Excerpt: Once again, a section of the Colorado River leads a national environmental group’s list of the U.S.’s most endangered rivers.
But American Rivers says it’s put the Lower Colorado River No. 1 on its list not because there’s no progress toward fixing its problems. Instead, the group believes progress has been made in recent years, particularly the near-completion of a three-state agreement to reduce water use across the Lower Colorado River Basin to prop up Lake Mead, said Matt Rice, the group’s Colorado River program manager.
Excerpt: Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said he doesn’t know enough about other rivers to say if the Colorado belongs at the top, but “I think with the right actions taken by the Lower Basin states, and the Upper Basin moves forward on its plan, we could prevent it from becoming endangered.”
Excerpt: Kathleen Ferris, a longtime water attorney and former state water agency director, agrees the river is endangered, saying, “The river is overallocated. We’re having good weather this year, but one good year doesn’t take that away.”
Excerpt: The voluntary transfer of water rights (or portions of water rights) to environmental uses (including streamflows, wetlands, and aquatic species) has proven to be an effective means of restoring aquatic species and ecosystems in some western states. While these environmental water transfers are being used with increasing frequency, state laws require a review of any changes to a water right, and the legal frameworks in western states vary considerably. As a result, the legal scope of environmental transfers substantially differs from state to state, as does the burden of getting those transfers legally approved. The Environmental Water Transfer Scorecard uses a framework based on existing research to assess the laws and policies of each Colorado River Basin state related to environmental water rights transfers, and in particular, the extent to which their laws and policies facilitate such transactions. This effort was undertaken by Stanford%u2019s Water in the West program in collaboration with AMP Insights and other experts.
Excerpt: The Colorado River and its tributaries support more than 35 million people and irrigate more than four million acres of farmland. At the same time, the river supports 30 fish species found nowhere else on earth and inspires millions of visitors and residents alike with its natural beauty. However, growing water scarcity caused by increased water use, hydrologic variability, and climate change loom over all the functions supported by the river.
Historically, dams, large-scale irrigation developments, and canals all combined to fuel growth in cities and agricultural production. The current challenges facing the Colorado River Basin, however, cannot be overcome simply by more infrastructure. Indeed, no one solution will provide for a sustainable water future. Potential gains from increasing water use efficiency, while significant, will not provide the entire answer. Nor will expensive technological solutions like desalination and water reuse. Most scientists predict long-term declines in water availability, and potentially more severe droughts. Facing these challenges, the Colorado Basin states must find flexible, fair ways to reallocate water supplies between uses, particularly during times of shortage.
Excerpt: Megadroughts are comparable in severity to the worst droughts of the 20th century but are of much longer duration. A megadrought in the American Southwest would impose unprecedented stress on the limited water resources of the area, making it critical to evaluate future risks not only under different climate change mitigation scenarios but also for different aspects of regional hydroclimate.
Megadroughts are periods of aridity as severe as the worst multiyear droughts of the 20th century and persist for decades. These droughts are known to have occurred in the American Southwest (1, 2) and other parts of the world (3, 4) during the past millennium, and they have been linked to the demise of several preindustrial civilizations (3, 5, 6). A megadrought occurring again in the Southwest in the coming decades would impose unprecedented stresses on water resources of the region, and recent studies have shown that they are far more likely to occur this century because of climate change compared to past centuries (7, 8).
Excerpt: The entire Colorado River Basin currently supports 50 million people, and that amount is expected to increase by 23 million between 2000 and 2030. On average, 90 percent of streamflow in the Colorado River Basin originates in the Upper Basin, which is the area above Lees Ferry, Arizona. This water has a multitude of uses that include irrigation, municipal and industrial purposes, electric power generation, mining activities, recreation, and supporting habitat for livestock, fish and wildlife.
Excerpt: "These findings could help decision makers effectively manage current and future water resources in the Colorado River Basin," said Matthew Miller, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the study. "In light of recent droughts, predicted climate changes and human consumption, there is an urgent need for us all to continue to think of groundwater and surface water as a single resource."
Excerpt: Researchers have found that the water supply of the Colorado River basin, one of the most important sources for water in the southwestern United States, is influenced more by wet-dry periods than by human use, which has been fairly stable during the past few decades.
Excerpt: The team found that water storage decreased by 50 to 100 cubic kilometers (enough water to fill Lake Mead as much as three times) during droughts that occur about every decade. The big difference between recent and previous droughts is that there have been few wet years since 2000 to replenish the water.
