Water and climate summit draws alumni experts from all corners — CSU

The Water and Climate Initiative drew engineering alumni and other dignitaries to campus June 13-14. Credit: CIRA/CSU
The Water and Climate Initiative drew engineering alumni and other dignitaries to campus June 13-14. Credit: CIRA/CSU

From Colorado State University (Matthew Rogers):

As befits a western land-grant institution, Colorado State University has a long history of leading water science and policy research. And over several decades, many CSU alumni – mostly from the College of Engineering – have taken prominent positions across the globe, delving into water resource and management issues on every continent.

Many of these alumni were welcomed back to campus for the 2016 Water and Climate Initiative, June 13-14. Over the two-day summit, they pooled their expertise and vision, and provided a comprehensive list of suggestions and needs to guide water resource management globally. They also provided a slate of recommendations to Colorado State University to further refine research goals around water and climate issues.

The initiative took place at the Durrell Center at CSU. It was hosted jointly by the College of Engineering, the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA, a partnership between CSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and Riverside Technology, Inc., a Fort Collins-based science and information technology company.

Keynotes underscore wealth of expertise

Keynote presentations ranged from climate and hydrologic forecasting and water crisis management in Asia and South America, to best practices for regional water management and observation of water resources. A focus on education needs in particular fostered debate and brainstorming. Participants, the majority of whom studied or worked at Colorado State University, came from around the country, as well as from four continents including dignitaries from Iceland, South Korea, Brazil, Egypt, and the Gulf Region of the Middle East.

Participants, many of whom hold high office in governmental or international water councils and agencies, broke into focus groups to craft position statements on the needs and suggestions of critical topics, including hydrologic uncertainty and extreme events; politics, people and governance; and water management and planning.

Suggestions and needs ranged from technical improvements in utilizing climate model outputs for hydrological modeling, and improvements in statistical analysis and investigation of major flood events, to integration of a country’s workforce and economic sectors to better influence management and infrastructure. Also discussed were philosophical and practical ways to balance financial sustainability and social justice, and how subsidies and distribution of water resources are administered, with a special interest in low-income regions.

Five-point recommendation

The initiative was facilitated by the dean of CSU’s College of Engineering, David McLean, along with Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute; Chris Kummerow, CSU professor of atmospheric science and director of CIRA; Larry Brazil, president and CEO of Riverside Technology, and Neil Grigg, CSU professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Dignitaries and workshop participants, including three CSU graduate students, presented a summary five-point recommendation to CSU Provost Rick Miranda, suggesting that CSU research efforts in water and climate could:

  • focus on integrating knowledge across climate, water, ecology and humans;
  • focus on research in climate forecasting and early warning tools related to hydrologic processes;
  • exploit global data and information to promote integration and decision support;
  • advance the university service and outreach mission through vigorous international scientific cooperation;
  • hire faculty using joint appointments, and allow graduate students to obtain interdisciplinary degrees in “water” to further integrate across disciplines.
  • Summary remarks by Miranda reiterated CSU’s commitment to leading the world in water resource and climate research expertise. Needs identified during the summit are critical, he said, in continuing the university’s tradition of excellence in teaching, research and outreach.

    #COWaterPlan: South Platte Basin Ag Producers and Water Managers Workshop July 13

    Ag Workshop South Platte Flyer 07132016

    Click here to register. Click here for all the inside skinny.

    The June 2016 issue of Headwaters Pulse is hot off the presses from the CFWE


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

    What do Rainbarrels mean for Colorado Water Conservation?

    Last month, Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 16-1005 into law, making rainwater harvesting widely legal in Colorado. Thanks to the legislation, precipitation can be collected from residential rooftops, provided a maximum of two barrels with a combined storage of 110 gallons or less are used; precipitation is collected from a single-family residence or building that houses no more than four families; collected water is used on the residential property where it is collected; and water is used for outdoor purposes. Rainwater harvesting in Colorado has been subject to a lot of hype and the new legislation heralds much excitement, but how much water will it really conserve? Continue reading

    Pueblo Co. commissioners agree to keep funding CSU-Pueblo Fountain Creek Study

    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    Pueblo will continue to study Fountain Creek watershed.

