Click here to view the scorecard.
From Audubon (Karyn Stockdale):
Last year was difficult. And while 2021 presents some optimism for a better world, the intense challenges we face remain—COVID-19 and other public health crises, growing drought and climate change, and racial injustice. Each of these intersect with water.
More than 90% of climate stress is experienced through the water cycle—drought, extreme weather and flooding, wildfire, and more. These issues were starkly illustrated in 2020 with the wildfires in the West and the drying of several western habitats. Audubon’s own science shows that climate change is by far the biggest threat to the birds that we love. We can’t ignore the relationship between water and climate—and the dangers climate change presents to our communities, often in inequitable ways. Solutions to these problems will require elected officials to catch up to what most Americans already know: we need to prioritize our water future with bold action and funding.
In 2021, our job is to galvanize a heightened focus on water to advance solutions that improve the lives of people and birds in the West. Our commitment to collaborating with water users, tribes, farmers, water and land managers, and other stakeholders allows us to identify solutions that align habitat protection and restoration with improved water supplies for communities. And with your support, we can better protect and restore the Colorado, Gila, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, and other rivers in the arid West as well as unique saline lake ecosystems such as Great Salt Lake and the Salton Sea.
The Colorado River Compact was signed 99 years ago, and the year ahead kicks off a new round of negotiations about the future of the river. This moment gives all of us opportunities to lean into the lessons learned from management of the Colorado River and its water and bring environmental priorities forward. Of course, the past two decades have required more adaptation and mitigation because of dwindling water resources amidst long-term drought. As the arid West continues to deal with climate change, our laws and management will need to adapt.
With your advocacy, we can advance Audubon’s Western Water policy priorities with considerations for inclusive and equitable provisions. We can leverage opportunities for federal legislation and appropriations to address drought in the West, WaterSMART improvements, Farm Bill funding, and more in the context of declining water flows due to climate change impacts. We can advance investments in natural infrastructure and climate resiliency (i.e. floodplain restoration, natural water storage solutions, wildfire mitigation programs). We can improve river health, protect water quality, and support funding for agencies focused on water resources and habitats through state policy improvements. And in priority areas, we will work on-the-ground and with partners to protect and restore bird habitat and improve water flows.
For urgent attention to solutions that last, we need diverse and inclusive voices at the table and in decision-making. Audubon has spent years working to improve our equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts, and 2020 gave us real urgency to address the disproportionate impacts that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color face, including water security. In 2021, Audubon’s Western Water team will better support tribal communities, when asked for help, because tribes should be able to actively participate in decisions about water management, ensure that their water needs are met, and realize the full benefits of their water rights. And we’ll better evaluate what communities are most impacted by our conservation actions, and build collaborative partnerships to increase bird habitat and equitable access for people.
Birds connect us. Water is our great unifier too. Join us in taking urgent local, state, and national actions in the year ahead. Sign up, spread the word, and stay connected at http://audubon.org/westernwater.
National Geographic included Denver in list a of “Eight sustainable destinations for 2021 and beyond,” featuring the Mile High City.
From email from the Colorado Ag Alliance:
Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.
The lingering effects of months of hot, dry weather in 2020 have water planners preparing for wet and dry scenarios this year.
Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:
From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):
In the spring of 2020, FIS Worldpay, a payment-processing company, sent more than 200 of its Durango, Colorado-based employees home to work remotely, in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Even when pandemic-avoidance measures were loosened over the summer and many workplaces filled back up, the 81,000-square-foot building remained dark. Then, in November, the Jacksonville, Florida-based company announced that the staff would continue to work remotely, and that the Durango building — the largest of its kind in town — would close for good.
This phenomenon — one-time cubicle workers becoming full-time telecommuters, liberated from corporate headquarters — deprived Durango of one of its largest private employers and has driven up office vacancy rates nationwide. Yet at the same time, it is also fueling housing booms in so-called “Zoom towns,” Durango included, as the born-again remote workers seek out more desirable areas.
Zoom towns are scattered across the United States, but the most popular ones seem to be small- to mid-sized, amenity-rich communities, with plenty of public land nearby, from Bend, Oregon, to Flagstaff, Arizona, along with a whole bunch of best-place-to-live-list towns. In most cases, their real estate markets were already overheated. But they exploded in the wake of the pandemic’s first wave, driving home prices to astronomical levels and putting homeownership even further out of reach for the typical working-class person.
The telecommuter-migration is just one of many reasons behind the current real estate craze. Rock-bottom interest rates have also contributed, along with wealthy investors seeking refuges during tumultuous times. “It’s clear that many buyers are being driven out of large cities by both COVID-19 and civil unrest,” wrote the authors of the Jackson Hole Report, regarding the recent uptick in homes priced over $3 million. “Most have been contemplating a move for some time, and felt that now was the right time.”
The Zoom economy has come at Durango from two directions. The housing market went berserk in the third quarter of 2020, and the median home price shot up to about twice the amount that a median-income earner could afford. Meanwhile, economic development officials are trying to figure out what to do with a giant, empty office building. One option: Convert it into affordable housing.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at email@example.com.
Even in the depths of winter, water flows. This creek flows along a trail above U.S. Highway 285. The water in it will eventually reach Denver.
Technology that listens for potential problems in pipes is part of Denver Water’s proactive approach to inspection and maintenance.
2020 was an incredible year for Denver Water, full of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires and record-breaking weather.
Hiking in Colorado’s Pike National Forest, and finding pieces of Denver Water’s history in the Lost Creek Wilderness.
From Westword (Teague Bohlen):
The incoming Biden administration has announced its nomination for Secretary of the Department of the Interior: U.S. Representative Deb Haaland, a Native American from New Mexico who would replace Trump administration appointee David Bernhardt, a Coloradan termed “the ultimate swamp monster” by environmental groups.
