Could “Black Swan” events spawned by #climatechange wreak havoc in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? — @WaterEdFdn #COriver

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: SCIENTISTS SAY A WARMING PLANET INCREASES ODDS OF EXTREME DROUGHT AND FLOOD; OFFICIALS SAY THEY’RE TRYING TO INCLUDE THOSE POSSIBILITIES IN THEIR PLANS

Runoff from what some describe as an “epic flood” or “black swan” event in 1983 strained the capacity of Glen Canyon Dam to convey water fast enough. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation

The Colorado River Basin’s 20 years of drought and the dramatic decline in water levels at the river’s key reservoirs have pressed water managers to adapt to challenging conditions. But even more extreme — albeit rare — droughts or floods that could overwhelm water managers may lie ahead in the Basin as the effects of climate change take hold, say a group of scientists. They argue that stakeholders who are preparing to rewrite the operating rules of the river should plan now for how to handle these so-called “black swan” events so they’re not blindsided.

Drought and flood are not uncommon in the volatile Colorado River Basin, which drains 246,000 square miles covering parts of seven states. What’s changed, however, is the variability climate change brings to the Basin’s hydrology.

“There is the sense that we will see things that aren’t in the historical or paleo record and that’s disturbing because it means unprecedented types of events could occur that our systems aren’t designed for,” said Brad Udall, senior research scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute and a member of the Colorado River Research Group, a team of 10 veteran Colorado River scholars.

Brad Udall, senior research scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute and co-author of the “Thinking About Risk” report on “black swan” events in the Colorado River Basin. Source: Water Education Foundation

Udall co-authored the research group’s May publication, Thinking About Risk on the Colorado River. It says an optimum scientific and planning framework is needed to meet the “black swan.” Failing to account for megadroughts and catastrophic flooding “is both foolish and unnecessary.”

Colorado River water users by the end of 2020 will begin crucial renegotiations on the 2007 Interim Guidelines for shortage sharing and river operations that expire in 2026. Major water users in the Lower Basin say those new guidelines will include the likelihood of “black swan” events. They believe the past 20 years of adaptive management on the river have them well positioned to bear the brunt of the worst-case scenarios.

“The Colorado River is better prepared than any river in the nation, maybe even the world, because of our storage, for these extreme events,” said Bill Hasencamp, Colorado River Resources Program manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which pulls as much as 1.3 million acre-feet annually from its Colorado River Aqueduct. “If you ever wanted to prepare for megadrought and megaflows, the Colorado is in good shape there.”

Chuck Cullom, Colorado River Programs manager with the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which takes 1.5 million acre-feet annually from the river, said his agency prepares for a range of hydrologic scenarios. While unforeseen events have the potential to cause trouble, stakeholders in the Colorado River system are moving toward a more resiliency-based approach in their planning.

Chuck Cullom, Colorado River Programs manager with the Central Arizona Project, which takes 1.5 million acre-feet annually from the river. Source: Central Arizona Project

Triggers in existing guidelines for river operations require development of new tools if the risk of Lake Mead falling below critical elevations increases dramatically. Meanwhile, CAP is looking at a wider range of water supply scenarios to facilitate a rapid response to changing conditions, Cullom said.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Study said the median of the mean natural flow at Lee Ferry — the dividing point between the Colorado River’s Upper and Lower basins — could decrease by as much as 9 percent during the next 50 years, combined with a projected increase in drought frequency and duration.

Reclamation in 2005-2006 assessed the possibility of Lake Mead reaching critically low elevations through 2026 at about 5 percent. Using more recent information, including climate models, the risk was estimated to be as much as four to five times greater, said Terry Fulp, director of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, which oversees water and power operations along the lower Colorado River from Nevada and Arizona to the Mexican border.

Hoover Dam, straddling the border between Nevada and Arizona, holds back the waters of the Colorado River in Lake Mead. In 2016, Lake Mead declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

“The whole idea of risk in the easiest form to understand is probability times impact and cost,” he said. “Low-probability, high-impact events can be relatively high risk. The best example would be Lake Mead crashing.”

