Denver Water employees share their tips and tricks for drinking LOTS of water.
From High Country News (Emily Benson):
In early June, more than 1,000 people near Durango, Colorado, had to leave their homes as the 416 Fire swept across the landscape. Following a dismal snowpack, the region experienced a spring so hot and dry that the U.S. Drought Monitor labeled conditions “exceptional drought,” the worst category.
Colorado wasn’t alone. An irregular bull’s-eye of dryness radiated outward from the entire Four Corners region, where Colorado meets New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. These circumstances offer something of a preview of the coming decades: While experts say the Southwest will continue to experience swings in precipitation from year to year, overall climate change is making the region and its river basins hotter and drier. That means humans must adapt to life with less water. “We have to fundamentally change the mindset of the public, and the way we manage this resource,” says Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist and the director of urban water policy at Stanford University’s Water in the West program. “And one of the ways you do it is, you have to change the terminologies that we use in dealing with water.”
This spring, the Colorado River Research Group, an independent team of scientists focused on the river, labeled the climate transition in the Colorado River Basin “aridification,” meaning a transformation to a drier environment. The call for a move away from the word “drought” highlighted the importance of the specific language used to describe what’s going on in the Southwest: It could shift cultural norms around water use and help people internalize the need to rip out lawns, stop washing cars and refrain from building new diversions on already strapped rivers. As Brad Udall, a member of the research group and a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University, puts it: “Words matter.”
Linguists have long argued over the extent to which words and language influence one’s thoughts and worldview. One commonly cited example of evidence that they do is an Indigenous Australian language that doesn’t use words for left and right. Its speakers orient themselves by the cardinal directions — north and south, east and west — rather than the relative terms typically used in English. Research suggests that in their thoughts and interactions with others, their conceptions of space are radically different from those who speak languages with relative spatial terms. Other studies have probed the ways linguistic differences may influence a wide range of attitudes and outcomes, including support for political policies; entrepreneurial gender gaps among countries; and environmental attitudes of tourists.
But beliefs are not behaviors. Reframing our understanding of the Southwest’s climate — thinking of it as a place experiencing aridification, a dry place getting drier, rather than a place simply waiting for the next drought to end — will have major ramifications only if it changes how people actually use water.
There is some evidence of the inverse — that when people conceive of the problem as a temporary one, they use more water after they believe the emergency has passed. During California’s recent five-year drought, residents of the Golden State cut their water use by a quarter or more amid intense media coverage and water use restrictions. This spring, a year after California Gov. Jerry Brown pronounced that drought over, Californians were using nearly as much water as they had before drought was declared.
How people perceive and value water is essential to shaping how much of it they use, says Patricia Gonzales, a doctoral student studying water resources at Stanford University. And those perceptions and values aren’t created in a vacuum. Officials, experts and the media frame and define the issues; social pressures also play a role. For example, when an entire community is aware that water is scarce, people might avoid washing their cars in order to duck the scorn of water-conserving neighbors. “Everyone can do something,” Gonzales says, even as she and other experts acknowledge that irrigation gulps up most of the West’s water. “But even the small pieces kind of add up when you look at the whole picture of how much water we have available.”
While climate change is already shrinking water resources in the Southwest, we shouldn’t throw out the word “drought” completely, says Connie Woodhouse, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona. It’s important to recognize that even a drier future will contain variability. “We’re going to have periods that are wetter, and we’re going to have periods that are drier, within this baseline that almost certainly will be more arid.”
Still, people in the Southwest must adjust to a more parched landscape. “There’s a need to (fundamentally change) the way we talk about these things, to bring attention to the fact that drought is normal,” Gonzales says. In other words, even after the bulls-eye dissipates from this summer’s drought monitor maps, Southwesterners need to keep acting as if that red swath were permanent — a lasting marker of a more arid reality.
Emily Benson is an assistant editor at High Country News.
This article was first published online at High Country News on June 22, 2018.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
A four-year pilot program that paid ranchers and farmers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico about $200 per acre-foot of water saved by fallowing fields in order boost water levels in Lake Powell will be put on hold after 2018.
On Wednesday, the five members of the Upper Colorado River Commission unanimously passed a resolution to that effect at a board meeting.
“Although the pilot (program) has helped explore the feasibility of some aspect of demand management programs, it does not provide a means for the upper (basin) states to account, store and release conserved water in a way which will help assure full compliance with the Colorado River Compact in times of drought,” the resolution said.