Haaland’s nomination is undeniably historic. If confirmed, she’d be the first Native American to head the very federal agency that since 1849 has been managing — and often mismanaging — the U.S. relationship with the nation’s tribes. “A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland said in a tweet. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”
Haaland was born and raised in a military family in the Southwestern United States; she’s a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, who have lived on the land that is now the state of New Mexico for over 800 years. Her work experience spans everything from owning her own small salsa company to law school to tribal management, which led to her political involvement on a local and national level. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, where she quickly distinguished herself on several important House committees, including Armed Services, Natural Resources and Oversight.
David Bernhardt grew up in Rifle; he worked in state conservative politics and, later, for a lobbyist firm in Denver before being picked by the second Bush administration to work in the Department of the Interior. When that position ended in 2009, Bernhardt went directly back to that Colorado lobbying firm as the chairman of its natural resources law practice, where his clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and farmers fighting fish lovers in California. He de-listed himself as a lobbyist in 2016 so as not to appear to violate Trump’s then-ban on lobbyists joining his administration, which is the sort of situation for which the term “technicality” was coined. After several positions related to the Trump DOI, he was nominated to Deputy Secretary of the Interior under Ryan Zinke, whose scandals involving the egregious private use of public funds eventually brought about his resignation, and promoted to Secretary in 2019. Aside from moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Bernhardt’s tenure perhaps has been most notable for being Trump’s “designated survivor” during the 2020 State of the Union address, an achievement he earned by being picked last in Trump’s political kickball game…
Policies and Practices
Bernhardt, as his client base might suggest, was decidedly pro-business in his work in natural resources, a “drill, baby, drill” guy. He worked both in and out of government on many of the same issues despite claims to the contrary — mainly, the prioritization of the agribusiness, oil, gas and mining industries over any credible environmental concerns. While he claimed at a confirmation hearing that he “implemented an incredibly robust screening process” to guard against conflicts of interest, Bernhardt was found by the General Accounting Office to have twice broken federal law; this finding was later overturned by Trump’s own Interior Department, with no sense of irony whatsoever.
Haaland, in contrast, is well known for working on behalf of both indigenous populations and the natural environment. An example of both: In 2016, she went to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to join tribal leadership in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Haaland was able to not only bring support from New Mexico labor unions, according to the Washington Post, but also homemade tortillas and green chile stew.
That’s the difference between the two Americas today, illustrated in consecutive Interior secretaries: One brings warm homemade soup to a grassroots organization supporting the protection of the land and all that lives upon it. The other might as well drive a coal-burning Hummer with a bumpersticker that reads “MY MONEY > YOUR FISH.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw some modest improvements in drought conditions across portions of the Southwest, southern Great Plains, South, lower Midwest, and portions of the Northeast. Drought-related conditions deteriorated in southern California, the southern Great Basin, Texas, Minnesota, and parts of New England. In California, storm activity during the weekend delivered beneficial rain and snow to areas of central and northern California; however, the southern part of the state remained dry. Since January 1, areas of California—including portions of the eastern Sierra and Sacramento Valley—have received less than 25% of normal precipitation. The impact of both short- and long-term dryness in parts of California has been affecting the cattle ranching industry with numerous drought impact reports describing severe impacts to pasture and rangeland conditions as well as reports of ranchers having to sell livestock. Fortunately, another round of storms is expected to impact northern California this week bringing valley rains and mountain snows to the region. In the southern Great Basin, record dryness during the past 6-month period led to expansion of areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) in the eastern Sierra Nevada and southern Nevada. In the Southwest, both Arizona and New Mexico received light rains across parts of the lower deserts as well as some mountain snowfall in northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, providing a much-needed boost to soil moisture levels. Elsewhere, above-normal precipitation during the past 30-to-60-day period and snowfall this week in northern portions of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma Panhandle, led to removal of areas of drought. Further to the south in the Hill Country and South Texas Plains, drought intensified in response to persistent warm and dry conditions as well as mounting precipitation deficits ranging from 2-to-8+ inches during the past 90-day period. Conversely, areas along the coastal plains of northeastern Texas received 1-to-2+ inch accumulations during the past week leading to widespread improvements on the map. In the Midwest, wetter-than-normal conditions during the past 30-to-60-day period led to minor improvements on the map in central Illinois and northern Indiana. Likewise, portions of western New York saw improvement on the map in response to recent storm activity…
On this week’s map, areas of the region—including southwestern Kansas and northeastern Wyoming—saw modest improvements including reduction in areas of Severe Drought (D2) in Wyoming and areas of Moderate Drought (D1) in southwestern Kansas where recent snowfalls have helped to improve local conditions. Average temperatures for the week were near to slightly above normal across most of the region with eastern portions of the region observing the greatest positive temperature anomalies ranging from 3-to-12 deg F above normal. According to the NOAA NOHRSC, the Upper Midwest Region was only 16.4% covered in snow (a reduction from 30.3% last month) with an average depth of 0.2 inches and a maximum depth of 30.5 inches. Field reports from the USDA NASS North Dakota Crop Progress and Condition Report (Nov. 30) yielded winter wheat conditions rated as 4% very poor, 5% poor, 50% fair, 39% good, and 2% excellent…
