALLEY ACEQUIA ASSOCIATION Monthly Board Meeting
Tuesday February 13, 2018
5:00 P.M.
Taos County Agricultural Center Conference Room

Click here to read the agenda.

#Texas v. #New Mexico and #Colorado update: #Drought is testing the accounting methods for supply and diversions below Elephant Butte

From Water Deeply (Jerry Redfern):

Texas and New Mexico are squaring off over water rights in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the issues at the heart of the disagreement were settled in 2008.

Insert drought: for most of the past 20 years, this whole disputed territory has suffered a series of droughts. Elephant Butte has not regularly filled as originally planned, and farmers have turned to pumping groundwater to meet their needs.

Texas’ main argument in the suit is that groundwater pumping for irrigation wasn’t covered under the 1938 compact. Texas contends that the groundwater is essentially attached to the water in the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte Reservoir. River water is drawn into the ground in times of high pumping, and more water then needs to be released from the reservoir to reach the quota bound for Texas. But Texas says that water is meant to be stored for Texas farms in drought years.

None of this is new. In fact, after years of previous wrangling, the three players directly involved in the dispute – Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which manages water between the dam and the Texas border; El Paso County Water Improvement District, which manages water on the Texas side; and Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the physical water system – collectively created the 2008 Operating Agreement. That document clearly laid out water use and metering of both surface and groundwater along the disputed stretch.

“It wasn’t pleasant, I’ll be honest with you,” Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager and treasurer, said of those negotiations. But in the end, both water districts felt they had a deal they could work with, and farmers could get on with farming.

Enter the State of New Mexico and then-Attorney General Gary King, who, in 2011, sued the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District and the Bureau of Reclamation in both state and federal courts. He argued that the Operating Agreement gave too much water to Texas. And in light of that, two years later, Texas began its Supreme Court fight.

“Make no mistake, we had it solved,” said Phil King, professor of civil engineering at New Mexico State University. He helped negotiate the 2008 agreement with Elephant Butte Irrigation District.

“We still think to this day that we might not be in the Supreme Court, had New Mexico not threatened the 2008 agreement,” Esslinger said.

The stakes are high. If New Mexico loses, the state could be penalized for misappropriated water as far back as the 1940s – a bill that could reach north of $1 billion. In addition, the state may have to allocate more of its water to Texas in the future.

Meanwhile, farmers continue to operate under the 2008 agreement. Also, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District, Bureau of Reclamation and other, smaller water users in New Mexico’s lower Rio Grande Valley are in closed-door talks to try to hammer out another deal – one amenable to both states and that makes the Supreme Court case moot. New Mexico’s current attorney general, Hector Balderas, has also indicated he wants to settle the case.

“I’m really very optimistic that something will work out,” says John Fleck, the director of the Water Resources program at the University of New Mexico. But “however this gets resolved, there will probably be less water for farming in the lower Rio Grande.”

And that’s because of drought.

A Southwest water dispute reaches the Supreme Court — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Sarah Tory):

Southern New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley is like an island: a fertile patchwork of farm fields and groves of pecan trees surrounded by the brown Chihuahuan Desert.

For Mesilla Valley farmers, the metaphor rings true in other ways as well. Though they live in New Mexico, the residents of the roughly 90,000-acre-area are caught between their own state and Texas. The Rio Grande water they depend on is not technically New Mexico’s water, but rather part of the water that goes to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact, a treaty ensuring that Texas, New Mexico and Colorado get their fair share of the river. New Mexico’s delivery obligation to Texas hinges on collecting enough water in Elephant Butte Reservoir, 90 miles from the Texas border and the neighboring Mesilla Valley. Unfortunately, that leaves the farmers downriver in a complicated no-man’s-land of interstate water management.

“We cringe when we hear, ‘Not one more drop to Texas,’ because that means not one more drop for us,” says Samantha Barncastle, the lawyer for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which manages and delivers irrigation water to Mesilla Valley farmers.

After more than a decade of back-and-forth between New Mexico and Texas, the fight has finally reached the Supreme Court. The first round of oral arguments took place on Jan. 8, with a final decision expected by early spring. For the farmers, the conflict has only heightened their sense of isolation from their own state — and made the costs of poor water management in a hotter and drier West more obvious than ever.

Elephant Butte Dam is filled by the Rio Grande and sustains agriculture in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico.
Sarah Tory

Built in 1916 by the Bureau of Reclamation, Elephant Butte Dam made a large-scale agricultural economy possible in New Mexico’s dry south. But disputes between states over the river continued, especially during times of drought.

