Excerpt: The paper by Udall and Overpeck, “The 21st Century Colorado River Hot Drought and Implications for the Future,” went online Feb. 17 in the American Geophysical Union journal Water Resources Research. The Colorado Water Institute, National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey funded the research.
Excerpt: “Current planning understates the challenge that climate change poses to the water supplies in the American Southwest,” Udall said. “My goal is to help water managers incorporate this information into their long-term planning efforts.”
Excerpt: This report provides immediate actions and longer term solutions for addressing Lake Mead’s falling water levels and for ensuring that Arizona’s agriculture, cities, Indian tribes, economy, and environment thrive in a future with less water.
Excerpt: In this report, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) presents an analysis of the problem and recommendations for a number of policies and actions directed at Arizona’s impending Colorado River water shortage over the next decade. These immediate actions and longer term plans will help address Lake Mead’s falling water levels in ways that can protect groundwater and still allow Arizona’s agriculture, cities, Indian tribes, economy, and environment to thrive in a future with less water.
Excerpt: The impact of rising temperatures would be most dramatic between Phoenix and Yuma, but areas all across Arizona could see greater vulnerability to drought, with extreme heat straining water resources. But water utilities and state agencies say they are confident that the state has been careful in its water use, and communities and water utilities have developed responses to changing climates for years.
Excerpt: “There are some rural areas in the state that rely exclusively on groundwater,” she said. “If we’re not getting any rain, those water systems have that drought plan. If our wells aren’t able to produce enough water, we’re going to tap into another system.”
The state has issued a drought emergency declaration every year since 1999, allowing rural and ranching communities to apply for federal assistance and allow the state to step in if needed.
Excerpt: The Colorado River basin is undergoing one of the worst droughts ever recorded, producing those apocalyptic images of Lake Mead and Lake Powell with their gigantic “bathtub ring” shorelines caused by shrinking water supply.
Excerpt: To address some of these questions, the Colorado River Research Group recently released a concise four-page paper explaining how climate change is affecting the river. It is a remarkably accessible summation of lots of complicated science. The conclusion is that we simply need to adapt to a future in which water scarcity is the norm.
Excerpt: “I like to describe this as another incremental step,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Buschatzke was talking about a plan he is helping develop, along with water managers in California, Nevada and Mexico, that would voluntarily reduce water allocations from the Colorado River to those three states and Mexico. They hope to have it in place in time to avoid steeper, mandatory cuts that could begin as soon as 2018.
Excerpt: “I don’t think a water war is inevitable,” he said. “I think we’ve proven over the last 20 years that we can effectively work together to find solutions that really work. And as long as we continue to do that, the water war won’t happen.”
Excerpt: “We are offsetting that first shortage declaration by the action we are taking,” Buschatzke said.
There is strong interest in completing the drought contingency plan before top officials at the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Interior, agencies that oversee the Colorado River, are replaced by the next presidential administration.
Excerpt: And in what is perhaps the most egregious failure for a system intended to conserve water, many of the reservoirs created by these dams lose hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water each year to evaporation and, sometimes, to leakage underground. These losses increasingly undercut the longstanding benefits of damming big rivers like the Colorado, and may now be making the West%u2019s water crisis worse.
Excerpt: t took 17 years for the reservoir to fill; 19 years later, a steady decline began. Thanks to the steady overuse of the Colorado River system — which provides water to one in eight Americans and supports one-seventh of the nation’s crops — Lake Powell has been drained to less than half of its capacity as less water flows into it than is taken out.
Excerpt: Restoring Glen Canyon this way has long been the campaign of ardent environmentalists. Mr. Brower, who agreed to the dam’s construction without having ever visited Glen Canyon, mounted an intense campaign to save “the place no one knew” after seeing it. He called the reservoir his greatest regret, and the Glen Canyon dam has been a potent symbol of the desecration of wild places ever since.
Excerpt: Recent negotiations could lead to bigger water cuts for Arizona and Nevada if a shortage is declared on the Colorado River.
Excerpt: The U.S. Department of the Interior would take charge of water allocation if the reservoir's elevation were to sink to 1,025 feet. That could leave the Central Arizona Project without access, based on its junior rights to the river. But that’s up to the discretion of the Interior, said Theodore Cooke, general manager at the Central Arizona Project.
Excerpt: Representatives from both Nevada and California said it was too soon to talk specifics, but the Arizona Department of Water Resources reviewed the plan with the Southern Arizona Water Users Association last week.