During the past week, areas of the West received much needed rain and snow over the weekend with mountain snow observed in the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, ranges of central/eastern Nevada, the Uinta Mountains, and across areas of the Rockies from Montana to New Mexico. Snowfall accumulations ranged from 6-to-24+ inches in the higher elevations. In the California mountains, the current statewide soil water equivalent (SWE) for the date (Dec. 14) is 47% of normal—up 11% since last week. The current regional breakdown (percentage of normal SWE) is as follows: Northern Sierra/Trinity–46%, Central Sierra–53%, and Southern Sierra–29%. In other areas of the West, the drainage basins (6-Digit HUCs) across the Four Corners states continued to observe well below-normal SWE except for the Rio Grande Headwaters (115% of normal) and the Upper Arkansas (103% of normal) basins of Colorado. In the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, basins across the Cascades of Oregon/Washington as well as central/eastern Montana are near normal to above normal. On the map, areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Extreme Drought (D3) expanded in southern California where precipitation during the past 90-day period has generally been <25% of normal. These areas largely have missed recent storm events that have impacted central and northern portions of the state. In southern Nevada, areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded in Clark County where McCarran International Airport (through Dec. 1) logged its driest 6-month period (June 1 to November 30) on record with only a trace of precipitation observed for the period. In Arizona, areas of Extreme Drought (D3) expanded in southwestern Arizona where Parker, Arizona along the lower Colorado River has observed no precipitation since June 1—making it the driest 6-month (June 1 to November 30) on record. Elsewhere in the state, some minor improvements were made in central Arizona and northeastern Arizona on the Navajo Nation where precipitation during the past week brought some minor improvements in soil moisture. In northern New Mexico, some minor improvements were made on the map in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Taos where soil moisture levels improved (according to NASA SPoRT) and snowfall during the past week bumped a few SNOTEL stations (Gallegos Peak, Tolby) above normal levels for the date. In southeastern Idaho, areas of Moderate Drought (D1) were reduced in response to several SNOTEL sites (Prairie, Camas Creek Divide) reporting above-normal SWE…
On this week’s map, areas of drought intensified and expanded in the Hill Country and South Texas Plains where warm and dry conditions continued this week. In these areas, 90-day precipitation deficits ranged from 2-to-8 inches, and current soil moisture levels were below normal according to the NASA SPoRT soil moisture monitoring products. According to Water Data for Texas (Dec. 16), monitored water supply reservoirs are currently 79.9% full—with reservoirs in the eastern half of the state ~80–90% full while reservoirs in the western half of the state were generally <40% full. In the far northern portions of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma Panhandle, conditions improved on the map in response to short-term precipitation including snowfall observed during the past week with accumulations ranging from 1-to-8+, according to NOAA NOHRSC. In eastern portions of Texas, northwestern Louisiana, and southeastern Oklahoma, precipitation during the past week (1-to-3 inches) led to improvements in areas of Moderate Drought (D1). Average temperatures for the week were below normal (1-to-4 deg F) in the northern Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma Panhandle, and central Oklahoma while other areas in the region were 2-to-10+ deg F above normal…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for light-to-moderate liquid accumulations ranging from 1 to 2+ inches across portions of the South with the heaviest totals expected along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle. Likewise, similar accumulations are expected in the Mid-Atlantic and across southeastern portions of New England where a major winter storm is expected to impact the region starting on Wednesday with a wintry mix of rain, freezing rain, and snow. Areas from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts are expected to receive significant snowfall accumulations ranging from 6 to 20+ inches with New York City and Boston potentially receiving more than a foot of snow. Across much of the Midwest, the Plains, Texas, the Southwest, and southern portions of California and the Great Basin, dry condition are forecasted. Elsewhere in the West, a series of storms is expected to impact an area from Washington state through northern California and eastward through the northern Great Basin and central/northern Rockies. Coastal areas are expecting heavy rainfall accumulations while further inland snowfall accumulations in the higher elevations of the Cascades and northern Rockies of Idaho and northwestern Montana could see 1-to-2 feet of snow. The CPC 6–10-day Outlook calls for a moderate probability of above-normal precipitation across most of the eastern tier of the conterminous U.S., the Upper Midwest, and across much of Alaska where probabilities are higher. Elsewhere, the outlooks call for a low-to-moderate probability of below-normal precipitation across much of the conterminous U.S.—including much of the Midwest and Plains states, the Four Corners states, and California. In terms of temperature, there is a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across nearly the entire conterminous U.S. except for the Southeast where normal temperatures are expected…
Click here to read the discussion and to check out their graphical figures:
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS
and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 10 December 2020
ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory
Synopsis: La Niña is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2020-21 (~95% chance during January-March), with a potential transition during the spring 2021 (~50% chance of Neutral during April-June).
La Niña persisted during November, as indicated by well below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) extending from the Date Line to the eastern Pacific Ocean. Most of the weekly indices fluctuated through the month, with the westernmost Niño regions Niño-4 and Niño-3.4 ending up around -1.0oC. The negative equatorial subsurface temperature anomalies (averaged from 180°-100°W) weakened slightly last month, but continued to reflect below-average temperatures from the surface to 200m depth in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific Ocean remained consistent with La Niña. Over the western and central tropical Pacific Ocean, low-level wind anomalies were easterly and upper-level wind anomalies were westerly. Tropical convection continued to be suppressed from the western Pacific to the Date Line. Also,both the Southern Oscillation and Equatorial Southern Oscillation indices were positive. Overall, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system indicates the continuation of La Niña.
A majority of the models in the IRI/CPC plume predict La Niña (Niño-3.4 index less than -0.5°C) to persist through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2020-21 and to weaken through the spring. Supported by the latest forecasts from several models, the forecaster consensus is for a moderate strength La Niña (Niño-3.4 index values between -1.0oC and -1.5oC) during the peak November-January season. In summary, La Niña is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2020-21 (~95% chance for January-March), with a potential transition during the spring 2021 (~50% chance of Neutral during Apr-Jun; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).