The latest stems from a 2014 lawsuit filed by the state of Texas, claiming that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater, New Mexico was depleting the water destined for Texas under the Rio Grande Compact.

Farmers in the Mesilla Valley receive a yearly allocation of 36 inches of water per acre from the reservoir, as long as flows in the Rio Grande are sufficient. But in the 1950s, a severe drought curtailed that allotment. To supplement irrigation supplies, the Bureau of Reclamation encouraged local farmers to pump groundwater.

“Everyone did,” recalls Robert Faubion, a fourth-generation local farmer.

When the current drought began in 2003, farmers came to rely more on their groundwater wells, sometimes receiving almost 80 percent of their yearly irrigation needs from the aquifer. (The region’s towns and cities, including Las Cruces, rely 100 percent on groundwater.) According to the U.S. Geological Survey Mesilla Basin Monitoring Program, between 2003 and 2005 the Mesilla Valley aquifer declined by up to 5 feet and held steady until 2011, when it began dropping sharply again. In some places, groundwater levels fell by 18 feet.

As the situation worsened, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and its longtime rival in Texas, the El Paso County Water Improvement District, agreed that the time had come to resolve their grievances. So the two agencies settled on an “operating agreement” in 2008, which required New Mexico to relinquish some of its Rio Grande water to Texas in exchange for Texas ceasing its complaints about groundwater pumping.

The signing coincided with Valentine’s Day. “We had sort of a love fest,” says Gary Esslinger, the treasurer and manager of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.

The love lasted until 2011, when, in a surprise move, then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sued the irrigation district and the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 as well as the Bureau of Reclamation, arguing that the deal gave away too much of New Mexico’s water. The decision to sue one of its own irrigation districts was, to Barncastle, “incredibly strange.”

In 2014, Texas fired back with its own lawsuit against New Mexico, bringing us to today’s scenario: If the Supreme Court rules against New Mexico, the state budget will take a hit. New Mexico could owe billions of dollars in damages — on top of the $15 million already spent on legal fees — and potentially have to find additional sources of water to send to Texas, as a way to make up for its groundwater pumping.

According to Barncastle, the case is motivating stakeholders in southern New Mexico to work on a framework for better groundwater management. The impacts of climate change are adding yet another layer of uncertainty, since no one knows how weather patterns might affect water scarcity in the future.

Regardless, the outcome will have major implications, says southern New Mexico Sen. Joe Cervantes. Most of the state’s population and industry is located along the riparian corridor. “If the health of the Rio Grande is threatened, then all of those communities are put at risk,” Cervantes warned.

Correspondent Sarah Tory writes from Paonia, Colorado. She covers Utah, environmental justice and water issues.

#Texas v. #NewMexico and #Colorado update

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

From the Colorado Attorney General’s office via the Valley Courier:

[On Monday, January 8, 2018], Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman’s office presented arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court in Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, No. 141, Original, to protect the authority and jurisdiction of the Western States to manage water rights within their own borders and across state lines in cooperation with neighboring state officials.

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court after Texas sued New Mexico over a dispute regarding water in the Rio Grande Basin. Colorado, Texas and New Mexico are all parties to the Rio Grande Compact, an agreement that since 1938 has regulated the interstate apportionment of the waters of the Rio Grande. Texas did not make any claims against Colorado, but because Colorado is a party to the Compact, Colorado was also included in the case.

While Texas’s claims against New Mexico were pending, the U.S. government attempted to independently sue the State of New Mexico under the Rio Grande Compact. The Supreme Court invited the State of Colorado to present arguments on whether the United States has a right to sue a State under an interstate water compact, despite not being a party to it.

“Arguments over water rights have been going on since the beginning of statehood, but the authority to manage this critically important natural resource has always belonged first and foremost to the States,” said Attorney General Coffman. “We cannot allow the federal government to encroach on our rights and interfere with our ability to manage water resources on equal footing with our Sister States.”

Colorado Solicitor General Fred Yarger argued on behalf of the State, explaining that the federal government does not have a right to sue New Mexico under the Rio Grande Compact. The United States is not a party to the Compact, he explained, and the authority, jurisdiction and responsibility to manage the water of the Rio Grande lies with the States. Solicitor General Yarger argued that allowing the federal government to sue under the Compact to which it is not a party would set a very concerning precedent, harming the ability of States to work together to solve water disputes cooperatively, without federal government intrusion.