momentariness and fluidity


There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I,” but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want.

Alan Watts


Alan Wilson Watts was a British writer and speaker known for interpreting and popularising Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York.



Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County, home to both fire preppers and the fire fatigued, is a scenic, isolated world that has turned the threat of catastrophe into an everyday norm.

By Jaime LoweJune 19, 2021

.James Grasso in his yard in Topanga, Calif. “I love living here, but I’ve quickly learned that nobody’s going to save me but me,” he said.Credit…David Benjamin Sherry for The New York Times

TOPANGA, Calif. — The Palisades Fire that forced hundreds to evacuate last month on the outskirts of Los Angeles never got close to James Grasso’s house. But he watched it carefully from the hilltops in Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, with his emergency radios and pagers by his side.

Mr. Grasso, 60, a volunteer medic and an assistant director in the movie industry, serves on the Topanga Council on Emergency Preparedness. He long ago hardened his home, clearing all the growth within a hundred yards of his house. Last year, he outfitted an off-road U.T.V. with a 75-gallon water pump called a skid unit. And he has a cinder-block bunker stocked with emergency provisions.

“I love living here, but I’ve quickly learned that nobody’s going to save me but me,” Mr. Grasso said.

If Mr. Grasso is a kind of fire prepper, his neighbor Rose Wiley, 89, is among those who try not to worry too much.

Ms. Wiley lives in a modest home hidden behind a magenta bougainvillea, sometimes leaving her doors open so birds and squirrels and lizards can have their own wildlife corridor through her kitchen. During the 1958 New Year’s Eve fire, she and her husband walked the roads of the canyon all night as embers flew like fireworks. In 2018, she ignored evacuation orders and refused to leave during the Woolsey Fire.

“No power, no lights, no radio, no TV, no cellphone service,” she recalled. “I had some fried chicken I bought at Ralph’s and potato salad. It was just like going camping.”

To live in the canyon communities of Los Angeles is to live with the threat of fire. But a new urgency has emerged, as a statewide drought and heat wave have helped create dangerous wildfire conditions and have played a role in turning the California fire season into more and more of a year-round phenomenon.

Flames and smoke from the Palisades Fire were visible in Topanga last month.
Flames and smoke from the Palisades Fire were visible in Topanga last month.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Some like Mr. Grasso devote an inordinate amount of time and energy into preparation. Others like Ms. Wiley prepare very little. There are weekenders — Topanga Canyon tourists in Airbnb teepees who search for Instagram-ready backdrops and who often fail to understand the dangers of an ill-timed camp fire. And there are the homeless men and women who live by Topanga Creek and who some residents blame for intentionally and accidentally starting fires.

Officials made changes in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire in 2018 — Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties now have access to three firefighting helicopters that can refill their water tanks at 69 Bravo, a mountaintop control center and helipad.

But many Topanga residents say more needs to be done. They have asked for clarity on evacuation procedures, warning sirens, drills and a plan for inevitable power outages.

Topanga is the kind of improbable canyon community that Los Angeles specializes in — Laurel Canyon, Runyon Canyon, Rustic Canyon, Benedict Canyon, Beachwood Canyon. They are mountainous and secluded neighborhoods and communities, each with its own identity and degrees of exclusivity, that have tested the limits of growth and hillside construction.

The geography and population of Topanga make it particularly vulnerable, and the Palisades Fire served as a grim reminder for many residents of the risks built into everyday life in the canyon. If a fire started at the north end near the Topanga Overlook, it could take only 90 minutes for the canyon to burn all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But fire officials estimate it would take seven hours for residents to completely evacuate the canyon — Topanga has only one main road in and out, Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Mr. Grasso has a cinder-block bunker stocked with emergency provisions.
Mr. Grasso has a cinder-block bunker stocked with emergency provisions.Credit…David Benjamin Sherry for The New York Times

“If you move out here, you make a deal with nature,” said Bill Buerge, a longtime Topanga resident whose Spanish Colonial Revival home has had a colorful history as a country club, a gay bar and a gambling joint run by the gangster Mickey Cohen. “On the flip side of the beauty and history is all of that danger.”

