5 Big Threats to Rivers: Human activities have imperiled our waterways — along with almost one-third of freshwater fish and many other aquatic species — The Revelator #ActOnClimate

Dam on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, Maine. Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

If we needed any more motivation to help save our ailing rivers, it should have come with the findings of a recent study, which revealed that “Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems.”

Rivers, lakes and inland wetlands cover 1% of the Earth but provide homes for 10% of all its species, including one-third of all vertebrates. And many of those species are imperiled — some 27% of the nearly 30,000 freshwater species so far assessed by the IUCN Red List. This includes nearly one-third of all freshwater fish.

How did things get so bad? For some species it’s a single action — like building a dam. But for most, it’s a confluence of factors — an accumulation of harm — that builds for years or decades.

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

1. Dam Obstructions

One of the single largest threats to river biodiversity comes from dams, which provide humans with electricity, water reserves and other benefits but come with ecological costs. The loss of free-flowing rivers divides watersheds into unconnected fragments and changes water flow, quality and temperature. It also blocks the transport of sediment, and can obstruct the movement of animals, including migratory fish — and the species like freshwater mussels — which depend on those fish.

In the United States, dam-building has imperiled Atlantic salmon on the East Coast as well as many runs of the West Coast’s five salmon species. But the ripple effects can extend to aquatic insects, birds and riparian plants.

If we needed any more motivation to help save our ailing rivers, it should have come with the findings of a recent study, which revealed that “Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems.”

Rivers, lakes and inland wetlands cover 1% of the Earth but provide homes for 10% of all its species, including one-third of all vertebrates. And many of those species are imperiled — some 27% of the nearly 30,000 freshwater species so far assessed by the IUCN Red List. This includes nearly one-third of all freshwater fish.

How did things get so bad? For some species it’s a single action — like building a dam. But for most, it’s a confluence of factors — an accumulation of harm — that builds for years or decades.

The Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952. The river caught fire at least 13 times and helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities such as the Clean Water Act. Photo via the Environmental Protection Agency

2. Pollution

What happens on land doesn’t stay on land.

The Clean Water Act, passed 50 years ago, has done a lot to improve the water quality of rivers in the United States, as have similar regulations around the world. But we still have a long way to go.

Some waterways remain a dumping ground for toxic chemicals, even decades after those threats were identified. Others face new threats from pharmaceuticals that pass through water treatment facilities (after passing through our bladders) and accumulate in the bodies of aquatic animals. Fish full of antidepressants is no joking matter. Neither are PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals,” that end up in rivers — and aquatic animals — after leaching from industrial sites, military bases or incinerators.

The nutrients we use on farms and livestock operations also wash into rivers and streams. That runoff, full of nitrogen and phosphorus, fuels an overgrowth of algae which deprive the waters of oxygen, driving away or killing marine life in so-called “dead zones.” The situation is likely to get worse as climate change fuels stronger storms and warmer waters.

Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

3. Grazing

Waste from animal feedlots pollutes rivers, but cattle that graze on millions of acres of public and private lands across the American West — and in many other nations — are a threat, too.

The livestock can overgraze and trample riparian areas, leading to the loss of plants, an increase in erosion and reduced stability of streambanks. A loss of vegetation along banks increases water temperature — a detriment to cold-water fish. And the sediment — and sometimes waste-fill runoff — threatens water quality and fish, including native trout.

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

4. Climate Change

The effects of climate warming are already being felt around the world, with rivers drying up in the United States, China, Germany, France and many other nations over the past few months.

That’s only going to get worse: In the United States, where projections show western mountains will experience a significant loss of snowpack in the next 35 to 60 years. Less snow and an earlier snowmelt will alter river flows and groundwater, which will affect numerous plants and animals across the region.

Some of those same species are already suffering from other harms from human development. Salmon, for example, that have been cut off from cold-water upstream habitat by dams are now further imperiled as low water flows heat up the rivers to temperatures that endangered the fish.

A view of Foothills Mobile Home Park, which suffered a total loss during the September 2013 flood in Lyons. (Courtesy of town of Lyons)

Heavy rainstorms supercharged by climate change can also cause flooding that sweeps sediment, chemicals and other harmful runoff into rivers and creeks. These storms can cause municipal sewage systems to be overwhelmed and discharge untreated water into rivers.

Warming temperatures can also exacerbate droughts, limiting water for drinking, irrigation and maintaining healthy flows in rivers and streams to support wildlife.

Magpie river. Credit Boreal-River via The Conservation Alliance

5. Not Enough Protections

We may love our rivers, but we simply don’t afford them enough protection. Laws and regulations offer piecemeal measures, and funding for river-conservation programs remains elusive. Efforts to establish legal “personhood” for rivers haven’t gained much traction and some of our existing tools haven’t been utilized effectively.

In the United States, far less than one-half of 1% of the country’s river miles have been protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, established in 1968. The law can help protect rivers and their banks from new dams and mining claims, and often from logging and roadbuildling. New legislative efforts in Congress to expand the program, including the River Democracy Act, have yet to move forward. Other nations have proposed their own new laws, but whether they’ll pass — or do enough — remains to be seen.

Of course, the risks to waterways are as varied as the ecosystems themselves. To find out more about threats to our rivers — and ways to protect and restore them — check out this selection of stories from our archives:

Set It Back: Moving Levees to Benefit Rivers, Wildlife and Communities

A Historic Chance to Protect America’s Free-Flowing Rivers

Another Dam(n) Extinction

Let Rivers Flood: Communities Adopt New Strategies for Resilience

Hundreds of Planned Dams Threaten Central America’s Last Free-Flowing Rivers

What Happens to Wildlife Swimming in a Sea of Our Drug Residues?

Strengthening Mussels for Cleaner Rivers

Granting Legal Rights to Rivers: Is International Law Ready?

Is it Too Late to Save ‘America’s Amazon’?

Could Cleaning the Tigris River Help Repair Iraq’s Damaged Reputation?

On the Clean Water Act’s 50th Birthday, What Should We Celebrate?

California’s Reliance on Dams Puts Fish in Hot Water

‘There’s No Memory of the Joy.’ Why 40 Years of Superfund Work Hasn’t Saved Tar Creek

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping up to 700 cfs August 22, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River near Navajo Dam, New Mexico, Aug. 23, 2015. Photo credit: Phil Slattery Wikimedia Commons

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

August 21, 2023

The precipitation that was forecast did not materialize this weekend, and the coming forecast precipitation has been reduced. For that reason, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam back to 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) from 600 cfs for tomorrow, August 22nd, 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.  

The First People, Part 2: The Reservations — Sibley’s Rivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click the link to read the article on the Sibley’s Rivers website (George Sibley):

The last post here began an exploration of tribal issues in the Colorado River region, where 30 ‘First People’ nations have been put on reservations throughout the region. We looked at some of the precolumbian history in the Southwest, to emphasize the human diversity that existed in the region when European peoples invaded the continent beginning 500 years ago. ‘The Second People,’ I guess we could call the invaders – a single people instead of many like the more than 700 distinctive First Peoples; most of our ancestors seemed willing to let go of their Old World identities and assimilate to a common ‘American dream’ in the New World, e pluribus unum. This does not mean, I hasten to add, that we consistently act as ‘one people.’ But our differences today are ‘New World conflicts,’ not those stemming from ‘Old World’ distinctions between English, French, Italian, Spanish, Slavic, and the other hereditary European national stocks.

From the beginning till now, the relationships between the First and Second Peoples have been mostly ambiguous at best. Until the 20th century CE, their interactions almost always devolved into conflict and warfare, conflicts the native people always eventually lost, despite occasional battle victories, to the sheer mass of the invaders and their superior firepower, not to mention their virulent diseases unknown in the New World.

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

The conflicts were eventually settled with treaties in which the First Peoples, one by one, yielded most or all of their old hunter-forager territories to the invaders in exchange for much smaller ‘reservations’ managed through a ‘trust’ relationship with the United States government. In the best resolutions, the First People got the least desirable part of their former homeland as their reservation; in the worst resolutions, they were forcibly moved to strange and generally undesirable places beyond the settled area. Out of sight, out of mind.

In its broadest terms, a ‘trust’ is a legal arrangement between a benefactor and a beneficiary that is administered by a trustee. Given that the reservation trust arrangement had the First People giving up most of the land they had inhabited for many generations, in exchange for a small piece of that land and freedom from further invasive pressure, one wonders who should be called the benefactor and who the beneficiary.

But the trust arrangement between the First and Second Peoples was defined in 1831 by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, in deciding a suit filed by the southeastern Creek Nation against the State of Georgia. The Creek People were one of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’ in the southern states who had tried hard to fully assimilate to European ways: taking up farming, speaking English, even dressing European – and being civilized enough to know they needed to lawyer-up in civil situations like loss of their land. But they were still ‘Indians,’ and therefore subject to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, to free up more land for white settlers.

When that suit went to the Supreme Court in 1831, Chief Justice Marshall – probably the first real ‘activist justice’ – declared that all situations involving the First Peoples should be negotiated and resolved as between nations, not within state jurisdictions. But it would not be nation-to-nation negotiations between equals. The First Peoples he declared to be ‘domestic dependent nations’ whose ‘relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian. They look to our government for protection; rely upon its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief to their wants; and address the President as their Great Father.’

There is a sad irony to the fact that this articulation of a guardian-ward relationship concluded with the ‘Five Civilized Tribes,’ who had tried to follow the ways of their ‘guardian’ nation, removed from their homes and force-marched on the ‘Trail of Tears’ to strange lands across the Mississippi. More power than kindness.

An Office of Indian Affairs was created to administer the reservation trust model; the nature of the trust relationship is indicated by the fact that OIA was in the War Department. In 1849 the Interior Department was created, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs was moved into that.

Devastated as the First Peoples were at that time by European diseases, continual conflict and retreat before the waves of ‘unsettlers’ swarming over the continent, the ‘guardian-ward’ foster-parent relationship was probably an accurate enough description of the reservation life imposed on the First Peoples: a relationship historically marked at best by what could only be described generously as tough love, too often by blatant exploitation, and most often by indifference and negligence. That they survived at all with so much of their spiritual life and heritage still burning within is a measure of the cohesive strength possible in small tight societies that mass societies can never really achieve.

Through time, the undercurrent of vengeance leached out of the trust relationship, but a full legal definition of the trust remained somewhat ambiguous, and the treaties on which the trusts were based had varying degrees of legal explication. And until well into the 20th century, the reservation trust relationship was rooted in a belief – a benefactor belief, of course – that the best resolution for all concerned was total cultural assimilation of the First Peoples – essentially, elimination of them as distinct peoples: it was no longer ‘kill the Indians,’ but ‘kill what’s Indian to save the people.’ This included measures like the 1887 Dawes Act that ‘subdivided’ the reservations into individual plots to make the Peoples understand the blessings of private property, and laws that moved children from their families to boarding schools where they were given haircuts, immersed in industrial culture, and punished for speaking their own language. This was all done with a virtuous sense of Christian duty to the heathen.

The 20th century also saw some of the worthless land the First People had been relocated to turn out to have valuable deposits of oil and gas, uranium, and other basic industrial resources. The Peoples were of course judged to be unable to develop and manage these resources themselves, so that was done under the trust by the BIA and other Interior agencies, with all the revenues supposed to go to the Peoples of the reservation exploited: some into tribal funds, and some into individual funds where the reservation had been successfully subdivided – funds to be kept separate from other expenditures and revenues associated with regular reservation activity.

This was a daunting accounting challenge, but the BIA seemed to go above and beyond the challenge in messing it up. By the 1990s, it was obvious that this was a complete mess,  and a $100 billion class action suit was filed in the mid-1990s on behalf of all the tribes and half a million individuals who should have been getting resource revenue, but weren’t. Investigation showed an array of misdirection of funds, malfeasance on the part of some of the private contractors holding back funds, some money just going into the general treasury funds, but mostly it was just terrible non-management of the trusts.

The judge who evaluated the $100 billion suit came up with a figure of only $455 million. Faced with the probability of a court appeal, keepng a truly embarrassing situation in the public mind longer, Interior offered a settlement of $1.4 billion in direct payments, plus $2 billion to try to unsnarl some of the Dawes Act reservation fragmentation, and a $60 million scholarship fund to educate reservation youth.

But – meanwhile, what about the most important western resource for the reservations: water? (You knew I’d eventually get around to it.) In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a seminal decision on water for reservations, to resolve a Montana water situation, that was really the first government action showing empathy for a First People trying to make a life in circumstances made difficult both by antipathy from the larger society around them and by the always ambiguous trust relationship with the government.

Early in the 20th century, Montana settlers had began using water from the Milk River above the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation (north of the Missouri River, primarily Gros Ventre People). The settlers were told to stop because it was taking water needed by the First People in their own efforts to become ‘civilized’ farmers. The settlers – faced with the possible loss of their own land, worthless [without] the water – sued, Winters v. the United States; and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The Court affirmed that the water the settlers was using belonged with the reservation, even though the Indians were not using all of the water yet, and had filed no appropriation claim on it. When the federal government reserved land for some purpose, the Court declared, such as the settling and ‘civilizing’ of a People, the reservation of a sufficient quantity of water to carry out that purpose was implicit in the reservation of land. The water thus reserved, with creation of the reservation, was to be exempt from appropriation under the laws of the state in which the reservation was located; and the appropriation date for thatreservedwater would be the date of creation of the reservation, whether the water was yet being used or not. Given that most reservations were created before their former land was opened to settlers, these became very senior water rights – and the right didn’t even require the water to immediately be put to beneficial economic use; it was to be there whenever the reservation People were ready to learn to use it.

One can imagine the shockwave this sent through the arid West where appropriation law was foundational to practically all development – first come, first served for the use of water, so long as the claim was properly filed and adjudicated. Now the federal government, which still owned most of the Interior West and Southwest, was being given, by the highest court in the land, the prerogative of elbowing its way to the front of the line by reserving land for specific purposes thar required a quantity of water.

The Supreme Court that issued the Winters decision may have engaged in a little judicial activism – taking upon itself something that would have been more properly addressed by Congress. But the Court essentially argued that its decision was obviously implicit in the Congresssional ratification of each reservation: Congress would surely not ‘take from [a First People] the means of continuing their old habits, yet not leave them the power to change to new ones’; therefore the reservation of the water along with the land was surely presumed by Congress. This may be a more idealized view of the rationality and integrity of Congress than many people then or now have, especially where the First People were concerned, but so the Court decreed. It was basically a majority of justices making a judgment call on behalf of equity, fairness and decency: how could the nation take away the free-ranging hunter-forager way of life from the people of another nation, and not give them the wherewithal to forge a new, more ‘civilized’ way of life?

The Winters decree did leave the First Peoples with a couple of difficult challenges, however, and no instruction on how to address them. They had to get their water rights quantified, in order to begin planning their development – and how much water did it take in the desert to convert a whole people to agricultural and industrial civilization? Then they had to figure out how to finance the development of their rights. And they had to do both of these things in a larger water-culture environment less than happy with the whole Winters decision.