La Niña is anticipated to affect climate across the United States during the upcoming months. The 3-month seasonal temperature and precipitation outlooks will be updated on Thursday December 17th.
From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):
According to the U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 10.8 inches of snow water equivalent as of 9 a.m. on Dec. 2.
The median snow water equivalent amount for today’s date is 8.8 inches.
The amount of 10.8 inches of snow water equivalent is 145 percent of the Dec. 2 median for this site.
Last week’s reading showed that the Wolf Creek summit had 10.6 inches of snow water equivalent.
The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 82 percent of the Dec. 2 median in terms of snow pack.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the San Juan River was flowing below the average rate at 45.4 cfs as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2.
Based on 84 years of water records, the average flow rate for this date is 78 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2008 at 253 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 29 cfs, recorded in 1968.
A whopping 81% of construction waste was diverted from landfills and delivered to processors who specialize in finding a second life for the material.
From The Tri-Lakes Tribune (Ben Ferrell) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
At its Nov. 16 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved a contract to perform the drilling and casing of a new water well for the town’s water system.
The new well, Well No. 10, will be based in the Arapahoe Basin and will be a depth of approximately 1,100 to 1,800 feet, depending on the determination of where the best draw of water would be. Public Works Director Tom Tharnish said the town’s present water consultant managed the bidding process since the contract required a specialized scope of drilling. The winning bid came in at $624,975 and was awarded to Layne Christensen Co.
Tharnish said the company, operating under a different name prior, had performed work on the town’s older wells in the past and was surprised three bids came back from the invitation.He said he expected one or two.
A follow-up contract to perform the tie-in of Well No. 10 to water treatment plant No. 4 and 5 will be presented to the board after the start of next year, since the new well will be located right outside the plant, Tharnish said.
Mayor Don Wilson asked if Well No. 10 would serve as a replacement for Well No. 9, which is presently offline due to the levels of radium detected and undergoing radium removal.
Tharnish said he hopes to have No. 10 operational and producing in March or April of next year and it would serve as the replacement to Well No. 9’s water production until No. 9 is back online that following fall.
This is the first of 15 major projects for the town’s water system which will be funded through the town’s recent Certificate of Participation issued.
The contract was approved 5-1 with Trustee Jamy Unruh having lost her connection to the virtual meeting and unable to vote.
Over the last five years, Learning By Doing has made significant progress toward fulfilling its mission to maintain and improve Grand County’s aquatic environment.
How much water do trees and bushes need during winter dry spells in Denver? Winter watering tips from Denver Water.
Denver Water is replacing a flume at Eleven Mile Dam to protect the river and increase climate resiliency.
From NOAA (Emily Becker):
La Niña strengthened over October, with both the tropical Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere clearly reflecting La Niña conditions. Forecasters estimate at least a 95% chance La Niña will last through the winter, with a 65% chance of it hanging on through the spring.
The October sea surface temperature anomaly (departure from the long-term average) in the Niño 3.4 region of tropical Pacific was -1.3°C according to the ERSSTv5 dataset, substantially cooler than the La Niña threshold of -0.5°C. This is the eighth-strongest negative October value in the ERSSTv5 record, which dates back to 1950. I’ll talk more about feats of strength (vis-à-vis La Niña, that is) later.
Let’s count our chickens
First, we’ll check in with the tropical Pacific ocean-atmosphere system. One of the ways we monitor the atmospheric response to ENSO is through satellite images of the amount of thermal radiation leaving the Earth’s surface. Clouds block this outgoing long-wave radiation, so when the satellites see less outgoing long-wave radiation than average, it means more clouds and rain than average. Conversely, when the satellite picks up more OLR, the skies are clearer than average.
During La Niña, we’d expect to see less rain than average over the central tropical Pacific and more rain over Indonesia—the strengthened Walker circulation, La Niña’s atmospheric response. The OLR map for October 2020 shows this pattern clearly.
Another component of the strengthened Walker circulation is stronger Pacific trade winds, the near-surface winds that blow from east to west near the equator, and stronger west-to-east winds high up in the atmosphere. Both strengthened wind patterns were observed during October, providing more evidence that the ocean-atmosphere coupling we expect during both phases of ENSO is present.
As Michelle discussed just a couple of weeks ago, this coupling is a feedback mechanism that strengthens ENSO. In the case of La Niña, cooler-than-average waters in the tropical Pacific mean the difference between the warm western Pacific and the cooler central Pacific is greater than average. This greater difference leads to the stronger Walker circulation, and the stronger trade winds further cool the surface water in the central Pacific and also pile up warm water in the west. For more details on this feedback, and a whiff of fresh-baked bread, check out Michelle’s post.
Eggs in baskets
Several computer models are suggesting that this La Niña is likely to be a stronger event, with a Niño 3.4 anomaly during November–January cooler than -1.5°C.
The substantial atmospheric coupling supports these predictions, as does the amount of cooler water under the surface. These cooler subsurface waters, which are also evidence of the coupled system, will provide a source of cooler-than-average water for the surface over the next few months. October’s average subsurface temperature was the 7th-coolest October since 1979.
The Climate Prediction Center is now providing a probabilistic outlook for the strength of El Niño and La Niña events. Tom described this new technique in a blog post a little while back—it’s too much to get into here, so please check out his post for the details. While forecast probabilities are provided for every season, it is the November–January season that has the largest chance (54%) of Niño-3.4 being below -1.5°C. This would make it a strong event; of the 23 La Niña events since 1950, seven have had maximum Niño 3.4 cooler than -1.5°C.