That presentation included the following cuts:
Arizona would lose 512,000 acre-feet of its share if a first-level shortage is declared, compared with the 320,000 acre-feet it had agreed to cut based on 2007 negotiations
Nevada would sacrifice 21,000 acre-feet, up from its original 13,000.
Both Arizona and Nevada would take reductions even without a shortage, but Cooke pointed out that Arizona has already been conserving a comparable amount so this would not affect a major change here. Nevada also has been conserving water in Lake Mead through that same agreement.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Lake Mead, would find ways to save 100,000 acre-feet per year.
California would take a cut of 200,000 acre-feet but only if the shortage worsened. At that point, Arizona would have to give up much more.
Excerpt: High in the Rocky Mountains, at the headwaters of the Colorado River, Shemin Ge is studying water that flows at times when it shouldn’t. More specifically, Ge, a geological science professor at the University of Colorado, is looking at subsurface water flows that are trickling into streams during late fall and winter — times when the ground should be frozen and water flowing beneath it nonexistent.
Excerpt: Increasing subsurface contributions to Colorado River tributaries during the winter months could impact the long term base flows of the mainstem in ways that river managers haven’t anticipated, he said.
Excerpt: "Droughts are occurring there more easily," Andreas Prein, the study leader and a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Associated Press.
Excerpt: "The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States," explained Dr. Prein in a press release. "Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact."
Excerpt: As such, the new study provides another measure of decreased precipitation in the Southwest, an area where some of the toughest battles have always involved water rights.
Excerpt: The new agreement at the Paris climate talks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of holding off future global warming will help — but hardly end — the Colorado River’s chronic water supply problems, experts say.
Excerpt: To protect the countries most vulnerable to climate change, the pact calls for “pursuing efforts” to limit the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees C. That’s far more challenging a task, since the planet is already expected to cross that line by the middle of the century, the Washington Post reported.
Excerpt: The structural deficit is due to chronic overuse of available water and to the overallocation of the river’s supply that has existed since all seven river basin states but Arizona signed the Colorado River Compact back in 1922 (Arizona signed in 1944). Drought and climate change have only aggravated the structural deficit’s impacts, say officials of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the river, and the Central Arizona Project, which delivers river water to Phoenix and Tucson.
Excerpt: The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity is sponsoring the "Don't be a Drip" campaign to make consumers aware that using too much water can deprive an endangered species of a critical habitat. - See more at:
Excerpt: "Water over-consumption doesn't just affect a drought in terms of its impact on human communities, but also what it means for wildlife in the area," says Feldstein. "And so many species, so many endangered species in particular, are in these same areas trying to share those same sources of water."
Excerpt: Arizona isn’t preparing adequately for future climate risks even as it deals well with current problems stemming from climate change, a new report says.
Excerpt: The state got a C- overall grade in the national report done by Climate Central, a nonprofit science and journalism organization based in Princeton, New Jersey. Arizona drew a C+ in preparing for future extreme-heat risks, and a D+ and D-, respectively, in preparing for future drought and wildfire risks.
Excerpt: In a state program known as Firewise, officials work with about 67 communities to make them aware of wildfire threats on 13 million acres of piñon-juniper woodland, among other places, he said. His office is also starting a website AZWRAP, designed to provide an opportunity to assess wildfire risks to communities statewide.
Excerpt: Climate scientists have a pretty good idea what is going to happen to much of the Earth’s snow as the planet warms over the next century: It’s going to melt. But the melting will occur at different rates in different places, which has major implications for the 2 billion people who rely on snowmelt for water.
Excerpt: Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than California’s Sacramento River Basin, which is home to 4.9 million people. In 95 percent of the trials run through the team’s climate models, the snowmelt fell short of demand by mid-century. The same result was seen to the south, in the San Joaquin Valley, home to 6.3 million people.
Home to 11 million people, the Colorado River system fared only somewhat better in the analysis, with a decline in snowpack in 74 percent of the tests.
“Our water supply is not going to look the same in the future,” says Mankin. “We're going to have to get innovative about what management practices really make sense.” (Read more about the embattled Colorado River.)
Excerpt: For a few balls to the dollar, Los Angeles-area providers have covered small reservoirs not just to slow evaporation but to keep bird waste and sunlight out to preserve water quality.
Excerpt: The manufacturer promises that by blocking wind and heat from the water, the balls will reduce evaporation by 80 to 90 percent. Using the lower estimate, Los Angeles Water Department predicts it will save 300 million gallons a year in its reservoir.
Excerpt: In Arizona, as in most of the Colorado River drainage, the ocean is nowhere in sight. But that does not mean California alone will look to pricey and energy-intensive desalination plants to guard against a faltering river and prop up the population growth they’re expecting.