This is where the ‘trust’ relationship with the federal government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, should have worked better than it in fact has. Next post, we will look at some of the trials and tribulations the First Peoples in the Colorado River region have experienced in working through those two challenges – a struggle most recently manifested in June this year, with a new Supreme Court decision declaring that, the Winters decision notwithstanding, nothing else  about the trust relationship can be considered implicit in the fumbling-forward effort to work out the whole relationship of the First Peoples and the Second People. If something like assisting in determining a People’s basic rights isn’t explicit in the century-old establishing treaties, then no trust responsibility for that exists.

Seeding a sustainable future: Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch using #water allocation to prepare for a dry future — The #Durango Herald

Harvesting a Thinopyrum intermedium (Kernza) breeding nursery at The Land Institute By Dehaan – Scott Bontz, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5181663

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Reuben Schafir). Here’s an excerpt:

When [Michael] Vicenti turns toward field No. 2180 [on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation], the condition of the road deteriorates and his knowledge of the plot before him starts and ends with water. He can’t tell the two crops planted there apart, he said. The field was planted for the first time in four years last month because the farm lacked adequate water to irrigate it until this spring. Now, among abundant patches of weeds, tender seedlings are sprouting in neat rows. Half the field, just 23 acres, is planted with sainfoin, a forage legume for animals. The other half bears Kernza, the trademark name of an intermediate perennial wheatgrass developed by the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Those delicate sprouts are an experiment on every level, says the farm’s general manager, Simon Martinez. But they hold the promise of water reduction, increased drought resiliency, and the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of adaptation to the changing climate…

With the farm’s full water allocation – 24,500 acre-feet – flowing down the canal from McPhee Reservoir, this year was the time to test out these two new drought-resistant crops…But not every year brings ample snowfall to the peaks above McPhee, and as the Colorado River basin charges through year 23 of a historic megadrought, Martinez is starting to tinker Kernza and sainfoin as possible resilient alternatives to alfalfa and wheat.

The experiment is just one step of several the farm has taken. Outside grants have helped fund micro-hydroelectric units, which harness the power of the irrigation canal’s natural downhill flow. The farm was also outfitted with new nozzles on its center pivots that reduce water delivery from 8.2 gallons per minute to 7.5. Corn, for example, is watered in a pattern of three days on, two days off. By reducing the flows from each nozzle by 0.7 gallons per minute, Martinez said the farm is saving thousands of gallons of water across the farm. Although it cannot be attribute only to the water-saving nozzles, Vicenti and Martinez estimate the farm will use only 80% of its allocated water this year, leaving roughly 4,900 acre-feet in McPhee…

“We’ve never, as Ute people, never been farmers,” Chairman Heart said. “We were put into the position of becoming ranchers and farmers in the 1800s (after) what happened up in Meeker and as a Ute people in general. … It’s (Farm and Ranch) trying to do what we can in this arid soil reservation that we’ve been put in.”

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

#BlueMesaReservoir seeing recovery after thirsty years — The Delta County Independent #runoff #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Delta County Independent website (Katharhynn Heidelberg). Here’s an excerpt:

As of Monday [June 12, 2023], the state’s largest body of water was 16 feet from being full to the brim. That means 685,000 acre-feet sitting in the reservoir right now, with spring runoff from a snowy winter not quite finished.

“That’s way better than anybody thought it would be this year,” Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Erik Knight said Monday. “It’s going to get close (to filling). If it doesn’t, it will probably be within 5 feet.”


The Gunnison Tunnel, which brings vital irrigation water to the Uncompahgre Valley, has taken its full amount at about 1,000 cubic feet per second. The power plant at Crystal Dam is at full capacity and the river downstream from the tunnel is flowing at about 1,000 cfs.

West Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.

In 2021, drought was so dire in the West that provisions of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan kicked in, and BuRec was obliged to release water from the already hurting Blue Mesa to Lake Powell, to keep that reservoir from dropping below the levels necessary for power plant turbines at the Glen Canyon Dam. Knight said no releases from Blue Mesa to prop up Powell are expected this year. The larger reservoir, though, is not in perfect shape and the water crisis on the Colorado River remains…

Ridgway Reservoir, fed by the Uncompahgre River and Dallas Creek, is also in good shape, said Steve Pope, manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association…Pope noted there is still snow sitting in the high country above the reservoir that is to come down. He said excess would be bypassed through the headgates.

Navajo Dam operations update May 17, 2023

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

High snowpack in the San Juan River Basin this year has led to an above-average inflow forecast into the Navajo Reservoir.  The latest most probable inflow forecast from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center has increased to 160% of average inflows due to snowmelt runoff from April through July.  

The forecast now allows for a spring peak release as recommended by the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program (SJRIP).  The release will ramp up slowly, peaking at 5,000 cfs for approximately 21 days before ramping back down.

As this operation is entirely dependent on weather, inflows, and on-the-ground conditions, this schedule may change.

The next changes are shown hourly below. The full daily schedule is posted on our website and is updated as needed.https://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/notice/nav_rel.html

This operation is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions and will be coordinated daily with local, state, and federal agencies to ensure objectives are met in a safe manner.

Areas in the immediate vicinity of the river channel may be unstable and dangerous. River crossing may change and be impassable as flows increase. Please use extra caution near the river channel and protect or remove any valuable property in these areas.

6:00 AM2000
8:00 AM2200
10:00 AM2400
12:00 PM2600
2:00 PM2800
4:00 PM3000
6:00 AM3000
8:00 AM3200
10:00 AM3500
12:00 PM3800
2:00 PM4000
8:00 AM4000
10:00 AM4300
12:00 PM4600

For more information, please see the following resources below:

Bureau of Reclamation:

·       Navajo Dam website: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html

·       Navajo Dam Release Notices: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/notice/nav_rel.html

·       Colorado River Basin Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/coloradoriverbasin

San Juan County, New Mexico, Office of Emergency Management: 

·       Website:  https://www.sjcoem.net

·       SJOEM River Page: https://www.sjcounty.net/river

·       Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/oemsjc

San Juan County, Utah, Office of Emergency Management:

·       Website: https://sanjuancounty.org/emergency-management

·       San Juan County Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SanJuanUtah/

Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management:

·       Website: https://ndem.navajo-nsn.gov/

·       Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/nndem2020/

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District ordered to check for #lead pipes — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Monica Nigon). Here’s an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently made re- visions to its Lead and Copper Rule, which will require the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) to take steps to verify that water pipes of homes, businesses, schools and child care facilities aren’t made of lead. District Engineer/Manager Justin Ramsey explained this could include inspecting meter pits or questioning homeowners…

Ramsey added that PAWSD has been taking 120 samples per year for the last five to six years and has never found a detectable amount of lead in any homeowner’s or business’ water. Yet the new update requires the pipes in every home and business to be verified to be lead-free. PAWSD can do this by visual inspections or asking the homeowner, Ramsey explained…

He added that to verify the mate- rial of pipes, PAWSD can look at the meter pit or a crawl space. If it is still unable to verify the material or the structure owner is unsure of the material of their pipes, PAWSD may have to dig up lines to verify that they are made from a material other than lead. Under the update, Ramsey ex- plained, PAWSD will be required to test schools and child care facilities, which was not mandated before.

Willard Bay releases water to help the #GreatSaltLake this spring: 71.6 billion gallons of water will come from upstream reservoirs — The Deseret News

Willard Bay, town of Willard, Promontory Mountains, Box Elder County, Utah. By GreenGlass1972 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8266623

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

With the turn of a wheel, 650 milliongallons of water a day will eventually travel from Willard Bay to the ailing Great Salt Lake. Although the lake has risen four feet since its historic low reached in November of last year, four feet is not nearly enough to make the Northern Hemisphere’s largest saline lake recover from years of drought and over diversion from its tributaries…The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District is using its “flood rights” over the course of the next two to four weeks, and in total will deliver 71.6 billion gallons of those water rights to the lake. This is part of the 2.5 billion gallons of water per day flowing past the Willard Canal into the Great Salt Lake.

At the same time, the move will relieve pressure on the Weber River, help to stave off flooding in some areas and give a boost to the lake’s struggling ecosystem which is home to thousands upon thousands of birds…Marcelle Shoop, director of the saline lakes program for the National Audubon Society and executive director of the Great Salt Lake Enhancement Trust, said this is an important step to help connect the bays along the lake, including Bear River, Ogden and Gilbert.

“All these flows are going to the Great Salt Lake to help raise the lake level,” she said, adding that is a good thing for the wildlife that depends on its briny water for sustenance.

Scott Paxman, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said this release happens every 10 years or so and serves a dual purpose as flood control and to help the lake.

PHOTO CREDIT: McKenzie Skiles via USGS LandSat The Great Salt Lake has been shrinking as more people use water upstream.

Billionaire #Colorado landowner no longer pursuing Tennessee Pass rail line: Future of #Pueblo-to-Eagle County route tied to controversial proposed #Utah oil train project — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

La Veta Pass — the highest still-operating freight railroad pass on the continent at 9,242 feet — on U.S. Route 160 in southern Colorado. The pass lies on the border between Huerfano County to the east and Costilla County to the west. The elevation is 9,413 feet. The two signs in the picture are parallel to the highway on the south side. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37517201

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (David O. Williams):

MINTURN, Colo. — A billionaire New York developer and Colorado agricultural landowner who launched a full-blown railroad war in his pursuit of Union Pacific’s dormant Tennessee Pass rail line from Pueblo to Eagle County is no longer trying to acquire any part of the approximately 200-mile stretch of tracks.

“Mr. Soloviev has no further interest in purchasing the Tennessee Pass Line; he has instead purchased the San Luis Valley Line,” Colorado Pacific Railroad’s general counsel William Osborn said of Stefan Soloviev, chairman of the Soloviev Group and Crossroads Agriculture — the 26th largest landowner in the U.S. with farming, ranching, and renewable energy in Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. Crossroads has an estimated 400,000 acres of farmland in production.

Asked if this means Soloviev is no longer pursuing an east-to-west rail connection to move his grain to West Coast ports for transport to Asia, thereby breaking up Union Pacific’s “monopoly stranglehold” on freight transport through Colorado, Osborn said, “I can’t comment on that.”

Soloviev’s Colorado Pacific Railroad, which also owns the Towner Line in southeastern Colorado, previously confirmed that its newly acquired San Luis Rio Grande railroad does not have a westward connection to the nation’s main rail grid.

Soloviev previously offered Union Pacific up to $10 million for the Tennessee Pass Line, which has been dormant but not abandoned since the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific merger in 1997, and said that to get local support he would pay for once-a-day passenger service from Pueblo to Minturn and recreational trails on the rail right-of-way along the Arkansas River.

But he made it clear his primary purpose in pursuing the Tennessee Pass Line, which connects to Union Pacific’s active central corridor line at Dotsero before heading west through Glenwood Canyon, was to move freight, estimating it would cost him $278 million to refurbish just 160 miles of the Tennessee Pass Line.

Photo shows Tennessee Creek near the confluence of the East Fork Arkansas River in winter with snow on the Continental Divide of the Americas. The report evaluates current and emerging snow measurement technologies for the Western United States. Photo: Reclamation

First trains in a quarter century possible

Colorado Pacific may simply be waiting on the results of legal wrangling between Eagle County and several environmental groups suing to overturn federal approval of the Uinta Basin Railway — an 88-mile short line that would connect the oil fields of northeastern Utah to the main rail network and send up to 10, two-mile-long trains a day along the Colorado River into Denver.

Besides arguing that such an increase in oil production would be “fanning the flames” of climate change, Eagle County attorneys say the Uinta Basin Railway would ratchet up pressure on federal rail regulators and railroad companies to reopen the Tennessee Pass Line — a far more direct route to Gulf Coast refineries and one that avoids the Denver metro area altogether.

“It doesn’t necessarily change our position,” Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu said of the news Soloviev is no longer pursuing the Tennessee Pass Line. “Approval of the Uinta Basin proposal makes the TPL line reopening much more viable, whether it is Soloviev or someone else. With or without the TPL line, 350,000 barrels of waxy crude oil running daily within feet of the Colorado River remains a concern for Eagle County.”

Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said he was not surprised Colorado Pacific is no longer trying to acquire the Tennessee Pass Line: “If Soloviev just wants to use the rail, he doesn’t care who operates it.”

Nor does Scherr think Soloviev’s announced lack of interest decreases the chances of trains for the first time in a quarter century rumbling along the line through Eagle County towns like Minturn, where he was once mayor, and then west through Avon, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum. 

“No, just because of common carrier rules, I think that that should always be a concern,” Scherr said of federal law that requires railroad operators to carry any and all kinds freight, including some forms of hazardous materials, at reasonable rates.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, in Washington, D.C., heard oral arguments on a petition for review of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s approval of the Uinta Basin Railway. Essentially, Eagle County and the Center for Biological Diversity argue the STB didn’t adequately consider the potential climate, wildfire and oil-spill impacts.

“The oral arguments went well … and long. It’s hard to read the tea leaves from the judges based on their questions, but they clearly knew the issues and had hard questions for all sides,” said Eagle County’s Treu. Oil trains would increase on active tracks along the Colorado River in the northwest corner of the county, while the dormant Tennessee Pass Line runs right along the Eagle River.

A schematic of rail lines in Colorado, including the Tennessee Pass Line between Pueblo and Dotsero in Eagle County. (Colorado Pacific Railroad)

Elected leaders decry oil train project

Union Pacific has an agreement with Texas-based Rio Grande Pacific to pursue a revival of passenger service and “limited freight” along the Tennessee Pass Line from Parkdale, a point just west of the active Royal Gorge Route Railroad, to Sage, a point just east of the mainline connection at Dotsero. Such a route would not connect to the nation’s active rail network.

Rio Grande Pacific, which in Colorado wants to operate on the Tennessee Pass Line as Colorado Midland & Pacific, also is the operator of the proposed Uinta Basin Railway in Utah. A Colorado spokeswoman for Rio Grande Pacific did not return an email requesting comment.

“The Midland group is saying they would just want to do passenger, but the numbers don’t work to restore the track. We’re pretty skeptical about that,” Minturn Mayor Earle Bidez said. “I mean, if they want to do tourist trains, passenger to Leadville and back, it’ll be over and $40 or $50 million to restore track, but I can’t help but think that once they get in, then they’re going say, ‘OK, yeah, we’ve got some agricultural products we want to get through this way,’ and then they’re going to say, ‘OK, we want to get this waxy (crude) stuff coming up this way.’”

Rio Grande Pacific has consistently said it is not interested in the Tennessee Pass Line for moving oil, even trying to get the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to approve its expedited lease on the line with language excluding the transport of oil — something the STB did not allow. The STB has approved the transport of oil that would be the primary purpose of the Uinta Basin Railway.

