Climate: From Global to Local

Globally, 2015 was officially the hottest year on record… by a long shot. Data from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as well as meteorological agencies in Britain and Japan all reveal the same. And we now know where the U.S. Senate stands on the matter of climate change. From NOAA:

During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 136 years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.29°F (0.16°C) and marking the fourth time a global temperature record has been set this century. This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken.


From NSIDC. Monthly December ice extent for 1979 to 2015 shows a decline of 3.4% per decade.

The year was also significant in Arctic sea ice melt. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says that 2015 will be remembered for a few major events, including the lowest Arctic maximum in the satellite record, and the fourth lowest Arctic minimum in the satellite record. Sea ice has declined 13.4 percent each decade between 1981 and 2010.

An article published in November 2015 based on a recently released study predicts that by midcentury, the Arctic coastline and most of the Arctic ocean will be devoid of sea ice for 60 additional days per year. That change would alter polar environments and change our global climate. From a NSIDC press release:

“What we have seen this summer reinforces our conclusions that Arctic sea ice extent is in a long-term decline and that we are headed for a seasonally ice-free ocean,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

Serreze will join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education at its annual Climate and Colorado’s Water Future Workshop on March 11, 2016, explaining his research before participants tour the INSTAAR Stable Isotope Lab to understand how researchers use ice cores to study stable isotopes which reveal information about past climates. Workshop participants will then hear from experts about what that global climate science means locally in Colorado for ecosystems, water managers, policy makers and citizens.

coloradoclimateplancover092015In Colorado, the state is preparing for changes yet to come from warming. In September 2015, the state released a Colorado Climate Plan, which identifies challenges and recommends action to prepare for temperatures projected to rise an additional 2.5 to 5 degrees fahrenheit by 2050. Locally, increasing temperatures bring shifts in the timing of snowmelt runoff, water quality concerns, stressed ecosystems, more extreme weather events, among other challenges. The plan includes a section on water which details those forecasted stresses. From a local news report:

Local climatologists say the warming trend has been responsible for increased extreme weather, including in Colorado. If and when it continues, they say it could cause even more extreme weather in the future.

“More high temperatures, more heat waves, more drought and wildfires in the summertime. And then stronger storms, more strong hurricanes, potential for greater damage from wind storms and flooding,” said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Scientists said that with an increase in temperatures comes an increase in moisture along the atmosphere due to evaporation, which contributes to extreme weather.

Trenberth added that mountain climates like Colorado are actually more sensitive to the warming of the earth, due to the swings between hot and cold.

Recommendations in the Colorado Climate Plan include encouraging water efficiency, encouraging water providers to complete integrated water resource planning, incorporating climate variability and change into long-term statewide water planning efforts, assisting local communities in developing regional and local resiliency plans and more. Learn more about the Climate Plan here, and attend our workshop where we’ll hear from Taryn Finnessey, the state climate change risk management specialist who helped develop the plan, on those steps moving forward.

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Anniversary of the Colorado River Compact


Colorado River Compact signing November 24, 1922. Credit: Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior

This year, as you’re brining your turkey or traveling to see family and friends, realize that today, November 24, is the 93rd anniversary of the 1922 Colorado River Compact signing.

Colorado’s Delph Carpenter joined with other members of the Colorado River Commission at the signing of the compact on this historical day. The signing took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover presiding.
From CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts, with a updated version now available for preorder:

Alcompacts20smallthough subject to intense negotiation among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the compact, signed in 1922, is simple in concept. It apportions the right to consume water from the river and its tributaries between the upper basin states and the lower basin states. The dividing point between the two basins is at Lee Ferry, Arizona, eight miles below present-day Lake Powell.

The compact grants the states of each basin the right to use 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year “in perpetuity,” and gives the lower basin the right to increase its beneficial consumptive use of such waters by 1 million acre-feet per year from the Colorado River system. The compact also obligates the upper basin states to “not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted’’ below 75 million acre-feet over any period of 10 consecutive years. To date, the obligation has always been met.

The compact did not affect water rights that existed at the time it was approved. If the cumulative flow at Lee Ferry is ever less than 75 million acre-feet over any 10-year period, the upper basin states would have to curtail the use of post-compact water rights until the Lee Ferry obligation is restored. The Colorado River’s flow has varied dramatically, from 3 million acre-feet to 24 million acre-feet annually. In wet years, the upper basin states can store more water than in dry years—regardless of the river’s flow, upper basin states send water downstream to satisfy the “non-depletion” requirement.

hw_fall_2015_final_webcoverThe 1922 Colorado River Compact is further explored and explained, with a current lens, in the new issue of Headwaters magazine, which is all about the Colorado River Basin. From the story “A Defining Moment on the Colorado River”:


A partially frozen Colorado River pictured in January 2009 cuts through Castle Valley, Utah. Credit: Pete McBride

The question of who gets how much water from the river is governed by the 1922 Colorado River Compact and 1948 Upper Colorado River Compact and a related set of laws, decrees and an international treaty collectively referred to as the “Law of the River.” It is within the bones of the original compact where part of the problem lies. The negotiators of the 1922 compact assumed the river could reliably deliver more than 17 million acre-feet of water each year, as measured at a point on the river 10 miles downstream of Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam known as Lee Ferry, provided both Lake Mead and Lake Powell were constructed to store water in abundant years and even out low-flow water years. Gauge records from 1902, for example, showed there was only 9 million acre-feet available in the Colorado River that year, making storage necessary to implement the compact.

