A report released released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed drought conditions growing across parts of Colorado.
An area of moderate drought that formed during late summer around Fort Collins has expanded south across Denver and into Douglas County, impacting over 1.5 million people. A second pocket of moderate drought can be found on the east-central plains.
In the nearby mountains and foothills conditions are abnormally dry, or in pre-drought. The same is true for parts of southern Colorado.
The current drought along Interstate 25 is what we call a meteorological or agricultural drought, meaning a short-term deficit in precipitation is having a significant impact on the landscape. Soils are dry and vegetation is not growing.
We are not in a hydrological drought which would imply a long period of below normal precipitation and major problems with water supply.
As of Oct. 20 Denver Water was reporting 89 percent water storage in their reservoir system, which is 3 percent above normal for this time of year.
The healthy number is thanks to abundant snow during 2015 and early 2016.
So what about the forecast for the upcoming winter?
Current long-range models are trending toward the development of La Nina between December and February, which can sometimes be bad for Colorado if it pushes the main storm track too far north.
As drought continues to develop along Colorado’s Front Range, Denver Water says supply is in good shape thanks to a cool and wet pattern during 2015 and continued efficient use of water by their customers.
“But while the short-term outlook is encouraging, we know we can never be sure what the next winter will bring,” said Travis Thompson.
Last week NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reissued a La Niña Watch that was cancelled in September. Government forecasters now say there’s a 70 percent chance of the climate phenomenon developing during the upcoming winter.
A La Niña weather pattern during the winter season can sometimes mean dry and warm weather for Colorado because it tends to keep the main storm track north of the state.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Colorado’s future economic development is integrally related to availability of water, and at least one industry, agriculture, could face increasing threats as demand grows for the increasingly scarce resource, speakers said at a forum this week.
“Sometimes I really feel there is a bullseye on my back,” sweet corn grower Robert Sakata of Brighton said at a conference hosted by the Economic Development Council of Colorado.
Availability and reliability of water is important to produce growers, said Sakata, who pointed to a recent state study that predicted 700,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land in the state could dry up by 2050 if the state continues on its current path.
That would result from factors such as growers lacking sufficient water to make their operations work or selling valuable water rights to meet booming municipal and industrial demand.
Colorado has finalized a state water plan aimed at addressing looming shortfalls as the state’s population is expected to grow from about 5.5 million today to 8.6 million by 2050. The plan incorporates measures such as increased conservation and additional water storage.
But James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, noted at this week’s forum that the plan requires about $20 billion in spending by 2050 for water projects.
Water service providers will pay for about two-thirds of that through the rates they charge consumers, and the state will fill in some of the remaining cost, but Eklund said there needs to be discussions about how to obtain more revenue.
Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water Sanitation District, which provides water to much of Eagle County, called some new level of reservoir construction “a reality for us.”
“We need more water. We need more storage. The easy water we’ve already gotten. It’s just going to be harder and harder,” she said.
Hard can mean expensive and time-consuming, including for permitting, and especially when the federal government is involved in the permitting process. Eklund said some projects involve multiple project managers because the projects outlive the managers.
“That’s not agile. It’s not going to be responsive to the challenges,” he said, calling for a more efficient review process that still protects the environment.
Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s state demographer, said the expense of providing water is a cost-of-living and amenity consideration that could influence future migration to the state. She cited a number of factors that are expected to negatively impact household incomes in the state in coming years and wonders to what degree that will affect how much people are willing to pay for water.
Meanwhile, water lawyer Steve Sims said availability of water will remain an initial question that businesses ask as they look to move to the state or expand here.
Efforts to increase water-use efficiency and cooperate with others will stretch supplies, but water presents a natural- resource challenge that isn’t a win-win one in the long term, he said.
“There are win-lose situations. … That’s always the situation when you’re allocating a very scarce resource,” he said.
He said the key to keeping agricultural operations in business is making sure they have access to capital and talent so they can make money and not feel pressure to sell out.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):
Learning more about the complexities and inner-workings of western water law is the purpose behind the 2016 Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminar series. The series will discuss topics including the history and evolution of western water law; state compacts and federal water law; hybrid water law systems; water quality law; groundwater law; and environmental law. The seminar series will provide attendees the opportunity for in-depth discussion about water-related court cases and interaction with prominent water resource professionals.