Asked about the Uinta Basin Railway project, including its potential spillover pressure to reopen the Tennessee Pass Line to avoid a surge in oil trains through the state-owned Moffat Tunnel at Winter Park and down into Denver, Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis, replied: “The governor continues to share a number of the concerns that our Colorado communities and Colorado’s recreation and tourism industry have raised with the proposal. He continues to monitor this issue and evaluate the state’s role given largely federal actions to date.”

Both Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, have urged far more environmental scrutiny of the Uinta Basin Railway and the rejection of the project’s request for tax-exempt funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation. So has Polis’ successor in the 2nd Congressional District seat that includes most of Eagle County, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.

“I think one could certainly make the argument the (Uinta Basin) railway project and the local opposition that has developed and that of course Sen. Bennett and I are articulating at the federal level is perhaps a harbinger of things to come when you think about all of these rail lines across northwest and central Colorado, that, of course, defined our state for a century, in terms of our state’s formation, but now pose some real risks and challenges in terms of our future,” Neguse said at a water event last month in Minturn, a former railroad town in Eagle County off the backside of Vail Mountain.

Colorado’s lease with Union Pacific to operate the state-owned Moffat Tunnel expires in 2025. The Colorado Department of Transportation has previously expressed interest in the state purchasing the Tennessee Pass Line if it were to become available.

#ElkRiver peak flow expected to be one of the highest in 53 years — Steamboat Pilot & Today #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig):

Hydrologists with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center are predicting the fourth-highest peak runoff of the Elk River in the 53 years of available U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge data.

“There is strong potential for the Elk River to crest above flood stage,” said Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the forecast center, a federal agency that is part of the National Weather Service.

The only stream gauge on the Elk River is located along County Road 42 west of the Marabou Ranch subdivision and has recorded river flows consistently for 53 years. The water level at the gauge at 11:15 p.m. Thursday showed a peak of 5.5 feet or 2,900 cubic feet per second, or cfs, following significant increases the previous three days. The high water forecast through the next 10 days at the stream gauge is for 6.85 feet or 4,581 cfs on May 4. The river can fluctuate approximately 1,000 cfs from the warmest to the coolest parts of the day, hydrologists say, and the flood level at the gauge is 7.5 feet or 5,916 cfs.

#Colorado adopts new measures to increase availability of zero-emission trucks that offer lower operating and fuel costs — Colorado Department of Health & Environment #ActOnClimate

Trucks are loaded up. During the day, four semi-trucks will make the trips to the saw mill on the Valley floor, each hauling eight loads a day. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

Click the link to read the release on the CDPHE website:

State health department proposed the rules to protect air quality and address climate change

REMOTE (April 21, 2023): Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission today adopted new rules to promote access to zero-emissions trucks. The state health department’s Air Pollution Control Division developed the rules and proposed them to the commission following extensive public engagement. These new measures will:

  • Give Colorado businesses and consumers more options when buying zero-emission trucks.
  • Reduce maintenance, operating, and fuel costs for zero-emission truck owners.
  • Dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, that cause climate change.
  • Reduce air pollution emissions, like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, that lead to the formation of harmful ground-level ozone pollution

The air quality benefits are particularly important for further protecting Coloradans living in communities disproportionately impacted by pollution. Many of these communities are located along heavy traffic corridors.

“We’re always looking for new ways to address environmental and health inequities that still impact many Colorado communities today. By encouraging more zero-emitting trucks on the road, we take another step towards realizing clean air for all Coloradans no matter where they live,” said Michael Ogletree, director of the Air Pollution Control Division. “We’re proud of our part in developing these policies that will benefit Colorado’s air quality for years to come and save Coloradans money in the long run.”

The independent commission unanimously approved three rules after a robust, multi-day hearing. The hearing included opportunities for public comment and consideration of alternate proposals from other organizations. Ultimately, the commission voted to adopt the two most impactful rules as the division proposed them, which include the Advanced Clean Trucks rule and the Low NOx Truck rule.

The Advanced Clean Trucks rule sets a sales standard for manufacturers to make more zero-emission trucks available in Colorado. It takes effect for trucks starting with model year 2027, and the sales standard percentage grows incrementally through model year 2035. This rule will only apply to manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. It does not impact farming equipment or off-road construction equipment. The sales standard does not require Colorado businesses or consumers to purchase a zero-emission truck.

The Low NOx Truck rule sets more stringent air pollution emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles, improves testing requirements for engines, and extends warranties. It takes effect for trucks starting with model year 2027. NOx refers to nitrogen oxides, which form ground-level ozone pollution when they react with other pollutants in heat and sunlight. Most trucks run on diesel, which generates even more nitrogen oxide emissions than vehicles that run on gas. The rule will lower the nitrogen oxide emissions standard for new vehicles by 90% compared to the current standard.

The commission made some changes to the division’s proposal for the last rule, the Large Entity Reporting rule. It will still only apply to operators with a fleet of 20 or more trucks. As the Public Service Company of Colorado suggested, the division will collect this information twice, instead of once. The first reporting deadline is November 30, 2024. The second reporting deadline is December 31, 2027. As the Environmental Justice Coalition suggested, the division will also make all of this data publicly available. 

The division proposed the clean trucking rules to help meet goals in the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. The roadmap directed the division to develop a holistic Clean Truck Strategy and to consider proposing these rules as part of that effort. 

Zero-emission vehicles can lead to savings on maintenance and fuel costs for owners. Cleaner vehicles also offer savings through avoided health impacts and avoided climate impacts. The air division completed a Final Economic Impact Analysis that shows total savings could be more than $15.6 billion through 2050.

To help cover up-front costs, the division recently opened two grant programs for applications to fund clean vehicles. The federal Inflation Reduction Act created significant incentives for zero-emission trucks. These include up to $40,000 off the purchase price of clean trucks through a new federal tax credit. Colorado is also positioned to access significant federal funding to assist in deployment and reduce up-front costs for zero-emission trucks.

Nature is in crisis. Here are 10 easy ways you can make a difference

Australia’s rarest butterfly, the Australian fritillary. Garry Sankowsky, Author provided

Matthew Selinske, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, The University of Melbourne; Jaana Dielenberg, Charles Darwin University, and Sarah Bekessy, RMIT University

Last month, Sir David Attenborough called on United Kingdom residents to “go wild once per week”. By this, he meant taking actions which help rather than harm the natural world, such as planting wildflowers for bees and eating more plant-based foods.

Australia should follow suit. We love our natural environment. But we have almost 10 times more species threatened with extinction than the UK. How we act can accelerate these declines – or help stop them.

We worked with 22 conservation experts to identify 10 actions which actually do help nature.

Why do we need to act for nature?

If you go for a bushwalk, you might wonder what the problem is. Gums, wattles, cockatoos, honeyeaters, possums – everything is normal, right? Alas, we don’t notice what’s no longer there. Many areas have only a few of the native species once present in large numbers.

We are losing nature, nation-wide. Our threatened birds are declining very rapidly. On average, there are now less than half (48%) as many of each threatened bird species than in 1985. Threatened plants have fared even worse, with average declines of over three quarters (77%).

Biodiversity loss will have far-reaching consequences and is one of the greatest risks to human societies, according to the OECD.

The small choices we all make accumulate to either help or harm nature.

rainbow lorikeets
Seeing common birds like rainbow lorikeets can make us think everything is fine in the natural world. John Morton/Flickr, CC BY

Our top ten actions to help biodiversity

1. Choose ASC and MSC certified seafood products

Two labels from the Marine Stewardship Council that tell consumers the seafood is a sustainable choice.
These labels tell you the seafood is a sustainable choice. Image: MSC/ASC, Author provided

Why? Why? Overfishing is devastating for fish species. By-catch means even non-food species can die in the process. Good wild fishery and aquaculture practices minimise impacts to biodiversity.

Where to start: Look for certification labels from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) on seafood products where you shop. Certified products are caught or farmed sustainably.

2. Keep your dog on a leash in natural areas – including beaches

Why? Off-leash dogs scare and can attack native wildlife. When animals and birds have to spend time and energy fleeing, they miss out on time to eat, rest and feed their young.

Where to start: Look for local off-leash areas and keep your dog leashed everywhere else.

Walk your dog on a leash in natural areas so it can’t chase and scare native wildlife. Jaana Dielenberg

3. Cut back on beef and lamb

Why? Producing beef and lamb often involves destroying or overgrazing natural habitat, as well as culling native predators like dingoes.

Where to start: Eat red meat less often and eat smaller portions when you do. Switch to poultry, sustainable seafood and more plant-based foods like beans and nuts. Suggest a meatless Monday campaign in your friend and family group chat to help wildlife – and your own health.

What a delicious looking veggie burger! Reducing beef and lamb consumption is a relatively easy way to reduce your impact on nature, given the wide range of vegetable, poultry and sustainable fish alternatives. Theo Crazzolara/Flickr

4. Donate to land protection organisations.

Why? These organisations protect land in perpetuity. Donations help them expand and do important on-ground biodiversity management.

Where to start: Check out organisations such as the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia, Trust for Nature, and Tasmanian Land Conservancy.

You can help threatened species like this critically endangered mala by donating to private land conservations organisations that do on-ground biodiversity management. Wayne Lawler/Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

5. Make your investments biodiversity-friendly

Why? Many funds include companies whose business model relies on exploiting the natural environment. Your money could be contributing. Looking for biodiversity-positive investments can nudge funds and companies to do better.

Where to start: Look at the approach your superannuation fund takes to sustainability and consider switching if you aren’t impressed. You could also explore the growing range of biodiversity-friendly investment funds.

6. Donate to threatened species and ecosystem advocacy organisations

Why? These groups rely on donations to fund biodiversity advocacy, helping to create better planning and policy outcomes for our species.

Where to start: Look into advocacy groups like WWF Australia, Birdlife Australia, Biodiversity Council, Environment Centre NT, and the Environmental Defenders Office.

7. Plant and maintain a wildlife garden wherever you have space

Why? Our cities aren’t just concrete jungles – they’re important habitat for many threatened species. Gardening with wildlife in mind increases habitat and connections between green space in suburbs.

Where to start: Your council or native nursery is often a great source of resources and advice. Find out if you have a threatened local species such as a butterfly or possum you could help by growing plants, but remember that non-threatened species also need help.

Gardens can provide valuable habitat for native animals in urban areas and help them to move between larger habitat patches. Jaana Dielenberg

8. Vote for political candidates with strong environmental policies

Why? Electing pro-environment candidates changes the game. Once inside the tent, environmental candidates can shape public investment, planning, policy and programs.

Where to start: Look into local candidate and party policies at every election. Consider talking to your current MP about environmental issues.

9. Desex your cat and keep it inside or in a cat run

Why? Research shows every pet cat kept inside saves the lives of 110 native animals every year, on average. Desexing cats avoids unexpected litters and helps to keep the feral cat population down.

Where to start: Keep your cat inside, or set up a secure cat run to protect wildlife from your cute but lethal pet. It’s entirely possible to have happy and healthy indoor cats. Indoor cats also live longer and healthier lives.

cat hunting night
Cats are excellent pets – and excellent killers of wildlife if let loose. Shutterstock

10. Push for better control of pest animals

Why? Pest species like feral horses, pigs, cats, foxes and rabbits are hugely destructive. Even native species can become destructive, such as when wallaby populations balloon when dingoes are killed off.

Where to start: Look into the damage these species do and tell your friends. Public support for better control is essential, as these issues often fly under the radar.

Making a difference

Conservation efforts may seem far away. In fact, our daily choices and actions have a considerable effect.

Talking openly about issues and actions can help these behaviours and habits spread. If we all do a small part of the work and support others to do the same, we will see an enormous effect.

Matthew Selinske, Senior Research Fellow, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, Senior Lecturer, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne; Jaana Dielenberg, University Fellow, Charles Darwin University, and Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University

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

Big flows on #NewMexico’s #RioJemez — John Fleck (InkStain) #RioGrande #runoff

The Jemez River — downstream from Jemez Pueblo, in Sandoval County, central New Mexico. By Sharon Phelan Evans – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18260044

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain websire (John Fleck):

Ryan Boetel at the Albuquerque Journal has the latest in the morning paper on the big flows on the Rio Jemez, a Rio Grande tributary north of Albuquerque.

  • For non-Albuquerque readers, the Jemez flows through the Jemez Mountains northwest of Albuquerque. Its confluence with the Rio Grande is ~25 miles (~40km) river miles upstream from Albuquerque.
  • Measurements here are in cubic feet per second (cfs).
  • Flood stage measurements in feet are important for assessing flood impact, while cfs measurements are useful for water volume analysis, which is what I’m most interested in.
  • The highest flow since a specific date depends on the measurement used – flood stage in feet versus cfs – as the channel changes. So flood stage “highest since” will differ from cfs flow “highest since”
  • The red line on the chart represents daily flow in cfs. Yesterday’s the highest April 13 volume of water since the gage was installed in the 1930s.
  • Huge caveat: There are significant gaps in the dataset from spring 1941 to spring 1953. 1942? We’ll never know. So really the best way to characterize this is “a dataset that goes back to the 1950s”.
  • Yesterday’s average daily flow was 1,130 cfs, the highest daily flow since 1987, when the flow peaked at 1,440 cfs on April 19 and 20.
  • The all-time peak flow on record occurred on April 21, 1958, at 3,160 cfs. Yowza.

#Snowpack news March 13, 2023

West snowpack basin-filled map March 12, 2023 via the NRCS.
Colorado snowpack basin-filled map March 10, 2023 via the NRCS.

Colorado Water Plan Will Inspire Action to Build Stronger Water Future #COWaterPlan

Click the link to read the release on the Governor Polis’ website:

Updated water plan focuses key action areas to spur statewide water development, conservation

DENVER – Today [January 24, 2023], to meet Colorado’s most critical water challenges, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) unanimously approved the finalized 2023 Colorado Water Plan. First released in 2015, the Water Plan provides a comprehensive framework to guide collaborative action from water partners, agencies, and Coloradans. From securing supplies that provide safe drinking water to improving farm irrigation to rehabilitating streams—the 2023 Water Plan targets specific, key actions to contribute to a stronger, more water-resilient Colorado.

“In Colorado, water is life,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “Colorado’s Water Plan sets a vision for vibrant communities, successful farming and ranching, thriving watersheds, and climate resilient planning. I’m excited to see how the updated plan supports a more resilient future here in Colorado for years to come.” 

Governor Polis championed approval of $17 million this year to kick-start local-level implementation of the Water Plan and is proposing $25.2M, including $12.6M General Fund, for the Water Plan Grant Program, which supports statewide water projects by providing grants and loans in collaboration with local partners in his FY 2023-2024 budget.

The 2023 Colorado Water Plan builds on the successes that followed the initial release of the pioneer plan in November 2015. For example, in recent years: water conservation efforts have decreased statewide per capita water use by 5 percent, water outreach and messaging reached 2.7 million people, and in 2019 Colorado voters passed Proposition DD to dedicate funding for the Colorado Water Plan grants program. 

