Allow us to be blunt about the current state affairs within the human family and in the larger living world: Things are bad, getting worse, and getting worse faster than we expected.
The human species faces multiple cascading social and ecological crises that will not be solved by virtuous individuals making moral judgments of others’ failures or by frugal people exhorting the profligate to lessen their consumption. This is happening not just because of a few bad people or bad systems, though there are plenty of people doing bad things in bad systems that reward people for doing those bad things. At the core of the problem is our human-carbon nature, the scramble for energy-rich carbon that defines life. Saying “no” to dense energy is hard.
Technological innovations can help us cope but cannot indefinitely forestall the dramatic changes that will test our ability to hold onto our humanity in the face of dislocation and deprivation. Although the worst effects of the crises are being experienced today in developing societies, more affluent societies aren’t exempt indefinitely. Ironically, in those more developed societies with greater dependency on high energy and high technology, the eventual crash might be the most unpredictable and disruptive. Affluent people tend to know the least about how to get by on less.
When presenting an analysis like this, we get two common responses from friends and allies who share our progressive politics and ecological concerns. The first is the claim that fear appeals don’t work. The second is to agree with the assessment but advise against saying such things in public because people can’t handle it.
On fear appeals: The reference is to public education campaigns that seek, for example, to reduce drunk driving by scaring people about the potentially fatal consequences. Well, sometimes fear appeals work and sometimes they don’t, but that isn’t relevant to our point. We are not focused on a single behavior, such as using tobacco, nor are we trying to develop a campaign to scare people into a specific behavior, such as quitting smoking. We are not trying to scare people at all. We are not proposing a strategy using the tricks of advertising and marketing, the polite terms in our society for propaganda. We are simply reporting the conclusions we have reached through our reading of the research and personal experience. We do not expect that a majority of people will agree with us today, but we see no alternative to speaking honestly. It is because others have spoken honestly to us over the years that we have been able to continue on this path. Friends and allies have treated us as rational adults capable of evaluating evidence and reaching conclusions, however tentative, and we believe we all owe each other that kind of respect.
We are not creating fear but simply acknowledging a fear that a growing number of people already feel, a fear that is based on an honest assessment of material realities and people’s behavior within existing social systems. Why would it be good strategy to help people bury legitimate fears that are based on rational evaluation of evidence? An obsession with so-called positive thinking not only undermines critical thinking but also produces anxiety of its own. Fear is counterproductive if it leads to paralysis but productive if it leads to inquiry and appropriate action to deal with a threat. Productive action is much more likely if we can imagine the possibility of a collective effort, and collective effort is impossible if we are left alone in our fear. The problem isn’t fear but the failure to face our fear together.
On handling it: It’s easy for people — ourselves included — to project our own fears onto others, to cover up our own inability to face difficult realities by suggesting the deficiency is in others. Both of us have given lectures or presented this perspective to friends and been told something like, “I agree with your assessment, but you shouldn’t say it publicly because people can’t handle it.” It’s never entirely clear who is in the category of “people.” Who are these people who are either cognitively or emotionally incapable of engaging these issues? These allegedly deficient folks are sometimes called “the masses,” implying a category of people not as smart as the people who are labeling them as such. We assume that whenever someone asserts that people can’t handle it, the person speaking really is confessing, “I can’t handle it.” Rather than confront their own limitations, many find it easier to displace their fears onto others.
We may not be able to handle the social and ecological problems that humans have created, if by “handle” we mean considering only those so-called solutions that allow us to imagine that we can continue the high-energy/high-technology living to which affluent people have become accustomed and to which others aspire. But we have no choice but to handle reality, since we can’t wish it away. We increase our chances of handling it sensibly if we face reality together.
In a culture that encourages, even demands, optimism no matter what the facts, it is important to consider plausible alternative endings. Anything that blocks us from looking honestly at reality, no matter how harsh the reality, must be rejected. To borrow an often-quoted line of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” The line is from an essay titled “As Much Truth as One Can Bear” about the struggles of artists to help a society, such as white supremacist America, face the depth of its pathology. Baldwin, writing with a focus on relationships between humans, suggested that a great writer attempts “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then a little more.”
We would take Baldwin a step further. Many people can tell only those truths that the power system can bear to hear. Others will dare to tell as much of the truth as one can bear and then a little more. But in the face of multiple cascading crises, we have to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, then a little more, and then all the rest of the truth, whether one can bear it or not.
If it seems like all the rest of the truth is more than one can bear, that’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges than ever before in history. Never have potential catastrophes been so global. Never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time. Never have we had so much information about the threats that we must come to terms with.
If that seems overwhelming, that’s because it is overwhelming. No one living at this moment in history — including the two of us — can really bear all of the truth. But we stand a better chance of fashioning a sensible path forward if we help each other bear all of that unbearable truth.
Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Emily Becker):
Ocean and atmospheric conditions tell us that La Niña—the cool phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern—currently reigns in the tropical Pacific. It’s looking very likely that the long-predicted third consecutive La Niña winter will happen, with a 91% chance of La Niña through September–November and an 80% chance through the early winter (November–January).
91%! That’s very high. Why so confident?
The first reason is that La Niña is already clearly in force in the tropical Pacific. The August sea surface temperature in the Niño-3.4 region, our primary location for ENSO monitoring, was about 1.0 °C (1.8 °F) cooler than the long-term average, according to ERSSTv5, our favorite dataset for sea surface temperature. (“Long-term” is currently 1991–2020.) This is substantially cooler than the La Niña threshold of 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) below average.
La Niña’s characteristic tropical atmospheric response—more rain and clouds over Indonesia, less over the central Pacific, and stronger-than-average winds both aloft and near the surface—was also clearly active in August. Taken together, the oceanic and atmospheric conditions tell us that La Niña is solidly in place. Once active, La Niña conditions are reinforced by feedback processes between the ocean and atmosphere. Read more about those feedbacks here.
What else is providing confidence in the forecast?
There is a substantial amount of cooler-than-average water under the surface of the eastern-central tropical Pacific. This subsurface water will provide a source of cooler water to the surface over the next couple of months. Also, the computer climate model consensus predicts that La Niña will continue into the winter.
How long will La Niña last?
While there’s high agreement through the winter, there is a lot of uncertainty about how long this La Niña will last and when we will see a transition to neutral conditions. Current forecaster consensus gives La Niña the edge through January–March (54%), with a 56% chance of neutral for the February–April period.
When have previous La Niñas transitioned to neutral?
There are 24 La Niña winters in our historical record, which dates back to 1950. Of those, only one (2016–17) changed to neutral in December–February. Four transitioned to neutral in January–March, one (2000–01) by February–April, two by March–May, and 16 in April–June or later. Especially when you’re slicing and dicing a relatively short record, it’s tough to find truly analogous events. For example, this will be only the third La Niña three-peat on record, and the first not to follow a strong El Niño event.
All this is to say that past La Niñas aren’t providing much guidance on how long we can expect this event to last. The current forecaster estimate, which favors an earlier than typical transition to neutral, is based on computer model guidance.
Remind me why I should care about La Niña…?
I admit, as scientists, we sometimes get wrapped up in how interesting the inner workings of El Niño and La Niña are! But ENSO has some serious practical applications. In a nutshell, La Niña and El Niño affect global atmospheric circulation patterns in (somewhat) predictable patterns, altering jet streams and storm tracks around the world and influencing temperature, rain/snow, and tropical cyclone seasons. Since we can predict ENSO months in advance, we can get an early picture of potential upcoming climate patterns. Of course, nothing is guaranteed with weather and climate—ENSO merely “tilts the odds” toward certain patterns. For more on how ENSO affects climate patterns, as well as why it’s so difficult to make specific predictions, check out Michelle’s post here.
Can I have some examples of how La Niña can affect North American weather?
Yes! Here’s a map, followed by a list of some specifics.
The 1960s and 1970s were a golden age of infrastructure development in the U.S., with the expansion of the interstate system and widespread construction of new water treatment, wastewater and flood control systems reflecting national priorities in public health and national defense. But infrastructure requires maintenance, and, eventually, it has to be replaced.
That hasn’t been happening in many parts of the country. Increasingly, extreme heat and storms are putting roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure under stress.
Two recent examples – an intense heat wave that pushed California’s power grid to its limits in September 2022, and the failure of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, amid flooding in August – show how a growing maintenance backlog and increasing climate change are turning the 2020s and 2030s into a golden age of infrastructure failure.
I am a civil engineer whose work focuses on the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. Often, low-income communities and communities of color like Jackson see the least investment in infrastructure replacements and repairs.
Crumbling bridge and water systems
The United States is consistently falling short on funding infrastructure maintenance. A report by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker’s Volcker Alliance in 2019 estimated the U.S. has a US$1 trillion backlog of needed repairs.
A water main break now occurs somewhere in the U.S. every two minutes, and an estimated 6 million gallons of treated water are lost each day. This is happening at the same time the western United States is implementing water restrictions amid the driest 20-year span in 1,200 years. Similarly, drinking water distribution in the United States relies on over 2 million miles of pipes that have limited life spans.
The underlying issue for infrastructure failure is age, resulting in the failure of critical parts such as pumps and motors.
Jackson, a majority-Black state capital, has dealt with water system breakdowns for years and has repeatedly requested infrastructure funding from the state to upgrade its struggling water treatment plants.
Climate change exacerbates the risk
The consequences of inadequate maintenance are compounded by climate change, which is accelerating infrastructure failure with increased flooding, extreme heat and growing storm intensity.
Much of the world’s infrastructure was designed for an environment that no longer exists. The historic precipitation levels, temperature profiles, extreme weather events and storm surge levels those systems were designed and built to handle are now exceeded on a regular basis.
Unprecedented rainfall in the California desert in 2015 tore apart a bridge over Interstate 10, one of the state’s most important east-west routes. Temperatures near 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C) forced the Phoenix airport to cancel flights in 2017 out of concern the planes might not be able to safely take off.
Power outages during California’s September 2022 heat wave are another potentially life-threatening infrastructure problem.
The rising costs of delayed repairs
My research with colleagues shows that the vulnerability of the national transportation system, energy distribution system, water treatment facilities and coastal infrastructure will significantly increase over the next decade due to climate change.
We estimate that rail infrastructure faces additional repair costs of $5 billion to $10 billion annually by 2050, while road repairs due to temperature increases could reach a cumulative $200 billion to $300 billion by the end of the century. Similarly, water utilities are facing the possibility of a trillion-dollar price tag by 2050.
After studying the issue of climate change impacts on infrastructure for two decades, with climate projections getting worse, not better, I believe addressing the multiple challenges to the nation’s infrastructure requires systemic change.
Two items are at the top of the list: national prioritization and funding.
Prioritizing the infrastructure challenge is essential to bring government responsibilities into the national conversation. Most local jurisdictions simply can’t afford to absorb the cost of needed infrastructure. The recent infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act are starting points, but they still fall short of fixing the long-term issue.
Without systemic change, Jackson, Mississippi, will be just the start of an escalating trend.
Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Delaney Nelson):
The American West is experiencing its most severe drought in 1,200 years. The consequences are far-reaching and long lasting. Forests become tinder boxes. Hydropower is weakened. Human health and wildlife are threatened. Each week, Circle of Blue breaks down the biggest stories, the latest data, and the most promising solutions to the United States’ most urgent water crisis. Read Dry: A Weekly Western Drought Digest, your go-to news brief on the drying American West.
– As of August 23, 39 percent of the U.S. and Puerto Rico are in drought, down four percentage points in the last month. Portions of Texas and the Southwest witnessed extraordinary downpours in recent weeks that relieved some drought stress but also caused severe flooding.
– Utah’s proposed Lake Powell pipeline struggles to make progress amid declining water levels and drought conditions.
– Data centers around the country face scrutiny for their substantial water use.
– California becomes first state to install solar panels over canals in an effort to combat drought.
– A single year of drought can reduce vegetation growth by more than 80 percent, researchers found. To gather their data, ecologists created artificial droughts at 100 research sites globally. While results of the study varied, some plots of land saw “catastrophic loss” in vegetation, according to Science Magazine.
– As the fall migration season approaches, birds traveling along the Northern California mountains to Central America will face dried up wetlands and shallow water. Migratory birds will have to travel further to find smaller amounts of water, which will likely increase the spread of diseases among the birds, the Enterprise-Record reports. The Centers for Disease Control reported 230,900 birds are affected by the current avian flu outbreak.
– The Paluxy River in the Texas Dinosaur Valley State Park is almost completely dried up – revealing dinosaur tracks from 113 million years ago.
Status of Reservoirs/Colorado River
– A group of seven water utilities across the Colorado River basin pledged last week to reduce their water consumption and increase water reuse and recycling programs. In a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, officials representing utilities in Colorado, California and Nevada committed to implementing indoor and outdoor water-efficient programs, reducing the quantity of non-functional turf grass and installing drought- and climate-resilient landscaping. The utilities vowed to collaborate with other users in the basin, however their conservation efforts are not likely to make a considerable dent in the river’s water scarcity crisis, KUNC Colorado reports.
– The declining water levels of Lake Powell, which Reclamation predicts could fall to the point of dead pool in the coming years, have had major implications for ecosystems, business owners and residents throughout the region. Without action to save the Colorado River and its reservoirs, Lake Powell is “heading toward catastrophe,” Zak Podmore writes for the Salt Lake Tribune.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1450 cfs to 1350 cfs on Thursday, September 1st. Releases are being decreased as rainfall has helped put river flows well above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently over the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to continue at or above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 440 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 340 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Katharine Hayhoe, The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, wants Wyoming residents to discuss climate change in present-day terms that connect to people and the things they love.