What came first
As we’ve observed in a few earlier posts about this La Niña, it appears to be relatively rare in our observed record (starting in 1950) for La Niña to develop following a neutral or slightly warm winter like we had in 2019–2020. I got curious about this, so I thought I’d exercise my newfound Python skills a bit and look at the data. (Python is a computer programming language. I’m not a snake wrangler…yet!)
It turns out that the previous La Niña events we’ve observed so far (dots below the blue line) have all been preceded by either El Niño or La Niña. 2020 stands out, following a winter where tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures were slightly warm, but not quite El Niño. Since we only have about 70 years of observations, it’s hard to say exactly how unusual this is—we’d need to do more studies with climate models to find out, but that’s a lot for my monthly ENSO Blog post, to say nothing of my Python skills!
When the conditions come home to roost
We pay so much attention to ENSO because it affects global weather and climate; a stronger La Niña event means these effects are more likely. We’ve already seen hints of some of the weather and climate patterns we’d expect during La Niña. The most obvious one of these is the extraordinarily active Atlantic hurricane season. La Niña leads to reduced shear (the change in wind from the surface to the upper levels) in the atmosphere over the Atlantic, allowing hurricanes to grow and strengthen.
Although October is a little early for clear La Niña impacts, global precipitation and temperature patterns during the month did give some hints of a La Niña effect, including more rain in Indonesia, drier conditions in southeastern China and the U.S. Southwest, and cooler weather in Canada and into the U.S. Northern Plains. I wrote about potential impacts in more detail last month, so check that out if you missed it.
Nat will cover the winter outlook for North America in his post later this month. And of course, we’ll be here, brooding over La Niña and keeping you up-to-date.
Denver Water’s $1.5 billion, five-year capital plan includes about 100 major projects to upgrade and improve its water supply system.
Colorado just completed its latest “water year” — the 12 months from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 that hydrologists track for water trends — and one thing seems clear to Denver Water’s experts.
From Inside Climate News (Ilana Cohen):
They turned out in big numbers and overwhelmingly supported the former vice president. Young voters of color played a critical role in battleground states.
…young voters between 18 and 29 will have played a critical role in his election, turning out in force and favoring the former vice president over President Trump by 61 percent to 36 percent, according to an analysis by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning at Tufts University.
The Center concluded that those young voters, and particularly young people of color and women, may have helped put Biden over the edge in crucial battleground states, based on an analysis of votes counted by midday Friday.
The Tufts’ center estimated the youth share of the vote in the 2020 election at 17 percent, compared to 16 percent in the 2016 presidential election and 13 percent in the 2018 midterms, based on the 2020 VoteCast from the Associated Press, the National Election Pool exit poll from Edison Research and its own analyses of census population data. That figure could change as more data becomes available and the election comes to a close.
The center, a non-partisan, independent research organization focused on youth civic engagement, also projected that once all votes are counted, youth turnout may rise to 53 to 56 percent, compared to 46 percent in the 2016 election and 36 percent in the 2018 midterms. That would represent the highest youth voter turnout since at least 1984.
Young Black, Asian and Latino voters supported Biden over Trump by margins of 77, 72 and 49 points respectively. By comparison, young white voters supported Biden over Trump by a margin of only 6 points. Support for the two candidates also divided along gender-based lines within racial and ethnic groups, with young white women preferring Biden over Trump by a 13-point margin, while young white men preferred Trump over Biden by a 6-point margin.
The center’s analysis also found substantial pro-Biden youth voter turnout in key battleground states, including in closely-watched Georgia, where youth comprised 21 percent of the vote and gave Biden a 19-point edge over Trump. Specifically, young Black voters, who favored Biden over Trump by an 82-point margin, “put Georgia in play,” the center said in its analysis.
Denver Water’s rates will increase slightly effective Jan. 1, 2021, to help pay for its Lead Reduction Program and other system improvements.
Denver Water’s $1.5 billion, five-year capital plan includes about 100 major projects to upgrade and improve its water supply system.
With a hotly contested election underway in a polarized society, many people are concerned about violence from far-right extremists. But they may not understand the real threat.
The law enforcement community is among those who have failed to understand the true nature and danger of far-right extremists. Over several decades, the FBI and other federal authorities have only intermittently paid attention to far-right extremists. In recent years, they have again acknowledged the extent of the threat. But it’s not clear how long their attention will last.
While researching my forthcoming book, “It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the U.S.,” I discovered that there are five key mistakes people make when thinking about far-right extremists. These mistakes obscure the extremists’ true danger.
1. Some have white supremacist views, but others don’t
When asked to condemn white supremacists and extremists at the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump floundered, then said, “Give me a name.” His Democratic challenger Joe Biden offered, “The Proud Boys.”
Not all far-right extremists are militant white supremacists.
White supremacy, the belief in white racial superiority and dominance, is a major theme of many far-right believers. Some, like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, are extremely hardcore hate groups.
Others, who at times identify themselves with the term “alt-right,” often mix racism, anti-Semitism and claims of white victimization in a less militant way. In addition, there are what some experts have called the “alt-lite,” like the Proud Boys, who are less violent and disavow overt white supremacy even as they promote white power by glorifying white civilization and demonizing nonwhite people including Muslims and many immigrants.
There is another major category of far-right extremists who focus more on opposing the government than they do on racial differences. This so-called “patriot movement” includes tax protesters and militias, many heavily armed and a portion from military and law enforcement backgrounds. Some, like the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Boogaloos, seek civil war to overthrow what they regard as a corrupt political order.
2. They live in cities and towns across the nation and even the globe
Far-right extremists are in communities all across America.
The KKK, often thought of as centered in the South, has chapters from coast to coast. The same is true of other far-right extremist groups, as illustrated by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map.
