Tag Archive for 'Colorado River'

Young Farmers in the Western U. S. Adapt to a Water-Scarce Future

Photo retrieve from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“The Colorado Basin alone irrigates some 15% of US produce overall and 80% of winter vegetables.  So we all, to some degree, “eat” the Colorado – and thus have a stake in how well farmers can adapt to the drought-prone, water-stressed world now upon us.

Though the farmers profiled differ in their approaches to building resilience on their land and in their operations, and they represent a small, non-random sample, a few important themes jump out.

First, restoring health to soils is key.  Heavily compacted, nutrient poor, exposed soils do not store water well.  So enhancing the capacity of soils to hold moisture is crucial for every western farmer interested in weathering dry spells and reduced water allocations.

For Brendon Rockey, a 36-year-old farmer in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a groundwater-dependent region in the headwaters of the Rio Grande, the solution came in the form of an age-old practice: planting “green manure” cover crops.  Instead of rotating in barley after potatoes, Rockey eliminated the barley in favor of a strategic mix of ten different cover crops that kept the soil protected from wind and evaporation losses, fixed nitrogen and thus naturally fertilized the soil, and produced flowers that brought predatory insects that kept the non-beneficial bugs at bay.

The cover crops not only reduced Rockey’s groundwater use (and pumping costs), they helped improve the quality of his potato harvest and lowered fertilizer and pesticide costs.

“Farmers need to become biologists again,” Rockey told the NYFC.

Second, farmers just starting out often do not have the capital to purchase water-saving equipment or implement conservation methods, so support for irrigation technology upgrades can be a big help.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Arizona Enlists a Beetle in Its Campaign for Water

Photo retrieved from: www.nytimes.com

“For miles along the banks of the Colorado River, hundreds of once hardy tamarisk trees — also known as salt cedars — are gray and withered. Their parched branches look like victims of fire or drought.

But this is not the story of beloved trees being ravaged by an invasive pest — quite the opposite. Farmers, ranchers and the water authorities here are eager to get rid of the tamarisk trees, which are not native to Arizona and which they say suck too much water.

They have welcomed the beetles, which have made their way from Colorado and Utah over the last decade, and have watched with delight as the centimeter-long workhorses have damaged the trees by eating their spindly leaves. The hope is that the beetles will now rid Arizona of the trees.

“We view the tamarisk as a pest,” said Joseph Sigg, the government relations director at the Arizona Farm Bureau. “Water is an expensive input, and to the extent that we can lower it, the beetle can help.”

But scientists say that nature is rarely a zero-sum game, and that removing the deep-rooted tamarisks — which the authorities have tried with bulldozers, chain saws and now beetles — will not produce more water. New tamarisks or other trees will replace the fallen ones, the scientists say, and the birds that live in the tamarisks, like the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, will be harmed. Plus, once the beetles are done eating tamarisk leaves, they are likely to feed on other trees.”

Read more: The New York Times

Arizona Cities Could Face Cutbacks in Water From Colorado River, Officials Say

 

Photo retrieved from: www.theflyfishingdaily.com

“Arizona could be forced to cut water deliveries to its two largest cities unless states that tap the dwindling Colorado River find ways to reduce water consumption and deal with a crippling drought, officials of the state’s canal network said Tuesday.

The warning comes as the federal Bureau of Reclamation forecasts that Lake Mead, a Colorado River reservoir that is the network’s sole water source, will fall next month to a level not seen since the lake was first filled in 1938.

Officials of the Central Arizona Project, which manages the 336-mile water system, say the two cities, Phoenix and Tucson, could replace the lost water, at least in the short term, by tapping groundwater supplies, lakes and rivers.

If they do not reduce consumption, the cuts could be necessary by as early as 2019, according to an analysis by the water project, and officials said that depending on drought conditions, the chances of water cutbacks by 2026 could be as high as 29 percent.

Although experts have been aware for years that shortages would eventually occur, the analysis represents a marked turnabout in officials’ thinking.

“We’re dealing with a very serious issue, and people need to pay attention to it,” Sharon Megdal, a University of Arizona water expert and board member of the Central Arizona Project, said in an interview. “The possibility of cutbacks of water deliveries to municipalities is higher than we’ve ever thought it was going to be.”

The mere prospect of a shortage in Arizona cities, now raised publicly for the first time, is but a proxy for the rising concern among many experts over a longer-term water crisis across the entire Southwest. States along the lower Colorado River use much more water than flows into the lake in an average year, a deficit that upstream states shouldered for decades by opening their reservoir sluices to release more water.”

Read more: The New York Times

 

Historic “Pulse Flow” Brings Water to Parched Colorado River Delta

 

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“Water for the pulse flow is being released from Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam at an unspecified time. It will take a few days to travel some 320 river miles (515 kilometers) to the Morelos Dam. On March 23, the gates of Morelos Dam will be opened by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates the structure. That will allow the pulse flow to enter the last 70 miles (113 kilometers) of the Colorado River. Peak flow through the gates is expected around March 27, and then the flow will taper to a lower volume for about eight weeks.

As agreed upon by the U.S. and Mexico, the total amount of flow over the period will be 105,392 acre-feet of water (130 million cubic meters). That represent less than one percent of the pre-dam annual flow through the Colorado, “but in terms of recent flows it is very significant,” says Postel.

The outcome of the pulse flow remains somewhat unpredictable. Groundwater “sinks” along the route will trap an unknown amount of the water, and debris could block part of the flow or cause it to reroute. “There’s a lot of uncertainty because this is an experiment that hasn’t been done before,” says Postel. (See “The American Nile.”)”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Honors U.S.-Mexico Colorado River Agreement

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“Sally Jewell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, took time today to recognize the heroic efforts of U.S. and Mexican citizens who spent years together negotiating a new Colorado River agreement between the two nations.  Jewell noted that “ecosystems know no borders” and acknowledged the importance of cooperation when addressing the challenge of caring for natural resources.