“We need to talk about things that are relevant to us: my family, my home, my job,” Hayhoe, a climate scientist, told an audience at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts last week. “We need to talk about it in a way that directly connects the dots between things that we already care about, like having water, like agriculture and food.”
Hayhoe, from Dallas, Texas, has an academic background in the physical sciences: She earned a PhD in statistical climate change modeling from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has 125 peer-reviewed papers under her name. She’s professionally segued into the social sciences and climate change communication, and in the process has grown into something of a climate action celebrity. Shifting messaging away from unmitigatable doom-and-gloom disasters people associate climate change with today is a thrust of her new book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.”
Hayhoe traveled to Wyoming for a two-day The Nature Conservancy event dubbed, “Hope in Action: Wyoming’s Response to Climate Change.” Ahead of her public talk, she sat down with WyoFile to discuss policies, communication and climate change’s ecological implications in the Northern Rockies. This interview has been edited for readability.
WyoFile: The name of The Nature Conservancy’s event that brought you here implies that Wyoming has a response to climate change. In your view, what is that response?
Katharine Hayhoe: What we’re actually going to be talking about — which is really phenomenal — is how there are so many different people doing so many different things in Wyoming. People feel like climate action is a giant boulder, sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep cliff, and there’s only a few hands on it, trying to push it up that cliff, and it’s not budging an inch. Almost anywhere, including Wyoming, when you look around at all the different organizations and people who already have their hands on that giant boulder, you realize it’s already at the top of the hill and that it’s already rolling down the hill in the right direction. And it just needs more hands on it, and it will get going faster and faster.
WF: When you say all these different people starting to push the boulder, are you talking about nongovernmental organizations and voluntary actions? Because in terms of policy, Wyoming has not prioritized reducing its carbon footprint through incentives or commercially viable technologies.
KH: Policy in red states like Texas, where I live, and Wyoming is probably one of the last things that’s going to change. All too often we look to state or federal policy as the benchmark of action, and up until very recently people have been extremely discouraged by looking at federal policy, because it’s been basically nothing. Under the Trump administration, [the former president] famously announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. But at the same time, there was a group of organizations, companies, cities, states, tribal nations, universities, churches — called, “We are still in” — and they amounted to, at that time, over half of U.S. carbon emissions. They included organizations like the city of Houston, which is the home to the oil and gas industry in the United States. They were still in on the Paris Agreement.
WF: In terms of responding to climate change, should some of Wyoming’s role be using our incredible federal lands as a proving ground for climate adaptation projects?
KH: Not only adaptation, but mitigation, too. Nature-based solutions, which include managed grazing, regenerative agriculture — these are types of solutions that are not only adaptation solutions, but they’re also mitigation solutions as well. These are the types of solutions that The Nature Conservancy invests, supports and studies from a scientific perspective. A lot of what drew me to TNC is those nature-positive solutions that have benefits today in terms of making us more drought resistant, or more heat resistant or more well-rounded in the face of a changing climate. Those are the types of solutions that I think it’s very important to lean into, as well as clean energy solutions in a lot of rural areas. We have a lot of sun, a lot of wind, all the way from North Dakota down to Texas, all the way through the red states.
WF: Wyoming’s about half federal land. Do you think that federal land should play a big role in the renewable energy future in the United States? And how do we find a balance between renewable energy development and preserving what is probably most prized by the people who live here, which are wildlife values?
KH: Prioritize previously disturbed land, not unique, pristine ecosystems where we’re going to put up a bunch of wind turbines and solar panels. Prioritize the places that have already been disturbed and where the habitat that has already been destroyed — the places that can already be repurposed.
WF: Because some climate-change policies are not politically palatable here, what are some initiatives that might help Wyoming be more action-oriented in response to climate change?
KH: I would make a bit more general point, which is that it matters what you call it. You don’t have to call it a climate policy. In terms of policies, Build Back Better was a good example, because who wouldn’t want to build back better? The Inflation Reduction Act is a good title, because who doesn’t want to reduce inflation? We should really be focusing on what people have in common and what they agree on, and then building out a policy for that. And if it addresses climate resilience and climate mitigation at the same time, that’s an extra win.
WF: Based on what you’ve learned from TNC research staff in Wyoming, what is something about the impacts of climate change in the Northern Rockies that every Wyoming resident should know?
KH: The most important thing for any Wyoming resident to know — and in fact, for really anyone to know — is that climate change is already affecting you here, and now. It is not a future issue and is not a distant issue. It is already quite literally affecting the air you breathe through bigger and more devastating wildfires, and the smoke they cause. It is already affecting the cost of things that you pay for, and the availability of those things through extreme weather events that are disrupting our supply chain. It is already very likely affecting insurance costs, if you pay for insurance on your home, because large insurance companies are picking up the bill for disasters that might be happening here or that might be happening on the other side of the country. It is already affecting the environment in which you live. We are already seeing spring coming earlier, we are seeing snowpack decreasing. We are also seeing more frequent and more-severe extreme weather events. And we’re seeing this seesaw, going back and forth, from flood to drought that is having a devastating impact not just on ecosystems and lake levels, but on the economies of towns where people you know live.
WF: You’re talking about some things people should know about climate change, but many people here don’t believe in it. Yale University research shows that Wyoming is neck and neck with West Virginia, leading the nation in terms of climate change skepticism. In your mind, is it urgent to change that and educate residents?
KH: It’s urgent because what’s at stake is civilization as we know it. A wildfire doesn’t knock at your door and say, excuse me, ‘Who did you vote for in the last political election?’ before it burns down your house. We’re all at risk — every single one of us — and we already have every reason we need to care. But for many people, they’ve become convinced that the cure is worse than the disease and that weaning ourselves off fossil fuels will be worse than just dealing with the impacts of climate change. What’s going to overcome that is not hammering people with science that we’ve known since the 1850s, but rather showing them that there are solutions that have benefits today. Solutions that put money in their pockets.
WF: Based on what you know of climate change research here in the Northern Rockies, where are the holes? What is an impact that we likely have coming that we don’t understand well enough and we need to really dig into?
KH: The interconnectivity of our systems, that is where the wildcards lie. That is where the surprises, both positive and negative, lie. OK, we can have bad floods, it could take out that road. But what are the cascading impacts of that road being taken out on the local economy? On peoples’ jobs and business. Understanding that connectivity is so important.
Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming’s natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures… More by Mike Koshmrl
The western United States is, famously, in the grips of its worst megadrought in a millennium. The Colorado River, which supplies water to more than 40 million Americans and supports food production for the rest of the country, is in imminent peril. The levels in the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam and a fulcrum of the Colorado River basin, have dropped to around 25% of capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation, which governs lakes Mead and Powell and water distribution for the southern end of the river, has issued an ultimatum: The seven states that draw from the Colorado must find ways to cut their consumption — by as much as 40% — or the federal government will do it for them. Last week those states failed to agree on new conservation measures by deadline. Meanwhile, next door, California, which draws from the Colorado, faces its own additional crises, with snowpack and water levels in both its reservoirs and aquifers all experiencing a steady, historic and climate-driven decline. It’s a national emergency, but not a surprise, as scientists and leaders have been warning for a generation that warming plus overuse of water in a fast-growing West would lead those states to run out.
I recently sat down with Jay Famiglietti, the executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, to talk about what comes next and what the public still doesn’t understand about water scarcity in the United States. Before moving to Canada, Famiglietti was a lead researcher at NASA’s water science program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a member of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine. He pioneered the use of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites to peer into the earth’s mass and measure changes in its underground water supplies. The Colorado River crisis is urgent, Famiglietti said, but the hidden, underground water crisis is even worse. We talked about what U.S. leaders either won’t acknowledge or don’t understand and about how bad things are about to get.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with the Colorado River because it’s in the news. The federal government has put some extraordinary numbers out there, suggesting water users cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water usage starting this year — roughly 40% of the entire river’s recent flow. How could that possibly happen?
It’s going to be really hard. We’re looking at drastically reduced food production and the migration of agriculture to other parts of the country and real limits on growth, especially in desert cities like Phoenix. My fear is that groundwater will, as usual, be left out of the discussion — groundwater is mostly unprotected, and it’s going to be a real shit show.
Remind us how that happens. States and farmers cut back on the Colorado River, and California and Arizona just start pumping all the water out of their aquifers?
Yeah. This started with the drought contingency plan [the 2018 legal agreement among the states on the Colorado River]. Arizona had to cut nearly 20% of its Colorado River water. To placate the farmers, the deal was that they would have free access to the groundwater. In fact, something like $20 million was allocated to help them dig more wells. So, it was just a direct transfer from surface water to groundwater. Right away, you could see that the groundwater depletion was accelerating. With this latest round, I’m afraid we’re just going to see more of that.
Some of that groundwater actually gets used to grow feed for cattle in the Middle East or China, right? There’s Saudi-owned agriculture firms planting alfalfa, which uses more water than just about anything, and it’s not for American food supply. Do I have that right?
There’s been other buyers from other countries coming in, buying up that land, land grabbing and grabbing the water rights. That’s happening in Arizona.
What about in California? Groundwater depletion has caused the earth to sink in on itself. Parts of the Central Valley are 28 feet lower today than they were a century ago.
California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, which mandated an extraordinarily long time horizon: two years to form the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and then five years for each GSA to come up with its sustainability plan. So that’s now: 2022. And then 20 years to come into sustainability. My fear is that the slow implementation will allow for too much groundwater depletion to happen. It’s sort of the same old, same old.
But could it work?
I don’t think we’re talking about sustainability. I think we’re talking about managed depletion. Because it’s impossible to keep growing the food that we grow in California. It’s agriculture that uses most of the groundwater. The math just isn’t there to have sustainable groundwater management. If you think of sustainability as input equals output — don’t withdraw more than is being replenished on an annual basis — that’s impossible in most of California.
Will we run out of water? Are we talking about 10 years or 100 years?
Yes. We are on target to. Parts of the Central Valley have already run out of water. Before SGMA, there were places in the southern part of the valley where I would say within 40 to 50 years we would run out or the water is so saline or so deep that it’s just too expensive to extract. SGMA may slow that down — or it may not. I don’t think the outlook is really good. Our own research is showing that groundwater depletion there has accelerated in the last three years.
Then what happens? What does California or Arizona look like after that?
It looks pretty dry. Even among water users, there’s an element that doesn’t understand that this is going to be the end for a lot of farming. Farmers are trying to be really efficient but also magically want the supply of water to be sustained.
We focus on the big cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, but it’s farms that use 80% of water. They grow crops that provide huge amounts of the winter fruits and vegetables and nuts for the entire country. Is there any way that farming in California and Arizona can continue even remotely close to how it is today?
I don’t think so. It has to drastically change. We’ll need wholesale conversion to efficient irrigation and different pricing structures so that water is better valued. We’ll need different crops that are bred to be more drought tolerant and more saline-water tolerant. And we’ll probably have a lot less production.
What does that mean for the country’s food supply?
This is the big question. I don’t want to be flippant, but people don’t understand the food-water nexus. Do we try to bring more water to the southern high plains, to Arizona, to California, because if the food system’s optimized, maybe that’s the cheapest thing to do? Or does agriculture move to where the water is? Does it migrate north and east? It’s not just food production. What about the workers? Transportation? If we were to move all of our agriculture to northern California, into Idaho, into North Dakota over the next decade, that’s a major upheaval for millions and millions of people who work in the ag industry.
It’s really interconnected, isn’t it? The nation essentially expanded West beginning in the 19th century in order to build a food system that could support East Coast growth. The Homestead Act, the expansion of the railroads, was partially to put a system in place to bring stock back to the meat houses in Chicago and to expand farming to supply the urban growth in the East.
I don’t think a lot of people really realize that, right? When I go to the grocery store in Saskatoon, my berries are coming from Watsonville, California. The lettuce is coming from Salinas, California.
Farmers in the West are fiercely independent. So, in California, Arizona, do they lose the ability to choose what to plant?
Right now, there’s freedom to plant whatever you want. But when we look out a few decades, if the water cannot be managed sustainably, I don’t actually know. At some point we will need discussions and interventions about what are the needs of the country? What kind of food? What do we need for our food security?
Let’s discuss California. Its governor, Gavin Newsom, has advanced a lot of progressive climate policies, but he replaced the water board leader, who pushed for groundwater management across the state, and last month the agency’s long-serving climate change manager resigned in protest of the state’s lax water conservation efforts. What does it mean if a liberal, climate-active governor can’t make the hard decisions? What does that say about the bigger picture?
There has been a drop off from the Jerry Brown administration to the Newsom administration. Water has taken a step lower in priority.
Is that a sign that these problems are intractable?
No. It’s a sign that it’s just not as high a priority. There are tough decisions to be made in California, and some of them won’t be popular. You can see the difference between someone like Brown, who was sort of end-of-career and just like, “Screw it, man, I’m just going to do this because it needs to be done,” and someone like Newsom, who clearly has aspirations for higher office and is making more of a political play. We’re not going to solve California’s water problem, but we could make it a lot more manageable for decades and decades and decades. (Newsom’s office has rejected the criticism and has said the governor is doing more than any other state to adapt to climate change. On Aug. 11 his administration announced new water recycling, storage and conservation measures.)