The Palisades Fire started in mid-May, four months before Southern California’s typical fire season begins. Last year, 658,069 acres of California burned by June 11 because of wildfires — this year, 833,479 have already burned. And the number of wildfires between January and mid-June has increased from 20,731 fires last year to 26,833 this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

Tom Russell ‘Honkey Jazz”

If you don’t know Russell’s music check it out .. Unusual … and his paintings …. he’s a real talented guy


~~~  HONKEY JAZZ  ~~~

~~~ Bukowski # 1 ~~~

~~~  BUKOWSKI # 3  ~~~

Russell painting of Leonard Cohen

Bio of Russell

2020 Tom Russell Update:

The best record of last year was the Tom Russell record.
Bernie Taupin, L.A. Times, 1/20

Tom Russell’s latest recording of original compositions, October in the Railroad Earth, is set for CD and vinyl release March 15, 2019, on Frontera Records in North America and Proper Records for the rest of the world. He describes the songs and sound as “Jack Kerouac meets Johnny Cash in Bakersfield.”
Bill Kirchen is featured on lead electric guitar, Eliza Gilkyson adds vocals, and the Grammy® Award-winning Texmaniacs appear on “Isadore Gonzalez,” about a Mexican cowboy who died in England during a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The record contains nine other originals, including the title song from the Irish film Small Engine Repair, and a cover of the traditional “Wreck of the Old 97.”

October in the Railroad Earth follows the acclaimed 2017 Frontera/Proper album Folk Hotel and Russell’s tribute to Ian & Sylvia on True North Records, Play One More, both receiving worldwide acclaim. Between major releases in 2018, Russell recorded the Bruce Springsteen track “Across The Border” for the three-disc Appleseed Records anniversary sampler, Roots and Branches, and issued a re-recording of early classics on Frontera, Old Songs Yet To Sing.
His current book of art, The Ballad of Western
Expressionism, was published in December 2019 to
outstanding reviews. His art may be viewed at:

One of Russell’s previous albums of new original material was the 2015 “folk opera” that Thom Jurek of hailed as Tom’s masterpiece, The Rose of Roscrae. Named “The top folk album of 2015” by Mojo magazine, Roscrae was also lauded as “maybe the most important Americana record of all time” by UK Folk. The album was included in top ten lists of dozens of publications, including the Los Angeles Times.

In 2007, on one of Russell’s five appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, he debuted the controversial “Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall?” which has since gone viral.

Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, k.d. lang, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Alvin, Iris DeMent, Dave Van Ronk, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Joe Ely, Tom Paxton, Ian Tyson, and Joe Ely, among many others.
Tom Russell graduated from the University of California with a Master’s degree in Criminology and taught Sociology in Nigeria during the Biafran War.

Recent reviews include:

Mythical America explored by brilliant Americana songwriter…Russell is a riveting storyteller.
Peter Watts, UNCUT, Oct. 2017

Tom Russell’s ‘Folk Hotel’ keeps it simple, beautiful — and Hank Williams pays a visit…
Chicago Tribune, 9/6/17, Steve Knopper,

As ruggedly romantic as ever…Russell is a treasure.
Colin Irwin, Mojo, Oct. 2017

Folk Hotel continues to distinguish what makes Russell a master songwriter…fascinating details, quirky characters, and sophisticated narrative structure.
The Austin Chronicle, 9/15/17

Singer songwriter, painter, essayist – Tom Russell has recorded thirty five highly acclaimed records, & published five books – including a book on his art and a book of his songs. Tom Russell songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, K.D. Lang, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ian Tyson, Iris Dement, Joe Ely, and a hundred others. Tom Russell graduated from The University of California with a Master’s Degree in Criminology. He was recently awarded the 2015 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism & has appeared on Late Night with David Letterman TV show five times.
Recent Quotes on Tom Russell: July 2016

“These songs on The Tom Russell Anthology 2: Gunpowder Sunsets leaves me in anticipation of whatever might be coming next from the best songwriter of my generation.” Mike Regenstreiff, Montreal Gazette, Sing Out (June 2016)

“Tom Russell is Johnny Cash, Jim Harrison and Charles Bukowski rolled into one. I feel a great affinity with Tom Russell’s songs, for he is writing out of the wounded heart of America.”Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Poet)
“Tom Russell is an original, a brilliant songwriter with a restless curiosity and an almost violent imagination. “Blood and Candle Smoke” is vintage Russell, and the Graham Greene connection is a ‘beaut.” Annie Proulx (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain)

“Tom Russell is the last great American voice.” Ken Bruen (The Dramatist, The Cross)

“How great is Tom Russell? Isn’t he the best? I’d like to quit my job and travel with him…if the money can be worked out…” David Letterman, Late Night with David Letterman

The greatest living folk-country songwriter is a man named Tom Russell…John Swenson, Rolling Stone