“We are excited about this much-anticipated update. Seven years ago, the CWCB released the original Water Plan—and now, guided by state-of-the-art data and innovative tools, the 2023 Plan puts Colorado’s values into a set of actions that tackle the specific challenges and opportunities of our state,” said Becky Mitchell, CWCB Director. “The 2023 plan will spark the action we need across all sectors to build a better water future in Colorado, setting the stage for future decision-making and water resiliency.” 

Now, the 2023 update maintains the values and priorities of the original plan, while reframing actions into four key areas: Vibrant Communities, Robust Agriculture, Thriving Watersheds, and Resilient Planning. Within these four interconnected areas, a list of approximately 50 actions for partners and 50 actions for the state aim to address themes such as equity, climate resilience, water conservation, land use, education, and more. The Water Plan Grant Program welcomes projects and programs that fall in five major funding categories: Water Storage and Supply, Conservation & Land Use, Engagement & Innovation, Agricultural projects, and Watershed Health & Recreation.

Colorado’s water challenges impact everyone from local leaders to stakeholders to families in their own backyards. The CWCB encourages people from all walks of life to get involved with Colorado’s Water Plan: whether that’s by practicing personal water conservation, getting involved in critical water initiatives—or applying for a Water Plan grant, or encouraging local organizations to pursue a grant to advance projects that build water resilience.

Throughout the development of the Colorado Water Plan, engaging with the public has been critical for the CWCB. The team conducted a year-long public engagement phase to incorporate all Colorado’s voices, hosted a public comment period, held workshops, and encouraged Coloradans to share their own water conservation success stories and commit to action through a water conservation pledge. 

In total, the public comment period yielded over 528 pages of comments, 1,597 suggested edits to the plan, and more than 2,000 observations. Comments came in a variety of formats including letters, emails, survey responses, feedback at events, and public listening sessions.  Of those comments, about 60% were either already captured in the plan or were addressed by modifying the draft plan.

“I congratulate the Colorado Water Conservation Board, staff and all the Colorado water stakeholders who contributed to the 2023 Colorado Water Plan,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The Plan provides an important vision and roadmap for Colorado’s water future which faces increased challenges from climate change, population growth and changing water demands.  But working together we can meet these challenges and ensure our Colorado communities, agriculture and environment will continue to thrive for generations to come.”

CWCB will celebrate the release of the Water Plan on January 24, 2023, at Improper City in Denver from 5-9 p.m. The celebration is open to the public, and will feature speakers, live music, and recognition of 14 local water heroes who were instrumental in bringing the updated Plan to fruition. The Basin Water Heroes include Garret Varra (South Platte Basin), Bob Peters (Metro), Carl Trick (North Platte Basin), Daniel Boyes (Rio Grande Basin), Ken Brenner (Yampa/White/Green Basin), Mark Shea (Arkansas Basin), Carrie Padgett (Southwest Basin), Jason Turner (Colorado Basin), Kathleen Curry (Gunnison Basin); as well as the following Community Water Heroes: Ronda Lobato, Ernest House Jr., Jared Romero, CREA Results, and Water Education Colorado.

Download the 2023 Colorado Water Plan here.

The latest El Niño/Southern Oscillation (#ENSO) diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses from the #Climate Prediction Center/NCEP/NWSEL

Plume of ENSO predictions January 2023. Credit: Climate Prediction Center

Click the link to read the discussion on the NOAA website:

ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory

Synopsis: ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to begin within the next couple of months, and persist through the Northern Hemisphere spring and early summer.

Although a weak La Niña was still apparent during January, below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) continued to weaken further across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The latest weekly Niño index values were mostly near -0.5oC, with the exception of Niño-1+2 which was +0.1oC. Like the surface, negative subsurface temperature anomalies continued to weaken, with above-average subsurface temperatures expanding eastward at depth and near the surface of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Low-level easterly wind anomalies continued, but were confined to the western and central Pacific Ocean. Upper-level westerly wind anomalies were evident over the east-central Pacific. Suppressed convection persisted over the western and central tropical Pacific, while enhanced convection was observed over western Indonesia. Overall, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system continued to reflect La Niña.

The most recent IRI plume predicts a transition from La Niña to ENSO-neutral in the next couple of months. The forecaster consensus is largely in agreement. ENSO-neutral is expected to prevail during the spring and early summer. There are increasing chances of El Niño at longer forecast horizons, though uncertainty remains high because of the spring prediction barrier, which typically is associated with lower forecast accuracy. In summary, ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to begin within the next couple of months, and persist through the Northern Hemisphere spring and early summer.

Suncor polluted #SandCreek with excessive levels of #benzene after Christmas Eve fire — The #Denver Post

Suncor refinery Commerce City. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Noelle Phillips). Here’s an excerpt:

Suncor filed a notice with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to notify the state of the benzene discharge into Sand Creek, reporting levels that were 40% to 80% above permitted allowances, according to a letter sent Friday [January 20, 2023] to the department’s Water Quality Protection Section. During a Dec. 24 fire at Suncor’s Plant 1, which refines oil into gasoline and other fuels, benzene containing hydrocarbon entered the refinery’s stormwater system, according to the letter. Testing found benzene levels at 7 micrograms per liter on Jan. 4 and 9 micrograms per liter on Jan. 5, the letter said. The refinery’s permit allows a daily maximum of 5 micrograms per liter to be discharged into Sand Creek. The excess benzene was first reported by Colorado Public Radio

After discovering elevated benzene concentrations in the creek next to its refinery, Suncor isolated the affected water so it could be treated to reduce the chemical to below permitted levels, the letter said. Testing on Jan. 6 showed benzene concentrations at 1 microgram per liter. Loa Esquilin Garcia, a Suncor spokeswoman, said Tuesday that she would not be able to answer The Denver Post’s questions about the spill, including what the company is doing to prevent it from happening again, until the end of business on Wednesday.

Snowfall at Steamboat Resort this winter has already surpassed all of last season — The Summit Daily #snowpack

West snowpack basin-filled map January 23, 2023 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read the article on the Summit Daily website (Shelby Reardon). Here’s an excerpt:

With the six inches of snowfall recorded the morning of Wednesday, January 18, 2023 Steamboat Resort has officially seen as much snow this year as it did all of last winter. The 2022-23 total snowfall at mid-mountain has exceeded 254 inches, according to the resort website, eclipsing the 250 inches that fell through the entirety of the 2021-22 season. This winter has actually surpassed the previous winter as well, and has nearly met the total of 261 inches in the 2019-20 season, although that one was cut short due to the pandemic. Stipulations or not, this winter is on track to be one of the snowiest in Steamboat. Steamboat Resort has snowfall data dating back to 1980. Since then, there have been eight 400-inch seasons, the most recent coming in 2010-11. The snowiest season recorded in Steamboat came in 2007-08, with 489 inches falling…

January is typically the snowiest month, accounting for about 22% of snowfall. Meanwhile, February accounts for about 20%. By the end of January, Steamboat visitors can expect about 60% of the season’s snow to have fallen already.

Turning the tables: reporters covering the #ColoradoRiver explain their challenges to Colorado River water users — Arizona Water News #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Turning the tables: reporters covering the Colorado River explain their challenges to Colorado River water users

Turning the tables: reporters covering the Colorado River explain their challenges to Colorado River water users — Arizona Water News

Biden-Harris Administration Launches New Efforts to Address the Wildfire Crisis — USDA

The Hayman Fire is the state’s largest recorded wildfire. Smoke from the massive blaze could be seen and smelled across the state. Photo credit to Nathan Bobbin, Flickr Creative Commons.

Click the link to read the article on the USDA website:

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced expanded efforts to reduce wildfire risk across the western U.S. These investments, made possible through President Biden’s landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), will directly protect at-risk communities and critical infrastructure across 11 additional landscapes in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

“It is no longer a matter of if a wildfire will threaten many western communities in these landscapes, it is a matter of when,” said Secretary Vilsack. “The need to invest more and to move quickly is apparent. This is a crisis and President Biden is treating it as one. Today’s announcement will bring more than $490 million to 11 key landscapes across the western United States, and will be used to restore our national forests, including the restoration of resilient old-growth forest conditions.”

The Forest Service announced their original 10 landscape project areas last year as part of the agency’s broader strategy to protect communities, critical infrastructure and forest resources from catastrophic wildfire. Combined with these initial landscape investments, the additional efforts being announced today represent a total USDA investment of $930 million across 45 million acres.

This work spans 134 of the 250 high-risk “firesheds” identified in the Wildfire Crisis Strategy and will mitigate wildfire risk to around 200 communities in the western U.S. Firesheds are areas where wildfire is likely to pose the greatest risk to communities and resources.

The landscapes for these additional investments were selected based on the potential for wildfire to affect nearby communities and buildings, with a focus on protecting underserved communities, critical infrastructure, public water sources and Tribal lands. USDA also considered more than 3,000 comments from 11 roundtable meetings held in the first half of 2022, which included partners, industry, Tribes and other stakeholders.

“We are building on the investments announced last year and by expanding the Forest Service effort to cover 21 landscapes where communities, critical infrastructure and our natural resources are most in need of protection from the growing threat of wildfires,” said USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE), Dr. Homer Wilkes. “This is part of our agency wide focus to reduce wildfire risk across the country. We will use every tool we have to address this crisis and make your communities safer.”

Secretary Vilsack is also directing the Forest Service to use and prioritize a suite of provisions authorized in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to more quickly apply targeted treatments to the high-risk firesheds identified in the Wildfire Crisis Strategy, while opening up additional opportunities to pursue science-based reforestation, restoration of old growth forests and recovery of other areas impacted by wildfire.

These treatments are required to be ecologically appropriate, maximize the retention of large trees, protect old growth, and to consider possible effects on historically underserved communities and Tribes. Treatments are also to be carried out collaboratively alongside participating communities and partners.

“Doing this work in the right place, at the right time, and at the right scale, combined with the use of emergency authorities, will accelerate our planning, consultation, contracting, hiring and project work to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health and resilience,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Collaboration with Tribes, communities and partners will remain a priority, and we will continue to use the best available science when carrying out this important work.”

Background: The Forest Service Wildfire Crisis Strategy

This announcement comes on the anniversary of the launch of the Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy, which debuted Jan. 18, 2022. A few months later, the agency introduced the initial 10 fire-prone landscapes that are now funded for the next five years through Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds. In addition, President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act will commit $1.8 billion to hazardous fuels reduction projects on national forests and grasslands.

Since releasing its Wildfire Crisis Strategy one year ago, the Forest Service and its partners have used the best available science and data to identify the highest risk landscapes for treatment projects. The Forest Service found that around 80% of the wildfire risk to communities is concentrated in less than 10% of firesheds. These targeted investments focus on firesheds of the highest risk, where projects are ready to begin or to expand.

The 10-year strategy calls for treating up to 20 million acres on national forests and grasslands and up to 30 million acres on other federal, state, Tribal, private and family lands to assure our forests are more resilient to wildfire and other effects of climate change, safer for communities, and remain key refuges for plants, fish and wildlife.

Over the past 20 years, many states have had record catastrophic wildfires, devastating communities, lives and livelihoods, and causing billions of dollars in damage. More than 10 million acres – more than twice the size of New Jersey – burned each year across the U.S. in 2020, 2017 and 2015.

The Wildfire Crisis Strategy builds on current work by leveraging congressional authorities and partnerships to support the department’s work to mitigate wildfire risk, and restores forest health over the next decade. In addition to State Forest Action Plans, the strategy also aligns with the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration ProgramTribal Forest Protection ActGood Neighbor AuthorityJoint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership and Shared Stewardship agreements.

In June 2022, USDA released the Secretary’s Memorandum on Climate Resilience and Carbon Stewardship of America’s National Forests and Grasslands. The Secretary’s memo builds on previous actions on climate change, equity, and forest resilience, and provides more specific and time-bound actions to integrate into agency programs. The Forest Service used the guidance in the Secretary’s memo to better inform the selection criteria for projects under the Wildfire Crisis Strategy, including equity, source water protection, community infrastructure and wildlife corridors. Recognizing that insects, disease, and wildfire are among the most significant threats to mature and old growth forests, in alignment with the Biden-Harris Administration, the Forest Service will be targeting hazardous fuels reduction projects to address these threats to promote the protection and restoration of mature or old-growth forests.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

Dead Pool Diaries: #ClimateChange, the doctrine of prior appropriation, and the #ColoradoRiver crisis — InkStain @jfleck #COriver #aridification

A desert landscape. Corrales, New Mexico, January 2023. Photo by John Fleck

Click the link to read the article on the Inkstain website (John Fleck):

Writing in 2018 in the Seattle Journal of Environmental Law, Kait Schilling argued that the doctrine of prior appropriation – the notion that those who first put water to use hold priority over those who came later – was no longer compatible with a climate-changed world.

“Climate change is diminishing water rights equally regardless of date of appropriation. Such a phenomenon makes the ‘first in time, first in right’ rule difficult to grapple with because right holders will be unable to access their water to its fullest extent. Because every human has a right to fresh water, the first in time, first in right mentality can no longer be sustained with the current state of climate change and population growth.”

The two sides of the argument:

  1. equity requires sharing the pain across all water users – seniors (mostly farms but also Native American communities) and juniors (mostly cities)
  2. to respond to climate change-induced shortages, we need to cut off juniors, or make them compensate seniors for the water they need

This debate is the narrow eye of the needle we’re trying to pass through right now in the rapid-fire negotiations underway to deal with this Colorado River crisis.


In a letter submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior in December, Arizona’s water leadership – the Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Water Conservation District – argued for “1”. (Huge thanks to Daniel Rothberg at the Nevada Independent for collecting and posting the letters and also writing some smart stuff about what’s in them – journalism as a public good. The context here is Interior’s request for scoping comments on the agency’s crisis management Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement – SEIS):

“All water users share risk from these conditions and the SEIS should ensure that the burdens associated with managing that risk are shared across all sectors and by all water users.”

In their letter to Interior, the staff of the Colorado River Board of California argued for “2”:

Finally, some across the Basin have advocated for Lower Basin water users to be individually assessed for reservoir evaporation, seepage, and other system losses. The Board recommends that these losses continue to be treated as a diminution of available annual supply, which can then be met through application of the Law of the River as supplemented by voluntary agreements.

I plead guilty to a misleading oversimplification here, because in their arguments both Arizona and California are making a broader argument about equitable sharing of both the impacts of climate change but also the underlying problem of the river’s overallocation. In defense of my oversimplification, I’ll simply assert that it is the “hot” part of our “hot drought” (see Udall and Overpeck 2017) that makes the difference between the successful gradual process of negotiation we’ve using for more than two decades (see my book Water is For Fighting Over) and the crisis management of 2023.


An improving forecast. Source: Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

Curled up with my morning coffee this morning  (with a huge thanks to the supporters of this blog who bought it for me), I was happy to note that the snowpack is decent right now, and therefore the Colorado River runoff forecast, is up 650,000 acre feet from Jan. 1. That’s an extra ~10 feet of elevation in Lake Powell, which is ~10 feet farther from the white hot fire of crisis management at Glen Canyon Dam.