Water wars. It’s an idea that gets batted around a whole bunch. Once, negotiating water use more than a century ago, California and Arizona amassed armed state guard troops on opposite banks of the Colorado River. Is this hyperbole or reality for the future?
Well, it’s already happening. Florida and Georgia were in court as was Tennessee. There’s the dispute between Texas and New Mexico. Even within California they’re still arguing environment versus agriculture, farmers versus fish, north versus south. Sadly, we’re at a point in our history where people are not afraid to express their extreme points of view in ways that are violent. That’s the trajectory that we’re on. When you put those things together, especially in the southern half or the southwestern United States, I think it’s more of a tinderbox than it ever has been.
You’re not going to get any hope out of me. The best you’re going to get out of me is we can manage our way through. I don’t think we’re going to really slow global change. We have to do what we’re doing because we’re talking about the future. But a certain number of degrees warming and a certain amount of sea level rise is already locked in, and all that’s happening in our lifetimes. The best you’re going to hear from me is that we need to do the best we can now to slow down the rates of warming that directly impacts the availability of water. We’re talking about the future of humanity. I think people don’t realize that we’re making those decisions now by our water policies and by our climate change policy.
When people think about water, they think of it as a Western problem, but there’s water shortages across the High Plains and into the South, too.
I don’t think most people understand that scarcity in many places is getting more pronounced. Nationally, let’s look at the positives: It’s a big country, and within its boundaries, we have enough water to be water secure and to be food secure and to do it in an environmentally sustainable way. A lot of countries don’t have that. That’s a positive, though we still have the same problems that everyone else has with increasing flooding and drought. What I really think we need is more attention to a national water policy and more attention to the food, water and energy nexus. Because those are things that are going to define how well we do as a country.
What would a national water policy look like?
It recognizes where people live, and it recognizes where we have water, and then it decides how we want to deal with that. Maybe it’s more like a national water/food policy. Moving water over long distances is not really feasible right now — it’s incredibly expensive. Does the government want to subsidize that? These are the kind of things that need to be discussed, because we’re on a collision course with reality — and the reality is those places where we grow food, where a lot of people live, are running out of water, and there are other parts of the country that have a lot of water. So that’s a national-level discussion that has to happen, because when you think about it, the food problem is a national problem. It’s not a California problem. It’s not a Southern, High Plains, Ogallala, Texas Panhandle problem. It’s a national problem. It needs a national solution.
Is this a climate czar? A new agency?
Something like that. We’re failing right now. We’re failing to have any vision for how that would happen. In Canada, we’re talking about a Canadian water agency and a national water policy. That could be something that we need in the United States — a national water agency to deal with these problems.
In the Inflation Reduction Act we finally have some legislation that will help cut emissions. There’s plenty of other talk about infrastructure and adaptation — seawalls and strengthening housing and building codes and all of those sorts of things. Where would you rank the priority of a national water policy?
It’s an absolute top priority. I like to say that water’s next, right after carbon. Water is the messenger that’s delivering the bad news about climate change to your city, to your front door.
We don’t usually mix concern over drought with concern over contamination, but there was a recent study about the presence of “forever” chemicals in rainfall and salt washing off the roads in Washington, D.C., and contaminating drinking water. Can these remain separate challenges in a hotter future?
It doesn’t get discussed much, but we’re seeing more and more the links between water quality and climate change. We’ve got water treatment facilities and sewers close to coasts. During drought, discharge of contaminants is less diluted. The water quality community and the water climate communities don’t really overlap. We’ve done a terrible job as stewards where water is concerned.
Globally, what do you want Americans to think about when they read this?
The United States is kind of a snapshot of what’s happening in the rest of the world. There’s no place we can run to. Things are happening really, really fast and in a very large scale. We as a society, as a country or as a global society are not responding with the urgency, with the pace and the scale that’s required. I am specifically talking about rapid changes that are happening with freshwater availability that most people don’t know about. The problems are often larger than one country. A lot of it is transboundary. And we’re just not moving fast enough.
Around the world the water levels have just continued to drop. In the Middle East or India. In fact, they’re getting faster. It’s actually a steeper slope.
So, the Colorado River is the least of our worries.
Globally? It’s not even as bad as the others. Arizona doesn’t really show up as much compared to some of these places.
In remarks at the National Congress of American Indians 2022 Mid Year Conference today, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the launch of the first-ever Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC).
The STAC, which was announced as part of the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit, will ensure Tribal leaders have direct and consistent contact and communication with the current and future Department officials to facilitate robust discussions on intergovernmental responsibilities, exchange views, share information and provide advice and recommendations regarding Departmental programs and funding that impact Tribal Nations to advance the federal trust responsibility.
“Tribes deserve a seat at the decision-making table before policies are made that impact their communities. Tribal members who are joining the first-ever Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee will be integral to ensuring Tribal leaders can engage at the highest levels of the Department on the issues that matter most to their people,” said Secretary Haaland. “I look forward to continued engagement and ensuring that the Department honors and strengthens our nation-to-nation relationships with Tribes.”
The STAC is composed of a primary Tribal representative from each of the 12 Bureau of Indian Affairs Regions (BIA), and one alternate member from each region. The members are appointed on a staggered term for up to two years. The Secretary, in consultation with the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, will designate one member of the STAC to serve as chairperson.
The members of the STAC, listed by BIA Region, are below:
Primary member: Robert Keith; President, Native Village of Elim
Alternate member: Gayla Hoseth; Second Tribal Chief for the Curyung Tribal Council
Primary member: Kelly Dennis; Councilwoman, Shinnecock Indian Nation
Alternate member: Stephanie Bryan; Tribal Chair, Poarch Creek Indians
Eastern Oklahoma Region
Primary member: Gary Batton; Chief, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Alternate member: Del Beaver; Second Chief, Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Great Plains Region
Primary member: Dionne Crawford; Councilwoman, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate for the Lake Traverse District
Alternate member: Cora White Horse; Councilwoman, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Primary member: Whitney Gravelle; President, Bay Mills Indian Community
Alternate member: Michelle Beaudin; Councilwoman, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin
Primary member: Jonathan Nez; President, Navajo Nation
Alternate member: Daniel Tso; Council Delegate, Navajo Nation
Primary member: Kat Brigham; Chair of the Board of Trustees, Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation
Sometime last weekend (June 4-5, 2022), the Rio Grande south of Socorro, New Mexico, began drying. By this morning (Monday June 6) river managers reported 20+ miles of drying. The gage north of the 380 bridge at San Antonio dropped to zero today.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, which normally gets the largest share of our drinking water from the Rio Grande (supplemented with imported Colorado River water via the San Juan-Chama Project), will likely be shutting down its river diversions within the next week to ten days, switching entirely to groundwater through late summer or fall. Which means my tap will still run, and I’ll still be able to water my lush suburban oasis cactus.
Flows on the Rio Grande through Albuquerque right now are the lowest since 1977, which was a crazy bad water year here. Absent a good summer monsoon (which bailed us out last year), we’re expecting the Rio Grande to dry in the Albuquerque stretch this year. As I understand it, this would be the first time we have seen that since 1983, though historically it has happened with some frequency in the past.
But it’s never happened since I’ve been here. (I hope readers will forgive a post now and then as I bear witness to my river going dry.)
Folks who depend on surface water for irrigating their yards, horse pastures, and the like are likely to see dry ditches…
One of the things I’ll be watching this year is the health of our bosque, the cottonwood gallery forest that lines the river. The trees are phreatophytes, which means they stick their roots down into the water table to drink directly. Even as the river dries, they’re still able to tap into the shallow aquifer, and we’ve seen them do well in recent years even as the surface manifestation of the river dries. It’s almost like under a nature-drive doctrine of prior appropriation, the trees are the senior users on the system. They’ll continue to take their cut.
The result of the highly engineered systems and technology is fresh, nutritious and non-genetically-modified food, said Aric Nissen, chief marketing officer for Kalera, a Florida-based company that builds and operates indoor, vertical farms.
The company began operations about a month ago in a 90,000-square-foot warehouse, which Nissen estimates is running at 30% capacity. In the next several months, Kalera expects to expand its workforce of 40 to about 100 and its operations to full capacity to harvest approximately 15 million heads of lettuce, or 2.5 million pounds…
“We’re trying to produce food at scale in an urban area, close to where people live,” Nissen said. “We want to let people know there’s technology involved, but it’s producing food naturally, without the use of chemicals or genetic modification.”
Kalera’s farms use hydroponics — water — to grow lettuce and microgreens, or vegetable seedlings. The New York Times reports the number of vertical farms is expected to expand as demand for year-round produce and the impact of climate change on agriculture increase. The industry is forecast to grow globally from $3.1 billion in 2021 to $9.7 billion by 2026, according to the data analysis company ResearchandMarkets.com.
Precipitation in the last week has increased the amount of water in the Yampa, White and Little Snake River Basin’s snowpack, pushing it past the potential peak in late March. If that March 25 peak had held, it would have been the earliest since 2017, but nearly an inch of rain in April means the peak could come at the latest date it has since 2013.
“This week was like a godsend,” said Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent for the Routt County Colorado State University Extension Office. “I’m not going to say I’m overly optimistic now, but it was certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
The snow-water equivalent of the area’s snowpack stood at 17.6 inches on Monday, April 18, according to the National Water and Climate Center. More moisture is always a good thing, according to Hagenbuch, who said the situation is not as dire now as it seemed each of the last two springs.
This time last year, the U.S. Drought Monitor considered Routt County to be in extreme and exceptional drought. The latest map is less severe with the entire county considered to have moderate drought conditions.
While the snowpack is looking better, it is still at a lower level than last year’s peak of 18 inches of water, and well below the 30-year median peak of 21.3 inches for the basin. Water officials at the Colorado River District’s State of the Yampa River event last month said spring rain would be key to how this water year ends up. So far, precipitation has been near normal for April, and there is more in the forecast for later in the week.
Click the link to read the release on the NOAA website (Theo Stein):
For the second year in a row, NOAA scientists observed a record annual increase in atmospheric levels of methane, a powerful, heat-trapping greenhouse gas that’s the second biggest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide.
NOAA’s preliminary analysis showed the annual increase in atmospheric methane during 2021 was 17 parts per billion (ppb), the largest annual increase recorded since systematic measurements began in 1983. The increase during 2020 was 15.3 ppb. Atmospheric methane levels averaged 1,895.7 ppb during 2021, or around 162% greater than pre-industrial levels. From NOAA’s observations, scientists estimate global methane emissions in 2021 are 15% higher than the 1984-2006 period.
Meanwhile, levels of carbon dioxide also continue to increase at historically high rates. The global surface average for carbon dioxide during 2021 was 414.7 parts per million (ppm), which is an increase of 2.66 ppm over the 2020 average. This marks the 10th consecutive year that carbon dioxide increased by more than 2 parts per million, which represents the fastest sustained rate of increase in the 63 years since monitoring began.
“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA Administrator. “The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable. We need to build a Climate Ready Nation to adapt for what’s already here and prepare for what’s to come. At the same time, we can no longer afford to delay urgent and effective action needed to address the cause of the problem — greenhouse gas pollution.”
Carbon dioxide remains the biggest climate change threat
While there’s been scientific debate on the cause of the ongoing surge in methane levels, carbon dioxide pollution has always been the primary driver of human-caused climate change. An estimated 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere last year by human activity; roughly 640 million tons of methane were emitted during the same period. The atmospheric residence time of methane is approximately nine years, whereas some of the carbon dioxide emitted today will continue to warm the planet for thousands of years.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are now comparable to where they were during the mid-Pliocene epoch link, around 4.3 million years ago. During that period, sea level was about 75 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.
“The effect of carbon dioxide emissions is cumulative,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with the Global Monitoring Laboratory. “About 40% of the Ford Model T emissions from 1911 are still in the air today. We’re halfway to doubling the abundance of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere at the start of the Industrial Revolution.”
Control of many methane sources technically possible today
While carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for much longer than methane, methane is roughly 25 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and has an important short-term influence on the rate of climate change.
Methane in the atmosphere is generated by many different sources, such as fossil fuel production, transport and use, from the decay of organic matter in wetlands, and as a byproduct of digestion by ruminant animals such as cows. Determining which specific sources are responsible for variations in annual increases of methane is complex, but scientists estimate that fossil fuel production and use contributes roughly 30% of the total methane emissions. These industrial sources of methane are relatively simple to pinpoint and control using current technology.
“Reducing methane emissions is an important tool we can use right now to lessen the impacts of climate change in the near term, and rapidly reduce the rate of warming,” Spinrad said. “Let’s not forget that methane also contributes to ground-level ozone formation, which causes roughly 500,000 premature deaths each year around the world.”
Previous NOAA methane research that utilized stable carbon isotopic analysis performed by the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado indicates that biological sources of methane such as wetlands or ruminant agriculture are a primary driver of post-2006 increases. NOAA scientists are concerned that the increase in biological methane may be the first signal of a feedback loop caused in part by more rain over tropical wetlands that would largely be beyond humans’ ability to control.
“Reducing fossil methane emissions is a necessary step toward mitigating climate change,” said Xin Lan, a CIRES offsite link scientist working at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. “But the extreme longevity of the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere means that we need to aggressively reduce fossil fuel pollution to zero as soon as possible if we want to avoid the worst impacts from a changing climate.”
NOAA’s air sampling monitors the pulse of the planet
NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory annually collects more than 15,000 air samples from monitoring stations around the world and analyzes them in a state-of-the-science laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Every spring, NOAA calculates the global average levels of four primary greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and sulfur hexafluoride — observed during the previous year.