Water managers for years have dodged and weaved as the Colorado River system has thrown them constant hydrologic curveballs, pushing them to forge new agreements and water conservation measures. Hasencamp, who has served as Metropolitan’s Colorado River manager for 17 years, said the proof of success is that Lake Mead’s water elevation has not dropped to critically low levels that could jeopardize the water supply for more than 23 million people and 2.5 million acres of farmland.

Assessing Risks of Megaflood and Megadrought

Colorado River Basin stakeholders are familiar with drought, having endured a spate of dryness that has rewritten the historic record. Of the 15 driest years in the Upper Basin’s historic record, nine of those years have occurred since 2000, and three of the top five driest have occurred since 2002, according to the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Thinking About Risk notes that it’s unknown whether the current drought could be the beginning of a new megadrought or a result of the aridification trend associated with rising temperatures. Furthermore, there is the risk that natural variability could trigger megadroughts in the future.

“Megadroughts lasting as long as 50 years have occurred in the shared headwaters of the Colorado River and Rio Grande,” according to Udall’s group. “The odds of such extreme drought happening again only go up as the planet warms.”

During the 1983 Colorado River flood, described by some as an example of a “black swan” event, sheets of plywood (visible just above the steel barrier) were installed to prevent Glen Canyon Dam from overflowing. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

At the other extreme is flood. In late spring 1983, an epic-sized flood Udall described as a “black swan” event roared through the Basin, straining the capacity of Glen Canyon Dam to convey water fast enough (the force of the water tore apart portions of the spillway). A repeat of the flood today would be absorbed by ample reservoir storage space, but the question of spillway capability remains.

Udall pointed to the crisis that occurred in 2017 at Northern California’s Lake Oroville as proof of what can happen in a crunch. At Oroville, pounding flows from a torrential storm damaged the main and emergency spillways, prompting the evacuation of more than 180,000 downstream residents.

“The problem … is those [spillways] need to work perfectly when they are called upon, but they aren’t called upon very often,” he said.

Reclamation has expanded its research capacity regarding climate change and hydrology, but the range of the climate models is wide, Fulp said.

“Some models show no change in precipitation but changes in runoff due to temperature,” he said. “If you just look at the temperature increases and how that maps into what happens with the hydrology on the Colorado River, particularly at Lake Powell, there is a lot uncertainty in it.”

Hard Decisions Ahead

Anticipating “black swan” events requires a sharpened skill set that uses the latest science, Cullom said, adding that better near-term (1 to 5 years) forecasting is needed that incorporates climate signals such as El Niño. Current El Niño forecasting for Colorado River runoff “is only slightly better than using averages,” he said.

Colorado River Basin. Map credit: The Water Education Foundation

Metropolitan’s Hasencamp believes there is absolutely room for improving forecast data.

“That’s a question I’ve been asking for a long time,” he said. “What’s a good planning model, recognizing the next 20 years is a reasonable time frame for which to plan. What should we assume?”

Udall praised Metropolitan as having “probably the most diversified large-scale water system in the world.” He noted that Las Vegas’ water supply is in better shape after the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s recent $1 billion investment in a third, deeper intake to Lake Mead.

That said, hard decisions await Colorado River Basin stakeholders, including how to address the overallocation of the river’s water in the Lower Basin.

“You’ve got to solve the overuse problem in the Lower Basin and get ready for extended or unprecedented low flows,” Udall said. “We need to look at long-standing assumptions about how the river is managed, including Upper Basin delivery obligations [and] the reality there is not enough water for users in the Upper Basin to continue to export more water to cities like St. George [Utah] and Colorado’s Front Range.”

