With 3 months left, 2020 could rank among three-warmest years on record for globe
Unprecedented heat around the world vaulted September 2020 to the hottest September since 1880, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
The month’s warmth also contributed to 2020’s trend as a remarkably hot year, with the year-to-date global temperatures running second highest in the 141-year climate record.
Below are more facts and stats from NOAA’s latest monthly global climate report:
Climate by the numbers
The average global temperature in September was 1.75 degrees F — 0.97 of a degree C — above the 20th-century average of 59.0 degrees F (15.0 degrees C).
This surpasses the average global temperatures for both September 2015 and 2016 by 0.04 of a degree F (0.02 of a degree C), which previously tied for the hottest Septembers on record.
The 10-warmest Septembers have all occurred since 2005, with the seven-warmest Septembers occurring in the last seven years.
The year to date | January through September 2020
The year-to-date (YTD) average global temperature was the second hottest on record at 1.84 degrees F (1.02 degrees C) above the 20th-century average. This is only 0.07 of a degree F (0.04 of a degree C) shy of the record set for the same YTD in 2016.
The Northern Hemisphere’s YTD temperature tied with 2016 as the hottest on record, while the Southern Hemisphere saw its fourth hottest YTD.
Arctic sea ice was at near-record lows: Average Arctic sea ice coverage (extent) for September ranked second smallest on record. On September 15, sea ice covered just 1.44 million square miles of the Arctic, the second-smallest minimum extent on record behind September 17, 2012. The 14 smallest minimum annual extents have occurred in the last 14 years.
A record-hot YTD so far for some: Europe, Asia and the Gulf of Mexico had their warmest January-through-September period on record; South America and the Caribbean region had their second highest. No land or ocean areas had record-cold YTD temperatures.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today a new initiative to increase public safety around low head dams which have caused a number of accidents and fatalities on Colorado rivers in recent years. The effort includes new and planned signage around targeted low head dam sites, emergency responder education, public outreach and partnerships with private and non-profit organizations, local municipalities, and landowners and the launch of a new interactive map and webpage on DNR’s website: https://dnr.colorado.gov/colorado-low-head-dams
“DNR’s low head dam initiative is a positive step to increase public safety and awareness around low head dams across Colorado,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Colorado has seen an increase in outdoor recreation in recent years, particularly on our rivers and streams, but this has also led to tragic fatalities on some of our low head dam structures. These fatal accidents are avoidable and are a strong motivation for our Department to increase our public outreach and education initiatives. While some of our efforts are already underway, we know we need to do more to educate Coloradans to reduce these unfortunate accidents and ensure all Coloradans can safely recreate in our great outdoors.”
Low head dams are engineered structures built into and across Colorado’s stream and river channels for a variety of purposes, including to divert water from streams for agricultural purposes, protect stream channels from degradation and provide recreational amenities.
Low head dams, sometimes referred to as the quintessential “drowning machines,” can be dangerous because water flowing over dams produces recirculating currents that can trap recreators. Rafters, kayakers and those floating our rivers for recreation are often unaware of these structures and the dangers resulting from them.
Low head dams can be difficult to detect by river users approaching from upstream due to their height, and the fact that the relatively tranquil pool they create provides no indication of the dangers just beyond the visual horizon created by the dam and ponded water. This can limit reaction time and boaters’ ability to exit the river upstream of the dam.
“I appreciate the work being done by the Department of Natural Resources to address public safety at low head dams. Colorado rivers and streams are an enormous amenity for both water enthusiasts and fishermen,” said Ruth Wright, former Colorado legislator, public safety advocate and founder of Wright Family Foundation. “The low head dam initiative will provide valuable information to the public to help to prevent tragic and needless harm from the dangerous hydraulics of low head dams.”
Several high profile incidents in Colorado in recent years, including 4 fatalities, and 13 since 1986 point to the need for increased education and outreach efforts as well as closer coordination with local emergency responders. The average ages of those involved with low head dam-related incidents are between 13 and 30 years of age. DNR and a private ditch company recently installed warning signs at a low head diversion dam on the South Platte River adjacent to the Jean K. Tool State Wildlife Area. This diversion dam between Ft Morgan and Brush is the site of unfortunate drowning fatalities in 2016 and 2019.
“The Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA) is proud to work alongside the Department of Natural Resources and the water community at large through this initiative,” remarked Amber Weber, DARCA Executive Director. “Some of DARCA’s members have been touched by the loss of life due to a low head dam structure, and irrigators know the dangers a low head dam has. DARCA is glad to take part in this effort as agriculturalists join with recreationalists to make our waters safe to traverse.”
In response to these incidents, the DNR formed the Colorado Low Head Dam Safety Steering Committee to address safety issues around low head dams. The team of experts included; Colorado Water Conservation Board, Division of Water Resources – Dam Safety Branch, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Mile High Flood District, and Wright Water Engineers. The Steering Committee oversaw the inventory study of Colorado low head dam sites, which identified and digitized the locations of diversion, grade control, and recreational structures across Colorado.
The Low Head Dam webpage on DNR’s website includes an interactive map produced from the inventory study enabling Coloradans to research and locate potential low head dam structures before embarking on trips down their favorite river or stream. The webpage includes additional resources on low head dams, links to partner organizations, and a feedback form for Coloradans to help identify missed features on Colorado Rivers which could be included on the interactive low head dam map.
“American Whitewater has been pleased to partner with DNR on this low head dam inventory project. Safe enjoyment of our nation’s rivers is central to our mission,” said Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies Stewardship Director, American Whitewater. “We hope to integrate the data into our web based national whitewater inventory to help river users plan for and avoid these hazards. We are hoping to help crowdsource information to prioritize low head structures and to find solutions to improve their safety.”
DNR’s low head dam outreach initiative is funded in part from a $31,250 Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Water Plan grant, matched with $20,000 from FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program state assistance grant and $15,000 of in-kind services from Wright Water Engineers, and a generous $20,000 donation from the Wright Family Foundation for additional signage. These donations will help future efforts including ongoing public education, increased outreach during spring months, when the Colorado recreation water season is in full swing, installation of warning signage both above and below highly visited low head dam structures, and additional outreach and education for emergency responders.
La Niña’s reign continues in the tropical Pacific, with an approximately 85% chance of lasting through the winter. Forecasters currently think this La Niña will be on the stronger side.
Let’s check in with the tropical Pacific
The temperature of the ocean surface in the Niño3.4 region was about 0.8°C cooler than the 1986–2015 average, according to the ERSSTv5 dataset. We monitor the Niño3.4 index with a few different temperature datasets—more on that here—but they are all comfortably below the La Niña threshold of -0.5°C. The three-month-average Niño3.4 index, called the Oceanic Niño Index (remember this for later!) was -0.6°C. The Oceanic Niño Index is our primary metric for the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, aka ENSO, the whole El Niño/La Niña ocean/atmosphere system.
The atmosphere is responding to La Niña’s cooler-than-average ocean surface. A strengthened Walker circulation is what we expect with La Niña conditions, and it’s what we have: air rising vigorously over the very warm western Pacific, traveling eastward high up in the atmosphere, sinking over the cooler central-eastern Pacific, and traveling back westward near the surface.
Near-surface winds along the tropical Pacific (the trade winds) were stronger than average through the month of September and into early October, as were upper-level winds over the east-central Pacific. The two indexes we use to measure the change in sea-level pressure between the western and eastern Pacific, the Southern Oscillation Index and the Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index were positive, indicating the presence of more rising air (lower surface pressure) over the west and more sinking air (higher surface pressure) over the east—more evidence of an enhanced Walker circulation.
What’s on deck
Most of the dynamical computer model forecasts predict that La Niña will last through the winter and diminish in the spring. Also, there remains a substantial amount of cooler-than-average water under the surface of the central-eastern Pacific. This will provide a source of cooler water for the surface, giving confidence to the forecast that La Niña will continue.
Several computer models are predicting the Oceanic Niño Index will be, at its peak in November–January, more than 1.0°C cooler than the long-term average. We don’t have specific strength definitions for ENSO, but generally, a deviation of more than 1.0°C (1.8°F) from the long-term mean is considered a moderate-to-strong event. Stronger ENSO events don’t necessarily increase the strength of global weather and climate impacts, but they do increase the likelihood that those impacts will occur.
Speaking of impacts…
The altered atmospheric circulation of ENSO affects global weather (here’s how that works in general and La Niña in specific). Since ENSO can be predicted months ahead of time, a lot of research has gone into understanding the patterns of ENSO’s global weather impacts. The idea is that if we can predict ENSO, we can get an early picture of what global weather could look like months into the future.
A recent study by some of our colleagues at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), led by Nathan Lenssen, carefully re-assessed global precipitation (rain, snow, etc.) patterns during ENSO events. They looked at La Niña and El Niño impacts separately, because the impacts are not always opposite. Meaning, although El Niño may be related to a wet winter in one location, La Niña doesn’t necessarily mean a dry winter in that location.
Their study included every ENSO event from 1951–2016 where the peak strength, represented by the Oceanic Niño Index, was at least 1.0°C (for El Niño) or -1.0°C (for La Niña). This excludes weak or borderline ENSO events, when the atmospheric changes are not as consistent.
Nathan’s team assembled this map, which may look familiar to ENSO Blog readers. While maps like these are very important for an overview of La Niña’s impacts, some people may need more information about how often the impacts occurred during past La Niña events. Fortunately, the IRI team has made this information available. You can select the three-month period, El Niño or La Niña, and above/below average precipitation, and the map will show you how often this impact has occurred. For example, 70% of past La Niña winters in Florida were drier than average. Warning—that maproom can be quite a time sink!
Turning impacts maps—either the one shown above, or probabilistic ones like on the IRI site—into an actual forecast can be a complicated process. (The second half of the IRI study assessed the accuracy of a few different forecasts based on ENSO impacts maps.) Official climate outlooks, like those from the Climate Prediction Center, take into consideration ENSO impacts, computer model forecasts, and knowledge of other climate patterns.
One thing you can be sure about is that we’ll be right here, keeping you posted on La Niña 2020/21 as it evolves! Well, I might be in the IRI maproom.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado River District works across • The Lower Gunnison Project near Montrose,
the West Slope to improve infrastructure and restore rivers as part of its work to protect water supplies for all stakeholders.
During the District’s Annual Water Seminar: Zooming in on West Slope Water on Sept. 22, speakers highlighted three projects that with the help of many partners, advance the District’s mission to protect Western Colorado’s water security.
• The Elkhead Reservoir expansion near Hayden and Craig, completed in 2006, provides water for irrigators and the power industry while ensuring water is available to maintain river flow for endangered fish in the lower Yampa River.
• The Lower Gunnison Project near Montrose Delta and Hotchkiss, is a multi-benefit project spearheaded by the District to modernize irrigation delivery systems.
• The Windy Gap Bypass Channel Project in Grand County, still on the drawing board, will modify Windy Gap Reservoir to re- create a Colorado River channel and nearby flood plain.
Click here to go to the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard (scroll down for the latest briefing):
Water Year 2020 Summary (UT, WY, CO)
The 2020 water year was characterized by drier conditions and lower runoff than the drought-busting, high snowfall year that preceded. High 2019 seasonal runoff volumes left regional reservoir storage above average; reservoir storage at the beginning of the 2020 water year was 109% of average in Colorado, 127% of average in Utah and above average in Wyoming. Despite high snowfall and above average precipitation in the 2019 water year, June – September precipitation was much below average for most of the region. This left regional soil moisture values much below normal at the beginning of the 2020 water year Western US Seasonal Precipitation. In northern Utah and the Upper Green River basin in Wyoming, soils were wetter than other locations, but still below average. Soil moisture values in southern Utah and western Colorado were much below average (<25th percentile).
Total precipitation for the 2020 water year was below normal with much of the region seeing less than 70% of normal precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Western Wyoming was the one location in the region that received near-normal precipitation. Water year average temperatures were a mix of slightly-above and slightly-below normal Western US Seasonal Precipitation. In Wyoming, temperatures were 1-3°F below normal, while temperatures in much of Colorado were with 1°F of normal. Along the Wasatch Front and in central Utah, temperatures were 1-2°F above normal. Significant snowfall began during October in portions of the Colorado Rockies; accumulating snows for the remainder of the region began in November when much of the region, especially southern Utah, received much-above average snowfall. By April 1st, 2020, snow water equivalent (SWE) was near normal for most SNOTEL sites in the region Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Central and northern Colorado saw the greatest regional snowfall where many sites had 125 – 150% of average SWE on April 1st.
On April 1st, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center forecasted near normal seasonal runoff volumes for the Upper Colorado, Upper Green, Bear, Yampa and White Rivers Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Other locations in the Great and Upper Colorado River basins were forecasted to see below normal runoff (60-90% average). As of April 1st, seasonal runoff forecasts were lower relative to average compared to SWE values. For example, SNOTEL sites along the Upper Colorado River were 125-150% of average on April 1st, but the seasonal runoff volume was forecasted at 90-110% of normal. This is referred to as an inefficient runoff, where above normal SWE does not translate into above normal runoff. The forecast of a relatively inefficient runoff in 2020 was in part caused by very low soil moisture values before snow began to accumulate in October – November 2019. Seasonal runoff volumes in 2020 turned out to be much lower than originally forecasted in April. The June 2020 water supply outlook, which is very close to the actual seasonal runoff volume, forecasted below to much-below normal runoff for the Great and Upper Colorado River basins Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Except for the Mainstem Colorado, Upper Green and Yampa River basins, seasonal runoff volumes in the Upper Colorado River and Great Basins were less than 60% of normal.
The dramatic change in seasonal runoff forecasts from April to June 2020 was caused by extremely warm and dry conditions in April – June 2020. Snow typically continues to accumulate at the higher elevations in April and May, but in 2020, warm and dry conditions melted existing snowpack at a faster rate and little additional snow accumulated in the region after April 1st. Dry conditions continued through the remainder of the water year. Much of Utah and portions of western Colorado and central Wyoming saw the driest April – September period on record Western US Seasonal Precipitation. April – September 2020 precipitation was in the bottom 10% of years for nearly all of Colorado and Utah and over half of Wyoming. Although temperatures averaged over the entire 2020 water year were generally near average, April – September 2020 temperatures were much above normal (hottest 10% of years since 1895) for most of Utah and the western two-thirds of Colorado.
The combination of low water-year precipitation and much above average temperatures since April caused a significant expansion and intensification of drought in the second half of the water year. On October 1st 2019, drought conditions covered only a portion of southern Utah and southwestern Colorado, with D0 conditions covering additional area in eastern Utah, southwestern Wyoming and Colorado. By the end of the 2020 water year, the entire region was under drought conditions (>D1) except for a small portion of northern Wyoming Western US Seasonal Precipitation. As of October 6th, 2020, D3 drought covers 46% of the three state region and D4 drought covers 10% of the region. Over the last 20 years of US Drought Monitor data, the current drought is one of the worst on record, in terms of regional coverage and severity. Current drought conditions are slightly more severe than in October of 2012 and 2018, but not as severe as the 2002 drought. In October 2002, D3 drought covered 63% of the region and D4 drought covered 19% of the region.
Latest Briefing – October 13, 2020 (UT, WY, CO)
Continued below average precipitation during September caused further worsening of drought conditions; extreme (D3) drought covers 46% and exceptional drought covers 10% (D4) of the region. Entering the 2021 water year, the current regional drought ranks among the worst in the last 20 years (2002, 2012, 2018). La Niña conditions currently exist and there is a 70-80% probability of La Niña conditions persisting through early winter. Drought conditions are expected to persist and potentially worsen as there is an elevated probability for below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures for the next three months.
Most of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming experienced below average precipitation during September Western US Seasonal Precipitation. The driest conditions occurred in Utah, where nearly the entire state received less than 25% of normal precipitation. September precipitation in Wyoming was below average with the driest conditions found in southern and western Wyoming. In Colorado, September precipitation ranged from near-average to much-below average. Isolated storms brought average to slightly-above average precipitation to several locations in central Wyoming and southern and eastern Colorado. Precipitation during July – September was very low;. July – September 2020 was the driest on record for areas of eastern Utah, northwestern Colorado and central Wyoming Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Precipitation was much below normal (driest 10% of years since 1895) for nearly the entire region.
Temperatures cooled relative to normal in September compared to previous months Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Except for a few isolated locations, September temperatures were within two degrees of normal in Colorado and Wyoming, and in eastern Utah and parts of central Utah. Along the Wasatch Front and in southwestern Utah, September temperatures were 2-4 degrees above normal. Temperatures during July – September were generally much above average, with most of Utah, Colorado and western Wyoming seeing temperatures that were in the top 10% of hottest July – September periods since 1895. Several locations in all three states, especially in southern Utah, saw the hottest July – Septembers on record Western US Seasonal Precipitation.
Streamflow in most regional river basins was below normal during September. Utah and western Colorado saw the lowest regional streamflow with most sites reporting below average (10 – 25th percentile) or much-below average (< 10th percentile) conditions. Some locations in northern Utah and along the mainstem of the Colorado and Arkansas Rivers saw near-normal (25th - 75th percentile) streamflow. Streamflow in Wyoming was a mix of below and near normal conditions during September. Regional reservoir storage remains relatively high as of October 1st, despite drought conditions across the entire region and low water year precipitation. On a statewide basis, reservoirs are at 82% of normal capacity in Colorado, 107% of normal capacity in Utah and generally above average capacity in Wyoming. Storage on large reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin remains variable with Flaming Gorge Reservoir relatively full (85% capacity, 99% of average), Blue Mesa Reservoir below normal (53% capacity, 76% of average) and Lake Powell half-empty (47% capacity, 62% of average).