The global averages were calculated using air samples from a subset of sites from the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, which is composed of NOAA’s four baseline observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa and the South Pole, and from samples collected at about 50 other cooperative sampling sites around the world. Air samples used for the calculation are predominantly of well-mixed marine boundary layer air, representative of a large region of the atmosphere.
Observations sustained over many decades, by NOAA and others, show that the rate of carbon dioxide increase has tracked global emissions. Despite international pledges to reduce emissions, climate scientists have seen no measurable progress in reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to reverse these trends, and clearly that’s not happening,” said Ariel Stein, director of the Global Monitoring Laboratory. “So it is crucial that we continue to sustain integrated and robust monitoring and verification systems to help assess the current state of the atmospheric greenhouse gas burden, as well as determine the effectiveness of future greenhouse gas emission reduction measures.”
Click the link to read the article on the USGS website (Carol A Finn, Ph.D. and Paul A Bedrosian):
What do the subsurface fluid pathways look like for all of the hot springs and geysers scattered throughout Yellowstone? A new set of data from an aerial electromagnetic survey provides a new perspective on this age-old question.
Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, Steamboat Geyser, and Mud Volcano are just a few of the over 10,000 active hydrothermal features formed by the interaction of ground water with the heat from the magmatic system beneath Yellowstone Caldera. While these enthralling features are enjoyed by millions of visitors every year, the underground plumbing system that feeds them is mostly hidden from view. Where does the hot water come from, and where does it go? Such information might tell us in general why surface thermal features are located where they are.
Yellowstone’s hydrothermal plumbing system results from several factors. The water from high precipitation (snow and rain) penetrates 4–5 kilometers (2.5–3.1 miles) deep along the many faults in the region. These deep waters are heated by magma and hot rock, forcing them to return to the surface much like “lava” in a lava lamp. This vast underground plumbing system ultimately feeds the iconic thermal features, where much is known about their temperature and chemistry. In contrast, little was known about how the surface features are connected to each other and deeper sources of fluids. Until now.
In 2016, a technique called airborne electromagnetics (AEM) was used to measure the physical properties of ground beneath Yellowstone. AEM takes advantage of water being a much better electrical conductor than rock, and that this difference between wet and dry rock can be detected by a sensitive electromagnet to depths of 150–700 meters (500–2300 feet). The technology is a larger version of that used in induction stoves or wireless cell phone chargers. The AEM instrument, mounted on a hoop that is 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) across and dangles beneath a low-flying helicopter, detected these variations in detail, like a medical cat scan uses data from a set of surface detectors to “see” inside a human body.
In most volcanic hydrothermal systems, characteristic sequences of hydrothermal clays reveal fluid or gas conduits along faults and fractures that can also be detected from the air. To map these clays below the depth resolution of the AEM, down to about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles), an additional instrument was employed—one that senses variations in the magnetic properties of rocks. Clays are less magnetic than volcanic rocks, making this difference relatively easy to detect.
For several weeks, the helicopter flew back and forth across Yellowstone to measure variations in these electric and magnetic properties, in the process revealing clues about Yellowstone’s hydrothermal plumbing system. These techniques are highly effective in environments like Yellowstone, where strong contrasts in the electrical conductivity of cold groundwater, thermal fluids, and dry volcanic rocks can be exploited. Additionally, thermal fluids alter the rocks they pass through, turning rock into clay minerals which have low electrical resistivity and subdued magnetization. But flying the survey was only part of the challenge. Translating all that data into something tangible required years of painstaking work!
The instrument responses were analyzed to produce detailed cross-sections along the flight lines, as well as depth maps from resistivity and susceptibility models. The models show that most thermal features are located above low-resistivity and low-magnetic-susceptibility clay-capped buried faults and fractures that channel fluids and gases from depth. Shallow sub-horizontal pathways between ancient lava flows contribute groundwater into the system, which mixes with thermal fluids from the channels. As fluids approach the surface, local constrictions induce boiling, degassing, or conductive cooling that produce the diversity of thermal features at Yellowstone.
Due to its resolution, capable of detecting features on the order of 100 meters (330 feet) in size, the AEM system cannot directly image the narrow fluid-flow paths to specific geysers and hot springs. By way of analogy, this would be like imaging a city’s water supply and distribution lines but not the lines feeding individual houses. Despite their diversity, the fluid flow paths to most thermal features are similar across Yellowstone, suggesting that local, rather than regional, conditions control the chemistry and style of geysers, mud pools and hot springs. The new models, however, provide a regional framework for focused geophysical and geochemical studies of the individual thermal features.
This work, published recently in the journal Nature, fills in a longstanding gap in knowledge about the underpinnings of Yellowstone’s charismatic hydrothermal features and has sparked considerable interest across a range of disciplines. This includes microbiologists looking to link areas of groundwater and gas mixing to regions of extreme microbiological diversity, geologists using the models to map lava flows and estimate eruptive volumes, hydrologists interested in incorporating flow paths and regions of groundwater and thermal water into geochemical fluid evolution models, and economic geologists interested in Yellowstone as a modern analogue for epithermal mineral deposits. The full potential of these new airborne geophysical data are just beginning to be realized!
The term “polycrisis” describes the current state of the world. It denotes the fact that we find ourselves in the midst of more than one crisis at a time. Most recently, we faced the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic dislocation caused by the pandemic. Now, we face the return of war to Europe with the brutal invasion of Ukraine by the Putin regime. And we still have the continuing (and increasing) reality of climate change with which we must deal, which we haven’t yet done on the scale required.
In the face of these multiple challenges, we can deploy a response that would effectively address two huge concerns with one stroke: We immediately and aggressively reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.
As to the immediate threat of Putin’s aggression, a reduction of our consumption of fossil fuels aids the current sanctions regime that seeks to starve the beast. More than one commentator has described Russia as “a gas station with nukes.” We can shut down (or at least cripple) the gas station by not buying the gas.
To be clear, at present, the U.S. is a net petroleum exporter. We purchase relatively little petroleum from Russia, and a complete cut-off will not limit U.S. supplies of oil or gas. The restrictions on imports from Russia won’t have much direct impact on U.S. energy prices, although worldwide we can expect higher prices.
This is because the market for petroleum is worldwide, with multiple global players, like Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and other petroleum exporters will affect oil and gas prices by deciding how much petroleum to produce. Also, the volatility in oil and gas prices, with sharp increases and drops, is a continuing characteristic of that global fossil fuels market. Increasing America’s oil and gas development and drilling, which some propose as a response to Putin’s aggression, would not have any significant impact on the high prices we are seeing at the pump now.
As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels, we’ll continue to be subject to manipulation of supplies and prices by the Gulf States and other large producers, like Russia. A clean energy economy would be our surest path towards stable and lower energy prices, and true energy independence from foreign producers.
Over the longer term, decreased use and dependence on fossil fuels will mean fewer dollars for Putin. Of course, reduced demand would result in fewer dollars paid to all fossil fuel providers, including oil and gas companies in the U.S. But they know (and have known for a long time) that the world must eventually drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.
Indeed, those European nations who oppose Putin’s aggression now have — and will increasingly have — access to cheaper alternative systems of energy, including renewables and other forms of clean energy. Accelerating the shift to renewable energy appears to be part of their short- and long-term strategies for opposing Russian aggression.
In addition to the moral and strategic imperatives to reduce fossil fuel consumption to counter Putin’s menace, accelerating our shift to renewable energy will reduce the pollution that fuels increasing global climate change. We have procrastinated in making the necessary transition to cleaner energy for over 30 years. Now the opportunity for gaining a strategic advantage over a hostile adversary should spur us to take the necessary actions that we have so long delayed. More foot-dragging only aids Putin and costs us more.
And remember, greater domestic production of fossil fuels in response to Putin’s aggression would put us further behind in facing up to climate reality. This merely threatens to pull the pin on a slow-motion grenade that will hurt us all. In short, the more petroleum that remains in the ground, the safer we all become. For the well-being—and even survival—of our children and grandchildren, we need to walk away from the fossil fuels that finance Russian aggression and that poison our Earth.
Nebraskans know every drop of water is precious. Agriculture is our top industry. It makes up 20% of our economy, and it generates one in four jobs in our state. Access to water makes this possible. We have the most irrigated acres of cropland in the country. Three of eight acres of farmland in Nebraska are irrigated.
Fifty years ago, far-sighted Nebraskans set up a system of water management, including our Natural Resources Districts (NRDs), that has allowed us to manage our water based on river basin. This has allowed our state to maintain the Ogallala Aquifer within one foot of where it was in the 1950s.
By contrast, Colorado has mined their water. The Ogallala Aquifer under Colorado has dropped nearly 15 feet since the 1950s. Now, Colorado is aggressively planning new developments that threaten Nebraska’s water resources. Last year, Colorado released their South Platte Basin Implementation Plan. It was updated last month and now includes 282 total projects to meet their growing demands. Altogether, these projects cost an estimated $9.8 billion.
Thankfully, 100 years ago Nebraskans negotiated an agreement with Colorado over the use of South Platte River water. The South Platte River Compact (Compact) was signed by Nebraska and Colorado in 1923 and ratified by Congress in 1926. It entitles Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from April 1st through October 15th (irrigation season) and 500 cfs of water from October 16th through March 31st (non-irrigation season). Under the Compact, we can only claim our non-irrigation season water entitlement by building a canal and reservoir system—known as the Perkins County Canal—along the South Platte River. Until we build the canal, Colorado has no obligation to deliver the water.
As Colorado’s desire for water grows, they’re acting as if Nebraska’s non-irrigation season water rights under the Compact don’t exist. In 2016, the Colorado Legislature passed HB16-1256, the South Platte Water Storage Study, into law. Its purpose was to identify water storage options along the lower South Platte River. Colorado wants to make sure no water “in excess of the minimum legally required amounts” gets to Nebraska. In the study’s final report, Colorado clearly assumes that Nebraska’s legal requirement is only the 120 cfs during irrigation season. Since we haven’t built the canal, Colorado is not planning to deliver any water to us during non-irrigation season. Zero.
The good news is that the Compact gives Nebraska undeniable authority to construct a canal to claim our non-irrigation water flow. It even gives us legal entitlement to land in Colorado to build it. Senator Dan Hughes, of District 44, has prioritized LB 1015, authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to design, construct, and operate the Perkins County Canal and reservoir system. My budget recommendation to the Legislature includes $500 million for the project. This is a bargain compared to the nearly $10 billion Colorado is preparing to spend on their water resources.
Our proposed canal has caused a stir in Colorado. In response to our plans, a legislator in Colorado introduced SB22-126 earlier this month to prioritize water storage projects in the South Platte Basin. Colorado’s leaders believe that “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” I am concerned that even though Nebraska has clear entitlements to South Platte River water under the terms of the Compact, it will be difficult for us to claim what we are owed once municipalities in Colorado become reliant on the water.
There’s no doubt that Colorado plans to take the 500 cfs of water guaranteed to Nebraska during non-irrigation season under the Compact. On February 7th, a coalition of water districts gave a presentation to the Colorado Legislature on ways to shore up South Platte River resources. The presentation indicates that Colorado only recognizes its 120 cfs delivery commitment to Nebraska during irrigation season. In other words, the presentation assumes Nebraska is not entitled to receive a single drop of South Platte River water for almost half the year.
We must take action now to protect this water from being taken. Our ag producers rely on it for irrigation. Communities along the Platte River use it for drinking water. The water is critical to power generation in Nebraska, and our natural habitats along the Platte depend on these water flows.
People have asked, “why not slow down and discuss reworking the terms of the compact?” Any renegotiation would take time to hammer out. It would require approval from the Colorado Legislature and Nebraska’s Unicameral. What are the odds of that happening anytime soon? Keep in mind: delays only benefit Colorado. Remember, Colorado is trying to accelerate their work along the South Platte River. Pausing our plans, while they move full steam ahead, would put us at risk. The longer we delay, the more we risk losing access to the water we’re due.
This month, I’ve held town halls across the state to inform Nebraskans about our water rights with Colorado. There has been overwhelming support for moving forward on the canal. People understand that the price of inaction is far higher than the funding needed to secure our water rights. I’ll encourage you to do what I asked of them: contact your state senator to let them know your thoughts on LB 1015. The passage of this bill is a necessary first step.
Fifty years from now, Nebraskans will look back on this generation. Will they say we had the foresight to secure our water resources? Or will they say this generation failed?
If you have questions about the proposed canal, write me at email@example.com or call 402-471-2244.
Click the link to read an article on The Guardian (Alexis Petridis). Here’s an excerpt:
Gary Brooker, lead singer of English band Procol Harum, dies aged 76
Pop music moved at high speed in the 1960s, but even so the story behind the song for which Gary Brooker was always going to be remembered almost beggars belief. It was taped in April 1967, the same month that the band who recorded it formed: they hadn’t even got around to recruiting a drummer yet and had to use a jazz player moonlighting as a session musician. A couple of weeks later, Paul McCartney was interrupting his first date with his future wife Linda in order to rush to the DJ booth at Soho’s Bag O’Nails club, demanding to know what the hell he was playing (“God, what an incredible record,” he subsequently enthused) and John Lennon was informing a journalist friend that all current pop music was “crap” except for “that dope song, A Whiter Shade of Pale – you hear it when you take some acid and wooooh!”