Excerpt: Critics say desalination takes too much energy when the region could solve its problems through conservation. But the technology’s believers in California say Arizonans would be wise to follow their lead.
Excerpt: The Central Arizona Project’s money suggests desalination, in some form, has a place in Arizona’s future. The agency responsible for delivering Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson put up more than $1 million for a 2010-2011 pilot test of the Yuma plant operating at one-third capacity. It also spent $150,000 for a consultant’s study of groundwater desalination potential statewide..
Excerpt: Israel’s natural surface and groundwater sources provide less than 1 million acre-feet of water per year – or only about half of the nation’s requirement. That supply is several times smaller than what fewer than 7 million Arizonans use, and yet Israel must supply 8 million people.
Excerpt: Q: How much water do Israelis use, and how do they use it?
A: Per capita use is 220 cubic meters, including everything. Use is seven or eight times that (high) in the United States. In Germany, it’s 1.5 times that. Of course, the United States is out front.
Total consumption in Israel is 35.3 percent to domestic, 6.7 percent to industry, 58 percent to agriculture.
Excerpt: Q: Do you expect climate change to affect your water supply or use?
A: We already see it. We see how we have severe droughts on one hand, and severe floods on the other. Even if we have more water (during floods), it’s not the same. If there’s some water throughout the winter, the aquifer is filled better. If you have it all at once, more of it goes downhill to the Dead Sea. You don’t catch it, or you don’t catch all of it. So the fact that the rain changed already is affecting us.
Also, if the Mediterranean (sea level) is going up, it will affect the aquifer. (The aquifer) will go up in salinity. You’ll have a lot more people and you won’t get as much (water) replenished.
Excerpt: After studying records of forests across the world, researchers in New Mexico have confirmed a long-held hypothesis among scientists that larger trees are the first ones to die during droughts.
Excerpt: “Old trees, big trees, do a lot of the heavy lifting for ecosystems in many ways,” said study co-author Nate McDowell, a forest ecologist and plant physiologist for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Excerpt: Tree death means decreasing air quality, and “forests are our number one way of keeping our air clean,” Freeman said.
Excerpt: “There are so many different ways you can augment the river,” said Tom Ryan, a resource specialist with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California who serves on the board of the North American Weather Modification Council and the Weather Modification Association.
Excerpt: Discovered in 1946 by Vincent Schaefer, cloud seeding is the attempt to enhance the amount of precipitation a cloud would naturally produce on its own. Particles are released into targeted clouds to provide a nuclei, the ‘seed’, for moisture to condense around. The most common particles used are silver iodide, dry ice and more recently salt.
Excerpt: Proper conditions also have to be met by prospective clouds, which includes the proper temperature, height and path of the cloud.
And even in the case of a successful seeding, science can’t truly control the weather.
“A potential downside to [cloud seeding] is creating snow for someone who doesn’t want it,” Selover said. “You don’t know where the clouds are going to go.”
Excerpt: As part of Arizona State University’s Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative, a partnership between the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and Center for Science and the Imagination, Bacigalupi will visit ASU on Sept. 17, to share the inspiration behind “The Water Knife” and discuss how he uses creative writing to imagine the future of the Southwest.
Excerpt: “We are very excited to have Paolo Bacigalupi come to the setting of his latest novel and talk with students, faculty, researchers and residents about the state’s environmental challenges and how they relate to his gripping tale,” said Patricia Reiter, executive director of the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “ASU’s Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative seeks to develop multiple narratives surrounding climate change. Bacigalupi is a perfect example of how the arts and sciences combine to help us visualize our future.”
Excerpt: While the phenomenon caused by unusually warm water in the eastern Pacific Ocean often brings a wet winter to southern states, it would take more than one such year to put a significant dent in the Southwest's ongoing drought. However, a particularly strong El Niño winter could have a substantial impact on Arizona's water supply.
Excerpt: SRP's Charlie Ester, manager of Water Resource Operations, is hoping an El Niño winter will stop that trend, and he has some historical data to back up that hope. He said there is a strong correlation between El Niño and wetter-than-normal winters in the Southwest.
"How is this for a fact — since World War II, Arizona has not had a dry winter in an El Niño year," Ester said. "We have had normal winters (during an El Niño year). But after the last five years, even a normal winter would be wonderful."
Excerpt: In 1922, seven Western states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California — drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide.
Excerpt: Environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten began investigating the water crisis a year and a half ago for the ProPublica series Killing the Colorado. He tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that he initially thought the water crisis was the result of climate change or drought. Instead, Lustgarten says, "It's the policy and the management that seem to be having a greater effect than the climate."
