Drought news: A gallery of drought monitor maps

August 1, 2014

Click on a thumbnail to view the gallery.


Colorado water users gird for first statewide plan — High Country News #COWaterPlan

August 1, 2014


From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

…stakeholders from the state’s eight river basins plus the Denver metro area are tasked with articulating their needs and creating proposals for solutions to future water demand, in order to help create that plan. Today [July 31] marks the deadline for submitting those local concerns to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity in charge of creating the statewide plan. The board will then synthesize the results from the local discussions, write a draft plan due this December, and complete the final version a year later. As each basin’s roundtable crafts their local recommendations, interest groups are jockeying to get fair representation in the final document.

The recent roundtables have been piggybacking on nine years’ worth of meetings, mandated under the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, which passed in 2005. With that foundation in place, Hickenlooper’s vision for a statewide plan had a head start in getting differing interests in each basin together. The biggest fights, however, aren’t necessarily within each roundtable, but between the basins themselves, particularly those separated by the Continental Divide…

The most contentious issue that the water plan must address is whether to allow new trans-mountain diversion projects, says Ken Neubecker, executive director for Western Rivers Institute, a river advocacy group, and the environmental representative for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. The East Slope roundtables have been pushing to keep that option open, anticipating future water demands. But those in the western part of the state are firmly opposed, and some communities are pushing a “not one more drop” campaign.

Joe Frank, vice chair of the South Platte Basin roundtable, said that unlike past diversion projects, new proposals that appear in the draft plan are flexible arrangements under which water would be diverted east only during particularly wet years.

If the east-west divide is one major issue that the new plan must tackle, the other is unfolding on the fertile plains of the South Platte Basin, where the largest water shortages in the state are expected to occur. There, Gene Manuello’s cattle ranch sits near the town of Sterling. A third generation rancher, Manuello is the agricultural representative of his basin’s roundtable. He worries about the growing prevalence of “buy and dry” schemes in which thirsty cities buy up water rights from farmers and ranchers tired of trying to make a living in today’s unreliable agricultural market. That trend has been on the rise as cities grow more desperate for water, and is one that Manuello thinks will hollow out entire agricultural communities…

Driving this surge in demand for water is Colorado’s exploding population, concentrated in water-poor cities along the Front Range. If the state wants to deal with its water woes, it needs to get smart about growth, says Bob Streeter, who serves as the South Platte basin’s environmental representative. Streeter proposed that the government implement a policy to encourage only water-wise industries in the region. But that would mean discouraging profitable operations like dairy factories that contribute millions of dollars in jobs and salaries. The roundtable vetoed Streeter’s proposal. Other proposals include better land-use planning (saying goodbye to water hogging green lawns and suburbs) and making irrigation systems more efficient, like switching from flood to drip and replacing leaky canals.

One problem that’s surfaced during local discussions is that, while efficiency improvements are a sign of progress, they often spell trouble for downstream water users. Currently many downstream users rely on water that flows from leaking pipes and irrigation canals seeping back into rivers and groundwater supplies. The new efficiency practices therefore may impinge on downstream water rights.

Despite continued disagreements among users, roundtable organizers are optimistic that by the end of the year, the state conservation board will have a finished product to review.

“You get to know people,” Neubecker said about the recent years of local meetings. “After you work with these people for all these years, you get a good feel for how we’re all part of the same system.” Previous attempts at such a comprehensive water plan, like the one the Bureau of Reclamation proposed in 1974 were based on a top-down approach from the federal government, which died, according to Eklund, because Coloradans didn’t want bureaucrats from Washington telling them how to manage their water. The grass-roots nature of the current process seems to be the key to progress.

Not only that, said Eklund, like much of the American West, Colorado is growing thirstier. As drought, climate change and an exploding population push water resources to the brink,“there’s finally a sense that we have to tackle water problems as one unit.” If not, it won’t just be farms and lawns that take the hit. Municipal water rates will likely go up, and if too many streams turn to dust, the state’s vital tourist industry will suffer as well.

For Eklund, even an imperfect plan is better than no plan. “What I tell people is if we don’t do it, don’t think for a second it won’t get done for us,” he said, referring to the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to take control of the Lower Basin States’ water supply when they couldn’t agree on how to share water amongst themselves. The lesson, he tells naysayers is this: “Would you rather us make a plan or the federal government do it for us?”


NWS Boulder: Denver’s monthly climatological report for July

August 1, 2014

US Department of the Interior and Western municipal water suppliers reach landmark collaborative agreement #ColoradoRiver

August 1, 2014


Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

In support of the Colorado River basin states drought contingency planning to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought conditions, municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado and the federal government signed a landmark water conservation agreement this week called the Colorado River System Conservation program.

Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority are partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to contribute $11 million to fund pilot Colorado River water conservation projects. The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in a variety of areas, including agricultural, municipal and industrial uses.