A few weeks after that, it was No 1, a position it held until the middle of July. You do wonder how incredulous Brooker must have felt. He had only started Procol Harum as a last resort. He had left the minor R&B band the Paramounts with the intention of becoming a full-time songwriter, only to discover that no one wanted to buy the songs he had written with lyricist Keith Reid, so he would have to sing them himself. And now here he was less than two months later, on Top of the Pops and feted by the Beatles as the vanguard of pop. A Whiter Shade of Pale caused so much commotion that the effect was discombobulating: Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher once recalled being mortified after they were parachuted into a headlining slot over the Jimi Hendrix Experience when “we weren’t one 10th as good as him”. Perhaps it was just as well he didn’t know that on the other side of the Atlantic, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys – in the throes of mental collapse and on the verge of abandoning his latest opus, Smile – had taken A Whiter Shade of Pale as another signal that he was finished: “I was so sensitive for the dramatic organ sound that I thought it was my funeral tune,” Wilson later recalled.
It was one of rock history’s great lightning-in-a-bottle moments. A Whiter Shade of Pale was completely of the moment – the psychedelic era was all about opening new vistas in pop music, and if there’s one thing everyone agreed on, it was that they had never heard anything like it before – while also harking to pop’s recent past and pointing towards its future. Brooker’s vocal spoke loudly of the hours he had put in touring the R&B clubs, belting out covers of Solomon Burke and the Impressions for the nation’s mods; the tune’s allusions to Bach and its dense, elusive lyrics – open to wild interpretation – presaged the arrival of progressive rock. It spawned hundreds of covers by everyone from Joe Cocker to Jackie Mittoo – soul versions, reggae versions, jazz interpretations, disco versions, mock-Gregorian chant versions – as well as a little subgenre of British psychedelia populated by obscure bands trying to make records that sounded like it: Meditations by Felius Andromeda and Reputation by Shy Limbs are two examples prized by psych collectors.
The chances of a band walking into a studio for the first time and immediately recording one of rock’s impermeable classics – 10m copies sold – are incredibly slim…
Perhaps A Whiter Shade captured its era so perfectly that it succeeded in transcending it. None of 1967’s other big songs, not even All You Need Is Love or Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play, feels quite so evocative of a mythic, idealised version of the British Summer of Love – of what the press took to calling “the beautiful people” drifting through London on a warm evening in a stoned, optimistic haze – which meant that whenever a film director or a radio DJ wanted a surefire burst of beatific nostalgia, they invariably reached for it. It turned up on umpteen soundtracks – everywhere from The Big Chill to Breaking the Waves – and in 2004 was named the most-played song on British radio over the last 70 years.
Or maybe it was just a completely fantastic song, of the kind that takes an inordinate combination of talent and luck to come up with even once in a career. You could argue it’s unfair that Gary Brooker’s musical legacy hinges on one song in the popular imagination. On the other hand, if you’re going to be largely remembered for one song, it might as well be one like that.
FromThe Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to tighten rules for allowable levels of lead in drinking water, as the Biden administration looks to replace all of the nation’s lead service lines using new funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The agency on Thursday announced the first investment of $2.9 billion under the law to replace aging lead pipes, which can leach particles of the heavy metal into drinking water, potentially causing severe developmental and neurological issues.
The administration is looking to replace all lead drinking water pipes over the coming years. Vice President Kamala Harris was set to make the formal announcement Thursday during a speech to the AFL-CIO…
The new EPA requirements, which is expected to be finalized by 2024, would require the replacement of remaining lead drinking water pipes “as quickly as is feasible” and could include new testing requirements for drinking water systems.
Congress approved $15 billion for lead service line replacement in the infrastructure bill — about a third less than some estimates for replacing them nationally — but the new rule could close the gap.
The announcement comes is being made in conjunction with other administration efforts to limit lead exposure, including more childhood surveillance testing for lead exposure by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove lead paint in public housing. The Treasury Department is also announcing that surplus COVID-19 relief funds can be used for lead service line replacement projects.
Water supply experts are looking longer and things look troubling in some ways.
“All of our water supply planning factors in climate change,” said Greeley Water and Sewer’s Director of Water Resources, Adam Jokerst. “It’s such a driver of the water supply that we’re going to get in any given year into the future.”
That means planning to deal with the variability as much as anything…
Colorado’s warming climate, two degrees over the past 30 years, means more variability.
“The predictability. The year-to-year kind of traditional patterns that I think we saw for a lot of the 20th century are changing and every year is a little less predictable,” said [Todd] Hartman…
“We plan 50 years into the future. So climate change has become a big part of our thought process and our planning process,” said Hartman. “It’s true that we’re probably going to experience longer and more intensive droughts. So we need to be more prepared for that. One key to prepare for that is to build storage.”
Part of that plan is the expansion of Gross Reservoir, which has been opposed by some in the area of southern Boulder County, concerned among other things about years of construction. Water systems all along the Front Range know there is increasing population to deal with along with changing climate and potentially fewer opportunities to gather and hold water they will need.
“Spring runoff is coming sooner. So we have to be prepared to capture that water sooner,” said Hartman.
This past summer I was part of a crew that conducted conservation work at the site of River House, located along the San Juan River. In this link –> HERE, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Utah Division, presents a blog post and short video of the work conducted. I have much appreciation for […]
From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
The Directors of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and its Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Division of Water Resources released the following statements on the passing of Justice Greg Hobbs.
“Few people have had such a profound and broadscale influence on the landscape and character of Colorado as Justice Greg Hobbs. His energy, his brilliance and his inclusiveness ensured that all people, no matter their status or background, had access to understand and influence water and natural resource policy. His wisdom lives on in those of us in the natural resources field that he guided, mentored, and empowered to serve the people of this state justly and effectively. May the landscapes he so prolifically praised in his poetry and prose persist for generations as a tribute to his fair and thoughtful approach to managing Colorado’s water resources and natural landscapes.”
– Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources
“If you worked in the Colorado water world, then you have been inspired by Justice Hobbs. A truly dedicated and passionate water leader, he had the unique ability to convey the complexities of western water issues in a creative and artistic manner. Justice Hobbs is a leader who will be missed and whose legacy will live on.”
– Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board
“Greg Hobbs has led us as we’ve dealt with the most difficult water issues of our time; as a Supreme Court Justice, as a teacher and mentor, and as a friend who elevated all of those that he met. His legacy will be a body of inquisitive and critical thinkers with an inspired passion for learning.”
– Kevin Rein, Colorado State Engineer and Director, Colorado Division of Water Resources
FromThe High Country News [July 27, 2021] (Jonathan Thompson):
In late June, a blistering heat wave settled over the Pacific Northwest, shattering high-temperature records from California to Canada. Hundreds of outdoor laborers or those who lacked air conditioning were hospitalized for heat-related ailments, and dozens died. Portland’s transit operator suspended rail service because of heat-damaged cables, while highways in Washington were closed due to buckling asphalt.
But the heat’s biggest — and perhaps most consequential — infrastructure victim was the vast electricity grid that powers nearly every aspect of modern life, including potentially life-saving air conditioning. Extreme weather exacerbated by climate change can mess with the grid in any number of ways: Cold can freeze gas lines, while hurricanes topple transmission towers. But heat, particularly when combined with hydropower-depleting drought, has an especially deleterious effect, wreaking havoc on the power system just when the warmer climes need it most.
Meanwhile, power plants — the fossil-fueled “heart” of the grid — make climate change worse and the planet even warmer, creating a feedback loop that resembles a gigantic electrical monster swallowing its own tail.
Sources: California Independent System Operator (CAISO); Energy Information Administration; California Clean Energy Almanac; Bonneville Power Administration.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a letter to the editor. Follow @Land_Desk.
In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs today, September 29th, at 1:00 PM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. This release change is calculated to be the minimum release required to maintain the minimum target base flow.
Last month’s federal declaration of an emergency water shortage on the Colorado River barely caused a ripple. But it should have made big waves.
The once-mighty Colorado, which provides water for 40 million people across seven U.S. states as well as half of Denver’s water, is in serious trouble. Choked by chronic overuse, a 22-year drought and the effects of climate change, the river’s flow has declined by nearly 20% this century.
The first-ever emergency declaration, triggered by historically low water levels in the Colorado’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, means that multiple states face a forced reduction of their water allocation. Under existing agreements, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico next year will see their shares of Colorado River water drop by 18%, 7% and 5%, respectively.
“This is a big deal but not unexpected,” said Tom Cech, co-director of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s One World One Water Center. “The Colorado’s flows have been steadily getting worse for years, and the last time Lake Mead was full was in 1983.”
Seen through a historical lens, this disaster has been a century in the making. Cech said that’s because the original multistate agreement outlining various states’ rights to Colorado River water use, signed in 1922, was hopelessly optimistic. It badly overestimated the total amount of water flow, with the result that the West has been living beyond its means ever since.
Add to this already-flawed formula the impact of climate change; extensive and often inefficient irrigation practices within urban and agricultural settings; and massive population growth, and Cech said it becomes easy to see how things have gone so wrong.
The numbers are sobering. The Colorado River supports 15 million more people today than it did just 29 years ago. And the fast-warming climate means up to 10% of the water in America’s vast Western reservoirs simply evaporates off of their surfaces each year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead is just 35% full.
Reversing the course
Cech said that while the federal designation won’t directly affect Denver and Colorado in the near term, the state should get ready for more rigorous outdoor watering management policies and restrictions in the future.
“Given our semi-arid climate, we simply use too much water for lawn and landscape irrigation,” he said.
The question of how to slow or even reverse dramatic water losses is a hot topic in statehouses, especially since the decline has happened faster than expected. Some states have already taken proactive measures.
Over the past two decades, Nevada has implemented stout conservation efforts such as watering restrictions, removal of decorative grass and paying residents to replace lawns. These actions have reduced Southern Nevada’s Colorado River water usage by 23% since 2002, even as the population increased by nearly 800,000 residents.
Closer to home, Cech suggested checking out the water management programs of agencies such as Denver Water and Aurora Water, which for years have led the way in reducing per-capita water use.
“There are a number of concrete actions both cities and individuals can take,” he said. “For example, using native xeriscape plants, reducing lawn sizes, installing better irrigation systems and improving soil management.
“All of these measures will help reduce urban water use.”
Our shared future
While domestic conservation can help, approximately 70% of Colorado River water goes to sustaining crops, rather than serving the direct water needs of people in urban areas.
“The most effective programs will ultimately focus heavily on reducing outdoor irrigation,” Cech said.
And that’s the tricky part. So far, individual states have had to make only minor compromises, but a continued water shortage over the next few years could necessitate some deeply painful and unpopular decisions, Cech said.
Should the West’s shrinking reservoirs, for example, start to approach “dead pool” status (meaning they can no longer generate electricity), legislators would have no choice but to implement disruptive policy changes and large-scale water reductions. That would impact thousands of livelihoods that rely on irrigation water and potentially transform the whole agricultural landscape.
Such a grim scenario, once unthinkable, is now firmly on the table, Cech said.
Ultimately, Cech emphasized that the only way out of this crisis will be to tackle its root causes by focusing on conservation, reducing planet-warming emissions and changing how we live and eat.
Synopsis: A transition from ENSO neutral to La Niña is favored in the next couple of months, with a 70-80% chance of La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere winter 2021-22.
In the last month, ENSO-neutral continued with near-to-below average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) persisting in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. In the last week, all of the Niña index values ranged from -0.2oC to -0.3oC. Negative subsurface temperature anomalies (averaged from 180-100oW) remained steady in August, reflecting below-average temperatures that extended from the surface to ~250m depth in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Low-level wind anomalies were easterly over the western Pacific Ocean, while upper-level wind anomalies were westerly over the western and east-centralPacific. Tropical convection was suppressed near and west of the Date Line and enhanced over Indonesia. Given these conditions, the ocean-atmosphere system reflected ENSO-neutral, but is edging toward La Niña.
The IRI/CPC plume average of forecasts for the Niño-3.4 SST region from the last month favored borderline or weak La Niña during the fall and winter 2021-22. The forecaster consensus this month, however, favors the latest predictions from the NCEP CFSv2 and the North American Multi-Model Ensemble, which suggest higher chances for the emergence of La Niña. At this time, forecasters anticipate La Niña to be of weak strength (seasonal average Niño-3.4 index values between -0.5oC to – 0.9oC). In summary, a transition from ENSO-neutral to La Niña is favored in the next couple of months, with a 70-80% chance of La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere winter 2021-22 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).
The fund set up to help protect the Yampa River has exceeded its endowment goal two years ahead of expectations, fund managers announced Wednesday.
Annual grants are awarded through the fund, which launched in 2019, for projects aimed at protecting the Yampa River, especially considering the hotter, drier climate and lower river flows. The fund’s total is now estimated to be $5.3 million by 2023, surpassing the original goal of $4.75 million.
The fund held its first grant cycle in February 2020. Over the past three years, more than 100 donors have contributed to the fund, including an anonymous donor who gave $1 million this summer. The fund has so far awarded $400,000 in grants to projects throughout the Yampa Valley, which have supported water releases during times of low flows, environmental restoration projects and agricultural infrastructure improvements…
A partnership of 21 public, private and nonprofit entities representing the entire Yampa River Basin collaborated to create the board that governs the Yampa River Fund.
Extreme heat, ongoing drought and wildfires plague much of the western contiguous U.S. during July
The July 2021 contiguous U.S. temperature was 75.5°F, 1.9°F above the 20th-century average, tying with 1954 and 2003 for 13th warmest in the 127-year record. For the year-to-date, the national temperature was 53.0°F, 1.8°F above average, ranking 14th warmest on record.