    The Pueblo County commissioners on Wednesday voted unanimously to help fund the project.

    The school will receive $37,500 from the county to continue to conduct aquatic research along the creek to produce data to public entities for dissemination.

    The commissioners said they have determined that it is in the best interests of the county to approve the request under the Aid to Other Entities Program.

    The county has funds available in its budget appropriated and otherwise made available for payment to other entities to promote certain activities that would benefit or enhance the community.

    The ‘Harbinger of Doom’ escapes the newsroom — #NewMexico In Depth

    John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project -- Colorado College
    John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project — Colorado College

    From New Mexico In Depth (Laura Paskus):

    Around the newsroom, John Fleck used to be called The Harbinger of Doom. When drought overtook New Mexico more than a decade ago, his stories regularly started running with headlines like: “New Mexico in its worst drought since 1880s,” “Conflicts rise as water dwindles,” and “San Juan water dries up for first time in 40 years.”

    Initially covering science and the national laboratories, Fleck didn’t take over the water beat at the Albuquerque Journal until New Mexico was well into its most recent drought. “I was geared up to write about people running out of water,” he says today, sitting on his back porch and watching doves dip their beaks into a makeshift pond while black-chinned hummingbirds inspect the flowers. In 2013, when wells were running dry in the communities of Magdalena and Maxwell, he’d hit the road with a photographer, then bang out more depressing stories.

    But the coverage didn’t feel quite right to him: “I began to realize there was this other story about people not running out of water,” he says.

    Locally, for example, he points to a drop in Albuquerque’s water consumption. At the same time, as the city relied less on groundwater pumping and more on water from the Rio Grande, the aquifer started recovering.

    “By the end, I was chafing under the constraint of what a newspaper story should be – 600, or maybe 750 words,” he says. Short, to-the-point, and focused on a crisis. In general, newspapers aren’t in the business of peddling stories about complicated issues and the subtle, nuanced solutions people devise.

    Despite the nickname, Fleck just isn’t a gloomy guy. The grind of it all began to wear on him.

    After three decades of writing short, punchy stories about crisis and conflict, he’s now thinking beyond day-to-day headlines. He’s also crafting deep arguments on how to solve the same problems he reported on before leaving the Journal last year. Today he’s an adjunct faculty member and writer-in-residence in the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program. His latest book, Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West, publishes in September.

    By focusing almost exclusively on failures and crises, he says that newspapers create a gap in the public narrative. Which is too bad, he says: “Positive messages can help people who are otherwise scared and combative about the future.”

    Looking outside New Mexico, Fleck found more examples of declining water use—and of people coming together to work cooperatively. “I started to see all these places where, in the midst of the risk of crisis, people are slowly and quietly adapting,” he says. “But that doesn’t get as much attention—because it’s slow and quiet.”

    Moving last year from the Journal Center to an office at UNM, Fleck finally found his sweet spot. He no longer had to focus on crisis. And he could turn his attention fully toward a river he’s loved since childhood: the Colorado River, where seven states share water under an agreement signed nearly a century ago.

    While researching his book, Fleck started off curious about what happens when there’s not enough water; relying heavily on water stored in reservoirs, by the late 1990s states were using more water than actually flowed through the Colorado annually.

    He ended up surprised by how well people work together to avoid a crisis. Reinforcing relationships outside the negotiating room is important, he says. That’s in part because in this new era of scarcity, the old rules and the old battle lines don’t hold up very well.

    One story Fleck loves to tell involves a raft and two Colorado River foes: an environmental advocate and the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which moves more than a million acre-feet of river water through the desert in canals and pipes. Dueling from opposite ends of the water wars, the two had been quoted in the same newspaper articles. But before that rafting trip, they’d never actually met in person. Afterwards, they crafted ways to protect Mexico’s Cienega de Santa Clara from the impacts of a desalination plant. People would still get their water. But an important watershed, one that supports migrating birds and wildlife at the lower end of the Colorado, wouldn’t be destroyed.

    A rafting trip—or something simpler, like a drink together at the bar or a shared meal—might not seem like a big deal. But when formal relationships strengthen, evolve, or cross institutional boundaries, Fleck thinks people better understand what the others want and value when they’re sitting around the negotiating table.