Tom Russell is the best songwriter of the generation following Bob Dylan…The Montreal Gazette

From Chicken Buddy Hall to Serenity | Matsumura Ungai


One of Tsukamoto’s mentees was Matsumura Ungai. When Ungai was twenty (1890) he left for Kyoto. And on Tsukamoto’s recommendation he was accepted by grand old master painter Mori Kansai (1814-1894). After Kansai’s death Ungai continued with Suzuki Shonen (1849-1918), who was young, hip, and successful.

Tsukamoto kept on being supportive. He and later his sons purchased many of the scrolls on their frequent trips to Kyoto and to Ungai’s studio. The Gokasho Merchant Museum showed a retrospective in 2000. And most of some seventy scrolls in the show came from the private Tsukamoto collection.

Two seals reveal two aspects of Ungai’s personality. The rural, simple, and cheerful upbringing – Dwelling in the Chicken Buddy Hall – and his serene, solemn, and sophisticated later live – An unattached life is like the wind and the water flowing through stones”, a line from a longer poem by Song-Dynasty poet Su Shi. 
Muramatsu Ungai (1870-1926)



The extreme and unforgiving heat wave in the West, which has set hundreds of records since Sunday, made history again on Thursday as temperatures surged to their highest levels yet. It is poised to maintain its grip on the sizzling Southwest through Saturday before slowly subsiding.

The heat wave, like most, is the result of a sprawling zone of high pressure popularly known as a heat dome. Common in summer, heat domes are often found over the Four Corners region of the Southwest United States, where intense heating occurs over deserts.

However, the heat dome wreaking havoc across the western United States this week is striking for its incredible strength, geographic scope and persistence. Evidence suggestshuman-caused climate change is making these heat domes more intense over time.

This lengthy list of temperature records on Thursday, from California to Nebraska and far from comprehensive, is a testament to this heat dome’s might:

  • Palm Springs, Calif., matched its highest temperature ever recorded, soaring to 123 degrees.
  • Death Valley, Calif., hit 128 degrees, the highest temperature measured anywhere on the planet so far this year and just one degree off its June record of 129 set on the 30th in 2013.
  • Phoenix hit 118 degrees, a record for the date, and the earliest the city has observed a temperature this high. “Only 18 other days in Phoenix’s period of record have reached 118° or greater,” tweeted the National Weather Service office in Phoenix.
  • Denver reached at least 100 degrees for the third straight day, the earliest occurrence of such a streak on record. “[A]ll of the 100°F streaks in Denver history lasting three or more days have occurred in the past 32 years,” tweeted Bob Henson, a meteorologist and weather journalist. “Denver’s climate record goes back 150 years.”
  • Tucson reached at least 110 degrees for a sixth straight day, tied for the longest streak on record.
  • Las Vegas’s low temperature of 90 degrees was its warmest on record so early in the season. It also set a daily record high of 114 degrees.
  • Sacramento set a daily record high of 109 degrees, shattering the previous record of 102.
  • Omaha set a daily record high of 105 degrees, its hottest June day since 1953 and its third highest June temperature.

People wait in line for snow cones during a heat wave in Dallas on Thursday. Texas is pushing homes and businesses to conserve electricity for a second day in a row to stave off blackouts. (Kathy Tran/Bloomberg News)

This flurry of heat-dome-driven records follows temperatures that matched all-time highs on Tuesday in parts of Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Salt Lake City, Sheridan and Laramie, Wyo., and Billings, Mont., all made history, soaring to 107, 107, 94 and 108 degrees, respectively.

On Wednesday, Las Vegas soared to 116 degrees, one shy of its highest temperature ever recorded, while Grand Junction, Colo., hit 105, matching its highest temperature ever observed in June.

How a heat dome works

Hot air masses expand vertically into the atmosphere, creating a dome of high pressure that diverts weather systems around them. One way to gauge the magnitude of a heat wave is to measure the height of the typical halfway point of the atmosphere — at the 500 millibar pressure level. For this pressure level to stretch to heights of 600 dekameters, or 19,685 feet, is quite rare, but that marker was forecast for this week, and it was indeed reached in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Tuesday.

Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, noted in an email that what is unusual about this particular heat dome is its strength and size, and the fact that it is only mid-June. A weather balloon in San Diego measured a record temperature of 89.2 degrees in the lower atmosphere on Thursday, which Tardy called a “very significant” reading for this location and time of year. That is translating into scorching temperatures for inland areas and deserts.

As the ground warms, it loses moisture, which makes it easier to heat even more.

As a high-pressure system becomes firmly established, subsiding air beneath it heats the atmosphere and dissipates cloud cover. The high summer sun angle combined with those cloudless skies then in turn further heats the surface.