The July precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 3.36 inches, 0.58 inch above average, and sixth-wettest in the 127-year period of record. The year-to-date precipitation total for the Lower 48 was 18.00 inches, 0.09 inch below average, ranking in the middle one-third of the historical record.
This monthly summary fromNOAA National Center for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.
Temperatures were above average to record warm across the West, much of the northern Plains and portions of the mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada each had their warmest July on record with five additional states across the West and northern Plains having a top-10 warm month.
Temperatures were below average across portions of the southern and central Plains, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast.
A ridge of high pressure across the western U.S and a trough across the eastern U.S. for most of July kept the temperatures well-above average across the West and more moderate across the central and eastern states. This pattern remained in place for the duration of the month. An eastward shift in the ridge mid-month allowed the southwestern monsoon to kick off.
The Alaska average July temperature was 53.7°F, 1.0°F above the long-term mean and ranked in the warmest third of the historical record for the state.
Areas that experienced above-average precipitation across western Alaska during July also had temperatures that were below average.
Above-average temperatures occurred across much of the eastern half of Alaska and across the Aleutians.
The Alaskan wildfire season, to-date, is well-below average.
Precipitation was above average across much of the Northeast, Southeast, and South; portions of the Midwest, Ohio Valley, and Great Lakes; and much of the Southwest. New York and Massachusetts had their wettest July on record with nine additional states across the Northeast, South and Southwest experiencing a top-10 wettest July.
The Southwest monsoon season began in earnest during the second half of July, bringing some rainfall to the drought-stricken region. Portions of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona saw some improvement in the drought intensity, but still remain entrenched in drought.
Much of the West, particularly the Northwest, remained entrenched in exceptional drought conditions, which was reflected in very high wildfire activity throughout the month.
Precipitation was below average across much of the Northwest, Northern Tier and portions of the central Plains, Midwest and central Appalachians. Minnesota ranked second driest while Washington ranked fourth driest.
Hurricane Elsa formed in the Atlantic Ocean in early July and made landfall in Cuba before reemerging in the Gulf of Mexico and making landfall as a tropical storm in Florida.
Elsa brought flooding, tornadoes and damage to portions of Georgia and the Carolinas as well as flooding in parts of the Northeast. At least 17 were injured and one fatality was reported.
Elsa was the earliest fifth-named storm on record.
Alaska received near-average precipitation during July, but regional amounts varied greatly. Precipitation was above average across much of western Alaska and below average across eastern Alaska.
Kotzebue had its wettest July and month on record while Nome and Bethel each had their wettest July since the 1920s.
According to the August 3 U.S. Drought Monitor, approximately 46 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from about 47 percent at the end of June. Drought intensified and/or expanded across portions of the northern Plains, northern Rockies, Northwest and from the Great Basin to the Pacific Coast.
Drought also emerged across portions of Alaska and intensified across Maui in Hawaii. Drought severity lessened across the Northeast, Great Lakes and portions of the Southwest and central Rockies. Nearly 90 percent of the 11 states across the western U.S. are experiencing some level of drought.
Year-to-date (January-July 2021)
January-July temperatures were above average across the West, northern and central Plains, Great Lakes, Northeast, mid-Atlantic and portions of the Southeast. California, Oregon and Nevada each had their fourth-warmest year-to-date period on record with 11 additional states across the West, northern Plains, Northeast and Southeast experiencing a top-10 warmest January-July.
Temperatures were below average across portions of the South.
The Alaska statewide average temperature for this year-to-date period was 27.1°F, 1.3°F above average and ranked in the middle one-third of the record. Temperatures were above average across much of Bristol Bay, Northwest Gulf and the Aleutian regions with near-average temperatures present across much of the rest of the state.
Precipitation was above average from the southern and central Plains to the Midwest and into portions of the Southeast. Mississippi ranked sixth wettest for the first seven months of the year.
Precipitation was below average from the West Coast to the western Great Lakes. Minnesota and North Dakota each ranked third driest while Montana ranked fourth driest on record.
Precipitation across Alaska ranked in the wettest third of the historical record.
Other Notable Events
Wildfire activity exploded across the drought-stricken portions of the West, especially the Northwest, during July. As of July 31, 37,650 fires have burned through 2,982,960 acres during the first seven months of 2021. This is nearly 1 million more acres than were consumed by this time last year and about 1 million fewer acres burned than the 2011-2020 year-to-date average.
With multiple large fires burning across the West, forecasts for worsening conditions and a potential shortage of resources, on July 14, the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group raised the national Preparedness Level (PL) to the highest category — level 5. This is the earliest PL5 issued in the past 10 years.
As of July 31, the largest fire across the U.S., the Bootleg Fire, located in Oregon, has consumed more than 413,000 acres and was 56 percent contained.
The second largest fire in the U.S., the Dixie Fire, located in northern California, burned more than 240,000 acres and was 24 percent contained.
Heavy smoke from these and many other fires across the western U.S. and Canada contributed to low air quality across the U.S. during July.
Governor Mark Gordon is convening a Colorado River Working Group that will meet regularly to discuss important Colorado River matters and monitor potential impacts to Wyoming. The action comes in response to drought conditions in the Colorado, Green and Little Snake River basins that have led the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to announce drawdowns from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in order to maintain minimum levels at Lake Powell. At this time no restrictions on Wyoming water users are proposed.
The group is made up of representatives of key water use sectors of the Green and Little Snake River Basins, including agricultural, municipal, industrial and environmental interests. It will discuss and share Colorado River information with interested stakeholders in the Green and Little Snake River Basins. The Working Group is a continuation of a coordinated and proactive outreach effort that has been underway in Wyoming since 2019. More information about the Colorado River Working Group’s inaugural public meeting will become available soon.
“The West finds itself facing unprecedented drought conditions and Wyoming must be prepared to address the potential future impacts of water shortages,” Governor Gordon said. “It is important that local perspectives on issues that impact our water users and the State are heard and included in the process. I want to ensure that representatives of key water use sectors are able to provide input on this crisis, which is challenging us today and may last for years.”
In its 24-Month Study released [July 16, 2021], Reclamation confirms continual declining hydrologic conditions for the Colorado River system. The results show that drought response releases from key Reclamation reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin — including Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah — will be necessary starting this summer.
Based on Reclamation’s announcement, 125,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir will be released to protect storage elevations in Lake Powell. These releases will be staged July through October and will likely result in Flaming Gorge water elevation dropping an additional 3.5 feet by mid-autumn. No Wyoming water rights are tied to the water being released, so no Wyoming water right holders will be affected.
Today’s announcement from Reclamation underscores that water supply throughout the West is becoming less reliable, especially in the Colorado River Basin. The Governor is committed to ensuring that Wyoming’s water users are protected under the state’s apportionments provided for under the 1922 Colorado River and 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compacts. The Governor is also committed to continuing collaboration on water management and operation solutions which provide overall water supply reliability and certainty, as well as meeting Compact and Treaty obligations and maintaining environmental commitments, all of which make the system work for all who depend on the Colorado River.
Knowing the increasing risks, Wyoming has planned ahead. In 2019, Wyoming signed onto the Drought Contingency Plan alongside the other Colorado River Basin States and the Department of Interior. This plan helps protect critical elevations at Lake Powell, which is an important insurance policy for Wyoming to bolster the State’s ability to maintain and develop its water uses while also satisfying its compact obligations. The drought response releases are part of the plan’s overall strategy to help prevent curtailment triggers under the 1922 Compact.
In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Tuesday, July 13th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
Water releases increase to Blue River but not enough for commercial rafting
Dillon Reservoir is now 100% full, according to Denver Water, which manages the reservoir.
Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water, said it’s normal for the reservoir to be full this time of year, but he noted that the reason it’s full despite an ongoing drought is because the water is carefully managed, and much less water was released from the reservoir to the Blue River than in an average year…
Elder said this was a year where the reservoir started out lower than normal and less water flowed in from the melting snowpack…
Elder noted that Denver Water is bringing much less water through the Roberts Tunnel than it typically would because of good moisture levels in the South Platte Basin, which is at 96% of normal, and water conservation by consumers on the Front Range…
While more water is being released into the Blue River now — 184 cubic feet per second as of Wednesday afternoon compared with 100 cfs prior to Monday — it’s still not enough for rafting this year. Elder said a flow of 500 cfs is needed for rafting, but the maximum outflow this year will likely only get to about 250 cfs.
The main reason water levels are low this year is because the snowpack was below average. According to a measurement site at Copper Mountain, the 2021 snowpack peaked at 12.4 inches of snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water held in the snowpack. That’s nearly 5 inches less than the 17.3 inch median for the site, which is based on 30 years of data.
Recent rain has helped slightly but isn’t as much of a determining factor as snowpack…
Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder, said stream flows in Summit County overall are below normal compared with historic levels. Huse said all streams in Summit County are below normal and that Straight Creek is running much below normal — 13 cfs Wednesday near Dillon compared with an average of 55 cfs for the same date. Recent precipitation levels have been above normal, but it hasn’t made much of a difference, Huse said…
In the past 30 days, the Dillon weather station has recorded 1.69 inches of precipitation — 50% above the normal 1.13 inches in the same time period. And in the past four months, precipitation is slightly above normal. Huse said that while precipitation is above normal, the difference is less than an inch, and with dry soil conditions, it doesn’t make much of a dent in the water supply.
Huse noted that while Summit County’s drought conditions have improved, the northern half of the county is still in a severe drought.
Almost half the country’s population is facing dry conditions. Soils are parched. Mountain snowpacks produce less water. Wildfire risk is already extreme. The nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is headed to its lowest level since it was first filled in the 1930s.
The past year has been the driest or second driest in most Southwestern states since record-keeping began in 1895. Farms and cities have begun imposing water restrictions, but Western states are facing a threat that goes deeper than a single bad year. The hotter climate is shrinking water supplies, no matter what the weather brings.
Warming temperatures make it less likely for a raindrop or snowflake to reach a reservoir due to increased evaporation. As a result, the people who manage the West’s complex water systems are realizing that with climate change, they can no longer rely on the past to predict the future.
That’s creating a fundamental threat to the way Western water systems operate, because they were built around the idea that the climate would remain constant. Historical climate data such as river flows and rainfall totals told engineers how big to build reservoirs and canals. The data also told them how much water was available to divide up among cities and farms.
Climate change is putting that system under increasing stress, shrinking water supplies for tens of millions of people and for the farmland that produces most of the country’s fruits and vegetables. Water cutbacks are reverberating through California’s $50 billion agricultural industry, which employs tens of thousands of people in many small towns.
Southwestern states recently negotiated a temporary agreement to use less water as reservoirs keep falling. But tough conversations remain about how the West and its complex system of water rights will adapt to a future for which it wasn’t designed.
“We can really no longer look at the past and say: The amount of water we’ve had in the last 100 years is what we can expect in the future,” says Eric Kuhn, an author who worked on water policy for decades at the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “That is no longer true because of climate change.”
Hoover (Boulder) Dam photo credit Ansel Adams circa 1942 via Wikipedia.
Glen Canyon Dam
Climate amplifying bad luck
Like a run-of-the-mill streak of bad luck, droughts are normal in the West. Now, climate change is exacerbating their effects.
“Over the last 22 years or so, there’s been quite a bit of bad luck because precipitation totals have on average been low,” says Park Williams, associate professor of hydroclimatology at UCLA. “But the effect of that bad luck has been really amplified because of warmer temperatures.”
A hotter atmosphere is thirstier, drawing water out of plants and soils and into the air. Snowpacks melt earlier, which in turn boosts that evaporation, because without the reflective surface that snow creates, soils heat up faster. And when soils are dry, they act like a sponge. They need to soak up more moisture before they’re saturated enough for the water to run off into rivers and streams.
Studies show that since 2000, about half the reduction in the Colorado River’s flow has been due to warmer temperatures. For every degree Celsius of warming, the river’s flow is expected to shrink by 9%, according to another study.
In New Mexico last week, a couple in Santa Fe was weighing whether to build a house on the 20-acre lot they had purchased. Among the questions perplexing them was how the warming and drying climate might marginalize their asset.
Relatively few people were asking such questions a decade ago. Now they are. Most people remain more concerned about making the next mortgage payment or a dozen other concerns, but climate change has ceased to be a future worry. It’s right outside the door, evident in the rising heat, the larger and more frequent wildfires, and the news of broader and exceptional “drought.”
One aspect of the warming that has been widely if mostly anecdotally observed has been the melting of snow in winter months. Less snow has been making it to spring—and that means less water flowing in rivers come summer.
“New paper out on widespread increased snow melt during the winter in the US West by well-known scientists,” tweeted Brad Udall, who is himself something of a well-known climate and water scientist affiliated with Colorado State University.
“These papers never have good news, alas. Meanwhile #coloradoriver runoff currently forecast at 45% despite 80% snowpack.”
In the paper, “Winter melt trends portend widespread declines in snow water resources,” four researchers—three from Colorado—compared records of 1,065 snow-measurement stations in the West between the Mexico border and continuing northward into the Alaskan Arctic since the 1970s.
Melting before April 1 has increased at almost half of the stations by an average 3.5% per decade.
“Historically, water managers use the date of April 1 to distinguish between winter and spring, but this distinction is becoming increasingly blurred as melt increases during the winter,” said Noah Molotch, a study co-author and associate professor of geography and fellow at INSTAAR.
The mountains have often been described as the water tower of the West, akin to the tanks that stand over many small communities. The snow melts rapidly during spring, of course, but then slowly melts well into summer. Now, there’s less snow to melt. The tank on the hill has less water.