“Demand management” generally means finding ways to save, or conserve, water by paying willing irrigators to divert less water from streams and rivers by fallowing some of their fields for all, or part, of an irrigation system.
This year, $3.9 million is expected to be paid out to ranchers and farmers in the upper basin, which will make it the biggest year of the program, but that will be it for the System Conservation Pilot Program in the upper basin.
The ending of the program in the upper basin does not mean the commission is giving up on getting more water into the upper Colorado River system in order to raise water levels in Lake Powell, as that interest continues to grow as the drought that began in 2000 lingers.
“I view it more of a change in direction rather than a value judgment of system conservation,” said Pat Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the commission and also is the Wyoming state water engineer.
In introducing the proposed resolution, Tyrrell said “there are some things (the pilot program) simply cannot do.”
The pilot program “does not allow the upper (basin) states to sufficiently investigate storage or the additional administrative, technical, operational, economic and legal considerations necessary to explore the feasibility of demand management as part of its ongoing emergency drought contingency planning efforts,” the resolution adopted by the commission states.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs, supported the commission’s decision.
“I think it is an appropriate temporary halt in the Upper Colorado River Commission’s support for the SCPP,” he said after the meeting in Santa Fe. “Mainly because in order for a conserved consumptive use program like this to work, the upper basin needs a pool of water designated in Lake Powell that we can use as a water bank. We don’t currently have that, and until that’s there, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of our of society’s resources on the program.”
Lake Powell is 53 percent full today, and if the water level in the huge reservoir falls much further, it will mean that first, hydropower can no longer be produced by the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, and second, that not enough water can physically be released to meet the upper basin state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact to send water to the lower basin states, which include California, Arizona and Nevada.
So while there is room in Lake Powell to hold more water sent down from the upper basin states, there is no way to securely store the water from a legal perspective. Today, any water that reaches Powell is fair game to be sent on to Lake Mead and the lower basin states, which defeats the purpose of sending water there to bolster its operational water level.
But there is a legal way to protect such a pool of water in Lake Mead. It’s called an “intentionally created surplus” (ICS). Water managers in the upper basin states would like to see something similar created in Lake Powell through federal legislation, although they prefer the term “demand management storage” to distinguish it from “intentionally created surplus,” which is a term shaped by, and tied to, the 2007 interim guidelines that currently dictate how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are managed together.
The pilot program began paying ranchers and farmers in 2015 to fallow fields and let water run down the river system toward Lake Powell. Originally set-up as a two-year program, it was extended for one year in 2017, and then another in 2018.
The program has paid for fallowing in both the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and in the lower basin states.
The overall system conservation program initially was funded by an $11 million pool provided by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water, in partnership with Reclamation.
The Walton Family Foundation also contributed financially to the upper basin program through a contribution to Denver Water (the Walton Family Foundation also supports Aspen Journalism), and Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy invested a lot of staff time to help make the program work.
The funding for the program, which includes both a lower basin and an upper basin component, grew over the years, with the upper basin eventually having access to a $9.5 million pool of funds, according to Amy Haas, the incoming executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
(Haas is replacing Don Ostler, who is stepping down into a consulting role after 14 years at the commission. Haas, who is from New Mexico, is the current general counsel of the commission and officially starts as executive director on July 1).
Haas said she expects the system conservation program in the lower basin will continue if pending legislation in Congress is approved to re-authorize the program, and she clarified that the commission’s resolution passed this week only applies to the upper basin program.
In the first three years in the upper basin, 45 fallowing efforts were funded, including 15 in Colorado, at an average cost of $205 an acre-foot of conserved consumptive use — water that would have otherwise been consumed by various crops.
And not all of the funds in the system went to irrigators, as two municipal projects were also involved in the first three years of program, including one with the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
In those three years, about 22,116 acre-feet of water was left in the upper Colorado River system at a total cost of $4.6 million.
Individual contracts in the first three years of the program ranged from $6,300 to $635,000, depending on the number of acres fallowed and for how long.
The 22,000 acre-feet of water sent down to Lake Powell in the first three years of the pilot program represents a tiny drop in a big bucket, as the reservoir holds 24.3 million acre-feet of water when full.
It’s also not clear how much of the non-diverted water reached Lake Powell. Program administrators knew there was no guarantee the water would make it past other diverters without the legal ability to “shepherd” the water downstream.
On the other hand, fallowing projects were chosen in part because of their locations. Water from the Colorado River not consumed in the Grand Valley, for example, has a decent chance of making it through Westwater and Cataract canyons to reach Lake Powell.