Far-right extremism is also global, a point underscored by the 2011 massacre in Norway and the 2019 New Zealand mosque attack, both of which were perpetrated by people claiming to resist “white genocide.” The worldwide spread led the U.N. to recently issue a global alert about the “growing and increasing transnational threat” of right-wing extremism.
3. Many are well-organized, educated and social-media savvy
Far-right extremists include people who write books, wear sport coats and have advanced degrees. For instance, in 1978 a physics professor turned neo-Nazi wrote a book that has been called the “bible of the racist right.” Other leaders of the movement have attended elite universities.
Far-right extremists were early users of the internet and now thrive on social media platforms, which they use to agitate, recruit and organize. The 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville revealed how effectively they could reach large groups and mobilize them into action.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have recently attempted to ban many of them. But the alleged Michigan kidnappers’ ability to evade restrictions by simply creating new pages and groups has limited the companies’ success.
4. They were here long before Trump and will remain here long after
Many people associate far-right extremism with the rise of Trump. It’s true that hate crimes, anti-Semitism and the number of hate groups have risen sharply since his campaign began in 2015. And the QAnon movement – called both a “collective delusion” and a “virtual cult” – has gained widespread attention.
But far-right extremists were here long before Trump.
The history of white power extremism dates back to slave patrols and the post-Civil War rise of the KKK. In the 1920s, the KKK had millions of members. The following decade saw the rise of Nazi sympathizers, including 15,000 uniformed “Silver Shirts” and a 20,000 person pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1939.
5. They pose a widespread and dire threat, with some seeking civil war
Far-right extremists often appear to strike in spectacular “lone wolf” attacks, like the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995, the mass murder at a Charleston church in 2015 and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018. But these people are not alone.
Their messages speak of fear that one day, whites may be outnumbered by nonwhites in the U.S., and the idea that there is a Jewish-led plot to destroy the white race. In response, they prepare for a war between whites and nonwhites.
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Thinking of these extremists as loners risks missing the complexity of their networks, which brought as many as 13 alleged plotters together in the planning to kidnap Michigan’s governor.
Together, these misconceptions about far-right extremist individuals and groups can lead Americans to underestimate the dire threat they pose to the public. Understanding them, by contrast, can help people and experts alike address the danger, as the election – and its aftermath – unfolds.
A major new research and education center is rising from the ground in north Denver, and Denver Water is preparing to be an important part of it.
Scenic views dominate the Colorado River, Lake Powell and Lake Mead in the southwest, areas that are critical to Denver’s water supply.
Aging outlet works at base of Denver Water dam call for major upgrade to valves, pipes.
From KNAU (Melissa Sevigny):
Many western cities have been able to shrink their total water use in recent decades, even as their populations grew. That’s the finding of a new study published in the journal Water last week. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with lead author Brian Richter about how simple water conservation measures could be a cost-effective way to combat shortages in the Colorado River Basin.
How is this possible? How can water use drop while the population grows?
The explanation of that is that they have found ways to encourage people, to incentivize people, to use less water per person on average. What we found across the board in the western Cities that we surveyed—we looked at 20 different cities—we found their average rate of growth from 2000 to 2015 was about 21 percent, yet their average rate of reduction in their water use was 19 percent…
So how are they pulling this off, what’s happening that makes their water use per individual go down?
There were two things that really jumped out for us…. One, outdoor landscaping. It’s not uncommon for western cities to use half or more of their water outdoors, irrigating lawns, big commercial landscape areas and that sort of thing. That was the place the cities saw some of the biggest declines in use, because a lot of them had been financially incentivizing homeowners and businesses to reduce their outdoor irrigation…. The other big part of the story was indoors, on toilets… Back in 1992, we passed the Federal Energy Act—Energy Act, not Water Act. What was interesting about that was the framers, the architects of that energy act recognized that the movement of water, the cleaning of water to get it ready and make it potable for our use, was a very large portion of U.S. energy use. They said, if we can reduce water use, then we’re also going to reduce energy use…. What the Energy Act said was any new toilets sold in the United States from that day forward were going to have to be high efficiency ones. Overnight, the new toilets being sold were using half of the water that they did previously.
From Solar Power World (Kelly Pickerel):
In 2019, the United States produced 30-times more solar power and more than triple the amount of wind energy than it did in 2010, according to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center. The project, “Renewables on the Rise 2020,” documents the growth of five key clean energy technologies during the past decade: solar power, wind power, battery storage, energy efficiency and electric vehicles.
In addition to the growth in renewable energy, utility-scale battery storage increased 20-fold since 2010, energy consumption per person declined thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and more than one million electric vehicles were sold in the United States.
“People have always reaped the benefits of sun and wind, first to grow food, then to move ships… and now, to power the 21st century,” said Susan Rakov, chair of Environment America Research and Policy Center’s Clean Energy program. “Today nearly 50 million American homes rely on clean, renewable energy from the sun and wind. These technologies have risen to the occasion. They are transforming our energy landscape, and our future.”
Along with a national overview, the report highlights states that have made the most progress in adopting solar and wind energy, increasing battery storage capacity, improving energy efficiency, and transitioning to electric vehicles.
“America’s growth in clean energy is primarily the result of states taking action,” said Emma Searson, 100% Renewable Campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Forward looking policies designed to tap into each state’s vast renewable resources are creating a virtuous cycle of technological advancements, falling costs and greater deployment.”
California, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada and Texas added the most solar energy between 2010 and 2019, while the Mid- and Southwest states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois saw the most wind energy growth. In Kansas and Oklahoma, wind generation grew almost seven-fold during that time.
