NOAA funds CU-Boulder-based Western Water Assessment for another five years — CU Boulder

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From CIRES via the CU News Center:

n 2013, the torrents of water that poured out of the mountains, ripping up roads and inundating Boulder, Lyons, Longmont and other Front Range communities, also resulted in a deluge of questions. Both the general public and local officials wondered just how unusual this rainfall and flooding had been. Had something like it happened before? Was anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change responsible?

“The intensity of the floods really caught a lot of us living in the region off guard,” said Lisa Dilling, director of the Western Water Assessment, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Dilling is also a professor of environmental studies at CU-Boulder. “But because WWA has a long history of working with water managers and planners in Colorado’s Front Range, we could quickly assemble regional experts to assess the disaster.”

Within ten days of the floods, WWA researchers and their partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Colorado State University synthesized information about the atmospheric conditions that produced the floods, the potential role of climate change, and how these floods compared to others in the past. They released a 4-page handout at a public briefing and panel discussion. This rapid-response effort spurred additional WWA research projects to better understand Front Range flood risk, some of which are still ongoing – which is why the group was thrilled to find out that NOAA will support them with about $4 million for another five years.

The money comes from NOAA’s Climate Program Office, which has funded WWA since 1999. WWA, which focuses on Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, is one of ten teams under NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences & Assessments (RISA) program. It’s intended to help expand the country’s ability to deal with climate change by having scientists work with local and regional stakeholders and engage them as research partners.

For WWA, the NOAA agreement is invaluable. “NOAA’s support is our foundation,” said Dilling. “We are grateful for the recognition that our work in this intersection of environmental change and decision-making is relevant, important and timely.” In the last five years, WWA has issued a report examining how climate change in Colorado affects water resources, as well as a study on the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change: in tourism, recreation, education, public health and many other sectors. It also helped Salt Lake City, Utah evaluate the impact of a changing climate on their water supply. And WWA collaborated with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) to create a report on climate change and the Navajo Nation.

In all of these projects, the goal has been to provide land managers, water managers and other officials with the best information possible so they can develop and enact effective policies.

Under this new round of funding, WWA plans to pursue three big research areas. One of those is to examine how the science developed by WWA and other research entities can be made more useful to decision-making. “We’re interested in enhancing the usability of science,” said Jeff Lukas, Research Integration Specialist with WWA. “We want to involve stakeholders in everything we do. And we want to spread our model of two-way dialogue and collaboration between scientists and stakeholders.”

Another big area of research over the next five years will be vulnerability and adaptation. WWA plans to focus on how Utah, Colorado and Wyoming are vulnerable to climate change, as well as how to design more adaptive and resilient systems, looking specifically at water supply.. Lukas also points out that adaptation and resilience aren’t just about infrastructure, like roads, buildings, and bridges. They’re also about getting organizations to think differently when it comes to climate change.

And, finally, in an extension of their work on the 2013 floods, WWA wants to better understand extreme weather and climate events and help to use that understanding to inform future decisions. “We need to glean all the information we can from the rich historical record,” says Lukas. “And also tease out what the climate models can really tell us about changes in these events going forward.”

“Every day, communities and businesses in the U.S. and around world are grappling with environmental challenges due to changing climate conditions and extreme events,” said Wayne Higgins, director of the NOAA Climate Program Office, which announced funding for WWA and other programs today. “People want timely and relevant scientific information about where and why climate is changing, and what impacts that has on human and natural systems. CPO’s competitive grants play a vital role in advancing understanding of Earth’s climate system and in transitioning our data, tools, information, and operations to applications the public can use to improve decision making.”

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder.

The latest “The Current” newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

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

Eagle River Watershed Council has teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service for the inaugural year of our Citizen Science program. This program aims to identify creeks and streams on Forest Service land that currently house populations of native cutthroat trout or could in the future. Participants were trained to collect Environmental DNA samples and assess the physical habitat of streams.

We are no longer accepting new volunteers for the Citizen Science program this year, but there will certainly be ways to get involved in 2016! Email to sign up for next year or simply to find out more.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

Grand Junction: The Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center is showing the Great Divide on October 17


Click here for the inside skinny and to register (free).

Click here for the Coyote Gulch review.