For more than a decade, a severe drought — one of the worst in the last 1,200 years — has gripped the Colorado River, causing the world’s most extensive storage reservoir system to come closer and closer to critically low water levels. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

“This is a critically important first step, and I applaud the far sighted municipal water providers for beginning to address the imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River that could seriously affect the economy and the people who rely upon the river,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor. “There is still much work to be done, and the Interior Department is committed to supporting the efforts of the Colorado River Basin States and other stakeholders as partners in improving water management and operations, particularly during this historic drought.”

“This situation is becoming increasingly critical. We are already dealing with unprecedented pressure on the southern California region’s water system,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This innovative program is aimed at expanding conservation efforts from a local level to a collaborative system-wide program.”

Without collaborative action now, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output and recreation and environmental resources are all at risk, in both the upper and lower basins.

“This agreement represents a unique approach to save water and protect the Colorado River system from the impacts of the on-going drought and the current imbalance between supplies and demands in the Basin,” said Central Arizona Project Board President Pam Pickard. “It is an important milestone in interstate collaboration, with CAP working with partners in California, Nevada, Colorado and the federal government to improve the health of the Colorado River.”

All water conserved under this program will stay in the river, helping to boost the declining reservoir levels and benefiting the health of the entire river system.

“Half of Denver’s water supply comes from the Colorado River, so we have a direct interest in the health of the entire system,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. “This is a proactive contingency plan for drought years to help secure our water supply future with a balanced, economic and environmental approach. This is clearly the right thing to do for our customers, our future water supply and the basin.”

The Colorado River System Conservation program will provide funding for pilot conservation programs in 2015 and 2016. Successful programs can be expanded or extended to provide even greater protection for the Colorado River system.

“The time has come for our states to work together to develop contingency strategies to manage the Colorado River under extreme drought conditions that threaten the levels of Lakes Mead and Powell,” said John Entsminger, general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “As Lake Mead continues to drop toward critical levels, we must simultaneously begin to take collective action now and plan additional future measures.”

In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed, and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, in the Lower Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation will manage the conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada in a manner consistent with past programs, while in the Upper Basin, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

The program has been simmering for months (see here, here and here for previous public discussions), but this evening’s announcement marks the final signing of the deal by federal officials. The program is a partnership of the basin’s four largest municipal water agencies – the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority – and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

This is a small but very significant step forward. Previous conservation efforts were funded by an individual water agency, with water conserved banked in reservoir storage for later use by that agency. In this program, the water conserved will simply become “system water” for the benefit of all.

Significantly, the announcement says pilot programs will be conducted in 2015 and 2016. (I had been hearing water managers talk about the possibility of getting something underway this year, but it looks like July 31 is too late for that.)

Also, there’s some nuance here about who will built the institutional widgets to carry this out. In the Lower Basin, it will be the Bureau. In the Upper Basin, it will be some sort of state-managed effort that I don’t fully understand. There’s apparently been a lot of sensitivity on the question of who’s driving this bus in the Upper Basin.

US Drought Monitor July 29, 2014

US Drought Monitor July 29, 2014

From the Associated Press via ABC News:

The Interior Department said Thursday that local water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado will take part in the deal.

It aims to create several small pilot programs in 2015 and 2016 that would provide incentives and compensation for conservation by cities, farmers and industry, according to a statement announcing the agreement. The programs that work best can then be expanded, extended, or both.

The move was called very necessary, though only a beginning with the severe shortfall threatening to challenge the region’s long-term water supply…

The project’s partners include the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern Nevada Water Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Roaring Fork Watershed Stream Flow Report for July 31, 2014

August 1, 2014

EPA: It’s time to #ditchthemyth about our proposal to protect clean water

August 1, 2014

Testimony about Clean Power Plan always earnest and often eloquent — The Mountain Town News

August 1, 2014

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Old and young, fat and skinny, plus white (mostly), black and brown, the speakers made their way this week to the microphones at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Denver. For many, the EPA office in LoDo was just down the street, but others came from Nevada to Minnesota, Arizona to Utah.

Most spoke in favor of the EPA’s regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels.

The Clean Power Plan identifies four key building blocks of improving efficiency at existing power plants, shifting production from coal to gas; increasing renewables and, in some states, nuclear; and, finally, reducing demand by increasing energy efficiency.

The EPA had predicted 1,600 speakers at its forums on July 29-30 in four cities, and each speaker was assigned a five-minute slot. I listened to maybe 40 speakers at the Denver sessions. All spoke earnestly, a few of them eloquently.

Most supported the regulations, emphasizing the long-term costs of unrestrained emissions of fossil fuels. Opponents emphasized the short-term costs. The divisions were mostly the same that we’ve heard for the last decade as the United States argues about the transition away from fossil-based fuels, or at least a transition away from unrestrained pollution of the atmosphere.

Supporters tended to describe the new regulations as a good if small step forward. Max Tyler, a Democrat in the Colorado House of Representative and strong supporter of renewable energy, described the regulations as too modest.