The New England states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts led the pack on efficiency improvements. In addition to taking first place for solar energy growth by a wide margin, California also ranked No. 1 for electric vehicle charging stations and sales (followed by New York, Washington, Florida and Texas). The Golden State was also top for growth in battery storage (followed by Illinois, Texas, Hawaii and West Virginia), thanks in part to strong policy leadership in the state.
From Writers on the Range (Ernie Atencio):
This summer was a time of reckoning about race in every sector of American life, and many of us are scrambling to respond in appropriate ways — including the environmental movement I’m a part of.
We would like to forget, but the environmental movement has racist roots. One of the founders of the National Park Service was Madison Grant, whose eugenicist views inspired Hitler, and the conservation heroes, John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, both routinely disparaged Native Americans.
Trying to heal that legacy, environmental organizations for decades have talked about how to build diverse staffs, promote parks and public lands for everyone, and seriously address environmental issues in poor neighborhoods or communities of color.
Thirty years ago, the Albuquerque-based Southwest Organizing Project wrote a letter to the “Big 10” national environmental groups outlining all the ways the movement was failing communities of color and calling for change. It was an alert that some groups took seriously. Others issued a bland statement about diversity and inclusion on their websites. Since then, change has been slight and slow.
I share this observation after working in the environmental world for over 25 years, and before that as a park ranger and outdoor instructor. But as a Chicano from northern New Mexico, who grew up in a rough inner-city neighborhood in Denver, I am an anomaly.
I got into this work because I care about wild places, not as a diversity campaigner. But it’s hard to ignore. When I returned to New Mexico in the mid-‘90s to take a job with a river group in Taos, I may have been the only Chicano in the entire state working as a full-time environmental advocate. Some called me the “Chicano poster child.”
As an executive director or on staff with other organizations, I was similarly the “only” or the “first.” The same was true during my years rangering and teaching. I stick with it because I care, and I continue working for change from inside the mainstream. I relish the privilege of access to the public commons of national parks and wilderness areas and outdoor recreation, even as I recognize that many Americans of color do not have that access.
Trust me; it’s harder than it looks being the only brown face in the room or even on a trail. Being the first to break this or that barrier, and always having to explain to someone what it’s like can get tiring.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked to represent Chicano perspectives, or even all people of color, in a meeting. But it often ends up feeling like a half-hearted PC gesture for appearance sake or to satisfy a funder. Attitudes are fixed and systems in place, and once I walk out of the room I think my words are usually forgotten and it’s back to business as usual.
Despite years of experience and knowledge, a few years ago I was fired from a job with one of those big national organizations because I was “not a good fit.” For whatever best intentions this group may have had, I believe they wanted the credibility of a local ethnic face, but in the end the person behind it who did not think or act like them was a threat to the order.
It’s been a life of straddling worlds, hiding part of who I really am to try to fit in and often feeling like an outsider – and I’m not the only one.
At the same time, I sometimes feel a nagging sense of survivor’s guilt because I escaped a rough life on the streets, and am not out there in solidarity, protesting for change and getting tear-gassed and arrested. I was roughed-up by cops enough in my youth that I don’t need any more, but that does not assuage this internal conflict.
But whether you are black, brown or white, the exceptional privilege of being part of a big green group and having access to the sanity of outdoor spaces carries a responsibility to help change the status quo, to speak up for those who are not part of the mainstream dialog, to advocate for equitable access to the outdoors, and yes, to rattle a few cages.
Even though the evolution has been agonizingly slow, it seems that finally, some mainstream organizations are willing to listen and learn. This seems to be a moment of change — may the momentum last.
Denver Water’s work to maintain the Roberts Tunnel carrying critical water supplies under the Continental Divide isn’t easy.
Denver Water’s primary concern has been the safety of its employees who work at its Grand County facilities at Williams Fork Reservoir, Winter Park and at the remote Jones Pass headquarters.
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Grand County rancher Paul Bruchez stands in a hay field near Kremmling, holding a small tuft of hay between his fingertips, twirling it back and forth, seeing how quickly it disintegrates after a summer without water.
The plant, known as timothy, is native to Colorado and feeds thousands of cattle here in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
This hay species and others are being closely watched this year as part of a far-reaching $1 million science experiment, one designed to see if ranchers can take water off of hay fields and successfully measure how much was removed, how much evaporated, and how much was used by plants. They also need to know how reducing their irrigation in this fashion affects the nutritional value of the hay.
If certain hay species retain more nutrients than others when they’re on low-water diets, then ranchers know their cattle will continue to eat well as they evaluate whether they can operate their ranches on less H20—not all the time, but perhaps every other year or every two to three years.
“We’ve spent centuries learning how to irrigate these lands,” Bruchez said. “Now we’re learning what it’s like not to irrigate them.”
Any water saved could be left in the Colorado River, allowing it to become more sustainable, even as the West’s population grows and drought cycles become more intense.
While similar small-scale experiments on five or 10 acres have been done before, this one by comparison is vast in scale, involving 1,200 acres of high-altitude hay meadows, nine ranch families, a team of researchers spread across Colorado, Utah and Nevada, and the backing of powerful water groups, farm interests, and environmentalists.
“We’ve never had a project this large in the state of Colorado,” said Perry Cabot, a Colorado State University researcher who is the lead scientist on the project.
The undertaking is sponsored by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, whose members include Bruchez.
“We set out on a mission to ensure we have as much science and data as possible,” Bruchez said.
The data being collected serves several needs. It should help ranch families see if they can afford to participate in these modern-era conservation efforts.
It will allow researchers to better understand what works on the ground and what to do, for instance, when rambunctious bulls destroy research equipment enclosures 25 miles from the nearest town.
And it will give policy makers insight into the political problems that will have to be solved, as well as how much money could need to be raised, to make large-scale conservation on the Colorado River feasible.