    As drought has further deepened the gap between water supply and demand on the Colorado, states and water users may be facing dire challenges. And yet, there are flickers of hope within the gloom of crisis.

    A celebration of the return of water to the Delta near San Luis Rio Colorado
    A celebration of the return of water to the Delta near San Luis Rio Colorado

    A few years ago, for example, more than a dozen U.S. and Mexican agencies, as well as environmental groups, cooperated to deliver water to cities and farms during a drought – and also open the gates of Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border. That pulse of water would mimic the spring runoff rivers naturally experience when their waters aren’t dammed, diverted, and siphoned into taps and irrigation canals. In other words, water managers would allow the lower part of the Colorado to act like a river, rather than just a channel that delivers water for human needs.

    It was a historic event. Since the 1960s, the river hasn’t typically reached the sea.

    Greedy for water after decades dry, the channel sucked up most of the water before it made it to the ocean. But even after the eight-week long pulse moved through, scientists continued studying how the delta responded: they monitored where plants grew and survived, how that stream side habitat has affected birds and wildlife, and how the return of freshwater affected the groundwater.

    With all that information, they’re learning more about the Colorado and its delta—and how future spring pulses or supplemental water releases might help the system and its wildlife even more.

    Fleck still grins and waves his arms when talking about watching that water spread and fill the sandy channel two years ago. Activists, scientists, and officials from the US and Mexico peered over the bridge. And in the community of San Luis Río Colorado—a community still named for a river that no longer flowed past—people celebrated the water’s return. Families dragged lawn chairs and coolers to the riverbank. Kids threw up their arms and jumped into the water.

    “It was made possible because all these people were working together for years,” Fleck says. “This collection of humans were all excited that they had done something people thought couldn’t be done.”

    To see a video about the pulse flow and some of the studies being done, visit: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=10280

    #Snowpack #Runoff news: The Summer Water Picture Not Quite as Rosy This Year — The Crested Butte News

    Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.

    From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

    Snowpack across the Gunnison River Basin is below normal, particularly in the East River Basin where the predicted streamflow for the April through July runoff season is 78 percent of normal.

    Spring runoff for the East River is likely to peak within the next few days. “The long-term average peak occurs on June 11, so this year’s peak seems to be on track or a few days earlier than normal,” Kugel said.

    Reservoir conditions look to be quite different from last year. Last June, both the Taylor Park and Blue Mesa Reservoirs came within inches of spilling over. This coming summer, Taylor Park Reservoir is projected to reach somewhere between 90 percent and 95 percent of full and Blue Mesa is projected to reach 83 percent of capacity.

    Kugel attributes the difference to a slightly better snowpack in the Taylor Park area and a recent 10-day peak flow release from Blue Mesa in accordance with a record of decision for the Aspinall Environmental Impact Study. Water was released for the lower Gunnison River for endangered fish habitat.

    “Blue Mesa should start filling again but dropped several thousand acre-feet during the release and is currently at 69 percent of capacity,” Kugel said.

    The Taylor Park Reservoir is currently at 72 percent of capacity and is in the midst of its peak release of 450 cubic feet per second (cfs), which started Tuesday, May 31 and runs through Saturday, June 4.

    “We do that both to satisfy privately held instream flow rights on the Taylor River and to help flush sediments from the streambed and improve the fishery on the Taylor River. Once the release is complete, it will be stepped back down to 300 cfs over the course of a few days and it should remain at that for the month of June,” Kugel said.

    That will make for good flows for several June events featuring local waterways. This year’s Gunnison River Festival, which features the annual river float and fish fry as well as events at the Whitewater Park, will take place just after the 41st annual Colorado Water Workshop.

    Originally started by local historian Duane Vandenbusche and Gunnison water lawyer Richard Bratton, this year’s workshop features several authors, including Western Slope writer Craig Childs.

    The Colorado Foundation for Water Education will also host a two-day tour of the Gunnison River Basin, providing an in-depth look at everything from Blue Mesa Reservoir to local irrigation practices and infrastructure to an organic farm and the Gunnison Whitewater Park.