One argument here is that even a decent year, by lifting the pressure on Glen Canyon Dam -> more water to Lake Mead -> less pressure for really deep cuts now -> less risk of litigation. (I have my own views on this argument – I disagree with it, which I’ll explain below – but I’m trying to do the “view from nowhere journalist” thing here, and I want to give the people I disagree with their best shot, because the argument is not unreasonable.)


In its EIS comments (see Daniel’s excellent work, did I mention its useful excellence? for the link), the Southern Nevada Water Authority laid out a plan calling for extremely deep cuts regardless of what the near term snowpack and runoff looks like – ~2.6 million acre feet of Lower Basin cuts from the states’ baseline allocations, essentially now. I’m torn between two similarly useful metaphors for what Southern Nevada says is needed – “ripping the bandaid off” and “a tourniquet, not a bandaid”.

In laying out its argument, Southern Nevada does version “1” above, much like the language of Arizona’s letter to Interior, with a call for distributing a portion of the cuts (those allocated to evaporation and system losses) sorta evenly across all water users.

I made much the same argument in my December letter to Interior, so I’m sympathetic to distributing the evaporation and system losses across all users before we think about allocation of the next level of cuts needed.

But here’s the thing that’s wrong with my argument.

To do that, you have to step outside the doctrine of prior appropriation. And the seniors – everyone mentions Imperial Irrigation District at this point, but they’re not the only senior with smart lawyers being asked to take cuts in this scheme, most notably Native American communities, who have deep legal and moral standing – will sue.

Flip the script, though, and try to take tourniquet-level cuts without spreading them broadly and you probably have to dry up the Central Arizona Project canal. Cue the “they’ve got smart lawyers and will sue” song. (To further complicate things, that would jeopardize the rights of Native American communities in Central Arizona that get their water through the CAP!)

This is the argument my smart friends who disagree with me make: A decent runoff this year would allow us to make more modest cuts (still substantial, but not nearly as deep) while avoiding tangling up the whole mess in the courts. I disagree, as I’ll explain below, but it’s not an unreasonable argument.

Obligatory “dancing with dead pool” visual reminder. Lake Mead shipwreck. Photo credit: John Fleck


In my comments to Interior, written in a Covid fever in December, I made an argument strikingly similar to Southern Nevada’s (“There was no collusion,” Fleck pleaded. “It’s just arithmetic!”) – that we need deep cuts now and forever. This is the tourniquet argument, and why I disagree with the “take advantage of a decent snowpack to make more modest cuts and avoid litigation” argument. The “now” part is because we’re staring down dead pool, and the “forever” part is that the river was always overallocated, and with climate change it’s now really honest truly overallocated for sure.

Even if we have a decent snowpack, I believe it is imperative that we use that water to refill reservoirs rather than irrigate alfalfa and lawns.

I’m genuinely concerned about throwing this whole thing into the courts. [ed. emphasis mine] As we learned with Arizona V California six decades ago, litigation is a terrible way to manage a river. Much of our dilemma today is a result of the Supreme Court ignoring arithmetic and allowing us to overuse the river’s water.

My friends who argue for taking advantage of a bit of extra water, if we’ve got it, to try to stay out of court are not making an unreasonable argument.

But we can’t entirely blame the Supreme Court for our troubles. Part of today’s dilemma is the result of our failure to do the hard work of grappling with the court’s mistakes and sufficiently reduce our use of water. We’ve been avoiding litigation for too long by emptying the reservoirs and letting people use the water to irrigate alfalfa and lawns.

#Drought news January 12, 2023: Areas of 1-Class degradation in S.E. #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

A series of atmospheric rivers (AR) led to heavy rain and high-elevation snow across parts of the West, especially across California. Precipitation totals exceeding 4 inches (liquid-equivalent) were widespread, and several areas in and near the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and coastal ranges recorded over one foot of precipitation. Moderate to heavy precipitation was also common along the coast and in the higher elevations of the Pacific Northwest, some higher elevations in the central and northern Rockies, part of the upper Midwest, portions of the lower Mississippi Valley, the interior Southeast, and scattered locales across the Ohio Valley and the Northeast. Precipitation totals generally exceeded 1.5 inches, and topped 4 inches in parts of the Southeast, central Utah, and the higher elevations in the Pacific Northwest. Much of the precipitation fell on areas experiencing dryness and drought, so across the country, improvement was much more common than deterioration. Mild temperatures prevailed across the country except where significant precipitation was observed in the northern Plains and Far West. Daily high temperatures averaged more than 12 deg. F above normal in central and southern Texas while daily low temperatures averaged 10 to 13 deg. F above normal across the Great Lakes, the Southeast, and the southern Plains…

High Plains

Most of the Region was much drier than the prior week, with a few tenths of an inch of precipitation restricted to southeastern South Dakota and adjacent portions of Nebraska, as well as isolated sites in the higher elevations of Colorado and southern Wyoming. Other areas recorded little if any precipitation. Most of the region remained unchanged from last week, but some improvement occurred in southeastern South Dakota and adjacent Nebraska. No areas appeared to deteriorate significantly due to the heavy precipitation of the previous week and seasonably cold temperatures reducing human and natural water demand. But most of the region remained in at least moderate drought (D1), with extreme to exceptional drought (D3-D4) stretching from southeastern Wyoming eastward across most of Nebraska into adjacent Iowa, and southward from western Nebraska through most of southern and western Kansas. A broad swath covering the southwestern half of Kansas and much of northeastern Nebraska remained in exceptional drought (D4)…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 10, 2023.


A long-term drought, dating back to the 2019-2020 winter, continues across California, the Great Basin, and parts of the Pacific Northwest. However, the intense precipitation in California the past few weeks – particularly late December and early January – has significantly reduced drought intensity in California. Most of the state saw a 1-category improvement this week. The D3 across interior northern and central California that covered over 35 percent of the state two weeks ago, is now confined to a small area adjacent to Oregon. But Despite the record and near-record precipitation over the past 6 weeks, large parts of the state remain in D1-D2 since moisture deficits have been entrenched across some areas for the last 2-3 years. At least one-third of the state has been in drought (D1+) since February 2020…


Moderate to locally heavy rain in Tennessee and Mississippi kept those states free from drought. The small area of D0 remaining in Tennessee was removed, and D0 areas in Mississippi contracted slightly. Moderate to locally heavy rain also fell on most of Louisiana and eastern Texas, reducing the extent of D0 in northern Louisiana and improving the west side of the D0 and D1 areas in the Bayou. Farther west, little or no precipitation fell. Exacerbated by much above normal temperatures, conditions deteriorated in portions of Texas and Oklahoma, although most locations were unchanged by the week’s dryness. Much of Oklahoma remained in extreme drought (D3), and similarly dry conditions existed across scattered areas in central and northern Texas. Exceptional drought (D4) now covers part of central Texas, scattered areas across Oklahoma, along with the northern tier of the state. 90-day precipitation amounts were only 10 to 25 percent of normal through the Oklahoma Panhandle, part of adjacent Texas, and in far western Texas from Big Bend National Park northwestward for a few hundred miles along the Rio Grande. Locations in and near the central Texas D4 region recorded 3 to 5 inches less precipitation than normal during this period…

Looking Ahead

During the next five days (January 12-16) more heavy precipitation is expected across California, with parts of the Sierra Nevada, Cascades and northwestern California expected to receive another 4 to 7 inches of rain. Similar amounts are forecast for parts of the immediate Oregon coastline, the Washington Cascades, and northwestern Washington, where normal amounts are much higher than across most of California. From the Great Basin and Intermountain West to the Mississippi River, conditions should be much more tranquil, with 0.5 to 1.5 inch restricted to some higher elevations in the central and southern Rockies and the Middle Mississippi Valley. Little or no precipitation is anticipated throughout the Plains. Meanwhile, a swath from the Ohio/Mississippi Confluence and the interior Southeast northeastward through New England is expected to receive at least 0.5 inch, with totals topping 1.5 inches in parts of Upstate New York and New England. Light amounts are expected in the Great Lakes Region, the upper Midwest, the South Atlantic coastal plains, and most of Florida. Temperatures throughout the contiguous states are expected to be near- or above-normal.

The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid Jan 17-21) shows above-normal precipitation favored over the vast majority of the contiguous states, and in southeastern Alaska. Chances exceed 60 percent that amounts will be in the wettest one-third of the historical distribution from northern California and adjacent Oregon eastward across northern Utah, and across the middle Mississippi, lower Ohio, and Tennessee River Valleys. Subnormal precipitation is only favored in a small strip along the Rio Grande in southwestern Texas, and no tilt of the odds in either direction were identified in the northern High Plains, the southwestern half of Texas, and southern Florida. Above-normal temperatures are expected across the central and eastern parts of the country, with the highest odds (over 80 percent) in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic Region, the eastern Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley, southern Appalachia, the Carolinas, and northern Georgia. Meanwhile, below-normal temperatures are expected from the Great Basin and central Rockies southward to the Mexican border, with the best chances (over 60 percent) in the desert Southwest and adjacent southern Rockies.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 10, 2023.

Ready to rock: Manual operations drills ensure the water keeps flowing — Central Arizona Project

CAP employees at canal. Photo credit: Central Arizona Project

Click the link to read the post on the Central Arizona Project website (Nick Walter):

Like athletes trained for gameday, practice often proceeds a live scenario. Central Arizona Project (CAP) employees charged with delivering water to central and southern Arizona aren’t necessarily developing curveballs or running sprints, but the process to “keep the water flowing” is similar: prepare through realistic repetition.

In the event of a rare disaster, the ability for CAP to remotely control water flow and equipment from its Control Center at CAP headquarters could be partially or completely lost.

What happens then?

CAP would be prepared to maintain uninterrupted water deliveries to CAP water users by operating its masses of system infrastructure that covers much of the state — all by hand.

This past fall and winter, CAP’s manual operations drill was essentially training before any catastrophe.

A statewide system to maintain

The CAP system could be thought of as a water infrastructure backbone of Arizona. Spanning 336 miles from Lake Havasu to Tucson, it includes 14 pumping plants, 39 check gates and more than 50 turnouts.

In normal operations, this complexity includes some 30,000 “data points” that are sent to the Control Center, which is like the brain of the system. CAP operators work 24/7 to remotely monitor and control the system based on real-time data. A data point could be an analogue point that represents the canal water level. Or it could include other data and signals such as the status of equipment, position of a check gate, or speed of water.

The digital points function as the “eyes and ears” of the equipment.

In a worst-case scenario, however, human eyes and ears of CAP employees would operate the system on site.

The backup plan: manual labor

In a manual operations scenario, CAP staff would put boots to the ground to control each piece of equipment and report data points throughout the critical infrastructure that delivers water to more than 80 percent of the state’s population in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

This could include:

  • Plant employees starting and stopping pumps.
  • Aqueduct maintenance employees opening, closing, or adjusting check gates and turnouts to maintain correct flow of water.
  • Field employees providing critical data such as water levels, flow rates, or unusual conditions to CAP’s dispatch team.

The severity of the outage would dictate the number of CAP employees needed to operate equipment in the field.

Quite possibly, that could include 24-hour coverage.

Fortunately, many fail-safes, or layers of “redundancy”, are already in place to mitigate mishaps during normal operations.

A will to drill

The manual system-operations drills replicate a live, manual operations scenario. They help ensure CAP dispatchers and other necessary personnel are up to date on manual operating procedures, including calculations and timing.

One example: confirming the time it takes for employees to drive to a specific site such as a check gate, make flow adjustments to the equipment, and then travel to the next site. Consideration also must be given to time required for released water to move from one check gate to a siphon, tunnel, or another check gate, as well as the effect of the timeframe on the flow of water.

So before a disaster would occur, CAP ensures its team of dispatchers, aqueduct crews and maintenance teams are trained to hand-operate the CAP.

They may not be athletes in action, but someday, their efforts could keep the water flowing for millions of Arizonans.

CAP canal snakes across the desert from Phoenix to Tucson Garrett Pierce Booth-Fickett Magnet School, Tucson, AZ Joni Sheesley and Brooke White Raymond S. Kellis High School, Peoria, AZ Earth Camp for Educators 2011. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Recent snows pulled a third of #Colorado out of #drought. Will it be enough? — The #Denver Post (January 8, 2023)

West Drought Monitor map January 3, 2023.

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

As of Thursday [January 5, 2023] more than a third of the state (most of which sits west of the Continental Divide) is no longer considered to be suffering from drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The remaining western portions of the state are considered “abnormally dry.”

Colorado Snowpack basin-filled map January 8, 2023 via the NRCS.

Areas around Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins are 117% of normal snowpack levels for this time of year, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services. Areas around Steamboat Springs sit at 150% of normal, and areas around Aspen, Gunnison and Durango are around 130%, 139% and 125% of normal levels, respectively. Lagging behind is the San Luis Valley at 94% of normal and the southeast portion of the state, which sits at 81% of normal, the data shows.

Earth Notes: Hopi Trails in the Southwest — PAA’TUUWI

My final Earth Notes of the year aired recently. Click on the photo below to hear the story. You can also read more about Hopi Trails by continuing below. “Earth Notes” is produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program of Northern Arizona University. In 2007 I worked with the Village of Sipaulovi (2nd Mesa) […]

Earth Notes: Hopi Trails in the Southwest — PAA’TUUWI

Updating some musty old code to graph storage in #LakeMead and #LakePowell — @jfleck #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Reminded of the great emptiness

Historic #water cuts set to hit #Arizona on Jan. 1 — KOLD #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Hoover Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation

Click the link to read the article on the KOLD website (Steven Sarabia and AZFamily Digital News Staff). Here’s an excerpt:

Arizona is preparing to enter for the first time into a Tier 2A shortage for the lower Colorado River basin, with cuts beginning at the start of the new year. For the state, this means a reduction of 21% of Arizona’s Colorado river supply and about 9% of the state’s total water use, according to the Central Arizona Project. Cities that use the Colorado river will see a 3% reduction while tribal supplies will be reduced by 7%.

And for the users of CAP water, there will no longer be excess water and agriculture pools from the Colorado River. According to the Agriculture & Water Council of Arizona, it will have a big impact on farmers as they work out ways to operate with less water. Arizona Provides a good portion of the leafy greens the country, and Canada eats. In all, the Colorado River provides water to 40 million people across seven states in the American West as well as Mexico and helps feed an agricultural industry valued at $15 billion a year.

Video: New webinar explores #geothermal heating and cooling systems — Western Governors’ Association #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

In late September, Gov. Polis visited the geo-exchange heating and cooling system at Colorado Mesa University (CMU) with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Bureau of Land Management. Photo credit: Western Governors’ Association

Click the link to read the release on the Western Governors’ Association website:

As part of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ WGA Chair Initiative, The Heat Beneath Our Feet, the Western Governors’ Association will be conducting tours of geothermal facilities throughout the region to explore the various market and policy factors that affect the development and deployment of geothermal technologies, and evaluate strategies to scale those technologies across the West.