Each seminar is held Monday at 4 p.m. in the Behavioral Sciences Building, Room 103. All faculty, students, off-campus water professionals, and members of the Fort Collins community who are interested in water and western water law are invited to attend.
For individuals unable to attend, the seminars will be recorded and uploaded online. The full semester schedule is accessible here. Or there’s more information regarding all of the Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminars.
Linda Bassi’s talk
Linda Bassi, chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, will speak on Monday, Oct. 24. Her lecture will be “Evolution of the Law Governing Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.” Bassi will trace the laws and court opinions that have shaped the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program to address policy issues and meet evolving needs related to protecting valuable natural resources.
Bassi is responsible for all facets of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section including: legal protection; monitoring enforcement of the Board’s new and old instream flow water rights; acquisitions of instream flow by the Board; and development of legislation, policies, and rules related to the program. Prior to working for the Board, Bassi worked in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office representing the Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on various water rights issues.
Click here to buy your tickets. Here’s the pitch from the Colorado Water Trust:
The destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado. Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado. In this time of increasing demand and limited supply, it is essential to promote a more informed and inclusive discussion concerning decisions affecting our water resources.
VIP Reception starts at 5:30pm in Henderson’s Lounge followed by the screening.
Proceeds from the event will go to support the Colorado Water Trust:
The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need. Founded in 2001, the Colorado Water Trust coordinates market-based water transactions, water-sharing agreements, infrastructure projects, and other creative solutions to restore flows to our state’s dry rivers and streams. Together with our diverse partners throughout the state, we are restoring habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving local economic opportunities, and where lost, returning to Colorado’s landscape the beauty of a flowing river. http://www.ColoradoWaterTrust.org
“I used to be a orthodox card-carrying humanities academic with contempt for the manipulations of nature that engineers perpetrated. And then, I realized how much a beneficiary I was of those perpetrations.” — Patty Limerick (The Great Divide)
This is an important film and Ms. Limerick hits the nail on the head with her statement. When folks understand the history of Colorado and how water has shaped that history, when they learn about the disease and hardship that goes hand in hand with scarcity of water here in the arid west, when they witness the bounty from plains farms and the western valleys and the economic drivers associated with Colorado’s cities, when they take time to sit down to talk and learn from neighbors and others, opinions can change, understanding can grow, problems can be solved, and opportunities can be realized.
Jim Havey and the filmmakers set out an ambitious goal, that is, the telling of Colorado’s water story, without advocacy and without pointing fingers. The Great Divide accomplishes the telling using a superb screenplay written by Stephen Grace, the stunning footage by Jim Havey, along with the old photographs and maps of Colorado (and the Colorado River Basin).
Prior appropriation and anti-speculation are big ideas that form the foundation of Colorado water law. Article XVI of the Colorado Constitution includes detail about the preferred uses and the rights of diverters to cross private land to put the public’s water to beneficial use. All water in Colorado belongs to the citizens but diverters gain a property right allowing them to use the water.
The filmmakers manage to explain these details well during the film. The film describes the law, the compacts between states, river administration, and the 21st Century world of water. They emphasize the work and pioneering efforts needed to get Colorado where it is today.
Starting with the San Luis People’s ditch (the oldest water right in continuous use in Colorado — 1852) Coloradans have built out many projects large and small to put the water to beneficial use. The Great Divide describes many of these projects including the big US Bureau of Reclamation projects, Colorado-Big Thompson, Fryingpan-Arkansas, the Aspinall Unit, and what many think will be USBR’s last big project, Aninas-La Plata.
According to the film an early project, Cheesman Dam on the South Platte River, enabled delivery of high quality water to the City of Denver which had been plagued by outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
These projects have gotten Colorado to this point with over 5 million residents and a diversified economy. However, in the documentary the head of Denver Water Jim Lochhead states, “If we grow the next 5 million people the way we’ve grown the last 5 million — that may not be sustainable.”