Drought conditions worsened in parts of Colorado and Utah during September. Some improvement to drought conditions occurred in western Wyoming and eastern Colorado Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Colorado saw the greatest regional degradation in drought conditions during September; D4 drought emerged in western Colorado and D3 drought expanded slightly. Nearly all of Colorado is in D1 drought, 43% of the state is in D3, or extreme drought, and 17% of the state is in D4, or exceptional drought. A one category improvement in drought conditions occurred in some areas of eastern Colorado. In Utah, D4 drought expanded significantly in central Utah and two areas of D4 drought emerged in eastern Utah. D4 drought now covers 16% of Utah. D3 drought expanded northward slightly and a one category improvement in drought conditions occurred in northern Utah. Drought conditions in much of Wyoming remain unchanged, but a one category improvement in drought occurred in western Wyoming. Northwestern Wyoming remains the only portion of the region unaffected by drought.
A major wildfire started in the Medicine Bow Mountains of southwestern Wyoming on September 17th. As of October 8th, the Mullen Fire burned 170, 996 acres in Wyoming and Colorado and was 14% contained. In August, the Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction, CO burned 151,000 acres, making it the largest fire in Colorado’s history.
During September, sea surface temperatures were below average in the eastern Pacific Ocean, indicating La Niña conditions. Most models for Pacific Ocean temperatures forecast below normal ocean temperatures during fall and early winter Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Early October ENSO forecasts predict a 90% probability of La Niña conditions through early winter and above a 60% probability of La Niña conditions through late winter to early spring Western US Seasonal Precipitation. On the one-month timescale, there is an increased probability for below normal precipitation for the entire region, with a greater chance of reduced precipitation in the eastern portion of the region Western US Seasonal Precipitation. On the three-month timescale, there is a slight increase in the probability of below normal precipitation for the southern half of Utah and most of Colorado, largely due to the influence of La Niña conditions Western US Seasonal Precipitation. On one-month and three-month timescales, there is an increased probability of above average temperatures for the entire region.
Significant September weather event. On September 8th, a strong upper-level low pressure system brought a sharp cold front to the region, which caused extremely cold temperatures, snow and high winds from the Front Range of Colorado to the Wasatch Front and further west into Oregon and Washington. Prior to the storm, much of the region experienced record to near-record temperatures in the 90s and low 100s. On September 8th, Denver, CO reported 1” of snow, the second earliest snowfall and a record low temperature of 31°F. Up to 9” of snow fell in the foothills of the Front Range and 5.6” of snow was measured in Boulder. In Wyoming, as much as 12” of snow fell in Centennial and a record 1.1” of snow fell in Cheyenne which tied the earliest snowfall for Cheyenne. Along the Wasatch Front, the storm caused a significant downslope wind event, in which winds blow from the east and accelerate as they travel down the western slope of the Wasatch Mountains. Wind gusts reached 89 mph at the University of Utah and 77 mph at the airport in Salt Lake City. The highest recorded wind speed was 99 mph in Farmington. This wind event differed from many Wasatch Front downslope wind events because the high winds extended much further west from the mountains than is typical. The storm downed thousands of mature trees, damaged powerlines and structures, closed roads and caused power outages for 180,000 customers. Strong easterly winds also occurred on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington and led to the explosive growth of several large wildfires.
The Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association recently recognized the Ute Water Conservancy District Treatment Plant with an award for its work.
The award was the 2020 Outstanding Water Treatment Plant Award for utilities serving over 50,000 customers and is based on a number of factors including water quality, maintenance, professionalism and safety.
Ute Water Process Control Technician Tony Ibarra nominated the plant for the award and said he was glad to see the work of the staff recognized. He said they have worked to continuously improve plant operations through facility upgrades, as well as staff training and certification…
The Ute Water Treatment Plant has undergone facility improvements in recent years including pump station rehabilitations, pre-treatment facility upgrades, filter improvements and a motor control center replacement, among others, according to a news release.
Treatment Plant Superintendent Ben Hoffman said he was happy to receive the recognition and noted that previous winners included larger Front Range districts. He said, typically, water districts make the news for negative reasons, but that he was happy to have something positive to share.
FromThe Fort Lewis College Independent (Jackson Zinsmeyer):
On July 31, 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado, lightning struck starting what would become Colorado’s largest wildfire at 139,000 acres burnt.
According to the Incident Information System, Inciweb, the fire is 95% contained as of Sept. 11.
Despite being nearly four hours away from Durango, this fire, as well as the many other fires in Colorado such as the Cameron Peak and Glenwood Springs fires, will impact Durango’s community and environment as the fires continue to burn.
Much like the 416 fire Durango experienced just over two years ago, the Glenwood Springs fire is burning into the watersheds suffocating fish and river-life, Dr. Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center and instructor of geosciences at Fort Lewis College said.
“Sixty percent of fish in the Animas river were killed from sediment caused by short, high intensity fires,” Richard said.
Forest fires have the ability to decimate crucial parts of an ecosystem by destroying animal habitats, driving animals into nearby cities and towns and destroying natural sources of food for these animals making it harder for them to return to nature, Dr. Jared Beeton, assistant professor of environmental studies at Fort Lewis College, said.
The fires taking place in Colorado are likely to displace animals throughout the state, Beeton said.
These displaced animals will come into cities looking for shelter, food and water, and as long as these animals are left alone, no issues should be caused by them, he said.
Richard notes that in 2002, during the Hayman Fire, former Gov. Bill Owens said, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning today.” Many tourists were afraid to travel into Colorado because of this statement, Richard said.
Richard said the Durango train and the San Juan National Forest were closed because of fire hazards during the 416 fire.
The closure of the forest and train were seen by tourists as a reason not to travel into Durango and Colorado as a whole, making it difficult for many small businesses that rely on tourism, Richard said.
The fires that are burning around the state of Colorado will continue to impact the communities, wildlife, and business’ for years to come as the state and cities recover from the price of fighting fires, Richard said.
Our descendants own the future, but the decisions and actions we make now will tremendously impact generations to come, says philosopher Roman Krznaric. From a global campaign to grant legal personhood to nature to a groundbreaking lawsuit by a coalition of young activists, Krznaric shares examples of ways we can become good ancestors — or, as he calls them, “Time Rebels” — and join a movement redefining lifespans, pursuing intergenerational justice and practicing deep love for the planet.
For September, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 66.0°F, 1.1°F above the 20th-century average, ranking in the warmest one-third of the 126-year period of record. For the year-to-date, the contiguous U.S. temperature was 57.3°F, 2.3°F above the 20th-century average, ranking sixth warmest in the January-September record.
The September precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.38 inches, 0.11 inch below average, ranking in the middle one-third of the 126-year period of record. For the year-to-date, the national precipitation total was 24.08 inches, 0.88 inch above average, also ranking in the middle one-third of the January-September record.
NCEI updated the 2020 billion-dollar weather and climate disaster list to include six additional events — Western Wildfires, Western/Central Drought and Heatwave, Hurricane Sally, Hurricane Laura, Central Severe Weather Derecho and Hurricane Isaias. This brings the year-to-date total to 16 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. and ties with 2011 and 2017 for the largest number of disasters in a calendar year. This is also the sixth consecutive year (2015-2020) in which 10 or more billion-dollar disasters have impacted the U.S. — the only such occurrence on record.
This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.
The cooler temperatures observed across the Plains and Upper Mississippi Valley mid-month were associated with a strong trough of low pressure.
Above- to much-above-average September temperatures were observed across much of the West, parts of the Northeast and Gulf Coast. California and Oregon ranked warmest on record for the month with Nevada and Arizona ranking second warmest.
Phoenix, Arizona, broke the record for the number of days with temperatures at or above 110°F in a calendar year during August and added three more days to the record in September. The 2020 record of 53 days shatters the previous record of 33, set in 2011.
Below-average temperatures were present across portions of the Plains and Deep South and in pockets scattered across the Great Lakes, Southeast and mid-Atlantic.
Alaska had a statewide average temperature of 42.0°F, 1.4°F above the long-term average and ranking in the warmest one-third of the 96-year record. Above-average temperatures were observed across the eastern half of Alaska including most of the Northeast and Southeast Interior regions, Cook Inlet, Northeast Gulf and the Panhandle regions.
The West remained hot and dry under a relatively persistent ridge of high pressure throughout much of September, exacerbating wildfire conditions. The above-average rainfall observed across the South and Southeast were in large part due to Tropical Storm Beta and Hurricane Sally.
Above-average precipitation was observed from parts of the Deep South to the mid-Atlantic and in portions of the Northwest and Midwest. Georgia had its ninth-wettest September on record.
Below-average precipitation was observed from the West Coast to the northern Great Lakes and across the Northeast, and in portions of the central Gulf Coast as well as parts of the western Ohio Valley. Maine had its record-driest September, while Arizona ranked fifth driest and California sixth driest on record. In total, seven states in the Northeast, Southwest and northern Plains had their tenth driest, or drier, September.
Alaska’s average of 3.93 inches of precipitation in September was 0.64 inch below average and ranked in the driest one-third of the 96-year record. The Northeast Interior, the eastern half of the North Slope as well as much of the Central Interior received above-average precipitation during September, while below-average precipitation was present across the western North Slope, Bristol Bay, the Northeast Gulf and the Panhandle regions.
No snow was reported at Fairbanks during September. This is the third consecutive year with no September snowfall — a first in the Weather Bureau/NWS era (since 1930).
According to the September 29 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 42.6 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 3 percentage points from the beginning of September. This is the largest drought footprint across the CONUS since September 2013. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across much of the Northeast and the western half of the contiguous U.S. Drought coverage lessened or was eliminated across parts of the mid-Mississippi Valley and Deep South. Drought was eliminated across Kodiak Island in Alaska, contracted across Hawaii’s Big Island and intensified on the other Hawaiian islands.
The western U.S. is in the midst of its most active fire year on record in 2020.
By the end of September, more than five million acres were consumed across California, Oregon and Washington State. This is more than three times the annual 10-year (2010-2019) average of nearly 1.6 million acres.
California has already had the highest number of acres burned in a single year across the state with many active fires still ablaze.
Five of the six largest fires in California history occurred during 2020 — August Complex, SCU Lightning Complex, LNU Lightning Complex, North Complex and the Creek Fire.
As of October 1, the Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado is the third-largest fire in the state’s history. Three of the four largest fires in Colorado history occurred during 2020.
Thick smoke and ash from the wildfires reduced air quality in the West and southwest Canada to dangerous levels, forcing people to stay indoors during much of September.
Tropical Cyclones and Hurricanes
The Atlantic Basin hurricane season continues at a record pace for named-storm formation during 2020. In September alone, 10 named storms formed — Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, Wilfred, Alpha and Beta.
On September 15, Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm. Impacts included storm surge flooding, widespread wind damage and up to 30 inches of rainfall.
Tropical Storm Beta made landfall on the Matagorda Peninsula in Texas on September 22 and brought extensive flooding to the Houston area.
For the first time since 1971, five named storms churned in the Atlantic Basin at one time. Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy and Vicky were each visible in the Atlantic Ocean on September 14.
Through October 1, nine named storms made landfall along the CONUS coastline, tying a record (1916) for most landfalls in a season.
Year-to-date (January-September) Temperature
Above- to much-above-average year-to-date temperatures were observed across most of the contiguous U.S. Florida had its warmest January-September on record while Arizona, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts ranked third warmest. Near-average temperatures were observed across portions of the central U.S.
Denver, Colorado, reported 75 days with high temperatures at or above 90°F in 2020. This eclipses the previous record of 73 days set in 2012.
Despite the overall warmth across the contiguous U.S. in 2020, the northern Plains experienced an early freeze September 8-9, which caused an abrupt end to the growing season, leading to agricultural losses across the region.
Year-to-date temperatures averaged across Alaska were near average with above-average temperatures observed along portions of the West Coast and the Aleutians. Below-average temperatures for this year-to-date period were observed across parts of the eastern interior regions.
Year-to-date (January-September) Precipitation
Above- to much-above-average January-September precipitation stretched from parts of the southern Plains to Gulf Coast and Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic Coast as well as across portions of the Northwest. Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia ranked third-wettest year-to-date on record. Below-average precipitation fell from the West Coast to the northern Plains and across the Northeast. Utah had its driest year-to-date on record, while Colorado was second driest.
For Alaska, January-September precipitation was near average. Below-average precipitation was observed across portions of the northwest coast, the Aleutians and the central Gulf Coast. Above-average precipitation was observed across much of the eastern Interior regions and the Panhandle regions.
Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters
Through the end of September, 16 weather and climate disaster events have been identified with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. during 2020. Eleven of the events were due to severe storms which occurred across more than 30 states from the Great Lakes to the Gulf and East coasts. The remaining events were identified as one wildfire, one drought and three tropical cyclone events.
This is a record sixth consecutive year with at least 10 separate billion-dollar disasters and is tied with 2011 and 2017 for the annual record number of events.
Since records began in 1980, the U.S. has sustained 279 separate weather and climate disasters where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (based on the CPI adjustment to 2020) per event. The total cost of these 279 events exceeds $1.825 trillion.
Disaster costs over the last five years (2016-2020) exceed a record $550 billion. These costs do not yet include the 2020 Western Wildfires, Drought/Heatwave or Hurricane Sally.
The U.S. has been impacted by slow moving tropical cyclones that produced extreme rainfall and damaging floods for four consecutive years (2017-2020). These storms include: Harvey, Florence, Imelda and Sally.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
RiversEdge West, a nonprofit based in Grand Junction, has been awarded $164,566 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, to support the creation of what the group is calling a Western Colorado Sustainable Stewardship model to protect and sustain restoration work. A $40,000 grant from the Bacon Family Foundation also will help with that initiative and let RiversEdge West continue to provide leadership and support for the Desert Rivers Collaborative in Mesa and Delta counties. This includes planning and mapping work, and technical, coordination and fundraising assistance.
RiversEdge West formed the Desert Rivers Collaborative in 2012. The collaborative has completed more than 1,565 acres of riparian restoration on the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Among the partners are private landowners, other nonprofits, state and federal agencies including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management, volunteers, Mesa County, and municipalities including Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita.
In addition, RiversEdge West co-leads, along with the Southwest Conservation Corps, the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. That collaborative effort has treated nearly 6,000 acres along 200 miles of the Dolores River in six counties and two states.
The partnerships have focused particularly on two invasive species — tamarisk and Russian olive. Shannon Wadas, associate director of RiversEdge West, said those species outcompete native plants, are less conducive to providing wildlife habitat, pose a higher wildfire risk, affect instream habitat relied upon by native fish, and can interfere with river and bank access for recreation…
That’s where the sustainability component of restoration work comes in. RiversEdge West is working to incorporate long-term monitoring of restored areas and training of partners in that monitoring. Wadas said monitoring protocols are in place already on the Dolores River and RiversEdge West plans to implement those on the Colorado/Gunnison restored areas as well.
It also plans to create, and provide partners with, a framework and guide to help with decisions regarding when and where restoration work should be completed. The CWCB money also will fund two-person “strike teams” with the Southwest Conservation Corps and Western Colorado Conservation Corps to do ongoing maintenance work such as treating tamarisk and Russian olive resprouts and secondary weeds, and doing revegetation.
Wadas said the sustainability efforts are intended to protect the investments already made in riverside restoration, and the hope is that the new sustainability model will be used not just by watershed groups across western Colorado.
Here’s the joint statement from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment:
U.S. Hydropower: Climate Solution and Conservation Challenge
Stanford University Uncommon Dialogue
October 13, 2020
The “Joint Statement of Collaboration on U.S. Hydropower: Climate Solution and Conservation Challenge” (Joint Statement), represents an important step to help address climate change by both advancing the renewable energy and storage benefits of hydropower and the environmental and economic benefits of healthy rivers.
The Joint Statement is the result of a two-and-a-half-year dialogue, co-convened by Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, through its Uncommon Dialogue process, Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, and the Energy Futures Initiative, to bring together the U.S. hydropower industry and the environmental and river conservation communities. The parties, listed on page three of this executive summary, are motivated by two urgent challenges. To rapidly and substantially decarbonize the nation’s electricity system, the parties recognize the role that U.S. hydropower plays as an important renewable energy resource and for integrating variable solar and wind power into the U.S. electric grid. At the same time, our nation’s waterways, and the biodiversity and ecosystem services they sustain, are vulnerable to the compounding factors of a changing climate, habitat loss, and alteration of river processes. Our shared task is to chart hydropower’s role in a clean energy future in a way that also supports healthy rivers.
There are more than 90,000 existing dams throughout the country, of which about 2,500 have hydropower facilities for electricity generation. In the next decade, close to 30 percent of U.S. hydropower projects will come up for relicensing. As such, the parties focused on three potential opportunities:
Rehabilitating both powered and non-powered dams to improve safety, increase climate resilience, and mitigate environmental impacts;
Retrofitting powered dams and adding generation at non-powered dams to increase renewable generation; developing pumped storage capacity at existing dams; and enhancing dam and reservoir operations for water supply, fish passage, flood mitigation, and grid integration of solar and wind; and
Removing dams that no longer provide benefits to society, have safety issues that cannot be cost-effectively mitigated, or have adverse environmental impacts that cannot be effectively addressed.
The potential development of new “closed loop” pumped storage to increase capacity to store renewable energy, including variable solar and wind, was also a focus of the dialogue. Closed loop pumped storage systems do not involve construction of a new dam on a river, but they may have other impacts that need to be avoided, minimized or mitigated, including to surface and ground water.
The parties found inspiration in the precedent-setting 2004 agreement involving Maine’s Penobscot River where the Penobscot Nation, the hydropower industry, environmentalists, and state and federal agencies agreed on a “basin-scale” project to remove multiple dams, while retrofitting and rehabilitating other dams to increase their hydropower capacity, improve fish passage and advance dam safety. After project completion in 2016, total hydropower generation increased, more than 2,000 miles of river habitat had improved access for the endangered Atlantic salmon and other species of sea-run fish, and the Penobscot River again helps support the realization of treaty rights and other aspects of tribal culture for the Penobscot Nation.