In late September, Gov. Polis visited the geo-exchange heating and cooling system at Colorado Mesa University (CMU) with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Bureau of Land Management.

In late September, Gov. Polis visited the geo-exchange heating and cooling system at Colorado Mesa University (CMU) with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Bureau of Land Management.

On Oct. 6, Will Toor, the Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office, and Kent Marsh, the Vice President for Capital Planning Sustainability and Campus Operations at CMU, joined WGA Policy Advisor Steven Emmen for a webinar where they discussed the benefits of the system, and identified opportunities for its expansion throughout the region. 

“One of the things that I think is really appealing about this system from an overall system level,” Toor said, “is as we use more electric heat pumps to heat buildings, those are going to increase the peak demand for electricity on cold days in the winter and that potentially poses challenges that we’re going to need to solve on the electric generation side. But, because these ground source heat pumps are always working with a constant temperature, the peak demand on the coldest days is much, much lower than air source heat pumps.”

Using less than half of the electricity required by a traditional HVAC system, the geo-exchange system at CMU currently heats and cools 70% of the buildings on campus (1.2 million square feet), reducing the University’s carbon footprint by nearly 18 metric tons per year, and saving $1.5 million a year on energy costs – savings that are passed on to the students.

According to CMU President, John Marshall, every student’s tuition was discounted by 2% this year due to the system’s efficiencies. With extremely minimal maintenance required to operate the system and a useful service life of over 60 years, those savings will continue long into the future.

It’s been so successful, the University is not only expanding the system to all of the new construction on campus, but it’s also working with the city of Grand Junction to explore options for expanding the system into the surrounding community.  

“This is an exciting example of community-scale geothermal,” Gov. Polis said. “Once we build this great geothermal heating and cooling system, we can leverage it to help extend the benefits and savings to the community.”  

To aid in the expansion of geothermal energy use, Toor outlined a new $12 million grant program with the Colorado Energy Office that supports individual buildings adding geothermal heat pumps, as well as the planning and implementation of larger district heating geothermal systems similar to the systems at Colorado Mesa University.

“The Inflation Reduction Act,” Toor added, “is, for the first time, treating geothermal on an even basis with other renewables on the electricity side. It’s also creating tax credits that may be very useful for geothermal heat pump deployment.”

Geothermal heating and cooling systems, of course, are just one way to take advantage of the West’s vast geothermal potential. Over the next eight months, several Western Governors will be hosting webinars to showcase the capabilities of different geothermal technologies at:

On September 27th, Western Governors’ Association kicked off Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ WGA Chair Initiative, Heat Beneath Our Feet, with a tour of Colorado Mesa University’s geo-exchange heating system. This system heats and cools 19 buildings covering more than 1.2 million sq ft and saves Colorado Mesa University $1.2 million each year. On Oct. 6 WGA hosted a webinar with geothermal experts to discuss how the system works, what opportunities exist for replicating this technology throughout the West, and the challenges to implementation.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in #NewMexico transforms into a visual and auditory sensation with the arrival of sandhill cranes and geese for the winter — U.S. Department of Interior #RioGrande

U.S. Supreme Court Set to Decide Whether Navajo Nation Can Sue Federal Government for Failing to Provide for Necessary #Water — The National Law Review #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Click the link to read the article on The National Law Review website (Kian Hudson):

Department of Interior v. Navajo Nation confronts the Court with a complicated case involving the extent of the federal government’s obligations to assess and meet the Navajo Nation’s need for water, including water from the Colorado River (which forms the Nation’s western boundary). Because much of the land in the Colorado River basin is arid, access to its water has long been a matter of dispute. For example, in the long-running Arizona v. California case (initially filed in 1952) the Supreme Court has exercised its original jurisdiction to quantify the water rights of several states and Indian tribes to the Colorado River.

Notably, in Arizona the federal government – which represented the Navajo Nation as tribal trustee – refused to press a Colorado River claim for the Navajo Nation and successfully opposed the Nation’s attempt to intervene. Arizona, to which the Court has returned several times in the last half-century, thus did not quantify any Colorado River rights the Navajo Nation may have, and the Court’s decree specifically provides that it does not affect “[t]he rights or priorities, except as specific provision is made herein, of any Indian Reservation.”

In this case, meanwhile, the Navajo Nation has brought a breach-of-trust claim against the federal government, seeking an injunction requiring the government to evaluate the Nation’s water needs and to develop a plan to secure the necessary water. The Nation contends that treaties the federal government signed in 1849 and 1868, which promised the Nation a permanent homeland and the seeds and tools needed to farm, implicitly conferred on the Nation concomitant rights to sufficient water – and, the Nation argues, imposed a duty on the government to assess, preserve, and protect those water rights. The Nation invokes the doctrine of Winters v. United States, a 1908 decision that, the Supreme Court has later explained, holds that the establishment of an Indian reservation “by implication, reserves appurtenant water then unappropriated to the extent needed to accomplish the purpose of the reservation.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the Navajo Nation and held that the Nation could proceed with its breach-of-trust claim. The federal government, along with several states and local water districts, then sought Supreme Court review. Quoting the Court’s 2011 decision in United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, their cert. petitions argue that to bring a breach-of-trust claim against the federal government an Indian tribe must “identify a specific, applicable, trust-creating statute or regulation that the Government violated.” And, the cert. petitions contend, water rights implied under the Winters doctrine do not impose the specific, explicit duties required by Jicarilla. The states and local water districts also add the argument that the Nation’s suit impermissibly intrudes on the exclusive jurisdiction the Supreme Court retained in Arizona (to this contention the Navajo Nation responds that its suit does not seek a quantification of its rights in the Colorado River and thus does not implicate Arizona).

The Supreme Court is now set to resolve both of these arguments – whether water rights implied under Winter can give rise to breach-of-trust claims, and whether this suit intrudes on the jurisdiction the Court retained in Arizona. The Court’s decision will have significant practical effects on the Navajo Nation and other communities in the Colorado River basin. And more broadly, it could have significant legal repercussions for breach-of-trust claims and unquantified reserved water rights involving Tribes across the country.

© 2022 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 314

Navajo Reservation map via NavajoApparel.com

The latest El Niño/Southern Oscillation (#ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center #LaNiña #CRWUA2022

Plume of ENSO model predictions October 2022. Credit: Climate Prediction Center

Click the link to read the discussion on the Climate Prediction Center website:

ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory

Synopsis: There is a 76% chance of LaNiña during the Northern Hemisphere winter (December- February) 2022-23, with a transition to ENSO-neutral favored in February-April 2023 (57% chance).

Below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) strengthened in the east-central Pacific Ocean during the past month. All of the latest weekly Niño index values were near -1.0oC, with the exception of Niño-1+2 which was at -1.8oC. Since late July 2022, negative subsurface temperature anomalies have been quite persistent, reflecting the stationary pattern of below- average temperatures across the eastern Pacific Ocean. For the monthly average, low-level easterly wind anomalies and upper-level westerly wind anomalies were evident across most of the equatorialPacific. However, in the last week, the low-level trade winds weakened in association with sub-seasonal tropical variability. Convection remained suppressed over the western and central tropical Pacific and enhanced over Indonesia. Overall, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system continued to reflect La Niña.

The most recent IRI plume forecast of the Niño-3.4 SST index indicates La Niña will persist into the Northern Hemisphere winter 2022-23, and then transition to ENSO-neutral in February-April 2023. The forecaster consensus, which also considers the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME), is in agreement with the timing of this transition. The recent weakening of the trade winds suggest below-average SSTs may be near their minimum, though considerable uncertainty remains over how gradually the anomalies will decay. In summary, there is a 76% chance of La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere winter (December-February) 2022-23, with a transition to ENSO-neutral favored in February-April 2023 (57% chance).

An Abrupt Warming of the #ColoradoRiver — Sustainable Waters @SustainWater33

The downstream face of Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, America’s second-largest water reservoir. Water is released from the reservoir through a hydropower generation system at the base of the dam. Photo by Brian Richter

Click the link to read the article on the Sustainable Waters website (Brian Richter):

I’ve just returned from a glorious 17-day river float in dory boats through the Grand Canyon. Sublime beauty punctuated by adrenalin-pumping whitewater.

Most river runs through the Canyon begin at Lee’s Ferry, located fifteen miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. When we arrived at Lee’s Ferry to begin our trip on September 23rd, I headed straight for the river’s edge, anxious to dip my toes in the water.

Bracing for icy water, I was stunned when I realized how warm the river had become!

The river has been — since the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 — a frigid current of water released from the deep hypolimnion bowels of Lake Powell. For 40 years since the dam was built, the river’s temperature had fluctuated between 47 and 51 degrees Fahrenheit (8-11 degrees C), even in summertime when air temperatures in the bottom of the Grand Canyon regularly soar above 100 degrees F.

This icy river water has long posed a serious risk to river runners who become unintentional swimmers when dumped from their river boats in one of the Canyon’s 80+ big water rapids. When someone gets spilled from their river boat it becomes urgent to get them out quickly, before hypothermia sets in.

Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry. Photo credit. Gonzo fan2007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3631180

But our trip would be a very different one. When I dipped a toe at Lee’s Ferry in late September the river was a comfortable 69 degrees! (21 C).

Our knowledgeable river guides were quick to explain that due to the tremendous shrinkage of Lake Powell (the result of decades of water overuse and climate change), the reservoir has heated up and water released from the dam is now much warmer…

Lake Powell began losing its water volume very quickly during a series of severely dry years from 2001-2004. By the fall of 2004, the reservoir had lost nearly two-thirds of its capacity (orange line). The greatly diminished mass of water in Lake Powell began to warm to the highest temperatures recorded since its construction, and the releases of water from the dam into the Grand Canyon reached 58 degrees in October 2004, then 60 degrees in 2005.

Lake Powell regained some volume from 2006-2018, but a precipitous drop since 2018 has sent the river’s temperature soaring again. This year’s 69-degree high point is a new record in the post-dam years. Lake Powell’s volume has shrunk to three-quarters empty.

I was of course very happy to know that hypothermia was going to be much less likely on our trip, and I was also pleased to remember that this warmer river is a good bit closer in temperature to its more natural, pre-dam condition. The warmer river helped us imagine what the wild Colorado would have been like, a feeling that was accentuated when we reached the confluences of the tributary Paria and Little Colorado rivers, both swollen with runoff from recent thunderstorms that turned the river a more natural reddish brown (Viva el Rio Colorado!) instead of its usual blue-green hue.

However, as I would confirm upon our return from the river, this warmer Colorado isn’t a good thing for the introduced trout fishery in the river. Trout don’t like warm water because warm water doesn’t hold enough oxygen to sustain them. The tailwater fishery below Glen Canyon Dam is famous for its abundance of big fat trout that attract thousands of fly-fishing enthusiasts each year.

Humpback chub

One would think that the warmer river water would be better for native fish like the imperiled humpback chub, but the dropping reservoir levels are setting up a potentially disastrous situation for this endangered fish.

In recent decades, the humpbacks have been doing quite well in the Grand Canyon, particularly around the confluence with the Little Colorado River where warmer water joins the main river. The humpbacks have been recovering sufficiently that they were recently down-listed from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ status under the US Endangered Species Act. But they’re now facing a bizarre twist of fate.

Lake Powell harbors a slew of invasive, introduced fish such as smallmouth bass that love to eat baby humpbacks. But until now, those predatory invaders in the lake haven’t been a threat to the humpbacks in the Grand Canyon because they hang out in the warmer upper layers of the lake, and the dam has been an effective barrier to their escape.

But as Lake Powell has dropped, the warm epilimnion water layer in Lake Powell has been lowering as well, and it is now at or near the same level as the hydropower outlets in Glen Canyon Dam. This means that the invasive predators may soon be able to pass through the dam’s penstocks in numbers that could put humpbacks in serious danger.

As many readers of this blog know, water solutions are oftentimes elusive and complicated. But there are many bright individuals working on these problems every day, and I remain ever hopeful for their success.

My sincere thanks to the extraordinary crew of river guides from OARS that piloted our safe yet adventurous journey. It has redoubled our hopes and efforts to keep the river flowing.

In #NewMexico, Unraveling the Plight of the Pinyon Jay — Undark

Pinyon Jay Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, in flight, Carson City, Nevada ebird checklist ID=S21054294 ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21054294. By Seabamirum from Ithaca – Pinyon Jay, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47102299

October 19, 2022 by Sara Van Note

A nasal, laughing bird call echoed through the Ortiz Mountains in northern New Mexico this September. A couple of pinyon jays chattered loudly as they flew over the piñon pine and juniper woodlands that sweep across the foothills. “They have really fun calls,” said Peggy Darr, then the resource management specialist with Santa Fe County’s Open Space, Trails, and Parks Program. “They’re a very hard bird not to love.”

The jays forage for piñon nuts in the dense habitat on the ridgetop in fall and winter, then cache them in more open areas near the road, she said. Caching is critical for the jays’ survival, but also for the trees. Pinyon jays and piñon pines are wholly interdependent — the piñon nuts provide essential sustenance for the bird, and the jay offers critical seed dispersal for the tree. The pinyon jay is a keystone species of these arid forests of diverse piñon pines and junipers, extending over 150,000 square miles across 13 Western states.

The “blue crows,” as the jays were once known, are year-round residents of 11 Western states, but New Mexico hosts the largest share, about one-third of their population.

Together, jays and piñon pines help create vital habitat for numerous plants and animals, including threatened bird species like Woodhouse’s scrub jay and the gray vireo. The pines also supply a traditional food source for Indigenous tribes and Hispanic communities in New Mexico.

These dusky blue birds once roamed the West in huge flocks, with hundreds alighting on piñon pines to glean nuts in the winter months. Now it’s uncommon to see flocks of more than 100. In the last 50 years, the population of pinyon jays has declined by an estimated 80 percent.

The jay is listed as a “species of greatest conservation need” in New Mexico, and this year the conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife petitioned to list it under the Endangered Species Act, citing “woefully inadequate” protections at the federal and state level.

The two major culprits of the jays’ decline are climate change and a long history of piñon pine removal carried out by federal agencies, including, increasingly, thinning and burning for wildfire prevention. Both have impacted piñon pines and led to declining nut production. Darr, now with the Defenders of Wildlife, said conservation is critical for the jay, but also “for an entire ecosystem, and all the other species” that depend upon it.

In the midst of a historic megadrought in the Southwest and a record-setting wildfire season in New Mexico, land managers are racing to implement wildfire prevention measures. Congress this year directed billions in funds to federal agencies, who in turn are planning significantly increased treatments on millions of acres of federal lands.

In forests, these treatments often involve thinning: the removal of trees by machinery, by hand, or with herbicides. While historically piñon-juniper forests were systematically cleared using destructive techniques like chaining — dragging thick steel chains between tractors to rip out trees in their path — current practices by federal agencies involve more selective thinning.