The $1 million, three-year project is being funded by the state and several environmental groups, with the money being used to pay researchers, buy equipment, and compensate ranch families who temporarily fallow their fields.
Water for Powell?
Agriculture uses some 80 percent of the water in the seven-state Colorado River Basin, and hay meadows that grow feed for cattle are among the basin’s largest water users.
Last year, under an historic drought agreement on the Colorado River, a new specially protected drought pool in Lake Powell was authorized.
Now Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, the four states that comprise the Colorado River’s Upper Basin, above Lake Powell, are studying whether they can or should help save enough water to fill that drought pool. The pool, authorized at 500,000 acre-feet, is intended as further insurance that the Upper Basin won’t be forced to involuntarily reduce water use from the river under the terms of the Colorado River Compact.
Colorado expects it would need to provide roughly half the water for the drought pool, and, led by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is working out difficult questions about how that water would be saved and ushered downstream to Lake Powell under a possible voluntary program known as demand management. The research being done near Kremmling will help answer several critical questions.
Wendy Thompson is a rancher who also serves as the research technician for the pilot program, cutting hay samples and gathering soil moisture and precipitation data, among dozens of other tasks. She has driven hundreds of miles across Grand County this summer, checking each of the program’s 24 research sites every week or so, lugging an aging laptop from one meadow to the next.
She knows better than most that ranch families will need real information, such as how fallowing affects crop yields and soil health and production costs, in order to make decisions about whether to join in a voluntary multi-state conservation effort or to back away.
Intuition vs. facts
“The experiment is important to us,” Thompson said. “We want to make decisions based on the science and the data, not a gut feeling.”
Much of the work is grueling, like cutting hay samples week after week, and low tech, like measuring water levels in rain gauges.
But dramatic advances in satellite imagery and global evapotranspiration databases are helping people like Perry Cabot create science-based templates that eventually will be useful not just in Colorado, but Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and perhaps even farther downstream, on cotton fields in Arizona and avocado groves in California’s Central Valley.
“We now have the ability to measure the whole field,” Cabot said. “It’s becoming more accurate and it’s tremendously convenient if you’re trying to get a good understanding of patterns. We don’t have to rely on one data point anymore.” [Editor’s note: Cabot sits on the board of Water Education Colorado, which is a sponsor of Fresh Water News.]
That this particular team has agronomists, economists and environmentalists pitching in with their expertise is also helping move the science forward.
“What makes this different is the scale and the depth of the questions we’re asking,” said Aaron Derwingson, an agricultural water specialist with The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program, which is helping to fund the project.
“When we’re done it will be relevant to more people than just the ranchers. We will be able to extrapolate these field conditions and what it means for water savings and the recovery of different species,” he said.
“It’s tough to figure all that out on paper. Here we’re getting down to brass tacks,” Derwingson said.
With irrigation season over, Cabot and his team have serious number crunching to do before they begin monitoring next year, measuring how the hay fields survived their fallowed season, how quickly they return to health, and precisely how much water was conserved.
Early estimates indicate that the ranchers may have saved 1,500 acre-feet to as many as 2,500 acre-feet of water this year. If this process can be replicated, scientists and ranchers could begin to see how long it might take to fill the 500,000 acre-foot drought pool at Lake Powell.
No collateral damage
But even more important to Bruchez and state policy makers is the impact the pilot is having on a highly skeptical ranching community, some of whom are deeply worried that they will lose control of their water.
“We wanted a project that would be as smooth as possible,” Bruchez said. “We wanted to simplify it and ensure there weren’t unintended damages to neighbors who weren’t participating.
“Some people were comfortable about what we were doing and others had great fears,” he said. “We just had to keep telling them, ‘We are not delivering water to Lake Powell. We are trying to fill data gaps.’”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Fall is a good time to think about changing your lawn and landscape next spring to be more water efficient next summer.
Summit County wildfire mitigation work aims to protect homes, improve forest health and protect water supply.
Denver Water’s summer watering rules, in place every year, run from May 1 to Oct. 1. These fall practices can help prepare for next spring.
Denver Water’s largest public health initiative, the Lead Reduction Program, includes reaching out to customers in multiple languages.
Watch crews work to replace an old spillway on a dam built in the 1930s. The project is part of Denver Water’s dam safety program.
Denver Water buries section of a 1930s waterway to improve safety, reliability and efficiency. The post Old canal in Winter Park goes under cover appeared first on News on TAP.
From Colorado Parks & Wildlife:
An informational video from CPW’s water quality section on blue-green algae. Toxic algae blooms are seen across the United States and have become more prevalent over the past decade. Colorado Parks and Wildlife started monitoring for toxic algae blooms starting in 2015.
Learn about the connection between fires in the mountains and the Front Range water supply. The post Keeping a close eye on the wildfires of 2020 appeared first on News on TAP.
Summer 2020 marked by forest fires, lots of 90-degree days and thirsty lawns. The post What drought conditions statewide mean for Denver’s water supply appeared first on News on TAP.
Summer 2020 marked by forest fires, lots of 90-degree days and thirsty lawns. The post What drought conditions statewide mean for Denver’s water supply appeared first on News on TAP.
When finished in 2024, the new plant will be able to treat up to 75 million gallons of water per day. The post Denver Water’s newest treatment plant rising from the ground appeared first on News on TAP.
Vigilant inspections keep destructive mussels from causing millions in damage to Denver’s water infrastructure. The post Saving our reservoirs from invading ‘cling-ons’ appeared first on News on TAP.
Roberts Tunnel closure creates ripple effects, requires significant planning across a sprawling collection, storage and treatment system. The post Denver Water’s orchestra: System maintenance means creative conducting appeared first on News on TAP.