There is a tension between environmentalists and water developers in today’s Colorado, highlighted by the film. The Great Divide explores the historical roots of the environmental movement starting with the Sierra Club effort to save Echo Park on the Yampa River, up through the legislation allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hold and establish instream flow rights, the successful efforts to block groundwater withdrawals in the San Luis Valley for Front Range growth, and the mammoth decision to not permit the Two Forks Reservoir on the the South Platte River.
The City of Denver and many of the suburbs were counting on that project for future needs. It is interesting to note that the loss of Two Forks led to increased groundwater withdrawals from the Denver Basin Aquifer System and an increase in purchases of agricultural rights by municipal systems. Both of these alternatives are unsustainable but have led to recharge projects, water reuse projects by Denver Water and Aurora Water, along with serious efforts to allow alternative transfer methods for agricultural water that would protect farmers and keep the water with the land. The Great Divide touches on these newer more sustainable solutions.
Drought is a constant possibility in Colorado. The film shows how the drought of the 1930s spurred northeastern Colorado to line up behind the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for new supplies and storage.
When things turned around after the drought of 2002 The Great Divide informs us that municipalities had to rethink conservation efforts and that pumpers with insufficient augmentation water were shut down. Denver Water managed to cut per capita consumption by 20% below pre-2002 levels and other utilities noted similar savings.
The film examines the aftermath of the 2002 drought and the efforts by the Colorado legislature which passed the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. It established the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and the nine basin roundtables. The roundtables and the IBCC were formed as a forum to share needs but most importantly share values. One of the outcomes of the effort has been the realization, stated in the film by Travis Smith that, “We are more connected than we’d like to admit.”
This connectedness, along with the need to solve looming wide-ranging supply gaps were the motivation for Governor Hickenlooper to issue an executive order to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create Colorado’s first ever water plan. The Governor has an opportunity to present his view of the need for the plan in the film. He touches on the fact that however the plan turns out it will be built by the grass roots.
During his introduction of the film Justice Gregory Hobbs advised us to listen to the words along with viewing the images. He was right, the narrative by Peter Coyote engages and informs. You cannot listen to Mr. Grace’s words without learning at the same time. And that’s the point right? Educate and inform with an accurate representation of Colorado water issues and history…
The film is a stellar vehicle for educating and generating conversation. Go see it when you can, buy the book, and then start talking and teaching.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Dry, hot conditions across the central and southern U.S. contrasted with heavy rain and mountain snow in the northwestern quarter of the nation. As a result, drought continued to rapidly intensify from the Delta to the Southeast, with drought intensification also noted over portions of the Northeast. Conversely, large swaths of drought were reduced or eliminated from the northern Rockies into the Pacific Northwest…
There were no changes to this area’s drought depiction, with light showers (less than 0.5 inch) offering no substantial relief to the Long-term Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2)…
Central and Southern Plains
Dry, hot weather resulted in rapid expansion of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1). Temperatures during the period averaged 7 to 13°F above normal, with daytime highs reaching the upper 90s and lower 100s across the southern High Plains. The summer-like heat coupled with a lack of rainfall over the past 30 days exacerbated the impacts of the dryness, with some producers holding off on winter wheat sowing operations due to a lack of soil moisture. Conditions vary locally, with wetter soils in the east contrasting with protracted short-term dryness farther west. For example, while central and eastern Kansas has received favorable rain (100-200 percent of normal precipitation over the past 30 days), the D1 area in the southwestern corner of the state has reported little — if any — precipitation over the same time period…
Conditions remained largely unchanged in Texas during the week, with modest increases in Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) in northern and southern portions of the state. In the panhandle, D0 was expanded to capture areas which have received little — if any — precipitation over the past 30 days, with daytime highs approaching 100°F accelerating soil moisture losses for winter wheat. Pockets of D0 were also introduced on the Edwards Plateau and in southeastern Texas, where similar heat and dryness have been observed. In Deep South Texas, D0 and D1 were expanded where 90-day rainfall has totaled 25 to 60 percent of normal and soil moisture was likewise in very short supply…
Heavy drought-easing precipitation in northern portions of the region contrasted with dry, warmer-than-normal conditions across the south. In California, some modest drought reduction was noted in the north, with the biggest change for the week noted in the Impact Type; much of the drought in central and northern California is now a Long-term Drought (denoted on the map by an “L”), meaning that short-term impacts have been eased or alleviated but long-term impacts (ground water, reservoir supplies, etc.) remained.