Terry Fulp, director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, which oversees water and power operations along the lower Colorado River to the Mexican border. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

CAP’s Cullom said management tools and operating regimes eventually will be tested to assess how well they address a range of futures including low-probability, high-impact events. However, until water managers and stakeholders develop a shared vision of the Colorado River system, proposing solutions “serves only to advocate for one approach against another.”

Reclamation’s Fulp said the legacy of cooperation and trust in the Basin is important as stakeholders prepare to hash out the details of future river management, including incorporating “black swans.” Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Research-to-Operations Program is using a variety of scientists on projects that address that very issue.

“We need to continue this research so that our knowledge is always increasing,” Fulp said. “By the time we get to where we are ready to start this renegotiation, we will be smarter than we are today.”

Halligan Water Supply Project Cost Update — @FCUtilities

Halligan Reservoir

Here’s the release from Fort Collins Utilities (Eileen Dornfest):

Fort Collins Utilities has updated the cost estimate for the Halligan Water Supply Project (Halligan Project). Based on information known at this time, current estimates indicate a probable cost of $120 million. However, costs could vary between $100 million to $150 million as the project scope and schedule are more clearly defined.

The project will be paid for primarily by fees related to new development and redevelopment. The updated cost is not expected to significantly change Utilities’ water rate forecast. Future rate increases are not expected to change from the current rate adjustment strategy.

To date, $19 million have been spent, mainly on environmental studies for both the Halligan Project and several other water storage alternatives that have been considered as part of the federal permitting process and on real estate acquisition.

While the cost of water continues to rise in Northern Colorado, the Halligan Project remains the most cost-effective alternative to provide a safe and reliable water supply for Utilities’ existing and future customers. Other water supply options available to the City of Fort Collins cost seven times or more per acre-foot (approximately 326,000 gallons) of firm yield.

Without the Halligan Reservoir expansion, customers could be vulnerable to future service interruptions during prolonged drought and emergency situations.

Since entering the federal permitting process in 2006, project costs have been updated periodically. The last estimate was developed in 2017 and indicated a total cost of $75 million. Since then, Utilities has learned more about the future schedule and cost of federal, state and county permitting processes; real estate acquisition needs; evolving best practices in dam design and construction; and opportunities for environmental enhancements. Additionally, the cost increases $4 million for every year that construction is delayed due to permitting or other circumstances.

In the past, the estimate was presented as one value – a best approximation of total project costs. In the future, the cost will be presented as a range of costs to reflect the evolving nature of a project of this size and complexity.

Expected to be completed around 2026, the project will raise the height of the existing Halligan dam by 25 feet and increase the reservoir’s water storage by approximately 8,100 acre-feet. In addition to providing a safe, reliable water supply, the project will rehabilitate a 110-year-old dam that will need repairs in the future and enhance stream flows downstream of the reservoir, improving habitat and the ecosystem.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement is anticipated to be released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later this year, followed by a public comment period.

To learn more about the Halligan Project, visit http://fcgov.com/halligan, email halligan@fcgov.com or call 970-416-4296 or V/TDD 711.

How giving legal rights to nature could help reduce toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie — The Conversation

Lake Erie algae bloom July 30, 2019. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

From The Conversation (Dana Zartner):

August and September are peak months for harmful blooms of algae in western Lake Erie. This year’s outbreak covered more than 620 square miles by mid-August. These blooms, which can kill fish and pets and threaten public health, are driven mainly by agricultural pollution and increasingly warm waters due to climate change.

Advocates are looking for new ways to combat this problem. On February 26, 2019, Toledo citizens passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, which gives the lake the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve” and awards citizens the right to a “clean and healthy environment.” They join a growing movement – referred to as “Rights of Nature” – providing legal personhood to natural entities.

Lake Erie harmful algal bloom forecasts since 2002. NOAA

In theory, this action could make it possible to hold corporations and governments liable for polluting the lake. But while the concept is finding support abroad, it faces hurdles in the U.S. The Lake Erie law was immediately challenged in court by an Ohio farm and has yet to take effect.