Driven by the urgent need to address the twin challenges of climate change and river conservation, the parties have identified seven areas for joint collaboration, detailed in the Joint Statement:
1. Accelerate Development of Hydropower Technologies and Practices to Improve Generation Efficiency, Environmental Performance, and Solar and Wind Integration
2. Advocate for Improved U.S. Dam Safety
3. Increase Basin-Scale Decision-Making and Access to River-Related Data
4. Improve the Measurement, Valuation of and Compensation for Hydropower Flexibility and Reliability Services and Support for Enhanced Environmental Performance
5. Advance Effective River Restoration through Improved Off-Site Mitigation Strategies
6. Improve Federal Hydropower Licensing, Relicensing, and License Surrender Processes
7. Advocate for Increased Funding for U.S. Dam Rehabilitation, Retrofits and Removals
Over the next 60 days, the parties have agreed to invite other key stakeholders, including tribal governments and state officials, to join the collaboration, and to address implementation priorities, decision-making, timetables, and resources.
In sum, the parties agree that maximizing hydropower’s climate and other benefits, while also mitigating the environmental impact of dams and supporting environmental restoration, will be advanced through a collaborative effort focused on the specific actions developed in this dialogue. The parties commit themselves to seizing these critical and timely opportunities.
If you ask most women about how their male relatives, partners and friends respond to being sick, they’ll often tell you with an accompanying eye roll, “He’s such a baby.” “He’s extra whiny.” Or “he exaggerates so much.” But there may be a biological explanation for this behavior.
Dubbed the “man flu,” this phenomenon has been validated in a review of previously published, large epidemiological studies, as well as in studies of influenza in animals. In these studies, males were sick longer, with more severe symptoms and had a weaker response to vaccination. Laboratory tests with animals infected with the influenza virus also underscore that there are sex-based differences in immune response that influence outcomes observed in humans. But are these more severe symptoms and outcomes unique to cold and flu?
As a respiratory toxicologist and researcher investigating sex differences in the respiratory system, I was intrigued to read a recent study on sex-specific responses to COVID-19 that suggest that men are, actually, more vulnerable and suffer more from this disease.
This study examined samples including nasal swabs, saliva, and blood, which were either collected from healthy individuals or COVID-19 patients. These samples were used to better understand what the immune response to the infection looks like and how it differs in people with more severe disease.
Similar to CDC data on infection rates, no sex difference in the concentration of virus or the amount of virus present was observed in either the nasal swab or the saliva. There were also no differences in antibody levels – a signal the body had identified the virus – detected in infected men and women.
Males with SARS-CoV-2 show greater inflammation
However, the authors identified major sex differences during the early immune response that occurs soon after someone is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The blood samples were analyzed for a variety of cytokines – some of the first signaling molecules that help immune cells respond to pathogens. The levels of these signals rise and fall to provide an adequate response to fight an invading pathogen. But large quantities of these molecules can severely damage the body. This is the case in a cytokine storm.
The authors of the Nature report observed sex differences in the strength of the cytokine response. Men showed higher levels of cytokines that trigger inflammation, like IL-8 and IL-18, than women. Higher quantities of these cytokines are linked to more severe disease. In severe cases of COVID-19, fluid builds up in the lungs, reducing the oxygen available in the body for normal functions. This can lead to tissue damage, shock and potentially the failure of multiple organs.
Females with SARS-CoV-2 are better prepared to eliminate the virus
In addition to sex differences in cytokine levels, the authors also found sex differences in the function of immune cells.
Compared to men, women had a higher number of T cells – essential for eliminating the virus – that were activated, primed and ready to respond to the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Men with lower levels of these activated T-cells were more likely to have severe disease.
Thus, there are several aspects of the human immune response to SARS-CoV-2 that differ between men and women. Understanding these differences can inform how doctors treat patients and can help researchers develop sex-specific therapies.
Increased COVID-19 susceptibility in men is likely biological
These results contradict speculation that male susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection is due to more risky behaviors. Those include downplaying the seriousness of the virus, joining large gatherings and ignoring social distancing guidelines, as well as lower rates of hand-washing and wearing masks. Instead, rates of infection are actually similar between males and females, while males are more at risk of serious COVI9-19 disease, suggesting biological differences in response to infection.
This paper is one of the first of its kind to delve into mechanisms of susceptibility sex differences. With greater innate biological risk for severe disease and death in men, this suggests that males might need to be hypervigilant about social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.
Greater adherence to infection prevention protections, especially in men, would not only reduce their risk of infection, but also combat their increased risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19.
Eric Kuhn is the the latest addition to the speaker lineup for “Water Connections: SW’s Virtual Water Cooler,” an online event jointly hosted by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday, October 14th from 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Author and former general manager of the Colorado River District, Eric Kuhn will address this question: “What can the last 20 years tell us about the future of Colorado River hydrology?” For a preview, check out this white paper he recently co-authored on the topic.
Register now to reserve your spot (it’s free). You’ll hear short state and local water updates. It’s like visiting the water cooler to get the latest local scoop and connect–only virtual.
Kate Greenberg (Colorado Department of Agriculture) and Celene Hawkins (Colorado Water Conservation Board) will speak to the status of Colorado’s agriculture and state water funding in the midst of a pandemic.
Rob Genualdi (Division 7 Engineer), Bob Hurford (Division 4 Engineer), and Susan Behery (US Bureau of Reclamation) will provide a summary of the dismal 2020 water year in southwest Colorado. Ken Curtis (Dolores Water Conservancy District), Gretchen Rank (Mancos Conservation District), and Simon Martinez (Ute Farm and Ranch) will add observations from the season and provide a look ahead to what it might mean for water year 2021.
Finally, we’ll hear the latest from various local water agencies and organizations in short “pop-up” updates from across southwest Colorado.
This event is about making connections, so be ready to engage via the chat, poll questions, and interesting content. See you next week!
The City of Pueblo was nationally recognized for implementing the first full hydrocyclone/ammonia controlled nutrient removal process in the United States and for improvements to the James DiIorio Water Reclamation.
The city received the prestigious Water Environment Federation 2020 Project Excellence Award for its pioneering improvements that additionally saved over $20 million for taxpayers and increased capacities.
“From the continental divide to the Mississippi, our waterways are connected. What happens in Colorado will impact the Gulf’s algae problems and I am happy to announce Pueblo is leading Colorado to reduce algal bloom,” said Mayor Nick Gradisar. “In addition, our wastewater team saved taxpayers over $20 million, which shows our team is doing everything it can to be environmental leaders while being great financial stewards.”
The City of Pueblo partnered with Brown and Caldwell, an engineering and construction firm, to develop an advanced system of nutrient removal through aeration control and hydrocylone-base wasting process.
“We want to meet the Water Quality Control Division Discharge Permit requirements without adding additional costs for the citizens,” said Nancy Keller, Wastewater Director for the City of Pueblo. “We have a system now that protects aquatic life and improves the quality of our down stream communities.”
In 2012, the State of Colorado introduced new standards to reduce the algal growth and aquatic life impairments. The first phase of reductions had to be met by April 2021 and the next phase of reductions will go into effect in 2027.
“Our success in this project allows the facility to earn credits with the Water Quality Control Division that will delay implementation of the 2027 standards in our discharge permit, allowing technology improvements to occur, hopefully decreasing that large capital expense also,” said Keller.
With the new system the City of Pueblo’s Wastewater Department was also able to increase the capacity of this process by 50% while reducing electrical and chemical costs.
Algae blooms deprives waterways of much needed oxygen leading to Hypoxic (dead) zones.
Hypoxia, or dead zone, occurs when a body of water or waterway has increased levels of nutrient pollution which is primarily caused by human involvement. These increased nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae which when it decomposes, reduces the supply of oxygen.
The Nutrient Removal Project was expected to cost an estimated $20-25m. The City of Pueblo, with partners Brown and Caldwell, implemented Ntensity enhanced nutrient-removal system in for a total cost under $2 million.
The DiIorio Facility treats more than 10 million gallons of wastewater per day.
An analysis of five weeks of Aspen water-treatment plant data show that local water users cut consumption by an average of 20% in the four weeks after Stage 2 water restrictions took effect, compared with the week before the stricter regulations were in place.
However, year-over-year data shows that water use in 2020, over the course of the past five weeks, was down by smaller amounts compared with the non-drought year of 2019.
Stage 2 water restrictions began Sept. 1, with the goal of reducing water use by 15% to 20% compared with “current use,” according to a news release announcing the restrictions.
That appears to have been achieved, as average daily water use was 5.86 million gallons from Aug. 24 to Aug. 30, according to water-treatment plant data provided by city of Aspen staff and analyzed by Aspen Journalism. Average use dropped to 5.08 million gallons per day the following week and to 4.7 million gallons per day over the four weeks from Aug. 31 through Sept. 27.
Comparing average daily water use with a non-drought year provides further context when examining the degree to which restrictions have influenced water use in recent weeks. Aspen Journalism’s analysis of the city’s daily treated volumes included totaling water use on a per-week basis and finding the average consumption per day for a given week. Those numbers were compared to average daily totals from corresponding seven-day periods in 2019, a non-drought year in which water restrictions were not in place for the utility’s approximately 4,000 customers in the city of Aspen and surrounding neighborhoods.
That analysis showed an average decline of 10% when comparing five weeks in 2019 versus 2020. However, the differences between weekly totals from year to year varied considerably. In addition, a large decline in weekly water use in 2020 compared with 2019 often corresponded with a burst of rain or snowfall, levels that were sourced from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. For instance, over the week of Sept. 7 to 13, weekly water use declined by 36% from 2019 to 2020. This steep decline is probably related to the three-day snowstorm that occurred that week in 2020, which dropped on the city a cumulative 8.5 inches of snow Sept. 8 to 10, according to NOAA data.
In contrast, the week of Sept. 21 in both 2019 and 2020 saw neither rain nor snow, according to NOAA data. That week in 2020, the city used 6.2% less water than in the same week in 2019, according to Aspen Journalism’s analysis. Precipitation levels were similar for the five weeks spanning late summer and early fall, with 2020 having two more days and 0.7 more inches of rain compared with 2019, according to NOAA data.
Declines in water use may relate to rainfall and snowfall since weather events prompt the city’s parks and open space department and residents to stop or reduce watering to parks, gardens and open space, said Steve Barr, the city of Aspen’s parks operations manager. Because approximately 60% of total municipal water is diverted to parks, landscapes and gardens, rain and snowfall prompt reduced water use and probably correspond to declined treatment-plant figures.
“A period of rain (in late August) allowed us to shut down irrigation for three or four days. Truly, this saves the largest amount of water,” Barr said. Yet, more data would need to be analyzed in order to draw statistically sound conclusions about the relationship between weather and water use for the entire city water system, said Steve Hunter, utilities operations manager for the water department.
Due to the many factors that influence treatment-plant numbers, it is difficult to discern from the data how resident behavior changed after the Sept. 1 water restrictions and how behavioral changes influence city water use, Hunter said.
City population, visitation, humidity, weather and special events also influence the daily volume of treated water, according to Hunter.
“Just like our weather, no two days are exactly the same,” he said.
The reduction targets identified with Stage 2 restrictions are meant to give water users a goal to hit compared to their normal usage, according to water plant officials.
Community adaptation efforts
Aspen City Council enacted Stage 2 water restrictions after the U.S. Drought Monitor on Aug. 18 classified all of Pitkin County to be in extreme drought. The goal of the restrictions is to protect the streamflow of Castle Creek, which provides the majority of Aspen’s water, with flows throughout the Roaring Fork River basin running 40% to 70% below median, according to a memo from the utilities department concerning the water restrictions.
In 1997, the city agreed with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to maintain 12 cubic feet per second on Castle Creek, except in extreme drought conditions, according to the state resolution. Dropping below this rate threatens the aquatic ecosystem, as warmer waters stress native fish populations and alter the aquatic environment through increased algal blooms, according to Brad Udall, a water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.
Many local businesses report following Stage 2 guidelines, which may be associated with the 20% decline in water in the four weeks after the week of Aug. 24. The restrictions put residents and businesses on a staggered watering schedule and prohibit the construction of new landscapes and water systems, as well as prompt other regulations. (Residents and businesses, for example, cannot wash sidewalks with treated city water.) Managers and directors at Aspen Alps, The Gant, Limelight Hotel, Aspen Mountain Lodge and Aspen Meadows Resort said they follow the new protocol.
“Everyone cares about water use and is very compliant with water restrictions,” said Aspen Mountain Lodge general manager Allison Campbell. “We see it when we’re touring around our state, how dry we are.”
Many businesses are implementing additional measures to reduce water. Staffers at Aspen Mountain Lodge winnowed their watering window to 15 minutes every three days, compared with every other day required by Stage 2, according to Campbell. At Bumps restaurant, which sits at the base of Buttermilk Mountain, staffers are testing new technology that reduces the quantity of water needed to thaw food, according to Ryland French, energy manager at Aspen Skiing Co. Businesses could not provide data for these reductions, as many do not collect daily water data but make changes based on the monthly water bill from the Aspen utilities department, according to Campbell, French and Aspen Meadows Resort general manager Jud Hawk.
Other major water users, such as the city golf club and the parks and open space department, have enacted new water practices following the Stage 2 announcement. Golf club staffers cut irrigation to native plants on the course and reduced water to the driving range by 75%, from 62,667 gallons dispensed on the driving range each night to 15,667, according to golf director Steve Aitken.
After Sept. 1, the parks department shortened watering times and limited those periods to every other day. Staffers continued low water-use practices established during the 2018 drought, such as limiting water to native-plant zones, Barr said. From this past August to September, the department reduced irrigation to parks and gardens by an average of 43%, according to data provided by the parks and open space department. The department used less water in 83% of Aspen parks and gardens in September compared with August, according to parks department data.
More changes needed to maintain streamflows
This summer is not the first time that the city of Aspen has tried to meet water-use reduction targets. In 2013, the water department enacted water restrictions with a 20% reduction goal. The city did not meet this target, according to a 2016 water-availability study by the Wilson Water Group. In 2015, the water department lowered the Stage 2 reduction goal to 15%, according to the 2016 study.
The water department also enacted Stage 2 restrictions on Aug. 13, 2018. No analysis was conducted on whether the city met the 15% reduction target, according to Tyler Christoff, director of utilities for the water department.
Despite current drought conditions, Castle Creek’s streamflow remains above the state-mandated minimum level. The creek averaged 35.6 cfs in the five weeks from Aug. 24 to Sept. 27, with a minimum cfs of 32 the week of Sept. 21, according to water department data.
The days of Aug. 24 to Sept. 27 fall within the city’s peak water-use period, which runs from June to September, according to the 2016 water availability study. Higher temperatures and evaporation rates mean that Aspen’s parks and landscapes demand more irrigation, Barr said. Last week, the parks department began blowing out and shutting off its irrigation system for the winter, according to Barr. This may cause a decline in demand for city water.
While current drought conditions did not endanger running below the minimum instream flow, studies show that climate change will demand revisions to city water sourcing and use in order to keep Castle Creek above 12 cfs.
Temperature is predicted to rise throughout Colorado by 2.5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2065, according to a report by the research institute Western Water Assessment. Rising temperatures increase evaporation in all forms, transferring water from streams to the atmosphere, Udall said.
“Under a warming climate, the atmosphere has a greater thirst for water. It wants to hold more water as it warms,” he said.
Rising temperatures and the resulting increased evaporation can be expected to reduce Castle Creek’s streamflow by 35% by 2065, according to a 2017 study done by Headwaters Corporation for the city of Aspen. This reduced streamflow, in conjunction with population growth, will lower Castle Creek’s streamflow below 12 cfs, according to a 2016 water availability study by Wilson Water Group. Yet, 12 cfs can be maintained if the water department draws more municipal water from local wells and implements a water-reuse program, where the city golf course is irrigated by upcycled wastewater treatment plant water instead of water from Castle Creek, according to the 2016 study. While the 2016 study concludes that Castle Creek’s minimum streamflow can be maintained with these mitigatory actions, Aspen officials in 2018 asked the state for rights to 8,500 acre-feet of water storage to prepare for the effects of climate change.
“In extreme or prolonged drought, reservoir storage would help create a more resilient water supply for the Aspen community,” Hunter said.
The Wilson study’s authors also suggest implementing Stage 2 or Stage 3 water restrictions to maintain Castle Creek’s instream flow. Stage 3 water restrictions aim to reduce water use by 20%. But the authors add that if city water users fall short of the target reductions, well water can fill the deficit to ensure the required 12 cfs.
Stage 2 conditions will last as long as Pitkin County remains in extreme drought, which will probably be into 2021, Hunter said. In April, the water department will assess winter snowpack — which is predictive of spring and summer streamflow — and will decide to continue State 2 or lift it, Hunter said.
Hunter believes the ordinance unites the city in environmental goals.
“We believe the community’s knowledge and participation in conservation practices creates a more resilient future,” he said.
As drought conditions in western Colorado continue to degrade, 60 percent of the state is now in extreme or exceptional drought – the two worst categories – according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center. Much of the state experienced above average temperatures and little to no precipitation during the week.
The United States Monthly Drought Outlook for October shows drought persisting through the month. Temperatures during the month and through the end of the year are likely to remain above normal, while precipitation is expected to remain below normal.
Persistent drought over the summer continues to impact agriculture producers. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that Colorado livestock producers in east central counties are continuing to provide supplemental feed to livestock, and that fields normally cut for grass hay were too short and dry to produce hay this year.
Overall, 17 percent of Colorado is in exceptional drought, up from three percent during the previous week. Extreme drought fell from 50 percent to 43 as conditions degraded. Severe drought also fell from 36 to 31 percent as areas moved into worse conditions. Moderate drought dropped from 10 to 9 percent, while abnormally dry conditions were steady at one percent.