“That slow trickle of meltwater that reliably occurs over the dry season is something that we have built our entire water infrastructure on in the West,” Keith Musselman, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, told CU Boulder Today, an arm of the University of Colorado.
This causes my mind to wander to the Colorado mountain town of Red Cliff, a place of roughly 300 people located at an elevation of 8,600 feet not far from the Continental Divide. One of the life-time residents there, a “powder man” in several of the local mines, observed that the snowpack normally grew until St. Patrick’s Day, then began to shrink. The snow depth could rise again with new snow, but only temporarily. With warming winters, I wonder when the snowpack at Red Cliff now ceases to rise. Might it now be early March?
This is from the April 18, 2021, issue of Big Pivots. For a free subscription, go to http://BigPivots.com
Authors of the new study point out that this shift in melting could affect wildfire season and agriculture irrigation needs. They also note that their findings are consistent with what climate models suggest will continue to happen.
One feature of this incremental warming has been early runoff, with peaks roughly two weeks earlier in this century.
In Steamboat Springs, the Pilot reported on April 7 that the snow-water equivalent going into April stood at 14.5 inches, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. If that stays as the peak, the 2020-21 winter will have peaked seven days earlier and with about 3.4 inches less water than the 30-year median peak. “The thawing has begun earlier than we would like,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney, the water resource manager for the city of Steamboat Springs.
Maybe it will snow in May—a lot. I remember the spring of 1983 when I was working in Winter Park. A a so-so ski season was followed by an exceptional spring. We barely saw the sun. It seemed to snow every day. And then when the snow melted, the gush took water managers downstream at Glen Canyon Dam by surprise, almost toppling that massive plug that creates the playground of Lake Powell.
Now Powell and its companion behemoth in the desert Southwest, Lake Mead, have struggled in the 21st century. The two reservoirs, largest in America, have a capacity for 54.5 million acre-feet. They’re not close to half full—and they’re likely to decline more this year. Too many years have been like 2020.
Nearly all the water flowing in the Colorado River originates in the headwater states, most of all Colorado, and mostly as snow. In 2020, the snowpack in the upper basin was 114% of average. That snowpack yielded only 55% of average runoff.
Let’s wrap our minds around those numbers again: snowpack 114% of average and runoff 55% of average. Wow.
This year, the snowpack is nowhere near as good. “Current conditions resemble 2002, 2012, and 2013 and the beginning of 2018, four of the five driest years on record,” said the Bureau of Reclamation in an April 15 report. As Udall noted in his tweet, the Bureau projects flows 45% of average into Powell.
As KUNC and other news outlets have reported, this marginal runoff will almost certainly mean that water levels in Lake Mead, the reservoir outside Las Vegas, will drop below the critical threshold of 1,075 feet. As per an agreement among the seven states in the Colorado River Basin in 2019 and also Mexico, this means there will be further cuts in deliveries to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. California could also see its river allocation restricted if the declines continue.
Have Colorado and other states in the Southwest come to terms with the new reality? Yes—and no. A bit of history is worth visiting.
Eric Kuhn and John Fleck, in “Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River,” demonstrated how willfully those who created the framework of compacts and water-delivery infrastructure in the Colorado River ignored available evidence that the river might not well deliver the quantities they wanted to assume. They assumed upwards of 20 million acre-feet. In fact, in the 21st century, the river has been delivering an average 12.5 million.
The science that framers of the Colorado River Compact ignored when they gathered in Santa Fe in 1922 was that of substantial periods of lesser flows in the 19th century. Congress had better evidence yet—but again ignored it when approving the compact in 1929.
Further scientific research has yielded confirmation of decades-long periods of low flows, the megadroughts of a thousand years ago.
Not until the 1960s was there a grudging appreciation for limits. And not until 2007 was there more explicit acknowledgment of the need for revised assumptions.
We’re now in the midst of that acknowledgement. In the 2019 agreement among the basin states, commonly called the “Drought Contingency Plan,” Arizona took the biggest cut, but California got creative, too. That agreement might just as easily have been called the “Buying Time Agreement,” because that is essentially what it did, providing interim measures while a greater vision was assembled to be implemented in 2026. Work is just now beginning on that next iteration.
In 2019, when I interviewed Udall, he said he objected to the word “drought” in the title of the plan. It suggests a temporary condition. He and others have been producing evidence that roughly half the runoff decline has been the result of warming caused by accumulated greenhouse gases. The higher temperatures result in increased evaporation, sublimation, and transpiration. Other researchers have reached much the same conclusion. In a 2019 paper, Udall and Jonathan Overpeck chose to call it a “hot drought.”
Others in the Colorado River Basin have similarly been parsing their vocabulary.
“The drying trend” is the new abnormal—it is not a drought,” Kuhn tweeted this morning.
James Eklund points to increasing temperatures of 1.5° F globally since his great-grandparents began ranching in western Colorado in 1888. Eklund, a former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, among other postings, uses the phrase “aridification,” the gradual change of a region from a wetter to a drier climate.
He also coined a word, “spongeification,” in a 5,000-word essay published in the April 15 issue of The Water Report. By this, he means the process by which dry soils and depleted groundwater aquifers soak up the runoff that does materialize.
Eklund, in an e-mail, told me that he intentionally used the word drought sparingly “because we’re not in a drought (which implies that we might rebound next year).”
It had snowed hard in metro Denver the day he wrote me, and he made note of that snow (which wasn’t nearly so heavy in the Colorado River Basin).
“Despite the snow out the window (and thank heavens for it!), the water year in Colorado and in the Colorado River Basin is going to be challenging at best and perhaps seriously disruptive,” he wrote. “Despite all the coverage and hyperbole, I do not see the current water apparatus (of which I consider myself a part) moving quickly enough to confront the challenge climate change presents to our water systems.
Eklund’s essay makes the case for stepped up implementation of demand management, as I understand it, a way for ranchers and farmers in places like Colorado to lease their water. Whatever the techniques, there must be responses sufficient to the shifting climate.
Then there is conservation. The Las Vegas Sun this week lent its cautious support for a bill in the Nevada Legislature that proposes to make removal of ornamental grass mandatory – not voluntary, a response to incentives, as has already resulted in the uprooting of more than 200 million square feet of grass lawns. If the only time we set foot on grass is to mow it, what real purpose does it serve?
I see a greater role for landscape architects in our future. Dumping gravel on a yard, one of the common solutions to water scarcity that I have seen in Las Vegas and Santa Fe – and, actually, in my own relatively verdant neighborhood in suburban Denver—just doesn’t cut it.
But back to drought, a word that falls short, at least given our current meaning of it. I think we need a better word or phrase that conveys what happens better than “drought.”
Once we can come up with a better word or phrase, we’ll more readily get to work on adaptations necessary with this shifting climate that will change and then change and change again.
Click here to read the paper (Jonathan Overpeck and Bradley Udall). Here’s an excerpt:
Discussions of droughts and their impacts often center on the lack of precipitation, just as assessments of hydrologic impacts under a changing climate most often focus on how average precipitation in a given locale is likely to change in the future. Within climate science, however, focus has begun to include the growing role warming temperatures are playing as a potent driver of greater aridity: hotter climate extremes; drier soil conditions; more severe drought; and the impacts of hydrologic stress on rivers, forests, agriculture, and other systems. This shift in the hydrologic paradigm is most clear in the American Southwest, where declining flows in the region’s two most important rivers, the Colorado (Fig. 1) and Rio Grande, have been attributed in part to increasing temperatures caused by human activities, most notably the burning of fossil fuels. Warmer summers are also likely to reduce flows in the Columbia River, as well as in rivers along the Sierra Nevada in California. Now, an important study documents how warming is also causing flow declines in the northern Rocky Mountains and in the largest river basin in the United States, the Missouri. This work further highlights the mechanisms behind the temperature-driven river flow declines and places more focus on how anthropogenic climate warming is progressively increasing the risk of hot drought and more arid conditions across an expanding swath of the United States.
An earlier version of this writing appeared in Archaeology Southwest Magazine, Volume 33, Nos. 1 & 2. Like many landscapes throughout the American Southwest, Hopi people maintain a cultural connection with the region now designated as part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). From a Hopi perspective, we believe that it is our ancestors who, […]
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 31.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of 2 p.m. on March 31.
That amount is 101 percent of the March 31 median for this site.
The average snow water equivalent for this date at the Wolf Creek summit is 31.2 inches.
The Wolf Creek summit is the only location in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins that is over 100 percent of the March 31 median in terms of snowpack.
Craig Cotten, Division 3 Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources, started off the symposium on March 20 with a brief update on the current state of the Rio Grande Basin and some forecasts for 2021.
After the most recent snowstorms, snowpack in major drainages in Colorado now ranges from 105% in the Upper Rio Grande Basin to just 82% in the combined San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins. Statewide the snow water equivalent or the amount of water in the state’s snow, is at 92% of median.
Cotten was quick to caution everyone that while this is an optimistic note, stream flows in the basin remain below average. The immediate forecast for March through May 2021 is for above average temperatures and below average precipitation. Neither are the best news for water users.
Water scarcity, exportation threats and aquifer depletion were the topics of the day, as well as working toward sustainable practices to meet the challenges of an over-appropriated water system.
Water management has always been a challenge in this arid region. In the past communities across the San Luis Valley recognized these threats and worked together to protect the water.
Dan Birch of the Consensus Building Institute led an interactive session with attendees underlining the importance of the connections we make with each other. The San Luis Valley has a history of rallying to address water threats. Given the potential of another water export plan, the valley needs to rally together again.
Panelists: Representative Jeni Arndt, Colorado State House; George Whitten, San Juan Ranch, Saguache; James Henderson, 711 Ranch, La Jara; Kelsea MacIlroy, CSU; and Armando Valdez, Valdez Land & Livestock, Capulin. They shared viewpoints and discussed the challenges of water use in the valley.
In addition to water scarcity, aquifer depletion, and exportation threats, panelists touched upon the uncertain future for agricultural water users and the economic component of water. Water rights are also property rights and an emphasis on self-determination was evident in panelists’ comments.
Panelists agreed that connections with each other are important. We need to help each other understand the problems we are facing and problem-solve together.
Ken Salazar, former Secretary of the Interior and Co-Founder of the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center at Adams State University, called to mind the history of the valley facing export threats and solutions found over the years to continue to protect the water through legislation and conservation. In introducing the keynote speaker he called on attendees to focus on their love of the Rio Grande, lifeblood of water in the valley, when facing the challenges ahead.
Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, tied together an overview of statewide initiatives in water and forest health, the importance of conservation for outdoor recreation, as well as agricultural communities. They seek to improve the situation for all water users here in the San Luis Valley.
The symposium built on a deep history of innovation and water sharing, leaders, new and established, working to shepherd the culture and communities of the valley into a sustainable relationship with water. Weaving together challenges like climate change, growing pressure to the water supply, and renewed water exports with love for land and water and the desire to care for it.
The San Luis Valley has a history of sustainable water practices, connecting culture and the communities of the Valley. Working together, sharing a sense of place, is the path forward to ensure our collective future.
Rio de la Vista, Director, Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center closed the symposium: “The conversation will continue.”
The Salazar Center works to engage and advance education and the conservation of land and water along with the rich historic and cultural attributes at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.Find them at email@example.com.
Among the provision of the American Rescue Plan Act are additional COVID-19 relief amounting to $500 million in assistance for clean and drinking water customers. Additional support for critical water and sewer investments is also included in the measure, according to a joint press release by NAWCA and AWMA.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, said President Biden will sign the bill on Friday, in a report by NBC News.
In a joint statement, Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, and Diane VanDe Hei, CEO of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies applauded the inclusion of funding for the water and wastewater industry.
“The public water sector is grateful to the U.S. Senate for including $500 million in additional assistance to low-income water customers in the American Rescue Plan Act,” the statement read. “This makes clear that Congress recognizes the critical role of public drinking water and clean water services and the increased strain many households are facing in paying their water bills as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn.”
Additionally, the relief package makes water and sewer infrastructure needs eligible to access $350 billion through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The funding for low-income water assistance comes in addition to the initial $638 million provided in the December 2020 FY21 Consolidated Appropriations Act, reported NBC.
In addition to the funding for clean and drinking water assistance, the bill includes direct payments and child tax credits. It will also provide:
$14 billion for vaccine distribution;
$49 billion for Covid-19 testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment; and
Last year was difficult. And while 2021 presents some optimism for a better world, the intense challenges we face remain—COVID-19 and other public health crises, growing drought and climate change, and racial injustice. Each of these intersect with water.
More than 90% of climate stress is experienced through the water cycle—drought, extreme weather and flooding, wildfire, and more. These issues were starkly illustrated in 2020 with the wildfires in the West and the drying of several western habitats. Audubon’s own science shows that climate change is by far the biggest threat to the birds that we love. We can’t ignore the relationship between water and climate—and the dangers climate change presents to our communities, often in inequitable ways. Solutions to these problems will require elected officials to catch up to what most Americans already know: we need to prioritize our water future with bold action and funding.
In 2021, our job is to galvanize a heightened focus on water to advance solutions that improve the lives of people and birds in the West. Our commitment to collaborating with water users, tribes, farmers, water and land managers, and other stakeholders allows us to identify solutions that align habitat protection and restoration with improved water supplies for communities. And with your support, we can better protect and restore the Colorado, Gila, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, and other rivers in the arid West as well as unique saline lake ecosystems such as Great Salt Lake and the Salton Sea.
