Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

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Folks up in Michigan are miffed at Bill Richardson for his call for a National Water Policy. They're afraid of a water grab, as if anyone has ever done anything like that out here.

We're happy when the presidential candidates bring up water issues. We consider water the sleeping giant of infrastructure problems.

Longtime readers know that we lean toward a westerner for President. We like Bill Richardson's latest TV ad. The now obligatory, I'm a westerner standing in a field, pasture, along a creek, walking down the street, outdoorsy ad.

This strategy is not always executed in a skillful manner.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

9:03:19 PM    

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From The Rocky Mountain News, "Residents whose water bills increased this summer despite their conservation efforts will see a rebate in their accounts under a City Council resolution approved Monday. About 1,200 accounts will qualify for the rebate, which will cost the city about $500,000, said Greg Baird, deputy director of Aurora Water. The utility services about 74,800 accounts. The rebate applies to those who used less water in June, July and August combined than they did during the same period last year, but saw their bills increase more than 25 percent under a new rate structure."

Category: Colorado Water

7:16:13 AM    

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The Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development is developing a watershed plan for the lower Arkansas River Basin, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From an article about yesterday's meeting:

Better water quality, more efficient irrigation, drinking water and new markets for farmers are among concerns likely to be included in a watershed plan being developed by Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development. But the bottom line is that the plan will help smooth the way for future state and federal water grants to the rural areas east of Pueblo. It is also seen as a way to draw together several efforts to improve the river. "To my knowledge, we've never written a water plan," Crowley County Commissioner Matt Heimerich, RC&D chairman, said Monday, following the second meeting on the plan. "This is the first effort to put on paper what are the most important water issues to the Lower Arkansas Valley. This will give us the background information and possible solutions, and give the public the chance to have input."

A group of about 40 met Monday to discuss water issues in the lower valley. The RC&D covers Baca, Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero and Prowers counties and is a broad coalition of soil conservation districts and governmental entities. Staffers from federal and state agencies also attended. The plan is on a fast-track for adoption by early 2008, and will concentrate on identified gaps in projects or studies needed in the valley...

The issues identified in the proposed watershed plan have become well-known in the past decade as the valley saw weather patterns change from floods to drought to blizzards. In the meantime, the impact of water deals in the 1980s and '90s have become clearer, and the effects of the Kansas v. Colorado Supreme Court case over the Arkansas River Compact are known. There is also more concern about tamarisk, or salt cedars, an invasive plant that reduces the supply to other vegetation. Municipal water supplies were a major concern...

The group touched base on other efforts looking at valley water questions, including an effort to coordinate tamarisk control projects, a study of salinity and water tables in the basin, a study of field drainage structures and programs to reduce ditch leakage.

Category: Colorado Water

7:03:15 AM    

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Don't forget tonight's meeting about Judge Klein's decree for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy's augmentation district. From The Longmont Daily Times-Call:

Farmers along the South Platte River forced to shut down their irrigation wells last year will learn more at a meeting tonight about how they could pump at least some water next spring...Water attorney Alan Curtis is skeptical if the district can do that. He represented senior water rights owners and cities such as Highlands Ranch and Boulder in opposing the decree. "My personal opinion is, unless they get a significant amount of water, they are not going to operate for a long, long time," he said. Curtis said Klein's decree will force the district to come up with 8,000 acre-feet of water before turning on the wells...

Boulder's acting city attorney, Jerry Gordon, said Klein did a "thorough and scholarly job" drafting the decree, but he'd wait to share his opinion on the matter because much can still change. Central has 30 days to offer an amendment to the decree and the objectors have 15 days to respond to that, he said. Boulder has been a vocal opponent of the well plan because the city has several water shares to protect on the river...

What: Central Colorado Water Conservancy meeting on well augmentation plan and decree
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Island Grove Event Center, 521 N. 15th Ave., Greeley

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:52:00 AM    

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Here's an update on the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), from Cosmos. From the article:

On a GRACE satellite map, the Earth looks like a warty ball, with red bumps and deep blue holes highlighting fluctuations in the planet's gravity. The red spots represent places where the Earth's gravity is unusually strong. The blue ones are where it's weak. Not that the force of gravity itself varies. Rather, it's an indication that the Earth's mass distribution isn't quite uniform. Mountain-building in South America and the Himalayas produces dense, red zones; elsewhere, tectonic movements produce thin, blue, ones. All of this is interesting enough because it gives geologists a new way to visualise global processes. But even more interesting is the fact that the map changes over time.

Some changes are geological. For example, much of Canada, centred around Hudson Bay, is undergoing "postglacial rebound" as the continental crust slowly rises after being depressed, thousands of years ago, by the weight of Ice Age glaciers. Other changes are related to redistributions of water. Melting ice sheets, heavy rains, changes in soil moisture: all of these shift around enough water to make discernable changes in the Earth's gravitational field. Some of these are signs of global warming. Others provide early warning of floods, crop failures, and aquifer depletion in remote corners of the globe. "Water has weight," says project scientist Michael Watkins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. "It has gravitational attraction, and GRACE can detect it."