From the Pacific Northwest into the northern Rockies, a steady fetch of Pacific moisture coupled with a series of disturbances triggered heavy rain and mountain snow. Event totals varied considerably based on topography, but liquid-equivalent amounts averaged 3 to 15 inches in the Coastal Ranges to 1 to 4 inches in the northern Rockies. Areas lee of the mountains received less, but amounts of 0.5 inch to locally more than an inch were observed. As a result, widespread 1- and 2-category reductions were made in areas where the heaviest precipitation fell.
Meanwhile, moderate to heavy rain and mountain snow (2-10 inches liquid equivalent, locally more) were observed in northern California, the Sierra Nevada, and along the immediate coast as far south as Santa Cruz. While the rain was beneficial for streamflow and soil moisture recharge, the state will need more cool-season precipitation to undo the far-reaching impacts of the ongoing 5-year drought.
In the Great Basin and Four Corners, a modest reduction of D0 in eastern Nevada was supported by feedback from local experts following near- to above-normal precipitation in these areas during the just-concluded 2015-16 Water Year. The rest of the region remained unchanged, though a continuation of hot, dry conditions may necessitate increases in drought intensity and coverage over the upcoming weeks…
Unfavorably dry conditions are expected to linger over many of the nation’s drought areas over the next 5 to 7 days. In particular, little — if any — rain is expected over the Southeast as well as the southern half of the Great Plains. Exceptions to the dry outlook include the potential for locally heavy rain from the central Appalachians into northern New England, and from northern California into the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for October 25- 29 calls for near- to above-normal temperatures over most of the nation, with cooler-than-normal conditions confined to New England and the central Pacific Coast. However, the outlook features a wetter-than-normal signal from the Pacific Coast into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, with drier-than-normal conditions limited to portions of Texas and from the Delta into the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States.
Dams are a core element of American infrastructure and provide many important services. However, aging infrastructure has led to many dams becoming obsolete, costly, and unsafe, threatening human life if they fail. By 2020, more than 65 percent of dams will be past their designated lifespan. Further, these structures put a strain on American rivers and wildlife by blocking an estimated 600,000 miles of U.S. rivers. Without a comprehensive plan for this failing infrastructure, the problem will continue to grow.
Please join the Center for American Progress for a panel discussion to highlight the progress that has already been made and explore the future of policymaking that aims to modernize the management of dam infrastructure, remove unneeded dams, and restore the health of American rivers.
David Hayes, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Mike Connor, Deputy Secretary of the Interior
Steve Ellis, Vice President, Taxpayers for Common Sense
Rose Marcario, President and CEO, Patagonia Inc.
Rebecca Miles, Executive Director of the Nez Perce Tribe
Annie Snider, Energy Reporter, POLITICO Pro
Here’s the release from the University of Arizona (Mari N. Jensen):
Two growing seasons after the engineered spring flood of 2014, the delta’s birds, plants and groundwater continue to benefit, according to a report by a binational, UA-led team.
Two growing seasons after the engineered spring flood of the Colorado River Delta in 2014, the delta’s birds, plants and groundwater continue to benefit, according to the latest monitoring report prepared for the International Boundary and Water Commission by a binational, University of Arizona-led team.
“This short-term event has had lasting consequences. This really demonstrates that a little bit of water does a lot of environmental good,” said Karl W. Flessa, UA professor of geosciences and co-chief scientist of the Minute 319 monitoring team.
“Some of the cottonwoods that germinated during the initial pulse flow are now more than 10 feet tall,” Flessa said.
Minute 319 is the 2012 addition to the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty that authorized environmental flows of water into the Colorado River Delta from 2013 to 2017.