Researchers have been able to manipulate large chunks of genetic code for almost 50 years. But it is only within the past decade that they have been able to do it with exquisite precision – adding, deleting and substituting single units of the genetic code just as an editor can manipulate a single letter in a document. This newfound ability is called gene editing, the tool is called CRISPR, and it’s being used worldwide to engineer plants and livestock and treat disease in people.
For these reasons the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Germany, and Jennifer Doudna, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for discovering and transforming CRISPR into a gene-editing technology. It’s the first time two women have shared a Nobel prize.
I’m a CRISPR engineer, interested in developing novel CRISPR-based gene-editing tools and delivery methods to improve their precision and function.
While CRISPR scientists like me have been speculating about a Nobel Prize for CRISPR, it was exciting to see Charpentier and Doudna win. This will encourage young, talented engineers and researchers to enter the field of gene editing, which can be leveraged for designing new diagnostics, treatments and cures for a range of diseases.
CRISPR/Cas systems as gene editors
Many variants of CRISPR/Cas systems have been discovered, engineered and applied to edit genes. There are already over 20,000 scientific publications on the topic.
While people and animals have evolved complex immune systems to fight viral attacks, single-cell microorganisms rely on CRISPR to find and destroy a virus’s genetic material to stop it from multiplying.
Charpentier and Doudna figured out how to borrow this innate biological capability from microbes and apply it to genetic engineering of bacteria.
In a landmark paper, published online on June 28, 2012, Charpentier and Doudna showed that the CRISPR gene-editing machinery includes two components: a guide molecule that serves as sort of a GPS to find and bind the target gene site on the DNA of an invading virus, which then teams up with a CRISPR-associated protein (Cas) that serves as a molecular scissor that snips the DNA.
Around the same time, Virginijus Siksnys, a Lithuanian biochemist at the University of Vilnius, made a similar discovery and submitted results for publication that appeared a few months later, in September 2012. Feng Zhang, a biologist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues showed that CRISPR can be improved and used for editing mammalian cells. He currently owns one of the first patents on using CRISPR for gene editing, which is being contested by Doudna’s institution, UC Berkeley.
Once the DNA has been cut in the right spot, the cell will try to repair the cut. But the repair mechanism is error prone, and oftentimes the cells fail to fix the cuts perfectly, ultimately disabling the gene. Disrupting a gene is particularly useful for studying its function and find out what happens if you stop a gene from working. This technique is also useful for treating cancer and infections, where turning off a gene can potentially stop cancer cells and pathogens from dividing or kill them outright.
During this cutting-repair process, one can fool the cells by providing a new piece of DNA. The cells will then incorporate this piece of DNA with desirable edits into the genetic code. This enables researchers to correct a genetic mutation that causes a genetic disease, or replace a defective gene with a healthy one.
[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories.Weekly on Wednesdays.]
Why CRISPR deserved a Nobel Prize
While there is still plenty of room for improvement of these technologies, scientists have already begun testing CRISPR in a number of clinical trials for treating cancer and genetic disorders. CRISPR-based diagnostics have been also been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization for COVID-19 testing.
Despite these concerns, CRISPR has huge potential to transform how scientists can detect, treat and even eradicate diseases as well as improve agricultural products. Society is already seeing the benefits of this Nobel-winning technology.
Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.
With public hearings upcoming on whether Chaffee County should grant a 10-year extension with Nestle Waters North America (NWNA) of its 1041 permit to pump water from a local aquifer to truck to Denver for bottling as Arrowhead Spring Water, a review of the agreement’s history is informative.
The initial 1041 permit approved in 2009 was new legal ground for the county at the time.
Nestlé purchased more than 100 acres of land from the late Frank McMurray, the Big Horn Springs, in 2007; reportedly for more than $850,000. Nestlé had planned to pull water from that spring, but NWNA Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence said the company decided against using that spring over environmental concerns. A promised conservation easement on that property at the time has yet to be completed.
Nestlé also purchased the onetime fish hatchery property from Harold and Mary Hagen on the site of the Ruby Mountain Spring. This is the spring that Nestlé now taps for the water it takes from Chaffee County. The 11 acres reportedly sold for more than $2,800,000.
Nestlé established a pumping station at Johnson Village after buying about 1.4 acres of land and the liquor store owned by Steve Hansen for $1,125,000. The store was torn down at the site and the pumping station with large storage tanks built on the site, connected by miles of pipeline from the Ruby Mountain Springs pump house.
State water law requires use permits to include replacement (augmentation) of the water they extract, under complex rules mindful of numerous water rights, especially of those with senior water rights downstream on the Arkansas River.
Terry Scanga, head of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, explained that while the district didn’t agree then to lease the company water for its replacement, it was able to strike an agreement for the water with the City of Aurora. That agreement ended at some point; the district now does leave the replacement water to Nestlé, contingent on it being placed into the river upstream of its spring site.
The district received more than $152,000 last year from Nestlé for that replacement water.
The original 1041 pact would allow Nestlé to pump as much as 65 million gallons annually from the spring. But local officials say that currently, the amounts pumped never approaches that limit.
At the pumping station, 25 large tanker trucks per day fill up with the water collected in a 30,000-gallon storage tank on-site, and then drive up U.S. Hwy 285 about 130 miles to the Denver bottling plant, where it is treated and packaged in plastic bottles for sale in hundreds of stores around the state.
Lawrence said each of those trucks weighs about 87,000 pounds fully loaded, so drivers take their time getting to their destination. The firm doing the hauling, D.G. Coleman, has a good safety record.
Scanga, who has dealt with water law and water issues for decades, said from his perspective Nestlé has met the requirements of their 1041 permit regarding the water regulations.
Opposition groups, including Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water and the long-established environmental group 350 Central Colorado disagree and point to other permit conditions such as hiring local truck drivers, they say have not been met.
They are also critical of what they term is a lack of real oversight of the operation by the county.
Nestlé, portraying itself as a ‘good neighbor,’ has financially supported community causes and provided funds for educational programs.
These include paying a half-million dollars into two education endowments for Salida and Buena Vista schools. It has made $20,000 in one-time donations; including $10,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation, as well as contributions to the Boys and Girls Club; local Trout Unlimited chapter, and others.
Thousands of cases of Nestlé Water were also donated to Food Bank of the Rockies and other entities.
Critics often say while commendable, those community benefits are relatively minor in comparison to the profits the company garners from its bottled water sales and the loss of county water as a resource.
We’ll explore more specifics of the pros and cons of this contentious issue in our next report.
Public hearings on the proposed permit renewal are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Oct. 20 and 9:00 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. Attendance has to be limited due to COVID-19 concerns, but the hearings will also be available for viewing online.
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 email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Speakers say regional transmission organization crucial to economic decarbonization of electrical supplies
If you’re interested in how Colorado will achieve its climate change goals, prepare to wrap your mind around the concept of an RTO, or regional transmission organization.
Colorado in 2019 set economy-wide carbon reduction goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Getting there will require electrifying many uses that now depend upon fossil fuels. Think cars and then trucks, but eventually houses, too, and more.
This only works if emissions are largely removed from the production of electricity. Colorado legislators in 2019 understood that. They set a target of 80% fewer emissions by 2030 among electrical utilities. They did not tell utilities how to get there.
On a September morning in which smoke was wafting eastward across the Great Plains from the wildfires in the Rocky Mountains and the West Coast, I sat in a cabin near Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy to hear representatives of Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities and one state legislator explain how they thought Colorado might get an RTO or its close relative, an ISO.
The former once again stands for regional transmission organization, and the latter an independent system operator. The function in both cases is much the same. These organizations pool electrical generation resources and also consolidate transmission.
Colorado currently has neither an RTO nor an ISO, although it has been talking about it for several years. Instead, the state remains composed of fiefdoms. These utilities do share electricity to a point, but the system is archaic, little more advanced than one utility calling a neighboring utility and asking if they have a little extra sugar to share.
Now think more broadly of Western states and provinces. There are wide open spaces, the stuff of calendars and posters. That’s the image of the West. The reality in which 80% or more of Westerners live lies in the dispersed archipelagoes of urban development: Colorado’s Front Range, Utah’s Wasatch Front, and Arizona’s Phoenix-Tucson, the mass of Southern California, and so on.
These islands define and determine the West’s electrical infrastructure. You can see them in the nighttime photographs taken from outer space, including this 2012 image from the NASA Earth Observatory/NOSAA NGDC. These 38 islands represent more-or-less autonomous grids, only loosely connected to the other islands and archipelagoes.
RTOs pool commitments and dispatch of generation, creating cost savings for participating utilities. An RTO also consolidates transmission tariff functions under one operator, resulting in more efficient use of high-voltage transmission.
In the 20th century, this pattern of loosely linked islands worked well enough. Each island had its big power plants, most of them coal-fired generation. The intermittency of renewables was not an issue, because there were few renewables. And, of course, there was less need for transmission. In keeping with the fiefdom theme, transmission providers levied charges for electricity that moves through those wires.
Much has changed. Renewables have become the lowest-cost generation. Prices of wind and solar, plus batteries, too, dropped 90% in the last 10 to 15 years. Utilities have figured out how to integrate wind and solar into their resource mix. Xcel Energy, in its Colorado operations, has used more than 70% of wind at certain times, for example.
Coal earlier this year remained the source of 40% of electrical generation in Colorado, but will decline rapidly in the next five years. Two coal-fired units at Pueblo, two in or near Colorado Springs, and one at Craig will cease production by 2025.
Beyond 2025, more closings yet will occur. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, Colorado’s second largest electrical supplier, will close the two remaining plants it operates in Craig by 2030. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, will almost certainly have closed additional units, either Hayden or Pawnee, conceivably both, by 2030. Platte River Power Authority also plans to shutter its Rawhide plant north of Fort Collins.
To take advantage of low-cost renewables but also ensure reliable delivery of electricity, utilities will have to do more sharing. That was the common theme of the webinar sponsored by the Colorado Rural Electric Association on Sept. 14.
A must for decarbonization
The subject of RTOs was “a very important topic, and one that the average voter knows absolutely nothing about, in my experience,” said State Sen. Chris Hansen, an engineer who has a Ph.D. in economic geography from Oxford University. He has been involved with most of Colorado’s most important energy legislation of recent years.
Hansen pointed out that 80% of energy use in the West is aligned with decarbonization goals. He foresees a $700 billion investment in the next 20 years needed to reinvent electrical generation, transmission, and distribution across the Western grid, including British Columbia and Alberta.
“If we stay with 38 unintegrated grids, I just don’t think we can physically get there (to achieve climate targets) without a hugely expensive overbuild of wind and solar, and nobody wants that,” said Hansen on the webinar.
While decarbonizing the grid, an RTO will deliver strong economic benefits. “Just leave climate change aside for the minute—which is hard to do as fires rage across the West—we are looking at a minimum $4 billion in savings in the West if we have an integrated grid,” he said.
What’s the snag? As Hansen has pointed out, the smart phone took only two years from introduction into the market to broad adoption.
The short answer is that creating markets in the West is relatively new and this stuff gets very, very complicated, as was pointed out by Carrie Simpson, who looks after markets for Xcel’s Colorado operations.
She cited the devilish details involving charges on electricity transmission, how utilities make money, who makes the money and who doesn’t, and then a massive rejiggering of the electrical grid through invention of sophisticated software intended to deliver lowest-cost electricity while keeping the lights on.
Hansen was asked by webinar host Thomas Dougherty, an attorney for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, whether Colorado’s utilities might expect legislative direction in the coming session.
He prefaced his answer by pointing to the ability of an RTO or ISO to reduce needed reserves to ensure reliability. Currently, utilities need backup generation of 16% or 17%. With an RTO, said Hansen, that could be lowered to 10% or 11%. It’s like needing 9 pickups in your fleet instead of 10.
“You could easily take 5% out of reserve margins in Colorado,” he said. “That is worth more than $100 million dollars per year.”
“I think you will see the Legislature really try to push this, because there is so much at stake for the ratepayers,” Hansen replied.
Later, in an email interview, Hansen confirmed his plans to introduce legislation next winter that “will address both the near-term and longer-term issues in CO around transmission. I believe we need a clear policy direction for Colorado to join a well-structured RTO or ISO and transmission owners. To accomplish that goal, we may need incentives and disincentives for operators.”
Hansen also confirmed that he believes even existing coal plants are less foundational than they once were.
Why Tri-State needs it
Duane Highley, the chief executive of Tri-State, has practical experience in the benefits of regional markets. A veteran of 38 years in electrical cooperatives in the Midwest, he recalled being in Arkansas a few years ago when he drew on the power of the Midwest Independent System Operator, or MISO, to deliver wind power from Iowa during winter to Arkansas customers.
This enabled coal-fired power plants to be shut down. He called it “decommitting” of resources.
Tri-State must decommit coal resources in coming years to meet Colorado’s decarbonization targets. The utility, Colorado’s second largest, behind Xcel, has started shifting from coal. It closed one small plant in Colorado, at Nucla, in September 2019, and Escalante, in New Mexico, in September 2020. The three much larger units at Craig, of which Tri-State shares ownership with other utilities, will close between 2025 and 2030.
On the flip side, Tri-State is adding 1,000 megawatts of renewable generation before the end of 2024. That will get Tri-State to 50% renewables across its four-state operating area. It then has plans for more than 2,000 megawatts of additional renewable generation from 2025 to 2030.
That won’t be enough to get Tri-State to the 80% emission reduction by 2030 that Colorado lawmakers want to see. In preliminary filings with the PUC, Tri-State has not shown its cards about how it intends to get there. Environmental groups have started making noise. In a filing with the PUC, Western Resource Advocates pointed out that current plans will get Tri-State to only a 34% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.
Crucial will be what Tri-State intends to do with its share of two other coal-fired power plants, the Laramie River Station in Wyoming and the Springerville plant in Arizona.
Highley, in the webinar, did not acknowledge the critique directly. He did, however, say that Tri-State needs an RTO to get across the finish line.
“We see a strong need for an RTO to get us past that 50% renewable level as we try to integrate larger and larger amounts of renewables,” he said.
Colorado and its neighbors in the Rocky Mountains currently operate bilateral markets. Highley described it as getting “on the phone and calling your neighbors. That’s sort of the way the West operates. It’s very inefficient,” he said.
This is from the Oct. 2, 2020 issue of Big Pivots. If you want to be on the subscription list, go to BigPivots.com
Utilities in Colorado in 2017 began getting together in an ad hoc organization called the Mountain West Transmission Group to talk about how to do it more efficiently. That effort fell apart in spring 2019 when Xcel pulled out. The company said the benefits weren’t obvious relative to the cost.
Tri-State, which delivers about roughly a quarter of electricity in Colorado, and Xcel, which has more than 60% of market share, have gone their separate ways. Both have led efforts to create energy imbalance markets, or EIMs. These are best described as the first step toward an RTO or ISO, with smaller risk and smaller rewards.
The first, small step
Only five months after arriving from Arkansas to chart a new course for Tri-State, Highley in September 2019 announced formation of an energy imbalance market, or EIM, in conjunction with the Western Area Power Authority, the federal agency that delivers electricity from federal dams. The federal government makes the low-cost hydroelectric power available to co-operatives and municipal utilities, but not to Xcel and other investor-owned utilities.
Think of an energy imbalance market, or EIM, as being like a 100-level class in energy markets. It is a low-cost, low-gain endeavor. RTOs are a graduate-level course.
With an EIM, utilities can share power, but on a somewhat limited basis. There is sub-hourly balancing, but not the day-ahead planning that begins to deliver big benefits.
“We wanted to get something going. It may not be the ultimate solution for the West, but we can recover the cost from the savings in three years. Maybe this is the first step toward an ultimate market or restarting the Mountain West conversation,” Highley said.
This new EIM will go on-line in February 2021 and will be administered through the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool.
Xcel and its three partners—Platte River, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Black Hills Energy—are looking west. Are you ready for more alphabet soup? They will have CAISO creating an EIM for them. CAISO stands for California Independent System Operator. It was established in 1998. An ISO, like an RTO, is motivated to produce efficiency. They’re often compared to air traffic controllers, because they independently manage the traffic on a power grid that they don’t own, much like air traffic controllers manage airplane traffic in the airways and on airport runways. CAISO has advanced services to utilities north and east. This, however, will not be an RTO.
Highley said that the “real prize will be getting the RTO,” and then he threw down a spade in the conversation.
“About 90% of transmission (in Colorado) is controlled by Tri-State and our partner, the Western Area Power Authority,” he said. “We are key to what happens regionally and not just in the state of Colorado.”
It’s been conventional wisdom that an RTO will look either east or west. There are problems in both directions.
One challenge is that of political control. Do you think for a second that Wyoming will allow control of its electrical grid in the hands of appointees of the governor of California? Colorado, which of late has aligned more comfortably with California in its politics, nonetheless has its own hesitancy about that sort of arrangement. It’s not a hypothetical example. California legislators in 2019 refused to put administration of CAISO into independent hands. In other words, the better acronym for CAISO would be CASO. Forget about Independent.
Tooting the horn
Highley, coming from Arkansas, toots the horn of the Southwest Power Pool. “It would make sense in some ways for us to help SPP to move west, and CAISO, of course, is moving east. Think of it like the great railroad days.”
The golden spike completing the transcontinental railroad was hammered down in the salt flats along the Great Salt Lake in 1869. Highley describes a different geography, with a fortune yet to be made – or costs reduced – depending upon who can get wind-generated electricity of the Great Plains to markets.
“There’s an extremely large amount of wind in SPP area that needs to go somewhere, and it has negative pricing now at some points in time. And they haven’t built all the wind that will be built in Kansas yet,” he said. “It’s going to be an opportunity for whoever manages the DC ties to better tie together the grids east and west. Everything east of those ties is currently managed by SPP,” said Highley.