But some bird biologists, like Darr, are sounding the alarm that even today’s thinning methods degrade pinyon jay habitat. These woodlands are already under extreme drought stress, especially in New Mexico, with predictions for widespread loss due to climate change. And some studies suggest thinned piñon-juniper forests are less resilient to beetle infestation and drought.

In 2004, the International Union for Conservation of Nature placed the pinyon jay on its Red List as “vulnerable” to extinction. It cited a current rate of decline of over 3 percent per year, and a historic loss of “possibly millions” of jays from the 1940s to the 1960s. During roughly the same period, an estimated 3 million acres of piñon-juniper woodland were destroyed to create pasture for livestock.

Bryan Bird, the Southwest program director at the Defenders of Wildlife, said piñon- juniper woodlands have long been maligned as having no economic value, and targeted for removal by private, state, and federal managers in favor of grasses for livestock. The current management imperative calls for thinning to reduce wildfire risk, he said, “which most people think is benign” for the bird. “But it’s not,” he added, noting that the specific habitat requirements of pinyon jays are just beginning to be understood.

Kristine Johnson is a retired faculty member of the biology department at the University of New Mexico who for 20 years has studied pinyon jays and their habitat. While there’s not yet research on the direct impacts of thinning or burning on pinyon jays, Johnson said studies show “extreme thinning” isn’t good for nesting habitat.

And according to Bird, the flood of new federal funds for wildfire prevention combined with what he called a loosening of environmental rules is “not going to be good for the pinyon jay.”

New Mexico is home to four evergreen juniper species and the Colorado piñon, a small tree with short bottlebrush needles that sprout from dense branches. Woody cones tightly grasp its thick, egg-shaped seeds, drawing the garrulous jays to pry them out.

Johnson said the jays have several adaptations that make them excellent seed dispersers for piñon. Their long bills work like a chisel to crack open the tough piñon shell. Their esophagus expands to store up to 50 nuts, and since they’re highly social, one flock can plant millions of seeds in a fall season, Johnson said. They’re strong fliers with a huge range of several thousand hectares. And while they have an excellent memory for recalling their nut caches, the seeds they don’t retrieve can become new piñon trees.

But this feat of co-evolution comes with vulnerabilities. On an irregular cycle, piñon pines produce a mast crop — a particularly abundant supply of nuts. Pinyon jays rely on these mast crops for their reproduction, storing large quantities of seeds in the fall and winter to feed to their young in the spring. In a drought year without a mast crop or other bountiful food sources like insects, pinyon jays may not nest at all, Johnson said.

In recent years, Johnson has observed smaller piñon mast crops, occurring with less frequency, and studies have linked drought and declining cone production. And according to Johnson, not all piñon juniper forests provide good habitat for jays. She recently created a model based on previous fieldwork to predict nesting habitat across New Mexico, and found jays tend to place their nests in larger trees in areas with dense canopy cover and low levels of recent disturbance. Her analysis found the highest quality habitat was “surprisingly scarce.”

A new survey may provide help for jay conservation. The New Mexico Avian Conservation Partners, a state chapter of the national bird conservation coalition Partners in Flight, is surveying for pinyon jays and other birds in thinned and unthinned piñon-juniper forests across New Mexico. Darr, a co-chair of NMACP, said they started the study out of a sense of urgency. “We didn’t have time to wait for a bunch of little studies to be done to get a consensus” on how treatments affect jays, she said. Additional bird species that rely on these forests include Grace’s warbler and the juniper titmouse, both listed as “species of greatest conservation need” by the state of New Mexico.

The second season of the three-year study wrapped up this year, Darr said, and results from the first year’s data show lower densities of some birds in the thinned areas.

The NMACP this year released recommendations for piñon-juniper management, co-authored by Darr, Johnson, and others. Darr said unlike scientists in other states, she and other biologists with the NMACP “feel the science is strong enough” to recommend land managers reconsider or reduce thinning in order to conserve pinyon jay habitat.

For her part, Johnson said some agency management plans “are applied in sort of a generic way,” without taking into account historic wildfire frequency, for example. She noted the scientists’ recommendation for treatments like thinning near human infrastructure, with “less focus on altering the wild areas.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to make a subject-area expert available for an interview. In a non-attributed written response emailed to Undark by FWS public affairs specialist Allison Stewart in September, the agency cited “little data on the effects of management on jay populations,” and said “we are exploring the effect of the removal of pines and junipers” to reduce wildfire risk in order “to determine if these contribute to short term causes of decline.”

Johnson said some agencies are receptive to recommendations for management to conserve pinyon jays. The Pinyon Jay Multi-state Working Group, for example, recommends that thinning take place outside the breeding season, and that managers avoid thinning in habitat with nesting colonies. “But they’re huge bureaucracies and changing people’s minds takes a long time,” Johnson said.

The recent Defenders of Wildlife petition also noted the impact of rules allowing the approval of projects in pinyon jay habitat without environmental assessments. “It just gives them a path to undertaking large habitat manipulations without considering the impact on this bird,” Bird said.

The petition contains the first estimate of total acreage of piñon-juniper habitat currently treated by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in states with pinyon jay populations. The estimate “suggests extensive loss of suitable pinyon jay habitat on federal lands,” with over 440,000 acres impacted, according to the petition.

Bird said that’s why listing the pinyon jay as endangered is critical: “It would require them to take a really hard look at what the impacts are to the bird” and consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before carrying out treatments in pinyon jay habitat. Johnson agreed, saying that listing the pinyon jay as endangered would have a “huge impact” because agencies would be required to alter their management plans.

Throughout history, Indigenous peoples across the West have foraged for piñon nuts and relied on them as a critical food supply during the winter and lean years. When the Spanish arrived in the Southwest in the 1500s, they also began gathering the oily, protein-rich seeds. The long tradition of families harvesting piñon nuts continues in many communities today. Yet threats to piñon forests endanger these cultural practices.

“I’ve been picking piñon since I could walk,” said Raymond Sisneros, a retired horticulture teacher who farms outside the town of Cuba and traces his family line to the first Spanish settlers.

If the pines near their home weren’t producing, his family would drive to another site. His grandfather taught him how to harvest the nuts, and he sold them door-to-door in the nearby town. Piñon wasn’t a treat, he said, but a “way of life,” a source of both food and revenue. Now it’s rare to find New Mexico piñon for sale.

The last time Sisneros had a big crop near his home was four years ago, and family members traveled from as far away as Tennessee and California to gather piñon. But those traditions may be coming to an end. “I’m scared, because our piñon forest is going,” he said. The large trees that once produced over a hundred pounds of piñon nuts are dying because of drought, he said.

Val Panteah, governor of Zuni Pueblo in northwestern New Mexico, said many tribal members gather piñon in the late fall. He remembers harvesting piñons with his family as a teenager, climbing into trees and shaking the branches so the nuts would fall onto a bedsheet on the ground.

Panteah has observed changes in piñon crops over the years. “When I was really young, it seemed like it was every year” or every other year for a big piñon crop, he said, “but now, it feels like every four years.”

The jays may offer the best hope for resilience for piñon-juniper forests. They’re “the only species that is capable of moving a woodland uphill if there’s been a fire,” Johnson says, “or replanting an area that’s been burned or decimated by insects or drought,” by ferrying seeds away from the degraded area.

Yet these species’ intimate interconnection also leads to what Johnson calls a vicious cycle. If the bird is lost, the woodlands can’t be replanted.

If the woodland isn’t replanted, the bird populations decline.

For the tree, for the bird, and for the people, she said, “it would just be tragic for us to lose these woodlands.”

Sara Van Note is a print and audio reporter based in New Mexico.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

Cleansing the dirty linen in our geographic drawer: Evans will almost certainly be replaced as the name for Colorado’s 14th highest mountain. But what about Byers and other names associated with an ugly massacre? — @BigPivots

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Our heartburn about the name Evans appears to be nearing resolution. The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board this week heard testimony about the role of John Evans, then the territorial governor, in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.

The evidence presented by representatives of Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, the primary victims of the massacre, was not new, but it was damning. Can there be any doubt that Colorado’s 14th highest mountain, dominant on Denver’s western skyline, should have a different name? Blue Sky and Cheyenne-Arapaho are among the names formally proposed.

The board will likely adopt a recommendation to Gov. Jared Polis in January or February. Polis will in turn report to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, the final arbiter.

Other names assigned our mountains, streets and schools may cause indigestion if you examine the historical footnotes. Just how much more geographic cleansing do we need to address those wrongs?

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf in Byers Canyon on the way to Steamboat Springs August 21, 2017.

Take William Byers, a frontier newspaperman who encouraged and then defended the bloodletting. That most lovely triangle of a 12,804-foot peak overlooking Fraser bears his name as does an orange-hued canyon of the Colorado River.

Then there’s Irving Howbert, whose name adorns an elementary school. Then 18, Howbert was among the 3rd Regiment soldiers nearing the end of their 100-day volunteer enlistments. They methodically killed between 150 and 230 people, mostly women and older men but also children and babies. Victims also included several Anglo-Indian “half breeds.” In camping peacefully along Sand Creek, they believed they had been afforded protection from the attack by the U.S. Army. They held up their end of the deal. Howbert, later a founder of Colorado Springs, never apologized.

Evans is the namesake for much in Colorado, including a town in Weld County, a street in Denver and, in Louisville, a court.

And what to do with Downing, one of Denver’s most prominent streets, named after Jacob Downing, who participated in the massacre. Later, he helped create Denver’s City Park. Like many others, including Evans, who also did much good, his story is not a simple one.

Blame comes easily in the case of John Chivington, the commander of the volunteers. He was blatantly driven by aspirations for glory, likely aspiring to elevated military rank and ultimately high political office.

Evans has been a more difficult case. Abraham Lincoln had also appointed him as Indian agent, giving him responsibility for looking after the best interests of the tribes. He did not, as a report issued in 2014 by a Northwestern University panel made clear. A University of Denver report the same year, the 150th anniversary, delivered a more stinging conclusion, putting Evans on the same high shelf of culpability as Chivington. The report found that Evans, through his actions, “did the equivalent of giving Colonel Chivington a loaded gun.”

Both institutions were founded by Evans.

George “Tink” Tinker, an American Indian scholar-activist who contributed to that DU report, told advisory board members that discussions were “much more radical than the final report was.”

Said Ryan Ortiz, a descendant of White Antelope, an Arapaho chief killed and mutilated at Sand Creek: “The most prominent peak in Colorado should not be named after a man who (was) comfortable with the massacre of other human beings.”

As for Byers, no proposal has been filed for shedding his name from Grand County, the site of the peak and the canyon. As editor of the Rocky Mountain News, the mining camp’s first newspaper, Byers had habitually inflamed local fears with “stories that focused on Indian war, atrocities, and depredations, greatly exaggerating the actual threat locally,” says the Northwestern University report. “This press campaign made already apprehensive settlers think that Indians might set upon them at any moment.”

The meadow along the Fraser River, about 70 miles northwest of Denver, with Byers Peak in the background. 2007 photo Allen Best

Like Evans, Byers refused to condemn the massacre even decades later. Instead, he argued that it had “saved Colorado and taught the Indians the most salutary lesson they had ever learned,” according to Ari Kelman’s “A Misplaced Massacre,” one of several dozen books about Sand Creek.

Oddly, while two congressional committees and a military commission that investigated Sand Creek pronounced it an unprovoked massacre, Colorado did not. Until it was toppled by protesters in 2020, a statue honoring veterans located at the Colorado Capitol referred to the “Sand Creek Battle.”

At History Colorado, visitors are asked their thoughts that are provoked by a statue in front of the Colorado Capitol that was toppled during 2020 protests.

That statue now stands several blocks away in History Colorado, where museum visitors are asked: “Do we need monuments?”

Museums, yes, but not monuments, one person answered. But here we are, stuck in 21st century Colorado with a lot of names of 19th century men on our maps. Some seem not to offend, but those associated with the massacre assuredly do.

An Evans-Byers house stands near the Denver Art Museum. The names have been scrubbed from the sign, though. I suspect in time we’ll do the same with our mountains.

Signs on the perimeter of the”mansion” once called the Byers-Evans house no longer advertise the former inhabitants.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 720.415.9308.

At considerable risk, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians traveled to Denver in September 1864 to seek an understanding of peace. Front row, on left, John Wynkoop, the commander at Fort Lyon, in southeastern Colorado, and Silas Soule. Behind Wynkoop was Black Kettle. Photo via The Mountain Town News

Click here to read about Silas Soule on the Wikipedia website:

The Sand Creek Massacre

On November 29, 1864, Captain Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer and the Companies they commanded were at Sand Creek, Colorado. Colonel John Chivington ordered the Third Colorado Cavalry to attack Black Kettle‘s encampment of Cheyenne. However, Soule saw that the Cheyennes were flying the Union flag as a sign of peace, and when told to attack, he and Cramer[6] ordered their men to hold their fire and stay put. Most of the other Third Colorado Cavalry however, attacked the encampment. The resulting action became known as the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the most notorious acts of mass murder in U.S. history. Soule described what followed in a letter to his former commanding officer and friend, Major Edward W. Wynkoop:

“I refused to fire, and swore that none but a coward would, for by this time hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy. I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. … I saw two Indians hold one of another’s hands, chased until they were exhausted, when they kneeled down, and clasped each other around the neck and were both shot together. They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated. One woman was cut open and a child taken out of her, and scalped. … Squaw’s snatches were cut out for trophies. You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there.”

Without settlement, #RioGrande Supreme Court case returns to trial

The Rio Grande Basin spans Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Credit: Chas Chamberlin

by Danielle Prokop, El Paso Matters, Source New Mexico

September 28, 2022

The Texas and New Mexico fight over Rio Grande water is headed to court in Iowa early next year unless a settlement can be reached within weeks — a shrinking prospect attorneys said as they prepare for trial.

“Settlement was not successful,” Lee Leininger, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said of the monthslong confidential talks at a hearing Tuesday in the U.S. Western District of Texas in El Paso.

Settlement deadline looms in Rio Grande Supreme Court case

Former Judge Arthur Boylan, the appointed mediator in the case, said the remaining issues between the federal government and the states of New Mexico and Colorado are “dealbreakers, but are not insurmountable.” He could not speak to the specifics of the disagreements, since the negotiations are confidential, but attorneys for Colorado and New Mexico have raised concerns on the federal government’s role in the dispute. Colorado is named as a defendant in the case.

Boylan said a settlement could be possible.

Jeff Wechsler, attorney for New Mexico, said the state was ready for trial, but was “still open” for settlement possibilities.

Lawyers for the irrigation districts, who are “amici curiae” or “friends of the court,” asked for more time for a settlement and a later trial date.

Samantha Barncastle, who represents the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, urged Judge Michel Melloy, the special master overseeing the case, to delay the trial to March or April. She said a settlement would offer “better relief that’s longer-lasting” than a trial, but that attorneys could not negotiate and prepare arguments at the same time.