Excerpt: What I hear repeatedly from some of the smartest thinkers in the West ... is that there is plenty of water in the West, so the question is really about how do you use it better. ... The changes that we talked about in terms of farming, prioritizing which crops are grown and increasing efficiency about how water is used in the cities, they believe would make the region self-sustaining for many, many, many decades into the future.
Excerpt: The investigative journalism group ProPublica has been taking an in-depth look at the water crisis in the West, in a series that is focused on the Colorado River.
Excerpt: What he said he's learned is that, drought or no drought, water use is a policy and management issue. He said he hopes readers of his reports take away the same message. "First and foremost is a greater awareness of how the decisions that we make politically and the places that we put our money affect the water crisis," he said. "I'd like to see the smart people in the room make changes based on that realization."
Excerpt: The ProPublica series paints a grim picture at times, from lack of federal oversight to feuds about water rights, to different states' and individuals' "use it or lose it" mentality about water. But according to its author, there's also hope for greater cooperation to help Westerners get through the drought. "What I hear from people I interview is, there's a lot of room in the law to allow sharing, transfers of rights, lesser usage of rights - while not threatening those rights," he said.
Excerpt: Bacigalupi's latest novel, "The Water Knife" (published by Knopf) departs from his recent young-adult books like "Ship Breaker" and "The Drowned Cities" in presenting an adult take on the near future in which the Southwest is dramatically remade by clashes over water resources.
Excerpt: Q: Water is such an immediate issue, with the drought in California and other stories, but the subjects you're writing about don't seem quite as picked-over in the world of science fiction.
A: I think competition on those subjects would lead us toward a better world. It's like, "Come on in and join the party!" There are 10 million stories about how computing is going to change our lives. I think we can have a few more about climate change, drought, water rights, the loss of biodiversity and how we adapt to a changing environment.
Excerpt: Yet water utilities often find themselves in a conundrum: how to encourage households to reduce their water use without (1) losing vital revenue to maintain their water systems or (2) facing a public outcry over the raising of water rates.
Excerpt: Much of the money needed to expand and upgrade water infrastructure – from pipes and pumps to treatment plants – comes from selling water. By some estimates, fixing and expanding the nation’s water infrastructure will require at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.
Excerpt: All of this suggests that the answer to the water utilities’ conundrum may lie not only in the finance and conservation divisions of water agencies working more closely together, but in those agencies communicating more effectively with the public, their customers, about just how much money conservation is saving them.
Excerpt: Of all the potential solutions offered for Arizona’s water challenges, one has a decidedly science fiction feel: planes flying over the Rockies, seeding clouds with aerosolized silver iodide to stimulate rain and snow.
Excerpt: Cloud seeding has a history in the state, with organizations like the Central Arizona Project and the Salt River Project investing in research. While SRP hasn’t looked into it since the 1960s, the CAP has put about $1 million toward research happening in other states since 2007 in hopes of increasing the supply in the Colorado River system.
Excerpt: The drought, now in its fourth year, is by many measures the worst since the state began keeping records of temperature and precipitation in the 1800s. And with a population now close to 39 million and a thirsty, $50 billion agricultural industry, California has been affected more by this drought than by any previous one.
Excerpt: But scientists say that in the more ancient past, California and the Southwest occasionally had even worse droughts — so-called megadroughts — that lasted decades. At least in parts of California, in two cases in the last 1,200 years, these dry spells lingered for up to two centuries.
Excerpt: “But I was actually surprised at how well we’d get through such a drought,” he said. “California would not dry up and blow away. It would be bad but we would still have civilization, so long as we managed it at all well.”
Excerpt: Here in Southern California, it’s the warmest winter in history and the fourth consecutive winter that never was. While much of the United States slipped and struggled in snow and ice, our winter has been dry and balmy with July-like temperatures. This week the thermometer in some inland sites touched triple digits.
Excerpt: Two-thirds of California is now experiencing “exceptional” or “extreme” drought, the two driest categories. The official U.S. Drought Map shows these conditions extending into western Nevada and eastern Oregon. Much of every other Western state except Montana and Wyoming is undergoing “severe” or “moderate” drought.
Excerpt: Agricultural interests large and small are making up for lack of rain and shortage of federal and state water by drilling ever deeper into California’s largest reservoir, the underground Central Valley aquifer that extends for 400 miles through the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. More than 100,000 wells, most unmetered, draw from this aquifer, which scientists say has been depleted by 125 million acre-feet over the last century.