Rejecting some calls for a time-limited allocation, say for 50 years, the compact’s framers divided, in perpetuity, 15 million acre-feet equally between the upper and lower basin states, giving 7.5 million acre-feet to Arizona, California and Nevada, and 7.5 million acre-feet to the four smaller, less-developed upper basin states—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Another 1 million acre-feet was allocated to the lower basin, including flows from tributaries that enter the river below Lee Ferry. The idea was to ensure that the lower basin states, which then and now have the most senior water rights on the river, could not take unlimited amounts from the river simply because they were growing faster than the other states.

Skeptical of the deal even back then, Arizona would take more than 20 years to ratify the 1922 compact.

The compact may be 93 years old but still governs the way water is shared between the Colorado River Basin states, providing security for all basin states, though also leaving many questions about water allocation and scarcity open to interpretation.

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Colorado’s Final Water Plan Released Today

This morning the final version of Colorado’s Water Plan was presented to Governor Hickenlooper. This final plan comes after a long history of water development in the state, a decade of state-coordinated cooperation between and within Colorado’s river basins and a 2013 directive from Governor Hickenlooper setting the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a hard-working fast-paced course to develop the water plan. The plan is a roadmap that intends to put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative and cooperative path toward managing water in the face of constrained supplies and growing population.

Colorado’s population is predicted to grow exponentially, rising from around 5.4 million people in 2014 to between 8.3 and 9.1 million by 2050, according to predictions by Colorado’s State Demographer, as reported in the Colorado’s Water Plan issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine. If population grows as expected, and the state continued to fill those emerging needs without planning, the status quo would result in a water supply gap of up to 500,000 acre-feet by 2050, leaving the equivalent of some 2.5 million people’s water needs unmet, or met in undesirable ways. Then pile on the challenges of rising temperatures, drought, the unpredictability of climate change, and others… and the state’s water future looks increasingly uncertain.

So Colorado’s Water Plan set out to grapple with those water supply challenges and today reflects agreement from water interests statewide on broad, near-term actions needed to secure Colorado’s water future, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Those actions include efforts to conserve and store water, additional water reuse and recycling, and providing options to agriculture to avoid permanent dry-up of farm and ranch operations. The plan includes a set of measurable objectives that provide goals regarding water for farms, for the environment, and for cities and industry. The Denver Post reports:

The plan contains:

• A water-saving target of 130 billion gallons a year for cities and industry, left largely on their own to cut water consumption using methods from low-flow appliances to limits on lawn irrigation.

• A goal of increasing reservoir and aquifer storage space for 130 billion gallons and encouraging re-use of wastewater.

• A framework for assessing possible unspecified new trans-mountain diversions of water from the western side of the Continental Divide, when conditions permit, to Front Range cities and suburbs.

• A proposal to develop stream and river protection plans to cover 80 percent of “critical watersheds” by 2030.

• A strategy for slowing the loss of irrigated agricultural land as Front Range utilities buy up water rights — which state officials said threatens 700,000 more acres, or 20 percent of currently irrigated acres statewide. The strategy is to facilitate temporary transfers during wet years with farmers and ranchers retaining water ownership.

• A goal of linking county land use planning with water supply planning so that, by 2025, 75 percent of residents live in communities where new development is tied to water availability.

• Proposals for streamlined permitting of water projects designated by state planners for official support.

And so implementation will begin, and as the state moves forward, the plan will continue to be a living document that will adapt to ever-changing circumstances. From ABC News:


State government doesn’t have the power to force the plan on anyone. Instead, it will depend on the help of local governments, water utilities and farmers and ranchers. The Legislature would also have to pass laws and appropriate money, and the executive branch would have to steer some of the initiatives.

The plan would also require cooperation between the eastern and western halves of the state, which are often at odds over water.

Still, the plan holds promise, said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, the state’s largest utility.

“The Colorado water plan is our state’s best hope for a secure water future,” he said.

Be sure to read the full plan here, stay involved as implementation begins, and thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Governor Hickenlooper for taking action toward a secure water future.