Excerpt: Scanlon said that this research underscores the importance of saving water in rainy years for the droughts that historically have followed. Whereas most water was stored in surface reservoirs in the past, primarily lakes Mead and Powell, Arizona has been storing much of its allocation of Colorado River water in underground aquifers since the Central Arizona Project aqueducts were completed in the early 1990s. Scanlon said the research should encourage more storage projects.
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: Experts in charge of monitoring the water supply say the toxic mine spill from Colorado should not affect drinking water or groundwater in Arizona.
Excerpt: "If Lake Powell is affected, it affects the economy and the ability of Americans to enjoy one of the natural wonders on Earth," Sen. John McCain said, referring to the Grand Canyon.
The Central Arizona Project (CAP) is monitoring the spill.
"If it makes it to Lake Powell, the dilution factor is so enormous," said Brian Henning, a water operations manager at CAP. "It would be such trace amounts [of pollutants] that it would almost be undetectable."
Excerpt: Climate forecasts for coming decades predict conditions that could put a severe strain on critical infrastructure systems – particularly in the southwestern United States.
Excerpt: Chester is an assistant professor and Seager is an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. They’ve been awarded a three-year $600,000 grant from the Water Sustainability and Climate program of the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Their project team will include Ben Ruddell, an assistant professor in The Polytechnic School of the Fulton Schools of Engineering; Susan Clark, an assistant research professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment; and Clark Miller, an associate professor and associate director of the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at ASU.
The work based at ASU’s Sustainable Urban Systems Lab, which is directed by Chester, will focus primarily on desert regions because they are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts brought on by climate factors.
Excerpt: “We view this research as an important first step for identifying how the next generation of climate-resilient infrastructure should be deployed and managed,” Chester said. “We anticipate that our findings will be useful for academics, other researchers and infrastructure managers not only in the United States, but around the world.”
Excerpt: The county supervisors on Monday will again discuss a proposed county ordinance dealing with reclaimed water.
Excerpt: District 5 Sup. Steve Moss of Fort Mohave said at a previous meeting that unless the Southwest sees significant precipitation to relieve the decades-old drought, the Phoenix and Southern California urban areas will see water shortages by 2017 with Mohave County impacted by shortages the following year.
Excerpt: The proposed ordinance would not affect residential homes but would deal with reclaimed water for agricultural, irrigation, manufacturing or landscaping uses.
Excerpt: Large parts of the U.S. are in for a drought of epic proportions in the second half of this century, scientists warn in a new study that provides the highest degree of certainty yet on the impact of global warming on water supplies in the region.
Excerpt: That's because rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation for the region, which is already relatively dry.
Excerpt: "Over the past year, water managers and the public have started paying more attention to the possibility of a megadrought," said Painter. "Water demand has passed supply in some areas. Throwing 30 years of drought on top of that means we're going to have to change the way we live out here."
Excerpt: The Colorado River faces a dual threat from climate change as rising temperatures increase the demand for irrigation water and accelerate evaporation at the river’s two largest reservoirs.
Excerpt: The upper half of the basin, above Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, is expected to see demand for agricultural water jump by almost 23 percent, while Lake Powell loses 7 percent more water to evaporation than it did during the last half of the 20th century.
Excerpt: According to the report, rising temperatures will drive up agricultural demand on the Truckee and the Carson by more than 14 percent over the next 65 years, while evaporation will increase by 14 percent at Lake Tahoe and by 7 percent at Lahontan Reservoir.
Excerpt: Coming in 2018 is perhaps the most dramatic step yet. The utility will begin reusing the water that runs out one of the city's four wastewater-treatment plants.
"We want to prepare for the real possibility that there will be no river water at all," said water utility spokeswoman Christina Montoya.
Excerpt: They think the climate in the river basin might be returning to historical norms after a few abnormally wet decades. Man-made global warming, which almost all climate scientists believe is happening, would only make the scarcity worse, they say.
Excerpt: The water is not appreciably different when it comes back out of water-utility wells, but for some, its trip through the ground might supply the "gap in time and space and imagination" that Fishman mentioned in the book.
As the water leaves the plant, however, it smells and tastes just like the water that comes out of any kitchen faucet in El Paso. No sudden cramps or urgent calls to the bathroom follow in the hours after drinking it.
Water utility officials say water from the Bustamante plant in the city's Southeast will be at least as clean as that coming from Hervey or the city's other water plants and will be among the cleanest drinking water available.