The Colorado River agreement, known as Minute 319, is groundbreaking in its approach, moving away from a focus on “who gets what” to a more modern, flexible framework that allows the U.S. and Mexico to share surplus when water is plentiful and share shortage when water is scarce. The agreement also commits the two nations to work together on water conservation and restoration of the Colorado’s long-desiccated delta by committing water to sustain it.

This cooperative framework to water management creates benefits for water users on both sides of the border, demonstrating that with a broad approach to river and water management, there is room to negotiate a win for multiple stakeholders – a model that water leaders might use to solve problems elsewhere in the Colorado River basin.  Moreover, it stands as what is likely the first agreement between nations to jointly commit water to sustain a river’s natural values.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Linked to Fracking Found in Colorado River

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.

The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.

The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.

Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds. It has made previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves economical to tap, and drilling operations have spread rapidly across the country.

The University of Missouri team found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the fracking process are “endocrine disrupters” – compounds that can affect the human hormonal system and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility.

“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Dr. Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, in a news release.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

WATER: Trial begins in Metropolitan rate-setting lawsuit

Photo retrieved from: www.blog.pe.com

“The dispute is over how much Metropolitan is charging the San Diego agency to move supplies from the Colorado River to the city of San Diego. The city buys the water from Imperial Valley farmers and Metropolitan delivers it through its canals, pipelines and pumping stations.

Lawyers will argue the case before Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow in San Francisco Superior Court. The trial is expected to last through Dec. 23.

Metropolitan says the price of moving the water is fair. But San Diego officials say that in addition to the transportation – or “wheeling” – fee, Metropolitan is charging them for the cost of its water supply, which, under California law, the city shouldn’t have to pay for. The lawsuit covers the years 2010 to 2014, for which rates have already been set.

If the court sides with San Diego, the disputed charges would be spread out among Metropolitan’s 25 other member agencies, which contract with the wholesaler to buy supplies from the State Water Project and the Colorado River. Metropolitan member districts in the Inland area serve more than 2½ million people in Riverside and San Bernardino counties: Western Municipal Water District in Riverside, Eastern Municipal Water District in Perris and Inland Empire Utilities Agency in Chino.”

Read more: The Press Enterprise

 

Amid Drought, Explaining Colorado’s Extreme Floods

 

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“U.S. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Boulder, Larimer, and El Paso Counties on Friday and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed four rescue teams to the area, the most ever in the state.

Just as troubling as all the damage, Udall says, is that this week’s floods do not fit into the usual pattern of high water in the West.

The floods were not the result of springtime rains or intense summer thunderstorms that quickly dump large amounts of rain in concentrated areas, such as the 1976 Big Thompson or 1997 Fort Collins floods.

“This was a totally new type of event: an early fall widespread event during one of the driest months of the year,” Udall said.

So what explains the anomaly?

Sandra Postel, National Geographic’s Freshwater Fellow, said that the long-term drought that has parched the area and gripped much of the Colorado River Basin over the past 14 years may be partly to blame for the severity of the floods.

Drought tends to harden the soil, she said. When rains do come, less of the water can absorb into the ground, so it quickly runs off the land.

Similarly, fires can lead to worse flooding, because they remove vegetation that can slow down and trap rainfall, Postel said. (See “Fire and Rain: The One-Two Punch of Flooding After Blazes.”) In 2012, the Boulder area was afflicted by theFlagstaff Fire. In 2010, the Fourmile Canyon fire caused damage to Boulder County worth $217 million.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Connecticut-sized dead zone found in Gulf of Mexico

Photo retrieved from: www.treehugger.com

“The dead zone is caused primarily by agricultural runoffs that “stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the oxygen needed to support life.” Not much life without oxygen, hence dead zone.

“A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows which deliver large amounts of nutrients,” said Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D. executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who led the July 21-28 survey cruise. “But nature’s wind-mixing events and winds forcing the mass of low oxygen water towards the east resulted in a slightly above average bottom footprint.”

Last year, the severe drought shrunk the dead zone to 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than Delaware (the 4th smallest dead zone on record). The largest dead zone took place in 2002, at 8,481 square miles.”

Read more: Treehugger

 

Las Vegas Accused of Engineering Massive Water Grab: Is This the Future of the West?

Photo retrieved from: www.alternet.org

“When groundwater reserves ran low in the 1940s, the region turned to Lake Mead. Today, the Las Vegas area gets 90 percent of its water from the no-longer-very-mighty Colorado River as it is corralled behind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead. And now that’s threatened. A new federal study released in December found that the over-allocated Colorado River will be further stretched by climate change, drought and climbing populations. By 2060, the river will be short of what its dependents in seven U.S. states need by 3.2 million acre-feet a year. (An acre-foot of water is roughly enough for one suburban family per year.)

So what’s a city — or really, its water manager — to do? A smart gambler wouldn’t bet on the Colorado.

SNWA is in the midst of an $800 million project to insert another “straw” into Lake Mead. This is the third intake pipe built for the lake — the last two proved not deep enough to keep up with the lake’s falling levels. But this is just part of the plan. Another part comes with a bigger pricetag — estimated as high as $15 billion — and involves building hundreds of miles of water pipelines and related infrastructure to tap water from four rural valleys in eastern Nevada’s White Pine and Lincoln counties.”

Read more: Alternet