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Not too late to catch Colorado River experts: Video presentations now available online

By Jim Pokrandt

The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar in September 2015 attracted more than 200 people to Grand Junction, Colorado, to hear discussions on the topic: “Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?”

Pat Mulroy and John Fleck in discussion 80284

John Fleck and Pat Mulroy talking Colorado River matters in September.

Pat Mulroy, former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the audience the answer was absolutely not: California’s issues coping with dire drought conditions and water supply are everybody’s issues. She said that the Colorado River, as pressured as it already is, represents California’s firmest water supply, with the Sierra Nevadas providing so little snowmelt to the State Water Project for transport from northern to southern California this year.

“At the end of the day there are two major, major reasons that California matters,” she said. “One, the Colorado River and the Sacramento and San Joaquin Bay Delta are inextricably connected. And two, the story of California is the story of missed opportunities and the human inability to find solutions.”


Attendees at the 2015 Colorado River District Annual Seminar talk to featured speakers Pat Mulroy and Jennifer Gimbel.

Everything is connected,” said Jennifer Gimbel, U.S. Interior Department principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science. “You have to keep track of what’s going on in California. California affects the Colorado River and vice versa.” Gimbel said drought and climate change have scrambled the jigsaw puzzle of water planning. She also noted that California has much less reservoir storage in the state than exists along the Colorado River system.

Eric Kuhn and Dan Birch, the general manager and deputy general manager of the Colorado River District, described a new paradigm in Colorado water planning that puts the focus on protecting existing water users under current hydrology. A new transmountain diversion is not the immediate threat, they said. Low reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, along with continuing drought, are the much greater threats to water users and operations of the system.

Author John Fleck told listeners that the notions of conflict and doom he saw in the watershed book Cadillac Desert, which he called “a great book,” is wrong. “Myth No. 1 is that we are going to run out of water,” Fleck said. He left an optimistic message that the West will figure out its water planning and future.

Other speakers included the Bureau of Reclamation’s Ken Nowak, who gave a picture of trends in agriculture productivity and water use learned in the 2015 Moving Forward report of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study process.

Climatologist Klaus Water briefed the audience on the big El Niño building for the winter but cautioned that Colorado might not see the hoped-for benefits of a big snowpack—or it might. That is the nature of long-term observations of how El Niño affects the state. It is in a middle zone of uncertainty.

You can see videos of each of these speakers and more at the Colorado River District’s website. Save the date for next year’s Annual Water Seminar scheduled to take place on September 16, 2016, in Grand Junction.

Also, check out CFWE’s newly released Fall 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine, which is focused on building resiliency on the Colorado River Basin, upstream and down. Find in-depth articles on the efforts of Colorado River water users, federal and state entities, NGOs, and scientists to face what many consider to be a defining moment on this “Great American River.” Hard copies will hit mailboxes next week.


Jim Pokrandt is the Community Affairs Director for the Colorado River District.


Filed under Climate and Drought, Colorado River, Headwaters Magazine

Upcoming Conservation Summit

By Frank Kinder, co-chair of the Colorado WaterWise  board of directors, and senior conservation specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities

Coloradoans are always thirsting for more water knowledge.  In the arid west, conservation is an important part of our water picture. Colorado WaterWise presents an update to conservation in the square state this month with its annual Conservation Summit

In its 8th year, the Conservation Summit is where attendees gather to share the latest water conservation tools, news, and come together to network—you’re invited to attend this year on October 29 in Denver.

Participants will learn about the Colorado Outdoor Water Regulation Guide, a smart phone app that connects users to city ordinances; learn the latest in the AWWA M36 Water Loss Audit distribution efforts and workshops; hear about updates to Colorado Water, Live Like You Love It; and discover other upcoming tools and projects facilitating conservation in Colorado.

Dr. Wallace J Nichols, author of Blue Mind, will be the keynote speaker at the WaterWise Conservation Summit. He is pictured here with CFWE's Kristin Maharg at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of Blue Mind, will be the keynote speaker at the WaterWise Conservation Summit. He is pictured here with CFWE’s Kristin Maharg at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference

Highlights will include a talk from Tom Browning of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who will discuss water conservation in Colorado’s Water Plan, and the necessity of water conservation for Colorado’s water future.  You’ll also have the hands-on experience of water education activities in our K-12 schools, where science, fun, and learning convene. Becky Fedak of Brendle Group will outline progress in the industrial, commercial, and institutional sectors with her Net Zero Water Toolkit, which is helping cities plan today for the future. Jane Clary will take participants outside with progress on quantifications of landscape water use. And our keynote, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, will share and inspire with his groundbreaking work on The Blue Mind, exploring how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.

great divideThe day completes with a special showing of The Great Divide film about water in Colorado, with producers providing an introduction.  There will even be popcorn and refreshments with the show. Go enjoy the day, immersing yourself in the world of water with people who love it as much as you do.  Click here to register…see you there!