The DC stands for direct-current. The DC ties provide portals between the Eastern Interconnection Grid and the Western Interconnection, which hum along not quite on the same tune and both on alternating current. (Surely you have experience with this part of the alphabet soup). Think of narrow gates along a very tall fence. There are eight such DC portals between Artesia, N.M., and Miles City, Mont. One is north of Lamar, Colorado. There are also two in the Nebraska panhandle.
The afternoon of the webinar, I drove to the one near Stegall, Neb., which is about 35 minutes southwest of Scottsbluff. How would I not? I had been hearing about this for near 40 years. You leave the valley of the North Platte River and its fields of corn and climb into the landscape out of a Remington painting. There was a flock of wild turkeys and then, just over the hill, the focus of all the electrical lines: the David Hamil Tie.
It’s owned and operated by Tri-State, but used exclusively to get electricity from the Laramie River Station at Wheatland, about an hour to the west, to its customers in the Eastern grid. I was neither thrilled nor disappointed by what I saw. An electrical engineer probably understood what was evident to the eye, but I did not.
There has been much talk about creating greater permeability between this giant electrical wall just beyond eyesight of the Rocky Mountains and the energy resources of the Great Plains. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was devoted to that idea, with the goal being to integrate greater quantities of renewables. It was called the Seams study, but it got smothered by Trump administration officials. It is likely to re-emerge.
“Yes, that study will be very helpful in guiding our policy discussions in this area, as will the DoE study being done by Utah on western grid options,” said Hansen in an e-mail after the webinar.
Optimizing the east-west gates
These portals currently can accommodate transmission of 1,300 megawatts. Highley suggested – but did not go into details – about figuring out creating wider gates at these portals.
“Who best could manage those DC ties and optimize them than possibly SPP,” he asked rhetorically, referring to the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool.
(The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will host an information meeting devoted specifically to transmission on Oct. 22, and I would be shocked if this is not addressed. I also expect much discussion of the infamous Seams Study squelched by the coal-happy Trump administration.)
Highley said the real benefit of renewables will be realized by creating opportunities to move them east and west – and in different time zones. “The person who sits on the seams will have the opportunity to either make a lot of money or lower prices, however you look at it,” he said.
Much has been made about seams in Colorado (including a story I did that was published in March). “I do think there will be a seam somewhere,” Highley said. Too much has been made of seams, too much “fear” expressed. “If you look east of us, there are seams all over the place. This problem has been solved any number of times. We can figure this out, too.”
Simpson, representing Xcel, suggested a third option for an RTO, one that does not explicitly look either east or west but instead uses Colorado as a focal point. But, she said, Colorado alone cannot deliver the market efficiencies. The footprint must be somewhat larger, but she did not specify exactly how large.
When may Colorado become part of an RTO? That was the parting question, and all three panelists answered much alike,
“Five years might be a little quick, but I would love to see this happen in the 2025-2028 time-frame,” said Hansen.
Xcel’s Simpson largely agreed. “Five years may be a little aggressive, but I do think that the EIM will open up new opportunities for us to learn about our system and how we can interact with the rest of the West more efficiently.”
Tri-State’s Highley was the most sporting. He offered to bet a bottle of wine that a quicker pace can occur, delivering an RTO by the end of 2025.
“I will keep that wine bottle bet out there,” he said.
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.463.8630.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
In the world of surface water supply measurement and management, what’s known as the 2020 water year just came to an end, on Sept 30. And people in places like Colorado can only hope that when it comes to precipitation, water year 2021 has better things in store.
As of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor update issued Thursday, more than 99% of Colorado was in some level of drought, and most of the Western Slope was in at least extreme drought. Worse yet, nearly 17 percent of the state — mostly on the Western Slope and including eastern and southern Mesa County and large parts of nearby counties — is now in exceptional drought, the worst drought category the Drought Monitor uses.
“What we’re seeing across the entirety of the Intermountain West following this brutal hot, dry summer is basically moderate drought to extreme drought,” Peter Goble, a climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, said in a webinar update on the drought situation Tuesday.
While there are pockets of exceptions, “things are certainly pointing dry for the most part,” Goble said.
Precipitation during the 2020 water year in most of the Upper Colorado River Basin was below 70% of normal, said Zach Schwalbe, a research associate at the Colorado Climate Center.
Insufficient snowpack in many areas was followed by a summer where monsoonal rains largely failed to arrive. Cumulative flows on the Colorado River near the Colorado/Utah line for the water year came in just under 3 million acre-feet, compared to more than 4 million in an average year.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, which managed to fill last year following a dry 2018, is now down to 71% of the 1981-2018 average for this time of year. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River storage system, are at 66 and 59% of average, respectively. Upper Colorado River Basin states rely on water in Lake Powell to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states and Mexico.
Some reservoir levels, such as at Lake Granby in the Colorado River’s headwaters, are doing better. Goble said local conditions can vary when it comes to reservoir storage…
Streamflows also are suffering from the drought. Schwalbe said the Animas River was flowing through Durango Tuesday at a record-low level for that date.
Warmer-than-normal temperatures this summer have aggravated the impacts of below-average precipitation. Combined with other factors such as winds, the heat has driven up evaporative demand, which means how quickly plants and trees use water. Soil moisture conditions are also much drier than normal across much of Colorado, Goble said.
He noted that among other things, the drought conditions contributed to a disastrous fire season in Colorado that has included respectively the first- and third-largest wildfires in the state’s history, the Pine Gulch Fire north of Grand Junction and the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins.
Treste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, noted in Tuesday’s webinar that possible precipitation is in the forecast in Colorado for this weekend, along with cooler weather that could result in snow in the mountains and some high mountain valleys. But she said that unfortunately drier- and warmer-than-normal conditions are expected in the eight- to 14-day outlook in Colorado. The outlook for the next month as a whole also shows above-average chances for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation…
Goble noted that La Niña climate conditions also are developing and are generally associated with a dry fall in Colorado. Once winter arrives, La Niña conditions can be favorable when it comes to snowfall in the northern Rockies in Colorado and parts of Utah, and Wyoming, but a La Niña is “certainly not good news, fall or winter, for the southern portion of the Intermountain West,” he said.
Here’s the release from Utah State University (Lynnette Harris):
A team of scientists at Utah State University has developed a new tool to forecast drought and water flow in the Colorado River several years in advance. Although the river’s headwaters are in landlocked Wyoming and Colorado, water levels are linked to sea surface temperatures in parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the water’s long-term ocean memory. The group’s paper, “Colorado River water supply is predictable on multi-year timescales owing to long-term ocean memory” was published October 9 by Communications Earth and Environment, an open-access journal from Nature Research.
The Colorado River is the most important water resource in the semi-arid western United States and faces growing demand from users in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Because water shortages in the Colorado River impact energy production, food and drinking water security, forestry and tourism, tools to predict drought and low water levels could inform management decisions that affect millions of people.
Current drought forecasts focus on short-term indicators which limits their usefulness because short-term weather phenomena have too great an influence on the models.
“This new approach is robust and means that water managers, for the first time, have a tool to better estimate water supply in the Colorado River for the future,” Robert Gillies, professor in USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate (PSC) and director of the Utah Climate Center, said. “The model can be run iteratively so every year a new forecast for the next three years can be created.”
In addition to ocean memory, water flows are impacted by land systems—including soils, groundwater, vegetation, and perennial snowpack—which play important roles in tempering the effects of short-term precipitation events. The researchers hypothesized that multi-year predictions could be achieved by using long-term ocean memory and associated atmospheric effects and the filtering effects of land systems.
The study’s lead author, Yoshimitsu Chikamoto, assistant professor of earth systems modeling in USU’s PSC department, said the components of the complex climate model include simulations of clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere, land surface characteristics, ocean currents and mixing and sea surface heat and water exchange.
“These predictions can provide a more long-term perspective,” Chikamoto said. “So if we know we have a water shortage prediction we need to work with policymakers on allocating those water resources.”
Simon Wang, USU professor of climate dynamics, said water managers and forecasters are familiar with El Niño and La Niña and the ocean’s connections to weather in the southwestern U.S. However, the upper basin of the Colorado River is not in the southwest and forecasts have not connected the dynamics of parts of the oceans with the Colorado River as the new forecasting tool does.
Matt Yost, PSC assistant professor and USU Extension agroclimate specialist, said having a two-year lead-time on preparing for drought could have a huge impact on farmers as they plan crop rotations and make other business decisions.
Co-author Larissa Yocom, assistant professor of fire ecology in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources, said a tool that can provide a long-term forecast of drought in areas impacted by the Colorado River could give managers a jump-start in preparing for wildland fire seasons.
Wang said Utah Climate Center researchers have developed models of drought cycles in the region and have recently studied the dynamics of river flows and shrinking water levels in the Great Salt Lake.
“In doing that work, we know that water managers don’t have tools to forecast Colorado River flows very long into the future and that is a constraint on what they can do,” Wang said. “We have built statistical models in the past, and Yoshi (Chikamoto) has expertise and in-depth knowledge of ocean dynamics so we talked about giving this idea a try because we found nothing in the literature to model these dynamics in the upper basin.”
“Using our tool we can develop an operational forecast of the Colorado River’s water supply,” Chikamoto added.
Improving the performance of water systems in western basins such as the Colorado River can entail a variety of expensive changes to infrastructure, policy, and management. Throughout much of the 20th century water development era, federal appropriations were sufficient to cover major investments. Today however, other sources of governmental and non-governmental funds and funding mechanisms are essential to improving water management and system performance. Determining the “how” and “who” of water financing raises several thorny questions about what approaches are most efficient, practicable, and equitable. In this webinar series, we will explore issues such as the rise of creative funding mechanisms, the role of private investments and water markets, leveraging the resources of the business community, and the linkages between healthy landscapes, climate adaptation, and improved water management resiliency.
Community members can now share comments about Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project proposal, which is being reviewed by Boulder County.
Although a postcard sent to property owners near Gross Reservoir said public comment about the proposed expansion project should be in by Oct. 14, county staff clarified that community members can comment at any point until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a final decision.
The current Oct. 14 deadline is for referral agencies and even that may be pushed if enough agencies request an extension. If an extension is granted, a new postcard will be sent to property owners, according to Boulder County.
While Boulder County spokesman Richard Hackett said it’s helpful to have community comments in early, he stressed there is no official deadline or cutoff. Some adjacent property owners, such as Timberline Fire Protection District, also are referral agencies on the project, which Hackett said is part of the explanation for the postcard’s wording.
No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here.
Meanwhile, community members can submit questions or written comments to email@example.com.
All week, the Animas River has recorded record lows at a gauge station in Durango, which has been tracking flows on the river for 107 years.
On Thursday, for instance, the Animas River was reportedly running at 117 cubic feet per second – under the previous record low of 138 cfs in 1957 and far below the average of 447 cfs for this time of year.
The low flows on the Animas River come as no surprise as the region has been gripped by a prolonged drought.
Since January, a weather station at Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded just 5 inches or so of precipitation, a 7-inch departure from historic averages at the site.
On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor released a report that showed all of La Plata County engulfed in the “extreme” and “exceptional” drought categories, the center’s highest listings for dryness in a region.
And, several weather stations in the headwaters of the Animas River recorded the lowest precipitation levels in August and September based on about 40 years of record keeping.
“The combination of an extremely dry spring, lack of a monsoon and above-average summer and fall temperatures has resulted in very low flows on the Animas River,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center…
Becky Bollinger, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said 2020’s water year was the third-driest on record, behind only the infamous drought years of 2002 and 2018…
The high country of the San Juan Mountains received about normal snowpack this winter, but it melted fast and early. On top of that, soils were so dry they absorbed more water than usual.
One issue that concerns Bollinger is that the atmosphere is so dry, it is causing rapid evaporation of what little moisture there is – called evaporative demand…
Bollinger wonders whether a lack of monsoons in Colorado is the new normal.
“This is the fourth year in a row we have not gotten the benefits of monsoon moisture,” she said. “It’s concerning to think that might be a trend. Or is it just really bad luck? I don’t know the answer to that right now.”
As of this week, Vallecito and Lemon reservoirs were at about 24% and 27% capacity. Ken Beck, superintendent of the Pine River Irrigation District, said in an email to constituents that outflows were reduced to 5 cfs on Thursday…
The main concern for water managers is whether the upcoming winter will bring enough snowpack to replenish reservoirs. In previous drought years, such as 2018, the next winter brought heavy snowfall.
But meteorologists say the region may be stuck in a La Niña cycle, which typically means less snow for Southwest Colorado. That could result in less water for livestock and municipalities, and spell disaster for next year’s wildfire season.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor October 6, 2020.
West Drought Monitor October 6, 2020.
Colorado Drought Monitor October 6, 2020.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Temperatures for the week were below normal over much of the Plains, Midwest, South, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, with departures of 5-10 degrees below normal for many locations. The West continued to be warm with temperatures near normal to slightly above through the Rocky Mountains and 5-10 degrees above normal over the West Coast. Temperatures in New England were also slightly above normal, with the greatest departures in Maine. Below-normal precipitation dominated almost the entire country. Precipitation amounts were greatest over the eastern seaboard, with the Northeast recording the most rain. Almost no precipitation was recorded in the western two-thirds of the country. In the next several days, eyes will be on Hurricane Delta and where it will make landfall along the Gulf Coast. Current projections are taking the storm ashore in Louisiana…
Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the eastern half of the region with departures of up to 6-8 degrees below normal while the western half was warmer than normal with departures of 4-6 degrees above normal. Precipitation was almost none existent in the region for the week, with only a few areas of light showers in portions of South Dakota and Nebraska. Moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions were expanded in portions of eastern North Dakota. In eastern, southwest and central Nebraska, severe drought expanded along with some expansion of moderate drought. Moderate, severe, and extreme drought also expanded in western Nebraska as the entire state continues to dry out. In South Dakota, moderate drought was expanded in the northwest while severe drought was expanded in the southeast. A new area of extreme drought was also introduced in southeast South Dakota. Extreme drought was introduced in far southwest South Dakota while moderate drought also expanded to the east. In northeast Wyoming, moderate drought expanded while severe drought expanded slightly in the southeast. Eastern Colorado had a large expansion of extreme drought conditions while severe drought expanded in the northeast…
Hot and dry continues to be the theme of the region and also the monsoon season that was minimal at best, all of which is providing the conduit for continued deterioration in the region. Over the last 6 months, Arizona and California have had their warmest April–September period ever in 126 years, with New Mexico and Nevada the 2nd warmest. During that same 6-month period, Utah and Arizona have also had their driest period ever, with New Mexico having their 2nd and Colorado their 3rd driest. In Arizona, the new established record for statewide precipitation was greater than 2 inches drier than the previous record. During the current week, temperatures were warmest along the coast, where departures were 5-10 degrees above normal for the week. Drought intensified and expanded over southeast Montana and into northwest Wyoming where moderate, severe, and extreme drought all increased in coverage. A new area of moderate drought was introduced in southwest Wyoming and into southeast Idaho. Western Colorado and eastern Utah had large expansions of exceptional drought, and this also went into northwest New Mexico. Extreme drought also expanded over north central Colorado. Western and northern New Mexico as well as northeast Arizona had severe and extreme drought expand while a new area of extreme drought was introduced in eastern portions of New Mexico. In southern Arizona, extreme and exceptional drought also expanded in coverage. In Idaho, abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought expanded over the southeast and southwest portions of the state as well as into southeast Oregon. Central and northeast Oregon also had expansion of severe and extreme drought this week…
Although most of the region received no precipitation during the week, cooler temperatures helped to reduce the amount of drought expansion this week as temperatures were generally 3-6 degrees below normal. Abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought were expanded over northern Oklahoma this week while extreme drought expanded over the southwest portions of the state. Abnormally dry conditions expanded over portions of southern Louisiana and eastern Mississippi while moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions expanded over northwest Arkansas. Texas continued to see conditions deteriorate over the panhandle and areas of the south Texas Plains and into the Hill Country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated much of life and the economy in 2020, but when it comes to water use along the Front Range, drought is still the ruling force.
Most municipal water providers saw commercial water use plummet at the beginning of the pandemic, but those savings were quickly erased once the hot summer rolled in and the region’s residents switched on their sprinklers.
“The increase in residential and irrigation use have more than offset the decrease in commercial use, resulting in above normal water use across the service area,” said Todd Hartman with Denver Water. “The short story from our perspective is that we are seeing higher use this watering season because of very hot, dry conditions.”
The entire state of Colorado has been under some level of drought since early August, meaning that grass, shrubs and trees need more water than normal. To make up for that increased demand, Front Range communities have to rely more on the Western Slope water contained in their reservoirs.
In a typical year about 48% of Denver’s water comes from the Western Slope, while Colorado Springs pipes in about 75% of its water from the other side of the divide. Fort Collins typically gets more than half of its water from the Western Slope and Aurora Water gets 25% of its water from sources within the Colorado River basin.
Even though most of western Colorado is now in an extreme drought, Front Range water providers are able to rely on their storage from previous years to provide that additional water and then refill the reservoirs during the next snowmelt season.
Northern Water manages the Colorado Big-Thompson project, which pumps water from west of the Continental Divide to municipal and agricultural users along the northern Front Range. During a drought, the water district’s board generally increases the amount of water per share of the project that it doles out, known as a quota, allowing more water to be drawn from its reservoirs and increasing the amount of water delivered to shareholders. In a typical year, the project delivers about 217,000 acre-feet of water to its users. This year, to make up for drought, the board gave users an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water.
“The more water that’s available on the Front Range, like through soil moisture and local storage, the lower the quota we set because the rest of the demand can be furnished by local sources,” said Jeff Stahla with Northern Water. “The drier it is then the higher the quota, because we’re supplementing.”
Outdoor watering dominates
The data from the year so far show just how overwhelming a factor outdoor water use is on overall water-use trends. Even in a pandemic, the watering needs of yards on the Front Range during drought seem to supersede any other behavior changes. In a typical year, 40% of urban water use on the Front Range is for outdoor use. That number often increases during a drought.