Excerpt: Aquifers provide us freshwater that makes up for surface water lost from drought-depleted lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. We are drawing down these hidden, mostly nonrenewable groundwater supplies at unsustainable rates in the western United States and in several dry regions globally, threatening our future.
Excerpt: Managing and conserving groundwater supplies becomes an urgent challenge as drought depletes our surface supplies. Because groundwater is a common resource—available to anyone with well—drilling equipment-cooperation and collaboration will be crucial as we try to protect this shrinking line of defense against a future of water scarcity.
Excerpt: Climate change is driving the Greenland Ice Sheet to melt, which is contributing to sea level rise. But imagine that the same amount of water melting from Greenland each year is being lost in California and the rest of the West because of the epic drought there.
Excerpt: In fact, some parts of California’s mountains have been uplifted as much as 15 millimeters (about 0.6 inches) in the past 18 months because the massive amount of water lost in the drought is no longer weighing down the land, causing it to rise a bit like an uncoiled spring, a new study shows.
Excerpt: The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile, and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.
The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as the state works to create a water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states including Nevada, Arizona and California.
Excerpt: The Colorado River Compact
With climate, population and water resources change upon us, those working toward drafting the state water plan sense that the potential for a Colorado water catastrophe is real.
That catastrophe could come in many forms, but the most feared is a curtailment of the Colorado River Compact of 1922.
Excerpt: When prices are low, people overuse water. But when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.
Excerpt: Many reports have described the impacts of a changing planet in terms of future projections. The difference with the National Climate Assessment is that it brings the language into the present. Instead of only conveying projected slight changes in long-term averages, the report discusses extreme events already being experienced across the country, as well as stark changes for the future.
Excerpt: “Climate change is here and now and this is what it looks like,” says Gregg Garfin, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona and one of the convening lead authors of the Southwest regional report. “It looks like all these impacts we’ve been seeing across the country, and if you isolate any individual region it might not seem like a whole lot, but when you put it all together, it’s really very stunning.”
Excerpt: Meeting the drinking-water needs of Arizona’s future population will force residents to live with trade-offs. But as more people move here and are born here, they may not have a choice, state officials say.
Excerpt: Instead of pushing big water projects, the state should look at reducing water demand and seriously consider whether the growth envisioned in the report is achievable, desirable or sustainable, the Sierra Club said.
Excerpt: The water study was not an academic exercise — it was designed to spur action, said Lacey, the state water director. The agency hopes for broader public participation in water issues than anytime since Arizona’s landmark Groundwater Management Act passed in 1980, he said.
Excerpt: The drought that has been afflicting most of the Western states for 13 years may be a “megadrought,” and the likelihood is high that this century could see a multidecade dry spell like nothing else seen for 1,000 years, according to research presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last week.
Excerpt: He said that the chances of a widespread multidecade megadrought are high in the worst-case scenario, but he quoted University of Arizona geosciences professor Jonathan Overpeck to characterize the chances of megadrought in less severe scenarios: “It’s extremely non-negligible, the risk of prolonged multidecadal megadrought.”
The bottom line: “The picture looks like we’re going to have to take this seriously,” Ault said.
Excerpt: The American Southwest, which is already the hottest and driest region of the nation, is likely to become even hotter and drier in the next few decades thanks in part to the ongoing effects of human-generated greenhouse gases. That’s the verdict of the draft National Climate Assessment report, the product of a federal advisory committee charged with assessing how climate change has already affected the U.S., and what the future holds.
Excerpt: In desert areas already prone to severe dry spells, warmer winters have led to less mountain snowpack to keep streams and rivers flowing in spring, while hotter springs and summers have helped boost the effects of naturally occurring drought. The ripple effects of this reduction in water are almost too numerous to mention. To begin with, heat and drought put trees under stress, setting them up for attack by predatory beetles. Stressed and dying trees are perfect fodder for wildfires, according to a Climate Central report. That report showed how fires have already gotten much larger, on average, thanks to heat and drought.
Excerpt: Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have invented a new toilet system that will turn human waste into electricity and fertilisers and also reduce the amount of water needed for flushing by up to 90 per cent compared to current toilet systems in Singapore.
Excerpt: "Having the human waste separated at source and processed on-site would lower costs needed in recovering resources, as treating mixed waste is energy intensive and not cost-effective," Prof Wang said. "With our innovative toilet system, we can use simpler and cheaper methods of harvesting the useful chemicals and even produce fuel and energy from waste."