My work focuses on international and comparative law related to environmental justice and human rights. I recently spent time in New Zealand researching the impacts of a 2017 law giving the Whanganui River its own legal identity. What I saw there convinced me that providing legal standing to a natural entity is a viable method of environmental protection. In my view, however, the processes that advocates use to enact Rights of Nature law critically influence whether these efforts will succeed.

A new conservation strategy

Rights of Nature laws generally are designed to improve environmental protection and encourage people to rethink their relationship to the environment. Instead of viewing nature as a commodity that exists for humans to use, and abuse, these statutes consider nature as important for its own sake.

Measures awarding legal status to nature have been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, New Zealand and Bangladesh, and by several Native American nations, including the Ho Chunk and White Earth. Other efforts are underway across the country, including in Oklahoma and Oregon.

Maumee Bay Brewing Co. in Toledo, Ohio is making green, murky beer to draw attention to Lake Erie’s algae problems. AP Photo/John Seewer via The Conversation

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is the latest phase of citizen-led efforts to address chronic nutrient pollution and the resulting dangerous algae blooms. In 2018 Toledoans for Safe Water collected enough signatures for the Lake Erie Bill of Rights to appear on the ballot.

Local politicians and farmers opposed the measure, but it passed with 61% of the vote, although only 8.9% of eligible voters participated. A day later, Drewes Farm Partnership of Ohio filed a lawsuit arguing that it was unconstitutional. While the city of Toledo has taken up defense of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, the state of Ohio is siding with Drewes Farm.

Learning from Te Awa Tupua

How effective are Rights of Nature laws elsewhere? One of the most detailed examples is the 2017 Whanganui River Settlement Agreement, which resulted from years of negotiations between the Maori and New Zealand’s government. Known by its Maori name, Te Awa Tupua, it recognizes legal personhood for the Whanganui, the country’s third-longest river.

The Whanganui is a major river on the North Island of New Zealand. Dana Zartner, CC BY-ND via The Conversation

The Whanganui has been an important source of food and transportation for centuries, and has great spiritual importance for the Maori, who view it as a living being. Te Awa Tupua recognizes that the river possesses all the “rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.” The Whanganui is represented by two Guardians, known as Te Pou Tupua, who are jointly appointed by the national government and local Maori.

Under the law, any activity that might affect the river must go through a consultation process and receive approval from Te Pou Tupua. One early test occurred in March 2019, when construction of a new bike bridge over the river was halted so that the required consultations could take place. Bigger issues will arise in the future, particularly in regards to renewal of concessions for energy companies diverting portions of the river for power generation.

(The local Maori tribe of Whanganui fought for recognition of their river as an ancestor for 140 years.)

Lake Erie and the law

Unlike Te Awa Tupua, the Lake Erie law does not include much detail regarding its requirements or specific mechanisms to guide implementation. Ultimately courts may strike the measure down based on these omissions and potential conflicts with state and federal regulations.

Lake Erie is governed by treaty law between the U.S. and Canada, so the Drewes Farm lawsuit asserts that the Bill of Rights infringes upon U.S. government authority. Similarly, because the lake touches four U.S. states, the lawsuit argues that any new law related to Lake Erie should be adopted by states, not individual cities.

Drewes Farm also claims that the Bill of Rights violates its 14th Amendment rights to equal protection, since the law mentions only corporations and governments, and conflicts with Fifth Amendment prohibitions on law that is too vague.

On July 22, 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a budget bill which includes a provision stating that “Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate in or bring an action in any court.” The bill creates a new fund called H2Ohio, purportedly to provide US$172 million to address pollution in Lake Erie, but critics want more proactive measures.

But I believe that it is still worth trying, and that passage of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights is significant, even if it is ultimately struck down. Widespread coverage of the issue has already increased awareness of the idea of legal personhood for nature in the U.S.