Preliminary consumption numbers for the year through August show single-family use up in Denver by about 20% and multi-family use up 5%. Industrial use is down 5%, office buildings are down 9% and restaurants — which remain under limited operations due to the pandemic — are down a whopping 31%. Altogether, Denver Water saw a 12% increase in water use system wide this year, through August. The increase in single-family use began in May when many home irrigation systems were likely first turned on. Other Front Range cities saw similar trends.
Because the pandemic overlapped with a hot, dry summer, it’s been difficult for utilities to determine how much of an effect either event had on overall water use. The most revealing data comes from the spring when businesses closed and most people had yet to turn on their sprinklers.
At Aurora Water, the water conservation team started pulling data early in the pandemic to see if any trends emerged. Between March and April — right as the state transitioned to a stay-at-home order — Aurora saw a commercial water use drop of 14.3% accompanied with an 8.8% increase in residential water use and a 4.6% increase in multi-family use.
But according to Tim York, a water conservation specialist at Aurora Water, the modest increases in residential water use skyrocketed once irrigation season began. Commercial use also ticked back up once businesses began reopening. According to York, Aurora Water saw a 10.3% system-wide increase from January to July that they attribute almost entirely to drought conditions.
“Indoor use kind of is what it is, right? I mean, you’ve got to use the toilet as many times as you need to, you’ve got to do dishes when they’re dirty, you’re going to take your showers just like you normally would, but people react differently to weather,” York said.
‘People are home and wanting to work on their yards’
Most utilities had an adequate amount of water storage going into the summer to make up for the increased water use. Denver, Colorado Springs and Aurora have maintained their normal summer watering restrictions, which include guidelines on when and how often to water outdoors.
On Oct. 1, Fort Collins went under mandatory level IV water restrictions in order to avoid a water shortage in the fall. In most cases residents are no longer allowed to water their lawns and cannot wash their cars. The restrictions are due partially to drought conditions and some planned maintenance on water infrastructure, but the city is also taking preemptive measures to conserve water in case the Cameron Peak Fire begins to affect the water quality in the Poudre River.
Though the drought has been the driving factor in water use this year, water managers say that the pandemic likely did have some effect on behavior and might even pay dividends down the line. Abbye Neel, a water conservation specialist in Fort Collins, says the city has seen a large increase in its Xeriscape Incentive Program. The program provides rebates and project support for Fort Collins residents to redesign their yards to be more water-efficient.
“I have nothing to back this up, but I think it’s just like people are home and wanting to work on their yards,” she said. “There’s a high potential to do more projects this year as people actually get their ducks in a row and sign up.”
This story initially ran online in the Sky-Hi News on Oct. 3 and in print in the Summit Daily News Oct. 4.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday held the first meeting of the Anti-Speculation Law Work Group. The task force was established as a result of passage of a bill this year to consider ways to strengthen the current anti-speculation law and recommend any changes to a legislative committee by Aug. 15 .
The bill was sponsored by state Reps. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon and Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Don Coram, R-Montrose. It was inspired by a growing number purchases of agricultural land and associated water rights by investment firms, including wide-scale purchases in the Grand Valley by Water Asset Management, which is based in New York.
Current state law prohibits water speculation by requiring water to be used for a beneficial purpose. An 18-member work group made up of state agency staff, water lawyers and others will be considering how the law might be tightened.
None of the bill sponsors participated in Wednesday’s meeting. But Scott Steinbrecher, an assistant deputy attorney general co-chairing the task force, said a clear purpose of the bill is to examine how the law should be strengthened to prevent situations where water rights are bought and leased back to farmers though the intent is to use the water like an investment.
Alex Funk, a task force member who is an agricultural water resource specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, voiced concern about approaches that might limit the value of assets to agricultural producers.
“There is certainly a tension here where land and water assets are extremely valuable to producers. In some cases these are sort of their only asset,” he said…Task force member Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which has been watching some of the area water-related acquisitions by investment firms with concern, said agricultural producers looking to sell their assets are entitled to do that.
“I assume we don’t want to prevent that from happening,” he said.
He said what’s important under even the current law is the intent of the buyer of water rights. He said they can profit from the water’s use but their end goal in buying rights can’t be the pure value of the water, and he’s interested in looking at ways to determine intent.
Daris Jutten, a rancher in the Uncompahgre Valley, said his interest in serving on the task force is considering impacts on property rights.
“I want to keep the land value prices where they are but I also don’t want to see buy and dry,” he said.
He was referring to situations in which transactions result in water no longer being used to irrigate agricultural land and instead going for other uses such as by municipal utilities.
Task force member Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said the district sees entities buying up water there with the intent to dry up land in the future.
“In addition to that we do have those who want to sell, so water is a property right. … It’s a dilemma, but we don’t want to impact people’s property rights,” he said.
Here’s the release from North Carolina State University (Sankar Arumugam, Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, Matt Shipman):
River systems are essential resources for everything from drinking water supply to power generation – but these systems are also hydrologically complex, and it is not always clear how water flow data from various monitoring points relates to any specific piece of infrastructure. Researchers from Cornell University and North Carolina State University have now developed a tool that draws from multiple databases to give water resource managers and infrastructure users the information they need to make informed decisions about water use on river networks.
“A streamgage tells you what the water level is at a specific point in the river – but that’s not really enough information,” says Sankar Arumugam, co-author of a paper on the work and a professor of civil engineering at NC State. “If you are an infrastructure operator, what you really need to know is how long it will take for that water-level information to be relevant to your infrastructure. How far away is the streamgage from your water intake along the river path, not just as the crow flies? How closely connected are those two things, hydrologically?”
“This information is important for managing water systems efficiently, for ensuring that infrastructure – such as power plants – are able to continue operating, and for protecting the infrastructure,” says Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, first author of the paper and currently a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University. “The information is particularly important during extreme conditions, such as flooding or drought.
“All of that data already exists, it’s just scattered across separate databases. We’ve developed an algorithm that efficiently pulls all of that information into one place and accounts for how the streamgages and the various infrastructure sites are hydrologically connected over a large watershed,” says Mukhopadhyay, who worked on the research as a Ph.D. student at NC State.
To demonstrate the tool’s utility, the researchers used the algorithm to create a connectivity network demonstrating the interconnectedness of about 1,400 reservoirs and 1,600 streamgages in the upper and lower Colorado River basins.
For this network, the algorithm used data from three sources: topographic information from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Hydrographic Dataset; streamgages from the USGS National Water Information System; and reservoir data from the National Inventory of Dams.
“This is a tool that can be used by power plant operators, reservoir operators, water resource managers – really it’s for anyone who draws water from the river system,” Mukhopadhyay says. “It can inform them about river conditions both upstream and downstream, and help them make decisions about where they should draw water from the system.”
The researchers have also made a template publicly available, allowing anyone to develop similar connectivity networks for other watersheds.
“It should be fairly easy for water resources professionals,” Mukhopadhyay says.
“We are currently working on a national version, which we think will help us better understand all of the ways that river basins connect infrastructures across the country,” Arumugam says.
The work was done with support from the National Science Foundation, under grants 1823111 and 1442909; and from the USGS Powell Center Working Group Project “A global synthesis of land-surface fluxes under natural and human-altered watersheds using the Budyko framework.”
Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.
For two days later this month, Oct. 20 and 22, Chaffee County Commissioners will hear from citizens and organizations in public hearings on the proposal to renew a 1041 permit granted to international conglomerate Nestlé Waters North America. If approved, the permit would allow Nestlé to continue to pump and truck local spring water it later sells as bottled water.
The original permit, granted by then-commissioners in 2009 was a controversial decision and the renewal has also generated opposition from activists who want the county to end the agreement.
Basically, the company pumps millions of gallons of water from the Ruby Mountain Spring in the north county annually, pipes it to a collection tank and pump station at Johnson Village, where it is loaded onto tankers, driven to a Denver bottling plant, and sold as Arrowhead Spring Water in plastic bottles.
The original (and current) agreement allows Nestlé to withdraw as much as 65 million gallons of water from the aquifer. However, company officials say Nestlé draws less than half that amount currently.
The original permit granted to Nestlé in 2009 was opposed by many residents, and an organized resistance to renewing the agreement has recently been mounted.
Larry Lawrence, Resource Manager for Nestlé Waters North America spoke with Ark Valley Voice recently about the agreement, what it provided both the company and community, and how the company has met the 1041 permit requirements, which some opponents of renewal dispute.
An engineer by profession, Lawrence has been with Nestlé Waters since 2003, and came to Colorado in 2019. He says he was already aware of the project through technical reviews with earlier resource managers prior to joining this assignment.
Lawrence said an earlier resource manager (Bruce Lauerman) was assigned to this area, and Lawrence took over in 2019. Looking for a water source closer to Denver, he said was a priority.
“The Arrowhead brand was marketed in New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and a portion of Montana, all from California,” said Lawrence. “In reviews of not only our physical footprint but our carbon footprint and other aspects, where would we want to locate another factory? So Denver was chosen because of the reach we would have from this factory and to cover this market, which was a pretty good size bottled water market,” he added.
The factory was built in 2006, producing Nestlé Pure Life, a purified water from the municipal water system in Denver. Nestlé soon realized they wanted to produce the Arrowhead spring water brand. The prior Nestlé representative reviewed area springs and contacted various water agencies to see if they knew of any potential spring sources.
The Hagen Fish Hatchery on the Arkansas River, no longer in operation, was identified by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Nestlé reached out to the Hagen family and reached a letter of intent for purchase at that time.
Lawrence said that at that time, they did several different studies. These included hydrological, environmental, and biological, to determine the impact of water collection there, water level withdrawal potential, and to determine the sustainability and volume of the site.
“A-number one for us is we never want to be in a position to where we recommend to the company to purchase a spring source that is non-sustainable,” said Lawrence. “…that would be a huge mistake for us, and it’s not a good business decision at all.”
The sites were studied to confirm a reasonable withdrawal rate to allow for replenishment at a sustainable rate. Another site, Bighorn Spring was reviewed, and because it did not meet replenishment rates, was not developed with Nestlé opting in favor of Ruby Mountain Springs.
Prior to that, Lawrence said other resource managers had looked at many other sites but they were ruled out for various reasons. In some cases it was because the water rights had been sold, even though there was a viable spring. According to Lawrence, springs in the eastern and southern U.S. are quite different than those generally found in the west.
It is an understatement to say that water issues are complex, especially in the west. Once the local site was selected, Nestlé reviewed what local and state government rules were for the permitting process.
The 1041 process in Colorado and in Chaffee County at the time was fairly new, and Nestlé, said Lawrence, was one of the first companies to enter that process.
“The spring here at Ruby Mountain Springs is similar to other mountain springs we see in the west. One of the differences here is we do have the Arkansas River running adjacent to the spring source,” he said.
The Nestlé operation includes the pumping stations at the spring site and long lengths of piping underground connecting to the Johnson Village property. That facility includes a large 30,000-gallon storage tank and pumps. Here, the water is loaded to tanker trucks that weigh about 87,000 pounds when full, which make the trips to the Denver bottling facility.
According to the permit, about 25 truckloads are allowed to run on U.S. 285 daily.
Next, we’ll review some of the issues and local opposition to the Nestlé 1041 renewal.
Eddie Van Halen, whose razzle-dazzle guitar-playing — combining complex harmonics, innovative fingerings and ingenious devices he patented for his instrument — made him the most influential guitarist of his generation and his band, Van Halen, one of the most popular rock acts of all time, died on Tuesday. He was 65.
Mr. Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, said in a statement that his father had “lost his long and arduous battle with cancer.” The statement did not say where he died.
Mr. Van Halen structured his solos the way Macy’s choreographs its Independence Day fireworks shows: shooting off rockets of sound that seemed to explode in a shower of light and color. His outpouring of riffs, runs and solos was hyperactive and athletic, joyous and wry, making deeper or darker emotions feel irrelevant…
Mr. Van Halen was most widely revered by his peers for perfecting the technique of two-handed tapping on the guitar neck. That approach allowed him to add new textures, and percussive possibilities, to his instrument, while also making its six strings sound as expressive as a piano’s 88 keys or as changeable as a synthesizer. He received patents for three guitar devices he had created. In 2012, Guitar World Magazine ranked him No. 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
“I’m always pushing things past where they’re supposed to be,” Mr. Van Halen told the educational website Zocalo Public Square in 2015. “When ‘Spinal Tap’ was going to 11, I was going to 15,” he said — a reference to that film’s famous joke about a guitarist who dubiously claims that his amplifier can exceed its highest decibel level.
The zest in Mr. Van Halen’s playing paired perfectly with the hedonistic songs and persona of his hard-rocking band, Van Halen, whose original lineup featured his brother Alex on pummeling drums, Michael Anthony on thunderous bass and the singer David Lee Roth, who presented a scene-stealing mix of Lothario, peacock and clown…
Eleven of the band’s studio albums reached the Top Five, and four snagged the top spot on Billboard’s Top 200. Van Halen amassed eight Billboard Top 20 singles, including its cover of Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” which reached No. 12 in 1982, and “Jump,” which seized the No. 1 spot in 1984 and held it for five weeks. In 2007, the band — including both Mr. Roth and Mr. Hagar — was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on Jan. 26, 1955, in Amsterdam to Jan and Eugenia (Beers) Van Halen. His father, a struggling Dutch classical musician who played clarinet, saxophone and piano, met his Indonesian-born wife while on tour in Indonesia.
In 1962, when Mr. Van Halen was 7, his family relocated to the United States, driven away by prejudice against his mother and unfavorable work opportunities in the Netherlands. They settled in Pasadena, Calif. His mother worked as a maid, his father as a janitor while seeking work as a musician.
In a new country, with a new language to learn, the Van Halen sons, Eddie and his older brother, Alex, turned to music as their lingua franca. Eddie first studied classical piano, which he excelled at despite a serious limitation.
A water court case is headed toward trial because the state of Colorado and a water conservancy district still cannot agree on whether the district actually needs the amount of water it claims it does for a large dam and reservoir project in the northwest corner of the state.
Expert reports from an engineering firm, an aquatic ecologist and an economics firm outline how they say the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District can and will put its water storage rights to beneficial use. But even after Rio Blanco reduced the amount of water it’s asking for by more than 23,000 acre-feet, a report from Colorado’s top water engineers indicates the district still largely has a project in search of a need.
In their expert report submitted Aug. 31, Deputy State Engineer Tracy Kosloff and Division 6 Engineer Erin Light outline 11 instances where they say Rio Blanco has not met the requirements of state law by showing it has a specific plan and intent for the water it says it needs.
According to the report, Rio Blanco has not shown a need for water above its current supply in the categories of irrigation, municipal use, recreation, maintenance and recovery of endangered species or a back-up water supply to protect against a compact call. State engineers are asking that part or all of the water claimed for these uses be removed from the court’s final decree and deducted from the total water rights claim.
A pre-trial readiness conference is scheduled for Nov. 13. The case is scheduled to go to a 10-day trial starting Jan. 4 in Routt County District Court in Steamboat Springs, but the parties could still reach a settlement before then.
In 2014 Rio Blanco applied for a 90,000 acre-foot conditional water-storage right on the White River and proposed a dam and reservoir between Rangely and Meeker, known as the White River storage project or the Wolf Creek project. The district has now reduced that claim to either 66,720 acre-feet for an off-channel reservoir or 72,720 acre-feet for an on-channel reservoir.
There are two proposed versions of the project: one that would construct a dam and reservoir on the White River (the scale of this project is now rare in Colorado) or an off-channel reservoir at the bottom of Wolf Creek gulch, in the arid sagebrush hills just north of the river.
The conservancy district would prefer to build the off-channel option: a 66,720-acre-foot reservoir, with a dam that is 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long. An off-channel reservoir would involve pumping water uphill from the river into the reservoir.
Rio Blanco is a taxpayer-supported special district that was formed in 1992 to operate and maintain Taylor Draw Dam, which creates Kenney Reservoir, just east of Rangely. The district extends roughly from the Yellow Creek confluence with the White River to the Utah state line.
Disputed amounts and uses
Rio Blanco says the project should store 7,000 acre-feet annually for irrigation. But Light and Kosloff’s report says according to the 2019 Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan, the irrigated acres in the White River Basin are projected to decrease in the future, and that this storage project, because it is situated low in the basin, cannot serve the majority of the irrigated lands anyway, which are concentrated upstream along the mainstem of the White River near Meeker and along tributaries like Piceance Creek.
“Per the proposed decree, the applicant is once again requesting the court award irrigation use,” the engineer’s expert report reads. “The engineers continue to contend there is no evidence to suggest that there is a future water need for this purpose.”
Rio Blanco says some of the water would also be used in a future augmentation plan to replace depletions within the district that are out of priority due to a Colorado River Compact curtailment.
Rio Blanco is proposing that 11,887 acre-feet per year be stored as “augmentation,” or insurance in case of a compact call. According to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the upper basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet a year to Lake Powell for use by the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). If the upper basin doesn’t make this delivery, the lower basin can “call” for its water, triggering involuntary cutbacks in water use for the upper basin.
By releasing this replacement water stored in the proposed reservoir to meet these compact obligations, it would allow other water uses in the district to continue and avoid the mandatory cutbacks in the event of a compact call.
But state engineers say compact compliance is a problem to be tackled by the state and not individual water users. And since no one knows exactly how compact compliance would unfold (that’s still to be decided by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the state engineer) it’s not possible for Rio Blanco to have a plan in place for this augmentation water.
Light and Kosloff’s report says there is no recognized beneficial use that allows a water right “to provide water to users outside of Colorado for the purpose of allowing ongoing diversions of water rights within Colorado.”
Rio Blanco claims it needs three years-worth of drought contingency storage for uses within the basin. But state engineers say that there has never been a call on the White River below the town of Meeker, even in the driest years, and the likelihood of the reservoir being able to fill during the runoff season every year is extremely high. Light and Kosloff point out that not even Denver Water or Aurora Water have three times their annual demand in reserve.