However, officials said the experimental effort was not ever meant to physically change the level of Lake Powell, but to see what lessons could be learned from setting up such a program.
According to a candid report on the program released by the commission in February, the lessons learned in the upper basin included that the program was valued by some ranchers and farmers, but distrusted by others, that the program was hard to administer due to the many individual contracts required, and that in order for the program to really make a difference, it would need to be dramatically scaled up, and the resulting saved water would need to be securely shepherded to, and held in, Lake Powell or some other reservoir, and not just sent into the river system.
On June 22, Scott Yates, the director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program, issued a statement praising the program.
“We’re extremely proud to have worked with agricultural producers interested in the System Conservation Pilot Program,” Yates said. “The SCPP has proved the enormous potential for water demand management to address drought and climate impacts on the Colorado River Basin’s water supplies.
“We’ve learned that there is significant interest among ranchers and farmers for a program that compensates them for voluntary, temporary reductions in water use. That was a key question about SCPP — would agricultural producers respond to market-based incentives? The answer is an unqualified ‘yes.’
“TU believes that the SCPP in the Upper Basin has been successful in allowing producers to explore whether using their water right in this innovative way can benefit their operations. Many participants embraced the SCPP approach, especially if such a program can operate over the longer-term,” Yates said.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story in its print edition on Friday, June 22, 2018.
I’ve already cast my ballot for Amy Beatie, won’t you join me? The Colorado General Assembly will be well-served with a water attorney who knows how to work within the legal system and find environmental benefits. If you live on the Northside please cast your primary vote for Amy. If you know folks that live up here please let them know how important it is to vote for her.
Click here to go to the website.
Cary Kennedy: Will “guarantee” all Colorado homes and businesses can choose 100 percent renewable energy and double the state renewable energy standard, which currently requires cooperative utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewables.
Jared Polis: Pledges to protect public lands from “Donald Trump and polluters.” Will create path to 100 percent renewable energy as way to protect the environment and create “good-paying green jobs that can’t be outsourced.” Says 100 percent renewable energy is achievable “by 2040 or sooner” (Colorado Independent).
Donna Lynne: Advocates for a “‘no slogans’ balanced approach to energy production” that includes local control on where and how energy production happens, property rights, and people who work in extraction industries. Says “health and safety of all Coloradans is our top priority when we are dealing with energy and the environment.”
Mike Johnston: Launched his campaign with the 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 pledge. Wants to increase setbacks for oil and gas wells, cap orphan wells and “avoid drilling in ecologically sensitive areas.”
Walker Stapleton: Calls for a “stable business environment to ensure a low-cost energy supply that will attract and retain businesses in Colorado.” Says he won’t pursue “agenda-driven, burdensome, job-killing regulations.” Wants better state-federal communication on how federal lands are managed. Says he is running because he fears a Democratic governor would “end the energy industry” in Colorado (Colorado Independent).
Greg Lopez: Argues that the state coal industry “has been unfairly treated by bureaucrats” from out of state and reminds people that coal-fired plants are likely what’s charging their electric cars. Does not think 100 percent renewable energy is feasibly by 2040 and says diversification “remains the most prudent approach” to energy. (Colorado Independent)
Doug Robinson: Says the oil and gas industry “plays a vital role” in the state and can balance environmental protections “by supporting common sense regulations.” Supports all-of-the-above energy strategy and says “it is not the role of government to pick winners and losers,” in reference to a push for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 (Colorado Independent).
Victor Mitchell: Says climate change “is likely real” and that the federal government should launch “moonshot” initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Says government also should not choose “winners and losers,” either with subsidies or “excessive” taxes and regulations. Notes fossil fuels are currently most reliable and least expensive energy, but it could be different tomorrow. Calls preserving the environment, air quality and water supply “paramount to our future and quality of life.”
From Inside Climate News (Sabrina Shankman):
The amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study in the journal Science.
The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), presents some of the most compelling evidence to date that switching to gas from dirtier fuels like coal might not be as effective a climate strategy as its proponents suggest unless the gas industry improves how it controls leaks…
The authors estimated, conservatively, that methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation is leaking during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. That doesn’t count leaks from local delivery lines, another widespread problem.
This much leaked methane would have roughly the same climate impact in the short-term as emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants, the authors found.
Another way to put it: This rate of leaking methane is just as bad for the climate in the short term as the carbon dioxide that results from burning natural gas for fuel.