I see learning from the negotiation and implementation of more developed Rights of Nature laws like Te Awa Tupua as the next step. As measures like this become more common, a new view of our relationship to nature may develop. I expect that recognizing the legal standing of natural entities will become a significant legal tool in the fight for better environmental protections, including addressing toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie.

From NASA Earth:

In July 2019, a severe bloom of blue-green algae began spreading across the western half of Lake Erie. The dominant organism—a Microcystis cyanobacteria—produces the toxin microcystin, which can cause liver damage, numbness, dizziness, and vomiting. On July 29, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported unsafe toxin concentrations in Lake Erie and have since advised people (and their pets) to stay away from areas where scum is forming on the water surface.

This image shows the bloom on July 30, 2019, as observed by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite. Green patches show where the bloom was most dense and where toxicity levels were unsafe for recreational activities. Around the time of this image, the bloom covered about 300 square miles of Lake Erie’s surface, according to news reports; by August 13, the algae had spread across 620 square miles.

While blooms in Lake Erie are a regular occurrence in the summer, NOAA researchers forecasted that 2019 could bring some of the most abundant blooms in recent years.

Bloom conditions this year were influenced by calm winds and rainfall. Calm winds in July allowed algal toxins to accumulate at the surface (instead of being dispersed). Strong winds in August have since mixed some surface algae to deeper depths. Heavy rains carry excess nutrients (often fertilizer) from farms into the lake. However, such nutrient runoff may have been less than anticipated this year because heavy spring rains and flooding prevented many farmers from planting crops.

NOAA researchers will continue to monitor the bloom, producing weekly bulletins of the location and concentration of algae growth and predictions about where it is headed. The team integrates several data sets, including NASA’s MODIS-derived cyanobacteria index, NOAA water temperature measurements, and wind conditions. NOAA will also collect and process water samples with an unmanned underwater vehicle.

The public can stay informed about harmful algal blooms using a new mobile app that sends alerts when harmful algal bloom may be forming. The app relies on satellite observations of changes in the color of the water.

@EPA: Mine spilling waste into Animas River returns to normal — The Durango Herald

From the San Juan County Sheriff’s office via The Durango Herald:

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it would continue to monitor a mine that spilled wastewater into the Animas River and added sampling results should be available next week.

Crews with the Bureau of Land Management notified the EPA on Wednesday night the Silver Wing Mine, north of Eureka, was releasing mine wastewater into the Animas River, discoloring the waterway.

The mine is in the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund, but the EPA has not begun cleanup work there, agency officials said. The Silver Wing Mine historically has discharged wastewater, but the spill is thought to have released more wastewater than normal.

Andrew Mutter, a spokesman for the EPA, said field crews that visited the site Thursday reported the discharge flow rate from the Silver Wing Mine was similar to past flow rates and the water in the Animas River downstream of the Silver Wing was running clear.

Sliver Wing Mine: Photo credit: San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad

@CWCB_DNR: The latest “Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Leaders Across the 9 Colorado Basins Collaborate on Water Plan in Winter Park

On September 25 – 26, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) hosted a statewide summit of Colorado’s nine basin roundtables (the C-9 Summit) at the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, which brought together over 200 water stakeholders to discuss the process for updating each basins’ implementation plans and, ultimately, the Colorado Water Plan.

CWCB recently released the Analysis and Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan (Technical Update), which includes state of the art approaches to analyzing state water needs and includes impacts from climate change. The C-9 Summit provided a forum for sharing Technical Update findings and highlighting key goals for the upcoming Basin Implementation Plans.

Prior to the panel presentations and discussions, the CWCB organized three water project tours for attendees, which featured Fraser River enhancements, watershed health research in the Experimental Forest, and an innovative education and outreach exhibit called the Headwaters Center River Journey.