“We’re almost there,” she said. “If you set the trial in January, we will not get there.”

Barncastle said going to trial would cost millions more taxpayer dollars and take another three to five years before a decree could be handed down.

Texas attorney Stuart Somach said the remaining settlement issues were out of his hands and between other parties. He disagreed on pushing back the trial further, saying there has to be a limit on the time taken.

“We filed this in 2013,” he said. “In 10 years, we haven’t been able to even finish the trial.” White pelicans fly over the Elephant Butte Reservoir on Friday, Sept. 23. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

On Tuesday, Melloy ordered the trial to start on Jan. 17, 2023, but also urged the parties to take advantage of the further settlement talks, saying negotiation would better solve issues between them.

The in-person trial is expected to delve into expert testimony and would be a continuation of an October 2021 virtual trial which provided witness testimony. Melloy estimated the trial could last between four to six weeks.

Since January, the states and the federal government have been in negotiations to bring an end to the 9-year-old lawsuit before the Supreme Court. Officially called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, the legal fight has cost New Mexico and Texas taxpayers more than $30 million combined.

Trial starts in Rio Grande Supreme Court water lawsuit between New Mexico and Texas

The litigation stems from allegations that New Mexico is shorting Texas’ Rio Grande portion by groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte Reservoir, violating the 1938 Rio Grande Compact. The compact lays out how the states should split the waters. Colorado is named as a defendant since it is a signatory on the compact, but is not presenting a case on the allegations.

The fight in the Supreme Court is the culmination of decades of lawsuits over the management of the river.

A series of lawsuits erupted in the early 2000s between irrigation districts in Southern New Mexico and Far West Texas and the federal government over water management. Negotiations produced an eleventh-hour settlement called the 2008 Operating Agreement signed by Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District No.1 and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to change. The agreement explains the method of splitting the water and how balances for each of the districts are carried over. Neither Texas nor New Mexico were included in the agreement.

In 2011, the state of New Mexico sued in federal court, claiming the agreement allowed the federal government to short New Mexico on river water and gave too much to Texas. That lawsuit is on hold after Texas filed its claim in the Supreme Court, alleging New Mexico pumping removed tens of thousands of acre-feet of water from the river, water that was allocated downstream in Texas.  Texas filed the lawsuit in 2013, and was joined by the federal government, which agreed that New Mexico’s pumping was threatening both the compact, and the U.S. treaty obligations to deliver Rio Grande water to Mexico.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: info@sourcenm.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

High temperatures exacerbated by #climatechange made 2022 Northern Hemisphere droughts more likely: “The models analysed also show that soil moisture #drought will continue to increase with additional #globalwarming” — World Weather Attribution #ActOnClimate

Yampa River at Phippsburg June 14, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

Click the link to read the release on the World Weather Attribution website:

Western Central Europe, North America, China, and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere faced water shortages, extreme heat, and soil moisture drought conditions throughout the summer of 2022

Water shortages, extensive fires, high food prices and severe crop losses were among the most important impacts of one of the hottest European summers on record, with heat waves and exceptionally low rainfall across the Northern Hemisphere. These conditions led to very dry soils particularly in France, Germany and other central European countries (called West-Central Europe in the following); mainland China also experienced exceptionally high temperatures and dryness. These deficits in soil moisture led to poor harvests in the affected regions, increased fire risk, and, in combination with already very high food prices, is expected to threaten food security across the world.

Scientists from Switzerland, India, the Netherlands, France, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, collaborated to assess to what extent human-induced climate change altered the likelihood and intensity of the low soil moisture, both at the surface and the root zones for most crops.

Figure 1: a) Anomaly in the June to August average root zone soil moisture w.r.t 1950-2022 climate over the northern hemisphere so-called ‘extratropics’ (NHET) region (full domain shown) based on the ERA5-Land dataset. The smaller region West-Central Europe (WCE) is highlighted by the red box. (b) same as (a) for surface soil moisture.

Main findings

– Heat and low rainfall in West-Central Europe had far reaching impacts on a variety of sectors including human health, energy, agriculture, and municipal water supply. It was exacerbated by e.g. poor water infrastructure and leakages, and it came at a time when food and energy prices were already high resulting in compounding social and economic impacts.

– In this study, we particularly focus on the dry soils which caused severe economic and ecological impacts across the Northern Hemisphere (excluding the tropical regions) and were particularly severe in West-Central Europe. We therefore focus on these two regions, North-Hemisphere extratropics and West-Central Europe, to analyse the agricultural and ecological drought from June to August 2022.

– Observation-driven land surface models show that very low summer surface and root-zone soil moisture, such as observed in 2022, happens about once in 20 years in today’s climate in both regions.

– While the magnitude of historical trends vary between different observation-based soil moisture products, all agree that the dry conditions observed in 2022 over both regions would have been less likely to occur at the beginning of the 20th century.

– To determine the role of climate change in these observed changes, we combine the observation-based datasets with climate models and conclude that human-induced climate change increased the likelihood of the observed soil moisture drought events. The change in likelihood is larger in the observation-based data compared to the models.

– We also assessed the role of climate change in temperature and rainfall in these regions and found that the strong increase in high temperatures is the main reason for the increased drought.

– Combining all lines of evidence we find for West-Central Europe that human-induced climate change made the 2022 root zone soil moisture drought about 3-4 times more likely,  and the surface soil moisture drought about 5-6 times more likely.

– For the Northern Hemisphere extratropics, human-induced climate change made the observed soil moisture drought much more likely, by a factor of at least 20 for the root zone soil moisture and at least 5 for the surface soil moisture, but as is usually the case with hard to observe quantities, the exact numbers are uncertain.

– The models analysed also show that soil moisture drought will continue to increase with additional global warming, which is consistent with projected long-term trends in climate models as reported e.g., in the IPCC AR6.

Truths We Can’t Bear Alone: Facing an ‘Inconvenient Apocalypse’ — The Revelator

A cow trying to leave an area affected by intense flooding, South Sudan. Credit: UNICEF/Sebastian Rich

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen):

We can’t — and shouldn’t — hide from the reality of multiple ecological and social crises, say the authors of a new book.

This essay is adapted from An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity.

 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.

© Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen

The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

September 2022 La Niña update: it’s Q & A time — NOAA

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.

Sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean from mid-June through early September 2022 compared to the long-term average. East of the International Dateline (180˚), waters remained cooler than average, a sign of La Niña. Graphic by Climate.gov, based on data from NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Lab. Description of historical baseline period here.

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.

La Niña feedbacks between the ocean and atmosphere.  Climate.gov schematic by Emily Eng and inspired by NOAA PMEL.

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.

NOAA Climate Prediction Center forecast for each of the three possible ENSO categories for the next 8 overlapping 3-month seasons. Blue bars show the chances of La Niña, gray bars the chances for neutral, and red bars the chances for El Niño. Graph by Michelle L’Heureux.

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.

Three-year history of sea surface temperatures in the Niño-3.4 region of the tropical Pacific for the 8 existing double-dip La Niña events (gray lines) and the current event (purple line). Of all the previous 7 events, 2 went on to La Niña in their third year (below the blue dashed line), 2 went on to be at or near El Niño levels (above the red dashed line) and three were neutral. Graph is based on monthly Niño-3.4 index data from CPC using ERSSTv5. Created by Michelle L’Heureux.

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.

During La Niña, the Pacific jet stream often meanders high into the North Pacific. Southern and interior Alaska and the Pacific Northwest tend to be cooler and wetter than average, and the southern tier of U.S. states—from California to the Carolinas—tends to be warmer and drier than average. Farther north, the Ohio and Upper Mississippi River Valleys may be wetter than usual. Climate.gov image.

What about global impacts?

Temperature and precipitation patterns that are typical of La Niña during (top) Northern Hemisphere winters and (bottom) summers. Map by NOAA Climate.gov, based on originals from the Climate Prediction Center. Larger images and maps for El Niño are available in this post.

That’s enough for now! Thanks!

Anytime! See you next month.

Intense heat waves and flooding are battering electricity and water systems, as America’s aging infrastructure sags under the pressure of climate change

Volunteers distributed bottled water after Jackson, Mississippi’s water treatment plant failed during flooding in August 2022. Brad Vest/Getty Images

Paul Chinowsky, University of Colorado Boulder

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.

Over 220,000 bridges across the country – about 33% of the total – require rehabilitation or replacement.

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.

Aging systems have been blamed for failures of the water system in Jackson, wastewater treatment plants in Baltimore that leaked dangerous amounts of sewage into the Chesapeake Bay and dam failures in Michigan that have resulted in widespread damage and evacuations.

Inequality in investment

Compounding the problem of age is the lack of funds to modernize critical systems and perform essential maintenance. Fixing that will require systemic change.

Infrastructure is primarily a city and county responsibility financed through local taxes. However, these entities are also dependent on state and federal funds. As populations increase and development expands, local governments have cumulatively had to double their infrastructure spending since the 1950s, while federal sources remained mostly flat.

Congressional Budget Office

Inequity often underlies the growing need for investment in low-income U.S. communities.

Over 2 million people in the United States lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The greatest predictor of those who lack this access is race: 5.8% of Native American households lack access, while only 0.3% of white households lack access. In terms of sanitation, studies in predominantly African American counties have found disproportionate impacts from nonworking sewage systems.

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.

A heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in 2020 buckled roads and melted streetcar cables in Portland. Amtrak slowed its train speeds in the Northeast in July 2022 out of concern that a heat wave would cause the overhead wires to expand and sag and rails to potentially buckle.

Washed out road in Yellowstone National Park
Fast-moving floodwater obliterated sections of major roads through Yellowstone National Park in June 2022. Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service

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.

A city bus was caught and several people were injured when a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh in January 2022. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

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.

Paul Chinowsky, Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

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

Dry: A Weekly Western #Drought Digest — August 30, 2022 — Circle of Blue

US Drought Monitor map September 1, 2022.

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.

Top News

– 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.

The Numbers

– 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.

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 1, 2022): Bumping down to 1350 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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. 

Crystal Dam, part of the Colorado River Storage Project, Aspinall Unit. Credit Reclamation.

Interview: Beyond doom and gloom: talking #ClimateChange with skeptics — WyoFile

Katharine Hayhoe in Jackson in August 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Mike Koshmrl):

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.” 

Motivating people to change their lives to reduce their carbon footprint is especially tricky in a place like Wyoming, where fewer than half of residents believe humankind is driving the global phenomenon, according to Yale University research. That’s despite a scientific consensus that industrial activities have already led to 1.8 degrees fahrenheit of warming. Talk of the weather in Wyoming is commonplace and unites us, but talk of climate change is divisive, though it’s demonstrably changing lives

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.

Because its stored water has been in demand in drought-ridden Idaho, Jackson Lake, pictured, never reached 50% full in 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

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

As #ColoradoRiver Dries, the U.S. Teeters on the Brink of Larger #Water Crisis — ProPublica #COriver #aridification

Colorado River Allocations: Credit: The Congressional Research Service

by Abrahm Lustgarten

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: Killing the Colorado

The Water Crisis in the West

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.

That’s hopeful.

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.

News flash.

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.

Secretary Haaland Announces Members of the First-Ever Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee — Department of Interior

Photo credit: The Department on Interior

Click the link to read the release on the Department of Interior website:

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:

Alaska Region

  • Primary member: Robert Keith; President, Native Village of Elim
  • Alternate member: Gayla Hoseth; Second Tribal Chief for the Curyung Tribal Council
  • Eastern Region

  • 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
  • Midwest Region

  • 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
  • Navajo Region

  • Primary member: Jonathan Nez; President, Navajo Nation
  • Alternate member: Daniel Tso; Council Delegate, Navajo Nation
  • Northwest Region

  • Primary member: Kat Brigham; Chair of the Board of Trustees, Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation
  • Alternate member: Timothy Greene; Chairman, Makah Tribe
  • Pacific Region

  • Primary member: Erica Pinto; Chairwoman, Jamul Indian Village of California
  • Alternate member: Reid Milanovich; Chairman, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Rocky Mountain Region

  • Primary member: Jody LaMere; Councilwoman, Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation
  • Alternate member: Jordan Dresser; Chairman, Northern Arapaho Business Council
  • Southern Plains Region

  • Primary member: Walter Echo-Hawk; Chairman, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma
  • Alternate member: Reggie Wassana; Governor, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma
  • Southwest Region

  • Primary member: Mark Mitchell; APCG Chairman, Pueblo of Tesuque
  • Alternate member: Christopher Moquino; Governor, Pueblo de San Ildefonso
  • Western Region

  • Primary member: Amber Torres; Chairman, Walker River Paiute Tribe
  • Alternate member: Terry Rambler; Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe
  • North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

    Central #NewMexico’s #RioGrande is beginning to dry — John Fleck

    A cottonwood forest in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Matthew Schmader/Open Space Division

    Click the link to read the blog post on the InkStain website (John Fleck):

    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.

    New indoor, vertical farm in Aurora offers look at high-tech future for food production — The #Denver Post

    Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Judith Kohler). Here’s an excerpt:

    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 resets water peak, doesn’t drown out #drought concerns — Steamboat Pilot & Today #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Dylan Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

    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.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map April 12, 2022.

    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.

    Increase in atmospheric #methane set another record during 2021: Carbon dioxide levels also record a big jump — NOAA #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Air samples from NOAA’s Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii provide important data for climate scientists around the world. On Thursday, NOAA announced that analysis of data from their global sampling network showed that levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane recorded the largest annual increase ever observed in 2021, while carbon dioxide continued to increase at historically high rates. (NOAA)

    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.

    CH4 trend: This graph shows globally-averaged, monthly mean atmospheric methane abundance determined from marine surface sites since 1983. Values for the last year are preliminary. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

    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.

    CO2 trend: This graph shows the monthly mean abundance of carbon dioxide globally averaged over marine surface sites since 1980. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

    “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.

    CO2 data: This graph shows annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates, based on globally averaged marine surface data, since the start of systematic monitoring in 1959. The horizontal lines indicate the decadal averages of the growth rate. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

    “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.”

    Novel technique peeks beneath the ground at Yellowstone’s hot water plumbing system — USGS

    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.

    Sources/Usage: Public Domain.
    Helicopter with airborne electromagnetics sensors dangling beneath as it flies over a portion of Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Jeff Hungerford, November 2016.

    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.

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    Cross sections from one-dimensional electrical resistivity (top of each section) and three-dimensional magnetic susceptibility inverted models (bottom of each section) along profiles that span (a) Norris Geyser Basin, and (b) Upper Geyser Basin. Geologic and geothermal features are from the Yellowstone geologic map. VE=vertical exaggeration. LCT=Lava Creek Tuff (A and B members).

    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!

    Opinion: #Putin and #ClimateChange: two maladies, one treatment —

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    Click the link to read the opinion piece on the Pueblo Chieftain website (Stephen Greenleaf):

    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.