The state also says Rio Blanco has overestimated the amount of water the town of Rangely will need, and that the need for the full amount claimed for recreation water is unsubstantiated, as is the need for water for the recovery of endangered fish species.
No comment from engineers, district officials
State engineers declined to talk to Aspen Journalism about their expert report.
Rio Blanco District Manager Alden Vanden Brink also declined to comment on the state’s opposition, citing concerns about litigation. Vanden Brink also is chair of the Yampa/White/Green River Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
But another roundtable member says the project doesn’t hold water. Deirdre Macnab owns 4M Ranch, which is adjacent to the proposed project site, and was until recently the sole remaining opposer in the case. She recently pulled out of the formal water court process, citing mounting legal costs, but still opposes the project.
“Families living in western Rio Blanco County should be aware that a project that the professionals say doesn’t show any justification would put them in debt for years, and not just paying for the hundreds of millions in construction costs, but also almost a million dollars every year in electricity costs to pump the water up and over the dam,” Macnab said in a written statement. “Do Rio Blanco citizens really think this is in our economic best interests?”
Despite the state opposing the current project proposal, since 2013 it has also given roughly $850,000 to Rio Blanco in the form of Colorado Water Conservation Board grants to study the project. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has also given Rio Blanco $50,000 to investigate the feasibility of the project.
River District General Manager Andy Mueller said the multi-purpose water uses outlined in the project is the way water projects should be put together.
“Identifying the right-size project for the White River is still very important,” he said. “The specifics about the White River storage project as it’s currently proposed I think are things that still need to be worked out.”
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Steamboat Pilot & Today and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Oct. 6 edition of The Steamboat Pilot & Today.
From Colorado Trout Unlimited via The Sky-Hi Daily News:
A project designed to improve the Fraser River in Granby began construction Thursday.
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of November and the bridge across the Fraser River at Kaibab Park will be closed during the work.
The Granby Diversion Dam, which helps divert the town’s water supply and agricultural irrigation water, is an 80 foot wide, 3.5 foot high boulder structure that spans the Fraser River. At low flows, the dam is a barrier that prevents fish movement critical for a healthy fishery and blocks the movement of small non-motorized crafts that currently portage around it, according to a release from Trout Unlimited.
The project is the result of a partnership between Granby, Trout Unlimited and Grand County. Funds were contributed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Fund, with the Northern Colorado Water Conservation Board contributing most of the materials for the project and Colorado Parks and Wildlife providing assistance.
The goal of the project is to provide fish passage for trout and native species and for non-motorized boating recreation without interfering with water diversion for municipal and irrigation purposes. The project will also provide resilience for future flood events, facilitate natural stream processes like sediment transport and no rise in the 100 year floodplain.
The Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting Department’s review of a planned expansion of Gross Reservoir in western Boulder County is underway, officials announced Thursday.
This is the latest in a years-long dispute between Boulder County and Denver Water, who owns and operates the reservoir and dam. A Boulder District Court judge in December 2019 affirmed the county’s right to require that Denver Water go through its 1041 land use review process in order to expand the reservoir…
“Denver Water put in a request to determine if the expansion project would be exempt from our land use code,” Boulder County spokesperson Richard Hackett said.
However, the water utility company in July dismissed that appeal soon after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted approval for Denver Water to continue with design and construction after the county told the company it would not conduct the review while the litigation was ongoing. The regulatory commission’s approval stipulates that project construction begin within two years. The project in 2017 received the other permit it needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…
No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here. Hackett said the agencies reviewing the application have until Oct. 14 to return initial comments, although the county has the right to extend that deadline due to extenuating circumstances caused by the coronavirus.
In the meantime, community members can submit questions or written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no deadline for doing so. Comments will be accepted until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a decision.
FromThe Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller) via The Aspen Times:
Every square mile of Eagle County is in “extreme” drought. That’s the second-most severe classification. Portions of Garfield, Mesa and Delta counties are in the worst category, “exceptional” drought…
Erin Walter, a meteorologist at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said a high-pressure system will move out of the area toward the end of this week. That movement, along with a low-pressure system moving in off the Pacific coast, will create a chance of precipitation starting Saturday and lasting into Oct. 12.
That’s about it, though. Weather forecasters don’t predict the weather with confidence more than about seven days in advance. But the climate prediction arm of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for a chance of warmer and drier than average conditions for most of the contiguous portion of the U.S…
Holly Loff, the director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, said the Eagle River below Gypsum was recently running at 150 cubic feet per second. Normal flow this time of year is 229 cubic feet per second. The Eagle River at Avon has been running at 58.6 cubic feet per second, 51% of normal.
“It’s scary right now,” Loff said. Loff lives along the river in Gypsum, and said she can see rocks in the middle of the stream that have never before been above water.
Autumn is usually a dry period, although this fall is much drier than normal.
Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs officer for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said that the agency just after Labor Day put out the word to its customers to start winterizing their irrigation systems…
A La Nina develops with cooler-than-average temperatures in that part of the Pacific. That tends to bring storms through the Pacific Northwest, and that generally benefits the northern Colorado Rockies. The Vail Valley tends to benefit from La Nina patterns, although that isn’t a sure thing…
Johnson noted that this year’s drought is just a continuation of a pattern that’s persisted for this century so far.
“We have a changing climate, and we’ve got more folks living here,” Johnson said. “And the outlook for winter isn’t great.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The entity that operates a long-running cloud-seeding program aimed at boosting snowfall on Grand Mesa is seeking to have its state permit for the program renewed for 10 years.
The effort by the Water Enhancement Authority is one of a couple of permit renewal applications now before the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Durango-based Western Weather Consultants is seeking a renewal of a program for Vail Corp.’s ski areas at Vail and Beaver Creek, and another permit renewal is being pursued in southwest Colorado.
Water Enhancement Authority proposes to continue conducting the Grand Mesa operation on behalf of entities including the city of Grand Junction, Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District, Grand Mesa Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Powderhorn Ski Co. and Collbran Water Conservancy District.
Altogether, 16 organizations are involved, said Mark Ritterbush, the authority’s secretary and treasurer, during a recent online public hearing on the permit renewal conducted by the conservation board. Ritterbush also is water services manager for the city of Grand Junction.
The Grand Mesa program dates back decades, and irrigation companies originally pooled money to create it. It now targets some 320 square miles roughly above 8,000 feet in elevation.
Any of 13 manually operated seeders and five remotely operated ones can be used to send silver iodide particles skyward into storm clouds when factors such as wind direction and temperature are right, in an attempt to enhance snowfall as supercooled water attaches to the particles.
The Grand Mesa program estimates it has boosted snowfall by an average of 4% since 1990, and by 7% to 8% percent each of the last three years as it has improved its operations through measures such as more targeted seeding and more use of remote seeders. The remote devices can be located at higher elevations closer to clouds, making it easier to get silver iodide into those clouds.
The program estimates the amount of snowfall enhancement by comparing snowfall averages at Grand Mesa and non-seeded locations in the region to historic averages before Grand Mesa seeding began.
Ritterbush estimates that an 8% increase in snowpack on the Grand Mesa translates to about 2,000 additional acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.
Based on the program budget, it’s costing about $7 an acre-foot for that additional water, which Ritterbush said doesn’t just help municipal water supplier and irrigators, but also helps the environment by boosting stream flows, and supports recreation activities such as skiing and rafting…
Altogether, there are eight cloud-seeding programs in Colorado. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including Front Range municipal water entities and from within states in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin.
Andrew Rickert with the Colorado Water Conservation Board said at the Grand Mesa program hearing that new funding is allowing for three new remote seeders to be installed in Colorado, including one on Grand Mesa if the permit there is renewed. Statewide, some 112 manual seeders and 13 remote stations are in use now.
Here’s a deep-dive into the proposed Whitney Reservoir Project from David O. Williams that’s running in The Rocky Mountain Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.
That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.
All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.
The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…
What didn’t make it into my Vail Daily story due to space constraints was the Eagle County angle. It’s important because way back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.
Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.
All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.
So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:
Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.
“Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”
That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later…
“Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.
“Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.
Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter.
“Sen. [Michael] Bennett’s office says that whenever they’re approached by Aurora Water about moving those boundaries in Holy Cross, they say, ‘You need to go see what Eagle County thinks.’” Chandler-Henry added. “To date they have not done that because I think they know what we think about that.”
An official with Bennet’s office confirmed they are aware of the wilderness adjustment plan but are not supportive of pulling back boundaries to make room for a proposed reservoir because there is not broad local backing. Bennet has been a strong advocate of wilderness expansion, not shrinkage…
Conservation groups see this as a key issue, linking the test drilling to an eventual dam proposal that could lead to less wilderness. The original Homestake II proposal would have been in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area…
Chandler-Henry said Eagle County is firm on the wilderness issue but staying openminded on 1041 so any proposal can be weighed fairly on its merits.
“One of the things that we’re doing, which is going to be really useful, is trying to tie our 1041 permitting in with the community water plan that [Eagle River Watershed Council] is working on … because a 1041 allows us to look at environmental impact, economic impact, infrastructure,” Chandler-Henry said, adding the utility has been modeling for future growth.
“Those are always our concerns with any sort of 1041 permit,” Chandler-Henry added. “What happens if water is dammed up in a reservoir? Then what happens to the Eagle River, to the environment, to the subdivisions that are relying on that water, to the recreation economy?”
Chandler-Henry said Aurora Water has been a part of that planning process…
The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments in opposition to a geotechnical and drilling study by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage six miles southwest of Red Cliff, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator…
Operating together as Homestake Partners, Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet…
Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”
Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…
Two prominent local conservation groups – the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council – both submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam…
The Eagle River MOU was drawn up after a lengthy court battle that ended in the 1990s when Eagle County rejected the cities’ Homestake II reservoir proposal using its 1041 powers under a state law passed in the 1970s that gives counties permit authority over certain outside infrastructure projects that could impact the local economy and environment.
Besides Homestake Partners (the two cities), the MOU was signed by the Colorado River District, Climax Molybdenum Company, and the Vail Consortium consisting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts).
The two private companies signed onto the MOU – Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) – declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.
Any proposed water storage project by any of the signatories has to meet the objectives of the MOU, which are, “Develop a joint use water project in Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.”
ERWSD’s Johnson said the water provider can’t comment on Whitney Reservoir because its environmental impacts have yet to be defined, but she did have overall praise for the MOU.
“To date, water users in the Eagle River basin have received great benefits from the MOU,” Johnson said. “It has been the basis to develop key elements of the local municipal and snowmaking water supplies that have been essential to the economic vitality of our community.”
The MOU provides 20,000 acre-feet for the cities, 10,000 acre-feet of firm water yield for the Vail Consortium (meaning if there’s a shortage, those needs are met first), and 3,000 acre-feet of water storage for Climax. About 2,000 acre-feet were already developed with Eagle Park Reservoir, but that leaves 28,000 acre-feet of yield and 3,000 of storage undeveloped.
It’s the rare point of bipartisan agreement in Colorado politics where public spending is concerned: Since the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights took effect in 1992, state lawmakers have increasingly turned to fees to fund government operations.
But how you feel about that development, depends on your politics. To the left, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the state’s strict restrictions on taxation. To the right, it’s a sign that TABOR, the state’s landmark constitutional amendment governing public spending, didn’t go far enough to restrain government growth.
This November, that debate goes to voters, as it so often does in Colorado, in the form of a complicated ballot measure that demands an up-or-down vote on the future of the state’s fiscal policy.
Proposition 117, supported by conservative anti-tax groups, would require voter approval for the creation of certain fee-funded state government programs known as “enterprises.” Traditionally, these are public entities, like water utilities, parks or toll roads, that operate like a business because they are funded primarily by user fees rather than taxes.
Existing enterprise programs would be exempt from the new requirements, and the referendum would apply only to new fees that generate $100 million over their first five years, or an average of $20 million annually. And unlike the voter-consent requirements found in TABOR, local governments would be exempt from additional requirements.
Nonetheless, if the proposition passes, it would represent a major expansion of voter control over Colorado fiscal policy that would reshape future budget fights and further limit the ability of state lawmakers to create government programs.
A nonpartisan legislative analysis found that had Proposition 117 been in effect previously, it would have triggered elections on seven of the 16 government-run state enterprises Colorado had in place in 2019, affecting as much as $7.6 billion in annual public spending by universities, state parks and prisons. It also would have required voter approval for a reinsurance program pushed by Gov. Jared Polis that imposed new fees on health insurance plans and hospitals.
Here’s an overview of what you should know about Proposition 117 and enterprise funds.
What are state enterprises, and why do they matter in Colorado?
State and local governments all over the country rely on so-called enterprise funds to pay for essential services. These are effectively government-run businesses that mostly operate with the fees they charge to users. In Colorado, state and local taxes can’t make up any more than 10% of an enterprise fund’s revenue.
Common examples include public water utilities, municipal airports and the entities that operate toll roads. But enterprises take on a special significance in Colorado because of the state’s unique restraints on taxation.
TABOR, added to the state constitution in 1992, does two key things that have contributed to the proliferation of enterprises.
One, TABOR requires voter approval for all new taxes — but not fees, which are legally distinct from taxes in that they can’t be used for general government services. Instead, courts have said they have to fund something that’s reasonably connected to the fee itself. For instance, toll fees can pay for road maintenance, and park fees can pay for parks upkeep, but neither could be used to pay for health care or courts. And because voters have rejected most new statewide taxes in the TABOR era, lawmakers tend to view fees as a more politically feasible way to boost spending on public services. Not all government fees are tied to enterprise funds, but that’s the purpose for many of them.
Two, TABOR prevents general government spending from increasing faster than a revenue cap, which limits the growth of the state budget to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Historically, this limit has not allowed the state to keep up with the growth in expenses such as Medicaid caseloads or schools. So to pay for new initiatives without cutting funding to other areas of the budget or asking for new taxes, lawmakers effectively have to set up programs as an enterprise, which TABOR explicitly exempts from its spending limit.
State lawmakers also have used this mechanism to prevent existing programs from crowding out other services. College tuition and student fees, for instance, were reclassified in 2004 and now make up the state’s largest enterprise, generating $5.1 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. More recently, lawmakers converted a hospital-bed fee that helps reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care to an enterprise fund; it now generates around $1 billion a year.
The case against Proposition 117
Opponents view Proposition 117 as an unnecessary restraint that will make it that much harder for lawmakers to fund public services. And they balk at the notion that lawmakers have turned to fees to circumvent TABOR. The constitutional provision explicitly allows lawmakers to create fee-funded enterprises without the same restraints it imposes on taxes.
Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank, blames TABOR’s restrictions for the chronic underfunding of K-12 education, higher education and transportation — all in a state where, before the pandemic, the economy had consistently been rated among the nation’s strongest. He fears that placing new restrictions on enterprises will make matters worse.
And, he says, it’s simply not good government to continually put esoteric fiscal policy questions — like the $34 million petroleum storage tank enterprise, which charges fees to fund environmental clean-ups — on the ballot.
“Why do we want to make these very specific, technical, user-based issues politicized fights, where big money can come in and really distort the issue?” Wasserman said during the debate.
“This is why we send people to the state Capitol who are trying to operate government on our behalf,” he added.
State Sen. Dominick Moreno, the vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, also urged voters to reject it, saying that Proposition 117 would limit the state’s ability to respond to the ongoing financial crisis created by the coronavirus.
“Our teachers, doctors and nurses can’t afford more cuts and cannot be shut out of this recovery,” Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, said in a statement. Proposition 117 and the Proposition 116 measure to cut income taxes “would stall our recovery and permanently harm our ability to provide critical state services.”
Notably, unlike TABOR and some of Colorado’s other constitutional fiscal constraints, Proposition 117 is a statutory change, meaning that lawmakers could override it by passing legislation. But there would be political risks in doing so if voters approved it on the ballot.
The case in favor of Proposition 117
To supporters, Proposition 117 is a natural extension of the voter protections provided by TABOR — protections that they argue lawmakers have undermined by leaning so heavily on enterprises.
There’s no doubt that the growth of enterprising has been staggering. Just after TABOR took effect in the 1993-94 fiscal year, enterprise funds generated $742 million, which was just a fraction of the state’s total budget. In 2017-18, according to an analysis by Colorado Legislative Council, they generated nearly $18 billion. But not all of the total comes from fees. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to a separate legislative analysis, fee revenue collected by state enterprises only made up around 20% of the state’s roughly $29 billion budget.
Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group, said during a recent debate that enterprise funds were “used for good things in the beginning,” such as college tuition, the state lottery and state parks.
“What we’re concerned about is the things that it’s moving towards,” he said in the forum moderated by PBS12 and The Colorado Sun. “If you’re going to create a new program, you need buy-in from the people.”
One enterprise that Fields suggests goes too far and should have received voter approval is the state’s new reinsurance program, which lawmakers decided to fund through health insurance fees after the coronavirus pummeled the state’s coffers. Legislative analysts expect it to generate $94 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year and more than $100 million annually after that.
Colorado is more reliant on government fees than the average state, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, ranking 9th nationally in the percent of its budget that comes from service charges. Still, comparing fees and taxes across states is tricky. For one thing, Pew’s analysis excludes insurance funds, like Colorado’s unemployment trust fund, which is among the state’s largest enterprises. For another, Colorado’s “hospital provider fee” is considered a “bed tax” in many states, illustrating the degree to which TABOR has shaped even the words lawmakers use in creating policy.
“The legislature has been going around our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” Fields said. “If they label something a fee, they don’t have to go to voters for approval.”
Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…
As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…
It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.
When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.
Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”
John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:
“As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”
The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.
“It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”
Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…
The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.
Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.
While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.
The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.
“It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.
“The outcome will have profound consequences for the future of Earth’s climate.”