Birdlife responded to the post-flood burgeoning of vegetation, and bird diversity is still higher than before, the monitoring team reports. Migratory waterbirds, nesting waterbirds and nesting riparian birds all increased in abundance.
Upstream dams and water diversions for farms and cities in both countries have dried up most of the river south of the border. With the exception of a few wet years, the river has not reached the Gulf of California since 1960.
“This is the first time environmental water has ever been delivered across an international boundary.” said Eloise Kendy, a senior freshwater scientist with The Nature Conservancy’s North America Water Program.
“The level of collaboration was really unprecedented — from two national governments to the individual farmers whose irrigation canals were used for some of the water deliveries,” she said. [ed. emphasis mine]
Flessa, Kendy and Karen Schlatter of Sonoran Institute compiled and edited the report on behalf of the binational partnership of many people and federal agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations that monitored the Colorado River Delta under Minute 319.
Some of the water from the pulse flow and subsequent smaller environmental flows recharged the groundwater, which had both ecological and social benefits, Kendy said. The vegetation greened up in areas that received surface water and also in some areas that did not.
“The farmers were happy because it recharged the aquifer they use for groundwater irrigation,” Kendy said. “And plants that were outside the inundation zone got a big drink of water.”
Before 1960, spring floods regularly roared down the Colorado River, scouring the river bottom and overtopping the bank, thereby creating the conditions necessary for cottonwood and willow trees to germinate and establish.
An invasive plant species known as salt cedar or tamarisk is now the dominant plant along the river. Cottonwoods and willows need bare ground and sunlight to germinate, so they cannot establish themselves on tamarisk-covered riverbanks, said Schlatter, a restoration ecologist of the Sonoran Institute’s Colorado River Delta Program.
The March 2014 pulse flow delivered a fraction of the water the pre-1960 spring floods delivered. People from Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste cleared some areas of non-native vegetation beforehand. The researchers hoped that reducing competition would allow native plants such as willows and cottonwoods to germinate and grow after the pulse flow.
“We mechanically cleared the tamarisk vegetation from the riverbank and old oxbows,” Schlatter said. “We reconnected the meanders to the main river channels so when the pulse flow came there were these nice backwater areas where the conditions were good for the establishment of native trees.”
Now in those restoration areas, cottonwood and willow seeds that germinated after the pulse flow have become trees 3 to 4 meters tall (10 to 13 feet), and bird diversity and abundance has increased, she said.
“Now we have diverse habitat types, including lagoons, cottonwoods-willow forest, mesquite bosque and marshes,” she said. “We are seeing a much higher diversity of riparian bird species in the restoration sites compared to other areas along the river.”
The abundance of 19 bird species of conservation concern, including vermillion flycatchers, hooded orioles and yellow-breasted chats, was 43 percent higher at the restoration sites than at other sites in the floodplain, the monitoring team found.
In addition, the pulse flow reduced soil salinity in some areas that had been targeted for restoration, Schlatter said. “We didn’t expect that — it is a huge bonus.”
Reducing the soil salinity makes conditions more favorable for native plant species.
If there’s another pulse flow, she suggests mechanically clearing tamarisk and other non-native vegetation from the river’s bank.
“We’re not going to get a huge flood on the Colorado River anymore,” Schlatter said. “If the flood isn’t going to provide the same ecological processes floods did in the past, we will have to have active management.”
Other UA members of the monitoring team are Ed Glenn of the UA Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science and Martha Gomez-Sapiens and Hector Zamora of the UA Department of Geosciences.
The International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso, Texas, funded the UA portion of the Minute 319 monitoring program.
Carlos de la Parra of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte is co-chief scientist of the Minute 319 monitoring team. Key contributors to the report include Osvel Hinojosa of Pronatura Noroeste, Jorge Ramírez and Jesus Eliana Rodriguez Burgueño of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Francisco Zamora of Sonoran Institute, Jeffrey Kennedy of the U.S. Geological Survey and Dale Turner of The Nature Conservancy.
The Minute 319 monitoring team includes more than 21 scientists from universities, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations from both Mexico and the U.S., including El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, the Ensenada-based Pronatura Noroeste, The Nature Conservancy, the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute, the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.