Why Colorado doesn’t create bold goals for greenhouse gas reductions — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Colorado’s state government has produced an updated climate action plan, and it’s rich with detail about what Colorado has done in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as in addressing the challenges of rising temperatures.


But what value does this information provide? The document, “Colorado Climate Plan: State Level Policies and Strategies to Mitigate and Adapt,” neither sets goals nor does it makes a strong case for a specific agenda. Instead, among several dozen strategies and recommendations are these:

  • Promote and encourage water efficiency and/or conservation at the local and state agency level.
  • Assist all electric utilities in incorporating all feasible efficiency activities into resource planning and the EPA air quality compliance plans, and
  • Partner with federal and local agencies to preserve and protect forest health and wildlife habitat and to reduce wildfire risk. This latter is under the tourism and recreation heading.
  • Taryn Finnessey, lead author of the document, says many of the specifics of these recommendations remain to be worked out. The next step, beginning late this fall, will be to begin having conversations with various water, business, and other interest groups.

    When possible, she says, that outreach will be accomplished using existing events, such as when the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts meets. Climate change adaptation will be on the agenda when the state’s Department of Local Affairs holds sessions on land-use planning.

    “We recognize this is the beginning of the conversation, not the end, and there needs to be more dialogue with stakeholders going forward about where we need to go from here,” she says.


    “But this is a really good first step, the first time when we have pulled together all we have done about climate change adaptation and mitigation and put it in one document. And it is not be understated. There are a lot of really good efforts underway, and we don’t want to slow those efforts down.

    “There’s much more to be done. That’s clear not only in our strategies and recommendations, but also in our efforts to reach out to stakeholders and the public to see how they want to take the next steps of climate change and adaptation in Colorado.”

    Other states and some local jurisdictions have proclaimed bold, even brash goals. Colorado officials aren’t persuaded that’s the way to go.

    “When you drill down into the programs they have in place to achieve those goals, you find sometimes that the math doesn’t add up,” says Finnessey.

    The document makes the case that Colorado has done much since the first climate plan was released during the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007. Much of that work has been in reduction of greenhouse gases.

    The climate plan speaks to both transportation and cooperation with local entities. Photo/Allen Best - See more at:
    The climate plan speaks to both transportation and cooperation with local entities. Photo/Allen Best – See more at:

    State legislators have raised the bar of renewable portfolio standards for the investor-owned utilities and expanded the requirements to include the co-operatives and municipalities.

    Already, the initiatives (including the first renewable mandate adopted by voters in 2004) have added up. Just 0.54 percent of electricity came from renewable sources in 2004 (excluding the big hydro sources); as of 2014, the percentage had grown to 14.36 percent.

    Switching among fossil fuels has also reduced greenhouse gases. State legislation incentivized the replacement of coal by natural gas at power plants in Boulder and Denver. And, in 2014, Colorado became a national leader in instituting rules to limit emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from drilling operations.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has said Colorado will go forward with efforts to meet standards of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan for 2030. (Another statewide elected official, Cynthia Coffman, the attorney general, has a different idea. She has joined her counterparts from 22 other states in challenging legality of the Clean Power Plan).

    And in its internal operations, the state government has completed measures to reduce petroleum use by fleets by 25 percent and, more broadly, cut energy use by 30 percent.

    “We have taken an incredibly multi-pronged approach. We don’t just rely on legislative actions or just on administrative actions or actions we have taken in the past,” says Finnessey.

    A chart of greenhouse gas emissions in the report shows a rapid increase in greenhouse gases from Colorado during the 1990s and until about a decade ago. Since then, the growth has moderated and, looking forward, the state report expects emissions to essentially flatline even as population and economic growth continue.

    CMU: Water Center renamed Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center to honor west slope water rights activist


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Several members of the community came together Thursday at Colorado Mesa University to celebrate the renaming of the school’s water center in honor of Ruth Powell Hutchins, a longtime proponent of the preservation of water rights on the Western Slope.

    The newly named Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at CMU performs and facilitates interdisciplinary and collaborative research, education, outreach and dialogue to address water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    Hutchins, who died in 1997, worked to protect the water rights of small farmers and other water users, according to the university. She was one of the founders of the Mesa County Water Association, which evolved into the Water Center at CMU.

    Hutchins’ children recently established an endowment for the center in honor of their mother.