The Colorado River Compact was signed 99 years ago, and the year ahead kicks off a new round of negotiations about the future of the river. This moment gives all of us opportunities to lean into the lessons learned from management of the Colorado River and its water and bring environmental priorities forward. Of course, the past two decades have required more adaptation and mitigation because of dwindling water resources amidst long-term drought. As the arid West continues to deal with climate change, our laws and management will need to adapt.
With your advocacy, we can advance Audubon’s Western Water policy priorities with considerations for inclusive and equitable provisions. We can leverage opportunities for federal legislation and appropriations to address drought in the West, WaterSMART improvements, Farm Bill funding, and more in the context of declining water flows due to climate change impacts. We can advance investments in natural infrastructure and climate resiliency (i.e. floodplain restoration, natural water storage solutions, wildfire mitigation programs). We can improve river health, protect water quality, and support funding for agencies focused on water resources and habitats through state policy improvements. And in priority areas, we will work on-the-ground and with partners to protect and restore bird habitat and improve water flows.
For urgent attention to solutions that last, we need diverse and inclusive voices at the table and in decision-making. Audubon has spent years working to improve our equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts, and 2020 gave us real urgency to address the disproportionate impacts that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color face, including water security. In 2021, Audubon’s Western Water team will better support tribal communities, when asked for help, because tribes should be able to actively participate in decisions about water management, ensure that their water needs are met, and realize the full benefits of their water rights. And we’ll better evaluate what communities are most impacted by our conservation actions, and build collaborative partnerships to increase bird habitat and equitable access for people.
Birds connect us. Water is our great unifier too. Join us in taking urgent local, state, and national actions in the year ahead. Sign up, spread the word, and stay connected at http://audubon.org/westernwater.
Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.
In the spring of 2020, FIS Worldpay, a payment-processing company, sent more than 200 of its Durango, Colorado-based employees home to work remotely, in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Even when pandemic-avoidance measures were loosened over the summer and many workplaces filled back up, the 81,000-square-foot building remained dark. Then, in November, the Jacksonville, Florida-based company announced that the staff would continue to work remotely, and that the Durango building — the largest of its kind in town — would close for good.
This phenomenon — one-time cubicle workers becoming full-time telecommuters, liberated from corporate headquarters — deprived Durango of one of its largest private employers and has driven up office vacancy rates nationwide. Yet at the same time, it is also fueling housing booms in so-called “Zoom towns,” Durango included, as the born-again remote workers seek out more desirable areas.
Zoom towns are scattered across the United States, but the most popular ones seem to be small- to mid-sized, amenity-rich communities, with plenty of public land nearby, from Bend, Oregon, to Flagstaff, Arizona, along with a whole bunch of best-place-to-live-list towns. In most cases, their real estate markets were already overheated. But they exploded in the wake of the pandemic’s first wave, driving home prices to astronomical levels and putting homeownership even further out of reach for the typical working-class person.
The telecommuter-migration is just one of many reasons behind the current real estate craze. Rock-bottom interest rates have also contributed, along with wealthy investors seeking refuges during tumultuous times. “It’s clear that many buyers are being driven out of large cities by both COVID-19 and civil unrest,” wrote the authors of the Jackson Hole Report, regarding the recent uptick in homes priced over $3 million. “Most have been contemplating a move for some time, and felt that now was the right time.”
The Zoom economy has come at Durango from two directions. The housing market went berserk in the third quarter of 2020, and the median home price shot up to about twice the amount that a median-income earner could afford. Meanwhile, economic development officials are trying to figure out what to do with a giant, empty office building. One option: Convert it into affordable housing.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at email@example.com.
The incoming Biden administration has announced its nomination for Secretary of the Department of the Interior: U.S. Representative Deb Haaland, a Native American from New Mexico who would replace Trump administration appointee David Bernhardt, a Coloradan termed “the ultimate swamp monster” by environmental groups.
Haaland’s nomination is undeniably historic. If confirmed, she’d be the first Native American to head the very federal agency that since 1849 has been managing — and often mismanaging — the U.S. relationship with the nation’s tribes. “A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland said in a tweet. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”
Haaland was born and raised in a military family in the Southwestern United States; she’s a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, who have lived on the land that is now the state of New Mexico for over 800 years. Her work experience spans everything from owning her own small salsa company to law school to tribal management, which led to her political involvement on a local and national level. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, where she quickly distinguished herself on several important House committees, including Armed Services, Natural Resources and Oversight.
David Bernhardt grew up in Rifle; he worked in state conservative politics and, later, for a lobbyist firm in Denver before being picked by the second Bush administration to work in the Department of the Interior. When that position ended in 2009, Bernhardt went directly back to that Colorado lobbying firm as the chairman of its natural resources law practice, where his clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and farmers fighting fish lovers in California. He de-listed himself as a lobbyist in 2016 so as not to appear to violate Trump’s then-ban on lobbyists joining his administration, which is the sort of situation for which the term “technicality” was coined. After several positions related to the Trump DOI, he was nominated to Deputy Secretary of the Interior under Ryan Zinke, whose scandals involving the egregious private use of public funds eventually brought about his resignation, and promoted to Secretary in 2019. Aside from moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Bernhardt’s tenure perhaps has been most notable for being Trump’s “designated survivor” during the 2020 State of the Union address, an achievement he earned by being picked last in Trump’s political kickball game…
Policies and Practices
Bernhardt, as his client base might suggest, was decidedly pro-business in his work in natural resources, a “drill, baby, drill” guy. He worked both in and out of government on many of the same issues despite claims to the contrary — mainly, the prioritization of the agribusiness, oil, gas and mining industries over any credible environmental concerns. While he claimed at a confirmation hearing that he “implemented an incredibly robust screening process” to guard against conflicts of interest, Bernhardt was found by the General Accounting Office to have twice broken federal law; this finding was later overturned by Trump’s own Interior Department, with no sense of irony whatsoever.
Haaland, in contrast, is well known for working on behalf of both indigenous populations and the natural environment. An example of both: In 2016, she went to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to join tribal leadership in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Haaland was able to not only bring support from New Mexico labor unions, according to the Washington Post, but also homemade tortillas and green chile stew.
That’s the difference between the two Americas today, illustrated in consecutive Interior secretaries: One brings warm homemade soup to a grassroots organization supporting the protection of the land and all that lives upon it. The other might as well drive a coal-burning Hummer with a bumpersticker that reads “MY MONEY > YOUR FISH.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor December 15, 2020.
West Drought Monitor December 15, 2020.
Colorado Drought Monitor December 15, 2020.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw some modest improvements in drought conditions across portions of the Southwest, southern Great Plains, South, lower Midwest, and portions of the Northeast. Drought-related conditions deteriorated in southern California, the southern Great Basin, Texas, Minnesota, and parts of New England. In California, storm activity during the weekend delivered beneficial rain and snow to areas of central and northern California; however, the southern part of the state remained dry. Since January 1, areas of California—including portions of the eastern Sierra and Sacramento Valley—have received less than 25% of normal precipitation. The impact of both short- and long-term dryness in parts of California has been affecting the cattle ranching industry with numerous drought impact reports describing severe impacts to pasture and rangeland conditions as well as reports of ranchers having to sell livestock. Fortunately, another round of storms is expected to impact northern California this week bringing valley rains and mountain snows to the region. In the southern Great Basin, record dryness during the past 6-month period led to expansion of areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) in the eastern Sierra Nevada and southern Nevada. In the Southwest, both Arizona and New Mexico received light rains across parts of the lower deserts as well as some mountain snowfall in northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, providing a much-needed boost to soil moisture levels. Elsewhere, above-normal precipitation during the past 30-to-60-day period and snowfall this week in northern portions of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma Panhandle, led to removal of areas of drought. Further to the south in the Hill Country and South Texas Plains, drought intensified in response to persistent warm and dry conditions as well as mounting precipitation deficits ranging from 2-to-8+ inches during the past 90-day period. Conversely, areas along the coastal plains of northeastern Texas received 1-to-2+ inch accumulations during the past week leading to widespread improvements on the map. In the Midwest, wetter-than-normal conditions during the past 30-to-60-day period led to minor improvements on the map in central Illinois and northern Indiana. Likewise, portions of western New York saw improvement on the map in response to recent storm activity…
On this week’s map, areas of the region—including southwestern Kansas and northeastern Wyoming—saw modest improvements including reduction in areas of Severe Drought (D2) in Wyoming and areas of Moderate Drought (D1) in southwestern Kansas where recent snowfalls have helped to improve local conditions. Average temperatures for the week were near to slightly above normal across most of the region with eastern portions of the region observing the greatest positive temperature anomalies ranging from 3-to-12 deg F above normal. According to the NOAA NOHRSC, the Upper Midwest Region was only 16.4% covered in snow (a reduction from 30.3% last month) with an average depth of 0.2 inches and a maximum depth of 30.5 inches. Field reports from the USDA NASS North Dakota Crop Progress and Condition Report (Nov. 30) yielded winter wheat conditions rated as 4% very poor, 5% poor, 50% fair, 39% good, and 2% excellent…
During the past week, areas of the West received much needed rain and snow over the weekend with mountain snow observed in the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, ranges of central/eastern Nevada, the Uinta Mountains, and across areas of the Rockies from Montana to New Mexico. Snowfall accumulations ranged from 6-to-24+ inches in the higher elevations. In the California mountains, the current statewide soil water equivalent (SWE) for the date (Dec. 14) is 47% of normal—up 11% since last week. The current regional breakdown (percentage of normal SWE) is as follows: Northern Sierra/Trinity–46%, Central Sierra–53%, and Southern Sierra–29%. In other areas of the West, the drainage basins (6-Digit HUCs) across the Four Corners states continued to observe well below-normal SWE except for the Rio Grande Headwaters (115% of normal) and the Upper Arkansas (103% of normal) basins of Colorado. In the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, basins across the Cascades of Oregon/Washington as well as central/eastern Montana are near normal to above normal. On the map, areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Extreme Drought (D3) expanded in southern California where precipitation during the past 90-day period has generally been <25% of normal. These areas largely have missed recent storm events that have impacted central and northern portions of the state. In southern Nevada, areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded in Clark County where McCarran International Airport (through Dec. 1) logged its driest 6-month period (June 1 to November 30) on record with only a trace of precipitation observed for the period. In Arizona, areas of Extreme Drought (D3) expanded in southwestern Arizona where Parker, Arizona along the lower Colorado River has observed no precipitation since June 1—making it the driest 6-month (June 1 to November 30) on record. Elsewhere in the state, some minor improvements were made in central Arizona and northeastern Arizona on the Navajo Nation where precipitation during the past week brought some minor improvements in soil moisture. In northern New Mexico, some minor improvements were made on the map in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Taos where soil moisture levels improved (according to NASA SPoRT) and snowfall during the past week bumped a few SNOTEL stations (Gallegos Peak, Tolby) above normal levels for the date. In southeastern Idaho, areas of Moderate Drought (D1) were reduced in response to several SNOTEL sites (Prairie, Camas Creek Divide) reporting above-normal SWE…
On this week’s map, areas of drought intensified and expanded in the Hill Country and South Texas Plains where warm and dry conditions continued this week. In these areas, 90-day precipitation deficits ranged from 2-to-8 inches, and current soil moisture levels were below normal according to the NASA SPoRT soil moisture monitoring products. According to Water Data for Texas (Dec. 16), monitored water supply reservoirs are currently 79.9% full—with reservoirs in the eastern half of the state ~80–90% full while reservoirs in the western half of the state were generally <40% full. In the far northern portions of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma Panhandle, conditions improved on the map in response to short-term precipitation including snowfall observed during the past week with accumulations ranging from 1-to-8+, according to NOAA NOHRSC. In eastern portions of Texas, northwestern Louisiana, and southeastern Oklahoma, precipitation during the past week (1-to-3 inches) led to improvements in areas of Moderate Drought (D1). Average temperatures for the week were below normal (1-to-4 deg F) in the northern Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma Panhandle, and central Oklahoma while other areas in the region were 2-to-10+ deg F above normal…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for light-to-moderate liquid accumulations ranging from 1 to 2+ inches across portions of the South with the heaviest totals expected along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle. Likewise, similar accumulations are expected in the Mid-Atlantic and across southeastern portions of New England where a major winter storm is expected to impact the region starting on Wednesday with a wintry mix of rain, freezing rain, and snow. Areas from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts are expected to receive significant snowfall accumulations ranging from 6 to 20+ inches with New York City and Boston potentially receiving more than a foot of snow. Across much of the Midwest, the Plains, Texas, the Southwest, and southern portions of California and the Great Basin, dry condition are forecasted. Elsewhere in the West, a series of storms is expected to impact an area from Washington state through northern California and eastward through the northern Great Basin and central/northern Rockies. Coastal areas are expecting heavy rainfall accumulations while further inland snowfall accumulations in the higher elevations of the Cascades and northern Rockies of Idaho and northwestern Montana could see 1-to-2 feet of snow. The CPC 6–10-day Outlook calls for a moderate probability of above-normal precipitation across most of the eastern tier of the conterminous U.S., the Upper Midwest, and across much of Alaska where probabilities are higher. Elsewhere, the outlooks call for a low-to-moderate probability of below-normal precipitation across much of the conterminous U.S.—including much of the Midwest and Plains states, the Four Corners states, and California. In terms of temperature, there is a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across nearly the entire conterminous U.S. except for the Southeast where normal temperatures are expected…