GRACE is a satellite launched in 2002 by the U.S. space agency. Or, more precisely, it's a pair of satellites. The name itself - Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment - indicates the major role water was expected to play in its findings. The concept is simple. The two satellites, each about three metres long, follow each other in identical orbits roughly 400 kilometres above the Earth and 210 kilometres apart. Microwave instruments measure the distance between them, precisely enough to detect variations smaller than one percent of the width of a human hair. "[It's as though] you have two automobile-sized things, one in Los Angeles and one in San Diego, and you're measuring the distance between them to the size of a red blood cell," says Watkins. As one satellite and then the other passes through wrinkles in the Earth's gravity field, they speed up or slow down slightly, shifting the distance between them. By measuring these tiny yo-yos, scientists can calculate the gravity field that produced them, mapping the entire Earth about once a month...

Already there have been some dramatic findings. In late 2005, GRACE was instrumental in determining that the Greenland ice sheet was melting much faster than previously anticipated [^] enough to be contributing 0.4 millimetres per year to global sea level rise. But long-term changes aren't the only ones GRACE can detect. For example, it's possible to spot the difference between the tropical monsoon season and the dry season. "It's a big signal," Watkins says. One advantage of using gravity to monitor changes in wetness is that GRACE measures not just changes in surface water, but also in soil moisture or groundwater. "It's been difficult to measure [that] without an army of grad students or people monitoring [a] well all the time," adds Watkins...

Because GRACE has only been in orbit for five years, the research is just beginning. But already, results are coming in. At a 2006 geophysics meeting, John Wahr, of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, ran through a list of "off-beat anomalies" that GRACE found in Central Asia.One of these, he speculated, might be from the impoundment of water in China's Three Gorges Reservoir, which began filling in June 2003 and had then reached a depth of 300 feet. A bigger anomaly was southeast of the Aral Sea, between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The Aral Sea is a large lake, fed by snowmelt from mountains to the south and southeast. For years, cotton farmers have diverted water from the incoming rivers, producing an ecological crisis as the sea shrinks. But some of the diverted water is accumulating in the desert soil, creating a manmade aquifer. GRACE can't reveal how polluted that aquifer might be, but it can show the rate at which water is accumulating in it. All told, Wahr said, increasing gravity in the surrounding desert indicates that about 25 cubic kilometres of water is percolating into the ground each year...

Northern India, on the other hand, shows a declining gravitational field. Again, the cause is irrigation, but in this case, water is being pumped out of the ground. Overall, it is known that about 150 cubic kilometres per year are being drawn out of wells, Wahr said. But some of that water percolates back into the ground to recharge the aquifer. The question is, how much? In the Aral Sea region, only about 20 to 25 per cent of the irrigation water is making its way into the ground. In India, Wahr's calculations show that the fraction is higher, but that 35 to 40 cubic kilometres per year are still being lost. The same calculation, of course, could have been done by monitoring water levels in wells. But with GRACE, it could be done cheaply, by one man, thousands of miles away. "GRACE is a new technique for hydrology," Watkins said...

GRACE is also giving the first-ever baseline measurements of important climate variables. One is the flow of water into the Arctic Ocean. Several big rivers drain the Arctic, and changes in their flow are likely to occur as glaciers retreat and the rate of snowmelt changes. This is important because the flow of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean is believed to play a major role in overall global climate. Traditionally, it requires river gages to measure the rate of discharge from a watershed. "Before GRACE, if we wanted to estimate freshwater discharge from an ungauged basin it was simply not possible," Famiglietti says. But now, GRACE allows scientists to measure all such flows, confirming other estimates that the rate of freshwater discharge into the Arctic has been increasing. On a seasonal basis, hydrologists are also looking for ways to use GRACE to issue water reports for farmers. "Our hope is that water-resource managers can integrate this into their reservoir allocations," Famiglietti says...

It's even possible to use GRACE to track mountain snowfall. "If you know there's a lot of snow up there, you can tell that this year is going to be a good year for crops," says Matt Rodell, a hydrologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. In flatlands, like America's Midwest, where heavy, late snowfall poses a risk spring floods, GRACE data can also help downstream communities prepare. "GRACE won't replace ground-based observations," Rodell says. "[It] gives another piece of the puzzle, so you get a better prediction." As the scientists continue to fine-tune their data, applications will become ever more sophisticated. Soon, Watkins says, scientists hope to be able to track changes in individual glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland. And river-drainage studies will focus not just on big rivers, but smaller and smaller ones. Also on the horizon are efforts to map fluctuations in water depth in the ocean. Such changes, which GRACE should be able to map at the single-centimetre level, will allow scientists to chart shifts in ocean currents via minute alterations in sea-surface level. "I think we're about to see a new wave of applications to oceanography," says Watkins.

Category: Colorado Water

6:42:21 AM    

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