Whenever artist Michael Aschauer returns home after an extended stay in the United States, people here pepper him with questions about the direction America is heading.
With gallows humor typical of the city, they often ask, “Will it fall apart slowly, or very fast?” he said, adding that Vienna has plenty of experience with how rising and falling empires can destabilize global systems.
Aschauer is married to an American and keenly watches climate and energy politics on both sides of the Atlantic while trying to imagine a post-carbon future. In an informal social media art project, he documents gas stations that have been abandoned or converted to other uses.
He said it’s hard to imagine that Americans would re-elect the incumbent president, but that it can’t be ruled out, either, given the current volatility of U.S. politics. “The outcome will have profound consequences for the future of Earth’s climate,” he added.
Carbon budgets detailed in recent climate reports show that four more years of pro-fossil fuel policies in the U.S.would make it much harder for the world to reach the Paris climate agreement goal of preventing catastrophic global warming, he said. On the other hand, Biden’s decarbonization plan would accelerate demand for renewable energy in the world’s biggest consumer economy and speed the global shift to a zero-carbon economy.
He also said he’s noticed a brain drain away from the U.S. in fields like the arts and technology, and expects that to continue if Trump is reelected. Vienna, Berlin and other European cities are already full of American political refugees, he added.
In terms of climate policy, four more years of Trump would be damaging indeed, said Austrian-born Gernot Wagner, a climate economics professor at New York University. “We don’t have another presidential term to waste,” he said. “A Trump win would be devastating, especially since it’s not about emissions in any given year, but about the trajectory.”
And what happens in the U.S. affects China, Europe, India, Nigeria and elsewhere, he added. “A lot around climate policy is about momentum: ‘If you do something, then I will, too.’ A race to the top, rather than the bottom,” he said. “That’s what Paris was all about and still is. It’s also where a Biden victory can have the biggest impact.”
But China’s recently announced carbon neutrality goal could be a game-changer for global climate policy, he wrote in a recent commentary.
Political commentators in Europe say people care deeply about the American election because they understand it affects them, and not just because of climate policy. Some fear Trump, in a second term, could be prone to rogue actions that would trigger widespread economic and political instability.
There are also concerns about malignant U.S. influence in spheres like social media, trade and energy policy. Iran sanctions and differences over a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany are potential flashpoints. Recent polling shows America’s reputation has sagged under Trump.
But it’s not all fear and loathing—people here say they feel a cultural, social and economic affinity with the U.S. And the interest is even more intense this year, after extensive international media coverage of the escalating cycle of police violence and destructive protests, as well as wildfires, hurricanes, the botched pandemic response and potential election chaos all painted a picture of a country in turmoil.
Last week’s presidential debate reinforced global concerns about the direction of the U.S., said Reimund Schwarze, an environmental economist with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany. Trump’s recent statements questioning the legitimacy of the election process raise the specter of widespread unrest, he said.
“It’s much deeper than environmental concerns. The motherland of democracy is stumbling, and this is a scary time,” said Schwarze, who has collaborated with the United States Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years, and whose daughter is currently a student at the University of Washington.
During the recent civil uprisings in Seattle, he said his daughter described scenes of arbitrary law enforcement actions that reminded him of the totalitarian regime in East Germany back in the 1980s. Through his contacts with the EPA he’s also seen how Trump is undermining government institutions at the deepest level, another warning sign of incipient authoritarianism, he said.
To explain why Germans perhaps are especially interested in the American election, he described the shared sense of elation in both countries at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as well as the intense alliance that formed in the preceding Cold War decades.
“We felt this would bring a period of prosperity, of freedom to the world, at least our part of the world,” he said, adding that the direction of the U.S. under Trump puts that security and stability at risk, just as his abandonment of international commitments, like withdrawal from the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement, threaten international order.
Those worries were underlined by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in a Sept. 22 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, warning that the withdrawal of the U.S. and other countries into national shells does not bode well for pressing international policy questions.
Addressing climate and other environmental challenges requires more, not less, international cooperation, he said. The builders of the U.N. 75 years ago had lived through a global depression, a pandemic, genocide and world war, and “knew the cost of discord and the value of unity.”
In terms of climate, the future course of the U.S. is important because the country has emitted more total greenhouse gases than any other nation—29 percent, as much as the next four nations—China, Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.
If the U.S. is not a big part of the push to limit the global temperature increase to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, that goal seems even farther away than it is already, regardless what the rest of the world does.
The world needs a U.S. president “who will value the lives of people across the world more than fossil fuels,” Ugandan youth climate activist Vanessa Nakate posted on Twitter recently.
Equally important, European analysts note that American technology and science are critical parts of the global push to limit global warming. But the past four years of anti-science rhetoric and efforts to suppress climate science by the Trump administration suggest that the U.S. at the national level has abandoned that goal, they say, making it easier for other countries to do the same.
“The number-one question I get asked is, why should we do something if the U.S. isn’t doing anything,” said climate scientist Cara Aisling-Augustenborg, a lecturer at University College Dublin who has also been a climate activist and climate adviser to the Irish government.
“Global climate policy is eking out an existence, barely, as it is,” she said. The lack of U.S. commitment and leadership may have encouraged other countries that already have motives to delay climate action. Australia wants to mine and export coal, and Brazil wants to slash forests so it can sell palm oil and cattle feed to Europe. “You can see why they would have an agenda,” she said.
The American withdrawal from the Paris agreement garnered a lot of media attention in Ireland and helped build climate consciousness in a way that may have been perversely beneficial. No politicians wanted to be associated with Trump’s outright climate denial, which led to more climate action from the Irish government, she said.
But if Trump is re-elected, the pendulum could swing further toward gloom, with an attitude of “we’re all going to hell anyway,” she said. “When you hear about how fast the ice is melting, and birds falling from the sky, it might be hard for me to continue advocating for climate action,” she said.
New Zealander Kevin Trenberth, a long-time climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, is gloomy about U.S. prospects if Trump is re-elected. Climate policy is one thing, but he thinks survival of U.S. democracy is at stake in the election, he said.
“I don’t think the U.S. can survive four more years of Trump and there could be a civil war of sorts,” he said. “Democracy in the U.S. does not work, dark money dominates, the whole system is corrupt, and major changes are needed. Science priorities are wrong, and that is why I am in New Zealand.”
Global climate policy can’t take another four years of Trump, he added.
“No. After Paris in 2015, there was hope but it has been downhill ever since and no countries are meeting their goals,” he said. ” Real leadership is required from the U.S. and China. There are no penalties in the Paris agreement and so it is only peer pressure that matters.”
Trenberth said the “utter failure of the President and administration” in response to the pandemic was astounding, and a clear sign that the rest of the world can’t look to the U.S. for leadership as it once did.
American climate scientist Jason Box, a Greenland ice expert working for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, considers himself part of the brain drain from the U.S. He moved to Europe in 2013, partly spurred by a tax break that is part of Denmark’s “brain gain” policy, he said.
He wouldn’t move back to the U.S. if Trump is reelected, he said. “But that’s not the only reason. Others would include too many guns in the U.S.,” as well as general security and environmental concerns. “I mean, there was looting around where my folks live after the fire evacuations. I think too many folks are desperate,” he said.
Public interest in U.S. affairs is high, and the general reaction in the scientific community is a mixture of “shock and pity,” he said.
Cavalry No More?
The effect of the U.S. election on global climate policy can’t be separated from other policy areas, especially economic and energy policy, said Susanne Dröge, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
U.S. policies the past four years have rattled transatlantic relations more than any time since the post-World War II realignments, including the end of the Soviet Union, and interest in U.S. affairs in Germany remains high “due to the general interest in the little world order we still have,” Dröge said.
Even before Trump, the U.S. was signaling that Europe should take on more of a global leadership role, she added. “But even with that, there was a strong reliance that the U.S. will always be the cavalry that comes in when things go bad.”
Obama helped lead the charge for the Paris climate agreement, she said, in what turned out to be a “very short, exceptional period” for cooperative climate policy. She fears that with four more years of Trump, it could be very hard to find a way to return to a cooperative path forward.
In climate policy, Trump’s “u-turn in all dimensions” was not unexpected, but stunning nonetheless. And in spite of all that, to add complexity, U.S. emissions have generally declined the last few years, she added.
U.S. antipathy to global climate policy, in any event, is like an ill wind that spreads mistrust and triggers disengagement by other countries.
“Russia, China, Turkey, the Saudis are all saying, if the U.S. is not participating, why should we,” said Dröge, who closely monitors and analyzes global climate policy. “The bad example from the U.S. is more critical because it has such high leverage,” with the country still being a major economic power. If U.S. markets were to turn strongly to clean energy, it would help propel the rest of the world in the same direction.
The U.S. has, for many years, determined war and peace at the global level. At the moment, the country’s policies are “moving the world towards climate disaster and possibly nuclear war,” said Helga Kromp-Kolb, director of the Global Center for Change and Sustainability at the University of Vienna.
“No wonder Europeans have a deep interest in the results of the U.S. elections, as do the people the world over. I believe a significant part of the scientific community sees the threats clearly and is deeply concerned, not only regarding what the U.S. does, but also who will take over if, or when, U.S. leadership is lost,” she said.
Trump’s emergence magnified an anti-science undercurrent that has always been part of U.S. culture, she said, adding that the real problem is that science has been misused, not only in the U.S., to support commercial products, like fossil fuels.
“Of course climate science is hit especially hard by the denialism of the present U.S. government at the time when the world needs all the data and the expertise it can get,” she said.
But a Biden win wouldn’t be a panacea for global climate policy, she cautioned.
“With the U.S. back as part of the effort, the world would no doubt be on a better path in the climate issue,” she said. “But to reach the climate goals takes more than Mr. Biden has so far committed to.”
Other Europeans also see a stormy political horizon for the U.S.
“The U.S. system is struggling right now, and it’s not too big a frame to ask if democracy itself is at stake,” said Austrian political scientist Paul Schuierer-Aigner, who became interested in U.S. politics when Barack Obama became president. Trump’s tilt toward authoritarianism is all the more frightening because the U.S., for whatever its other failings, used to be a bulwark against such political tendencies, at least in Europe, he said.
Now, just a few hundred miles east of Austria, Trump’s example has emboldened authoritarian leaders in Hungary and Poland, he said. “There are a lot of mini-Trumps in Europe, and we can learn a lot from those who are trying to defend democracy in the U.S. right now,” he added.
For Schuierer-Aigner, Trump is more a symptom of the root problem, which he says is growing existential stress caused by late-stage neoliberal capitalism, including wealth disparity and economic insecurity. He’s encouraged by strengthening backlash led by young people in the Sunrise Movement and the leadership and policy alternatives presented by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat.
“From what I see in the Democratic Party, there is a lot of movement, a lot of mobilization from the other side.” Even with time running short for meaningful climate action, he said, there is a hopeful scenario that a generational shift in politics in the U.S. could upend the political landscape for many years to come, leading to fundamental changes in U.S. policy.
All over the world, people are waiting in suspense to see if Nov. 3 marks the start of that shift.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone,” Austrian ecologist Sarah Höfler posted on Twitter recently, “but the American election will, in my opinion, decide whether humanity has still a chance in the #ClimateCrisis. It is as simple as that.”
Here’s a guest column from Jennifer Molidor and Erik Molvar that’s running in The Vail Daily:
In the debate over grazing in the West, there’s a trend toward magical thinking. In “If you like fish and birds, hug a cow,” a Writers on the Range column from ranchers Pat and Sharon O’Toole, both indulge in unscientific flights of fantasy, claiming that irrigation and livestock are beneficial for native fish and wildlife.
Unlike cows, native wildlife in the West don’t need arid lands flooded with water to be productive. Prior to the agricultural colonization of the West (and its displacement of indigenous peoples and wildlife that made it possible), sage grouse flocked together by the thousands, and streams teemed with trout and salmon. America’s natural wealth of fish and wildlife hasn’t been sustained by the plague of cattle, sheep, and irrigated hayfields, it has been decimated by them.
Cattle are ecological misfits in the arid West, so dependent are they on water. Huddling along streams and riverbanks, trampling and gorging on streamside vegetation, cattle cause a massive influx of sediment into formerly crystalline waters.
In fact, livestock are a leading cause of stream degradation and trout population losses in the West. Trout reproduce by spawning in loose gravel and burying their eggs to protect them from scavengers. The eggs depend on a constant flow of oxygen-rich water to survive, and when livestock-related sedimentation smothers the nests with silt, the eggs die. This widespread problem is only made worse by cattle wallowing in shallow streams and rivers, crushing the eggs themselves.
The Colorado River system from which the O’Toole operation draws water has four species of endangered fishes: the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, the bonytail, and the humpback chub. Their survival hangs by a thread because of the damaging water withdrawals of irrigators, and because overgrazing by cattle and sheep denudes the land, allowing salty sediment to wash into the water that remains.
Thanks largely to excessive irrigation withdrawals, the Colorado River doesn’t reach the sea anymore, leaving its once-biodiverse delta estuaries at the edge of the Sea of Cortez an arid wasteland. Yet the O’Tooles dismiss recent studies showing the devastating impact of irrigation on Western rivers like the Colorado without offering a scientifically valid rebuttal.
The O’Tooles’ Ladder Ranch runs domestic sheep in the Huston Park Wilderness, where their domestic sheep can transmit disease to the native bighorn sheep in the imperiled Encampment Herd. The O’Tooles also run cattle on BLM grazing leases along the Powder Rim, which has the worst cheatgrass infestations in the Red Desert.
And the damage goes beyond drought exacerbated by water withdrawals and streamside habitat destruction. The scientific community has called for a significant reduction in American livestock production to meet climate mitigation goals. In addition to methane emissions, grazing has a significant impact on the planet, causing desertification, spreading flammable invasive weeds, devastating rich streamside oases, polluting streams with fecal coliform, and wiping out native wildlife with deadly livestock diseases.
As professional wildlife conservationists, we are concerned.
We need to produce food in a genuinely sustainable way, not greenwash environmental degradation. Food production doesn’t have to rely on river-draining, habitat-destroying irrigation. Nor is food security enhanced by unsustainable production. We need better regulation over our public lands instead of allowing private industry to act with impunity by skirting ecological protections.
If it were up to the Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity, the O’Tooles write, these public lands would become urban sprawl. Presenting this tired claim — that vital wildlife habitat on public lands would become urban sprawl if it weren’t for livestock operators ignores the reality that much of the West is public land, not subject to urban development.
Let’s be clear that if it was up to Western Watersheds and the Center, western public lands would be conserved for wildlife and natural habitats as they are entitled to be under the law. Natural habitats would heal, native wildlife would repopulate, trout streams would recover with the heavy-handed impacts of livestock removed.
Only 1.9% of the U.S. beef supply comes from public lands cattle. Yet the damage cattle bring to these lands is catastrophic. The idea that invasive cattle hold Western landscapes together is a fairy tale. The real story is that western livestock producers need subsidies, handouts at taxpayer expense, and irrigated water to turn a profit — and wildlife and natural habitats pay the price.
It’s time to stop indulging in harmful livestock production and protect the wild spaces and native biodiversity of the West.
Erik Molvar is the executive director of Western Watersheds Project and is a wildlife biologist with 17 books on western public lands to his credit, as well as published scientific findings on the impacts of large herbivores on forage plants and ecosystem processes. He lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Jennifer Molidor is the senior food campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity; she has a Ph.D from the University of Notre Dame and is a conservation writer in rural California.
Here’s a guest column from Stacy Chesney that’s running in The Sky-Hi Daily News:
When it comes to collaboratively managing water supplies on the West Slope, Denver Water understands that we must walk the talk.
When talking about our new era of doing business, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead regularly cites that “instead of platitudes, politics or parochialism, you need to sit down and work together.”
And that is exactly what has happened since the signatories of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement sat down on Sept. 26, 2013, to put the new framework into action that ultimately benefits water supply, water quality, recreation and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.
From it came the Learning By Doing cooperative effort to maintain and enhance the aquatic environment in Grand County, which has already seen huge successes in the Fraser Flats River Habitat work, stream sampling programs and the removal of 2,500 tons of traction sand from Highway 40 before it could impact water quality and trout habitat downstream in the Fraser River.
We’re also aware that dry and hot summers, like we saw in 2018 and are experiencing again this year, bring added stress to the fisheries, environment and ultimately the entire communities of Grand and Summit counties.
When the rivers are low, talking the talk also becomes imperative.
Water efficiency is always top of mind for the Denver metro area, and during times like this, conservation dominates our communication channels. If you live on the West Slope, you may not see Denver Water’s communications about efficiency, but we are focusing on conservation measures and fostering appreciation for our source water where it matters: our customers.
We know that using less water means more water can be kept in the reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in and Coloradans enjoy. And ultimately, Denver Water’s customers are answering that call despite enduring what is turning out to be one of the hottest and driest years on record.
Overall, residents of the Denver metro area are using less water than they did in other summers when it was similarly hot and dry. We see them being cautious and judicious with their water use and adjusting based on the weather. In fact, Denver Water customers cut their water use in half in a matter of days when it snowed earlier in September.
This is nothing new though. After the 2002 drought, Denver Water’s conservation campaign led to our per-person reduction goal of 22% from pre-drought levels — one that we’ve continued to maintain since 2016. We’ve taken that momentum and are now working directly with our customers, sending water use reports along with rebates and tips to inefficient users on how to better use water wisely.
We also continue to evolve everything we do, from leading the way with new water reuse solutions, to upgrading our Water Shortage Plan – developed with feedback from our partners at Trout Unlimited, Grand County and other Learning By Doing stakeholders.
Denverites value where their water comes from. We live in this great state because of communities like Grand and Summit counties that provide resources precious to all of us. This benefit was made even more valuable because of the pandemic this year – a reality that we don’t take for granted and continually stress to the 1.5 million people we serve.
Stacy Chesney is Denver Water’s director of public affairs.