Additionally, the C-9 Summit served as a platform to present Basin Water Hero Awards to peer-nominated individuals who have shown continued commitment for water initiatives in their basins. Congratulations to the following winners:

Arkansas: Chelsey Nutter, Colorado: Paul Bruchez, Gunnison: Julie Nania, Metro: Emily Hunt, North Platte: Kent Crowder, Rio Grande: Emma Reesor, South Platte: Mike Shimmin, Southwest: Mike Preston, Yampa-White-Green: Jackie Brown

The world needs a massive #carbontax in just 10 years to limit #climatechange, IMF says — The Washington Post

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., argued in a recent op-ed that fossil fuels, like the coal processed at this Wyoming plant, will continue to power the world for decades, and that the solution to climate change is “investment, invention and innovation,” not regulation. Photo credit: BLM Wyoming

From The Washington Post (Chris Mooney and Andrew Freedman):

The international organization suggests a cost of $75 per ton by 2030.

The group found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), or roughly double what it is now. That would greatly increase the price of fossil-fuel-based energy — especially from the burning of coal — but the economic disruption could be offset by routing the money raised straight back to citizens…

The IMF report comes out as financial institutions increasingly grapple with the risks associated with climate change, including damage from sea-level rise, extreme weather events and billions in fossil fuel reserves that might be in excess of what can be burned while also limiting warming. The Federal Reserve, for example, is taking a closer look at how climate change may pose a risk to economic stability.

In the United States, a $75 tax would cut emissions by nearly 30 percent but would cause on average a 53 percent increase in electricity costs and a 20 percent rise for gasoline at projected 2030 prices, the analysis in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor found.
But it would also generate revenue equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product, an enormous amount of money that could be redistributed and, if spread equally, would end up being a fiscally progressive policy, rather than one disproportionately targeting the poor.

The impact of a $75-per-ton tax would also hit countries differently depending on burning or exporting coal, which produces the most carbon emissions per unit of energy generated when it is burned.

In developing nations such as China, India and South Africa, a $75 carbon tax reduces emissions even more — by as much as 45 percent — and generates proportionately more revenue, as high as 3.5 percent of GDP in South Africa’s case, the IMF found.

The idea of making it expensive to produce greenhouse gas emissions is hardly new, and has been widely embraced by economists despite the immense political difficulties involved in imposing such taxes…

But several experts said that the IMF stance was important even as they noted that the carbon price may need to be a lot higher, rendering an already gigantic lift even more difficult.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly #Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment from the Colorado Climate Center NIDIS webpage. Here’s the summary:

Summary: October 8, 2019

Last week for the Intermountain West region was dry with the exception of northern Wyoming and much of New Mexico. Northern Wyoming saw up to 1″ in most areas except for a dry spot in Big Horn and Park counties. New Mexico saw some widespread precipitation, with amounts ranging from 0.5″ up to 6″+, mainly in the southeastern part of the state. Because of varying topography, there is a lot of variation with precipitation amounts, but overall the precipitation was widespread. Northwest New Mexico missed out on the precipitation along with the rest of the region, with precipitation amounts less than 0.10″ through most of the region.

Despite the dryness, temperatures were near to below average for the northern and western part of the IMW region. Southern Colorado and all of New Mexico saw above average temperatures. This was a nice change from the past few months which saw much above normal temperatures with Colorado and New Mexico seeing the warmest September on record.

The warm dry weather has made an impact on ranching in much of southern Utah where water supplies are limited. Most of southwestern Colorado, having ample water supplies from a great runoff, haven’t see as bad of impacts thanks much of the area being irrigated. That said, SPIs in the area out to 4 months are showing D3 and D4 levels. Even with the west spring, this brings expansion of drought conditions.

Warm and dry weather has also impacted eastern Colorado, zapping the moisture in the soil making planting winter wheat difficult. Folks in southeast Colorado are hoping for a nice shot of precipitation before winter arrives. These impacts thanks to the dryness will bring some additional D0 expansion.

Streamflows in the UCRB are starting to show the dryness of late with an increasing number of streamgages showing below normal flows. The driest of the gages are showing up in the headwaters of the Colorado River. The Basin as a whole is still in good shape with the key gages seeing flows in the normal region.