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Net Zero Water

Graphic courtesy of the Brendle Group

Zero. Neutral. For the sustainability minded, there’s carbon-neutrality, net-zero energy classification, and other great tools around energy and climate planning, but why aren’t there tools to plan for water sustainability? That’s a question that Brendle Group, a sustainability consulting firm, has been working to solve since 2011. Although those existing tools might touch water, none have focused on water, or planning to minimize development’s impact on water quality and quantity… until a couple months ago.

In late August, Brendle Group, with support from other companies and organizations including the City of Fort Collins, New Belgium Brewery, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Adams County, released a new Net Zero Water Building Scale Toolkit and accompanying guidebook. The Net Zero Water concept aims to re-imagine the way water resources are managed.

Net Zero focuses on the idea of water neutrality, explained Shelby Sommer, a planner with the Brendle Group, while presenting the Net Zero Water concept at the American Planning Association Colorado Chapter Conference in Steamboat Springs.”It’s important to start shifting the conversation from, ‘how much water do we need’, and flipping it on its head to, ‘how much water do we have,'” Sommer says. “We want to get people thinking about how much water is available and linking that to how much we use.”

The Brendle Group's office in downtown Fort Collins serves as one Net Zero pilot project. The consulting firm built two rain gardens to capture rooftop runoff to improve stormwater, working with the Colorado State University stormwater center to design and build those raingardens and using the toolkit to step through the process.

The Brendle Group’s office in downtown Fort Collins serves as one Net Zero Water pilot project. The consulting firm built two rain gardens to capture rooftop runoff to improve stormwater, working with the Colorado State University stormwater center to design and build those raingardens and using the toolkit to step through the process. Photo courtesy of the Brendle Group

The toolkit makes everyone a planner when it comes to water, Sommer says. It starts by calculating the user’s water footprint and leads them through the steps of creating a vision statement and identifying water quality and quantity target goals. The toolkit then moves the user from footprint to implementation through developing and using modeling to see the impact of different footprint reduction strategies, this is what Sommer calls “the meat of this tool”. Then the user can organize their strategy, using the toolkit’s resources to decide what to do first or last, what and how to track results, and how to engage stakeholders.

As for the strategies, those include topics like indoor water consumption, efficiency within a building space, outdoor irrigation, water reuse, rainwater harvesting, and others that focus more on quality to encourage urban development but minimize our impact. All tools could be implemented in any building nationwide, and for now, Brendle Group is looking for partners to use the toolkit on all scales, up from the building model.

“We support efforts at various other scales from a campus to a city to a watershed and looking at various ways an organization or community can reduce consumption so they’re only consuming as much water is available to their site and reduce stormwater impacts,” said Becky Fedak with Brendle Group during an interview early in the summer. “Those of us on the team are available if folks need more in-depth analysis. We try to keep it available for anyone to use, even if they aren’t water experts.” Learn more and test out the toolkit for yourself here, or read about other efforts to merge land use and water planning in the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine.


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Ask The Towers

By Greg Hobbs

Why did the builders build you?

Because the bees led us to the water pockets
And raven played lookout over farmsteads,

See here!  See here! He cried out loud,
Climb down!  Climb down!

Taste the rain a cavern ceiling drips
with lightning from the sky

You can paint upon a water jar.

Every morning, every evening
Sleeping Man is with you,

In the slant the seasons make
and the Ancestors,

When it’s time to plant
and time to harvest.

(in Celebration of the Wright Paleohydrologic Survey Hovenweep National Monument 9/ 27-29/ 2015)

square tower

Square Tower. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Beeline to farmsteads

Beeline to farmsteads. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Water Pocket Rimrock above check dam

Water Pocket Rimrock above check dam. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Raven on Hovenweep Castle

Raven on Hovenweep Castle. Credit: Kyle Wright

Seep line spring

Seep line spring. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Sleeping Ute Mountain to the east of Square Tower Unit

Sleeping Ute Mountain to the east of Square Tower Unit. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Blood Moon Harvest Moon Eclipse Moon over Hovenweep

Blood Moon Harvest Moon Eclipse Moon over Hovenweep. Credit: Kyle Wright

Solstice Panel, Holly Unit

Solstice Panel, Holly Unit. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Julia measuring water droplets

Julia measuring water droplets. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Imagine a water jar

Imagine a water jar. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Square Tower Cistern

Square Tower Cistern. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Kristin Kuckelman

Kristin Kuckelman. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Ken Wright

Ken Wright. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Jurist in Residence

Jurist in Residence. Credit: Kyle Wright

The Wright Paleohydrologic Institute Survey Crew Hovenweep September 2015

The Wright Paleohydrologic Institute Survey Crew Hovenweep September 2015. Credit: Gary Witt


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