    The unveiling of the center’s new name was held on the third floor terrace of Dominguez Hall to a full crowd, including three generations of the Hutchins family, members of the Colorado Mesa University Board of Trustees and CMU President Tim Foster.

    Her son, Will Hutchins, spoke at the event about his mother’s work.

    “I want to thank CMU for honoring our mother,” Will Hutchins said. “With respect to my mother, there are two things to keep in mind — she was a straight-laced Vermonter and her dream.”

    He said his mother grew up in a community where the traditional New England town meeting was a way for people to get involved in their town government.

    “Public service meant exactly that — not a way for a person to financially better themselves at the public trough,” he said.

    He said his mother and father, John, met at a dude ranch and had a dream to own a “farm to raise their family on.”

    In 1955, the Hutchinses bought a farm in Fruita, he said. There, Ruth Hutchins began to get involved in the community through volunteer work.

    “Any time you have money in the public sector, there are a lot of people trying to get their hands on (it),” Will Hutchins said, referring to water rights issues. And, he added, the result was not necessarily for the benefit of the public.

    He said his mother studied water rights issues and eventually was able to “go to the water buffaloes — people like politicians, prestigious lawyers, lobbyists, engineers — and talk to them on her own terms” about these issues and her concerns.

    Foster said the university “gets to name” a number of its facilities after people in the community, but “few as iconic as Ruth.”

    “Ruth Hutchins was one of my very favorite people. She was a combination of Annie Oakley, Margaret Thatcher and Mary Poppins,” Foster said in a news release issued by the university. “She truly cared about water issues, not only in the Grand Valley but statewide and nationally. She was committed to making the system work better and to the importance of meeting agricultural water needs. We are honored to have the water center carry her name and are deeply appreciative of her family’s generosity.”

    Hutchins’ son, Tad, said he was honored to be at the naming.

    “(It shows) that the good deeds you do will outlive you as an issue,” he said.

    “I’d like to think Mom would be proud of this (center)” that provides information to anyone interested in water issues.

    CMU spokeswoman Dana Nunn said the renaming of the center was not a condition of the endowment.

    NASA to test [snowpack] data technique in upper Rio Grande Basin — The Santa Fe New Mexican

    Combined lidar and aerial mapping
    Combined lidar and aerial mapping

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via the Santa Fe New Mexican:

    NASA is providing drought-stricken California with valuable data about how much water is locked up in the scant Sierra Nevada snow, and now Colorado is trying the technique in the mountains where the Rio Grande begins its journey to New Mexico and Texas.

    An airplane called the Airborne Snow Observatory flies over California’s Tuolumne River Basin east of San Francisco during peak snow months, using scanners to collect data on how deep the snow is and how much of the sun’s warming rays are bouncing off. That helps project when the snow will melt and how much water it will release into rivers for cities, farms and wildlife…

    “Once the water managers get a look at the data, they say, ‘I like that,’ ” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. NASA has been providing California with snow data from the Tuolumne Basin since 2013, and flights will resume there next spring.

    Colorado signed up for three flights over the Rio Grande Basin in the south-central part of the state. The first were in March and September of this year. The third will be next spring…

    Estimating how much Colorado snow will melt into the Rio Grande is difficult. The mountains block weather radars that could help gauge how much precipitation is falling, said Joe Busto of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Colorado will use the NASA data to improve computer modeling for runoff forecasts…

    The Airborne Snow Observatory, a propeller-driven plane, sweeps back and forth over mountain snowfields scanning with lidar — the term combines “light” and “radar” — and an imaging spectrometer.

    Lidar measures snow depth by bouncing a laser off the surface and comparing that to an aerial survey done without snow. Coupled with snow density data from ground sites and computer modeling, researchers can project how much water is in the snow.

    The spectrometer measures how much sunlight the snow is reflecting and absorbing. That allows researchers to project when it will melt.

    The ground sites, scattered across the West, are the primary source of data for most snowmelt projections. U.S. Department of Agriculture employees trek to some sites to measure and weigh the snow. Other sites are automated.

    Painter said the airborne survey won’t eliminate ground sites, but he foresees a day when aerial surveys become the standard. Satellites might also play a role, but airplanes can provide a level of detail and frequency that spacecraft cannot, Painter said.

    “At least not yet. Maybe in 50 years,” he said.