“Ultimately the bar is set too low at 30 percent,” he said. “The cost of continuing carbon pollution is appalling, it’s astronomical,” he added.

“The private sector is pretty darned creative. They can pull it off,” Tyler concluded. He himself had founded several small tech-oriented businesses before becoming a legislator in 2009.

Alex Blackmer, from the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, described it as a “very modest proposal” and downplayed the cost. The average age of existing coal-fired power plants is 42 years old, toward the end of their useful lives, he noted.

Catherine A. Carruthers of a group called Environmental Tax Reform was among those advocating a more sweeping approach to carbon regulation, adoption of a carbon tax or fee.

Lili Francklyn, who identified herself as a former science reporter for National Public Radio, remembered covering a meeting in 1982 at which the climate scientist James Hansen warned of the effects of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Almost all of the climate change predictions issued that day have come true,” she said. “I am sick of hearing, after 30 years, that coal is cheap,” she said. She called for regulations that “reflect the true cost of coal.”

But some weren’t willing to let natural gas stand in for coal. Rick Blotter, a retired teacher and coach, said 40 percent reduction should be the goal and “natural gas is not the solution to our climate problem.”

Patrick Demmer of the Denver Ministerial Alliance said he grew up north of downtown Denver, near the Asarco smelting site and near the Cherokee coal-fired power plant. He reported that his breathing problems are most likely explained by the pollution. “We have only one world. We may have people in outer space, but we have just one Earth.”

Mixing science and religion was James W.C. White, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. “Climate change is at its core a moral issue,” he said.

He cited intergenerational inequity. “We all say we love our kids, but how do we show it?” he asked. He also pointed to the disproportionate impacts of carbon pollution as opposed to those who benefit from burning it. And he also spoke to the immortality of species extinction from human activities. “We must be held accountable for any species we lose,” he said.

Hal Bidlack has among the most unusual of resumes. He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and taught political science for 15 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In the Clinton Administration, he served as director of global environmental affairs for the National Security Council. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Colorado Springs in 2008 and now works for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

He noted that in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney articulated a 1 percent rule: if there was a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction, the United States must act as if it were a certainty.

Bidlack countered that 95 percent of climate scientists concur about the role of greenhouse gas emissions in destabilizing the climate, and he further emphasized the threat of changing climate to U.S. security.

Addressing climate change is nothing more than ‘basic risk management,” he said.

Stacy Tellinghuisen, of Western Resource Advocates, emphasized that Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada will be able to hit the 2030 targets with relative ease given plans of utilities already adopted.

The Aspen Skiing Co. stressed that carbon-reduction goals can be achieved without economic distress. Matt Hamilton said the company has reduced its carbon footprint 3.5 percent while adding a hotel, lifts and restaurants. See statement.

But cleaning up the electrical supply is crucial to achieving company carbon-reduction goals, he added. The company gets its electricity primarily from Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative that is poised to soon achieve its goal of a 20 percent carbon-free portfolio.

Chris Menges, project planner for the City of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, similarly made the case that carbon-free electricity need not produce high prices. The city’s electrical portfolio is now more than 80 percent carbon free and customers still enjoy among the lowest electrical rates among municipalities in Colorado. See statement.

He noted the EPA estimate that the energy shift will yield electricity that is 8 percent lower by 2030 while generating enormous savings in health-care costs, with $7 in benefits for every $1 invested.

Those testifying against the EPA regulations emphasized immediate costs. Carl Smith, representing 4,000 railroad workers, pointed to the profits of hauling coal, 28 percent of all railroad revenues, and the middle-class incomes of brakemen and conductors such as himself.

Bill Midcap, president of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, described the proposed regulations as “just not economically sound.” Make sure these don’t overburden America’s most important sector, and that is agriculture,” he said.

The most interesting testimony came from the utilities. Of all those I heard testify, they had most clearly read the fine print of these new regulations (as I have not). Speakers from Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and elsewhere expressed a variety of concerns:

• The new regulations do not give credit for hydroelectric power. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, for example, was formed as a way to provide distribution of hydropower of the new dams to the electrical cooperatives in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. It provides 20 percent of power for coops.

• This is too ambitious of a proposal. To achieve dramatic carbon reduction will require extensive transmission, and getting high-voltage, long-distance transmission built is difficult and takes many years.

• Credit for non-carbon power generation should be given to the states where it is produced, not to the states where it is consumed, in effect favoring the more rural states of the Great Plains and West.

• Because the United States only produces a portion of the world carbon dioxide emissions, this is such a small gain that it will accomplish almost nothing.

• These EPA regulations put the onus on states to figure out how to comply, but state governments do not have the staff expertise to respond effectively. See additional perspectives in CREA blog.

Elsewhere in Denver, there were demonstrations and rallies, most of it pure theater designed for the TV cameras. My take is that these regulations will go forward, but the real interesting story will emerge as the co-ops, utilities and other power producers submit their written comments during the next several months [ed. emphasis mine].


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