    The tour runs June 21-22; the Colorado Water Workshop runs June 22-24; and the Gunnison River Festival runs June 24-26.

    Learn more at http://www.western.edu/academics/undergraduate/environment-sustainability/conferences/colorado-water-workshop.

    #AnimasRiver: “But you don’t learn how to read the river in a week or a month. It takes years” — Roger Dale

    Photo via https://mild2wildrafting.com
    Photo via https://mild2wildrafting.com

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Last week, 20 or so river enthusiasts began Mountain Waters Rafting & Adventure guide training, eager to take on the six-day course that would bring them down the Animas River in a seemingly endless succession.

    “We all run the same stretch of river, with the same old boats and the same old-school buses,” said Mountain Waters’ co-owner James Wilkes. “The only thing that separates one from the other is that person at the back of the boat.”

    Kicking into gearThe scene at Mountain Water’s boat yard behind the Jiffy Lube on U.S. Highway 160 before classes start at 8 a.m. is a serene blend between a Dust Bowl refugee camp and a college dorm.

    Campers fill the parking lot as breakfast boils over a portable stove. Trainees wedge into their wetsuits and splash gear. A lone 20-something in a bathrobe rolls a cigarette as Creedence Clearwater Revival asks in the background its eternal question: Who will stop the rain?

    But once trip leader Doug Ponce calls for people to load up, the day kicks into gear.

    “Being a guide really depends on your hunger and drive,” Ponce said.

    Twice a year, before the rafting season gets in full swing, Mountain Waters hosts two guide training courses, which provide beginning boaters with the state-required 50 hours of experience on the river. Other companies in town offer a similar session.

    And though anyone can take the course for whatever reasons, Wilkes said the training is an essential part of restaffing for the busy summer season.

    “Durango people come and go,” Wilkes said. “A lot of kids do summer jobs, and then they move on. So it’s imperative we offer this training.”

    Wilkes said Mountain Waters needs around 30 to 40 guides to handle the workload during peak season. Yet each year, only about 20 return, which is actually a good retention rate relative to Durango, Wilkes said.

    It’s tough to gauge the town’s porous population of river guides. Wilkes estimated that with eight rafting companies around Durango, it’s likely there are about 100 full-timers, and another couple hundred on call.

    A tough jobThe life of a river guide is not easy, Wilkes said. Pay can be erratic, landing trips can be competitive, and workers usually need a second job – and on top of all that, it only lasts about 10 weeks.

    “It can be feast or famine,” Wilkes said.

    Despite all that, there is no shortage of people who want to spend long summer days on the river.

    “A lot or people see this job with a seasonal mentality, and it can be difficult,” said Ponce, who is entering his seventh year as a guide. “But if it got boring, I would have stopped by now.”

    One trainee, Russ Penasa, graduated from Fort Lewis College in May, and with the flexibility of the post-graduate summer, signed up for the course hoping to land a job as a guide.

    “I just figured, why not?” Penasa said. “I’ll try to get a job here, or if not, with another company in town.”

    Flipping happensIndeed, the pursuit to become a guide is a labor of love. On Monday, just three days into training, Ponce gave the order to intentionally flip a raft in the precarious Corner Pocket Rapid in the Durango Whitewater Park.

    “With the new whitewater park, unfortunately, flipping is something that happens,” Ponce said. “And the only way to prepare someone for that is to put them in it.”

    Madison Smith, also a recent FLC grad, was one of the unlucky few jettisoned off the 16-foot raft and into the turbulent, murky waters of the Animas, running at around 3,000 cubic feet per second.

    “You feel pretty vulnerable even with the life jacket,” Smith said. “But we’re learning how to have composure during chaos. People totally freak out, and it’s contagious.”

    For the rest of the week, instructors, little by little, wean themselves out of the situation, allowing trainees to take over and make split-second decisions on the river.

    Some will take jobs; others will take their newly acquired skills elsewhere.

    Regardless, all leave with a better understanding of how to read the subtle signs in the water.

    “And that’s really the most challenging part,” said Roger Dale, an instructor. “But you don’t learn how to read the river in a week or a month. It takes years.”