Hot air masses expand vertically into the atmosphere, creating a dome of high pressure that diverts weather systems around them. One way to gauge the magnitude of a heat wave is to measure the height of the typical halfway point of the atmosphere — at the 500 millibar pressure level. For this pressure level to stretch to heights of 600 dekameters, or 19,685 feet, is quite rare, but that marker was forecast for this week, and it was indeed reached in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Tuesday.

Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, noted in an email that what is unusual about this particular heat dome is its strength and size, and the fact that it is only mid-June. A weather balloon in San Diego measured a record temperature of 89.2 degrees in the lower atmosphere on Thursday, which Tardy called a “very significant” reading for this location and time of year. That is translating into scorching temperatures for inland areas and deserts.


As a high-pressure system becomes firmly established, subsiding air beneath it heats the atmosphere and dissipates cloud cover. The high summer sun angle combined with those cloudless skies then in turn further heats the surface.

But the vicious feedback loop doesn’t end there: the combination of heat and drought is working to send this heat wave into truly extreme territory. With very little moisture in soils right now, heat energy that would normally be used on evaporation — a cooling process — is instead directly heating the air and ground surface.

Jane Wilson Baldwin, a postdoctoral researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said that given the severe drought in the West right now, many feedbacks between the land and the atmosphere are combining to produce an unusually persistent extreme.

“When the land surface is drier, it can’t cool itself through evaporation which makes the surface even hotter, which strengthens the blocking high further,” she said in an interview.

The situation is greatly amplified by increasing background temperatures due to the burning fossil fuels.

“You would be hard-pressed to come up with a metric of heat waves that isn’t getting worse under global warming,” she said, adding that the increasing intensity and duration of heat waves is particularly clear.

Heat waves are often high mortality disasters, but those deaths are preventable, she said, with advance warning, air conditioning, cooling centers and neighbors checking on neighbors.

However, avoiding heat-related disasters also depends on the resilience of the electrical grid, which can fail if electricity demand due to air conditioning use exceeds supply. As a result, there is the double risk of infrastructure failure and health impacts from temperature extremes, as occurred during the Texas freeze of February.

More record heat into Saturday before heat dome weakens

Excessive heat warnings remain in effect for much of California away from the coast and the mountains, western and southern Arizona, southern Nevada and southern Utah.

Temperatures on Friday and Saturday in places like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Sacramento will be about as hot as they were on Wednesday and Thursday.

The hot, dry air underneath this heat dome has created tinderbox conditions conducive to the spread of wildfires. On Friday, the Weather Service warned of a “critical” fire threat from eastern Utah into southern Colorado. The concern is dry thunderstorms that unleash lightning igniting blazes. “Fuels are extremely susceptible to lightning starts given ongoing drought and record heat,” the Weather Service wrote.

By Sunday, computer models indicate the intensity of the heat dome will begin to wane some and drift southeast into northern Mexico and west Texas early next week. At that point, temperatures will still be above normal, but not record challenging.


Fish, farmers, boaters all come out on losing end of drought year

The disappearing Dolores River

The Dolores River below McPhee Dam has been reduced to a trickle this summer, a result of drought and demand causing reserves to go dry. This recent photograph was taken upstream of the confluence with the San Miguel River./ Photo by Cody Perry/Rig to Flip Jonathan Romeo – 06/17/2021 

Where once a river ran, the Dolores River has all but disappeared in its lower reaches below McPhee Dam this summer, another causality of an intense drought that has gripped Southwest Colorado.

Striking images of dried up streambeds, tepid pools filled with suffocating algae and vegetation encroaching into the historic channel of the Dolores River has incited deep concerns over the ecological collapse of an entire waterway.

“It’s pretty devastating,” Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said. “It’s going to be a tough year for fish.”

Farmers and ranchers that rely on water from the reservoir, too, are also coming up on the losing end. This year, most irrigators are receiving just 5% to 10% of usual water shares, with valves expected to be shut off by the end of the month, an incredibly early end to the growing season sure to have economic fallouts.

“Absolutely, it’s the worst in the project history,” Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, the agency that manages the dam, said of the situation on the Dolores River this year.

Completed in 1985, McPhee Dam bottlenecks the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado, just west of the town that bears its name. At the time, the project was sold as an insurance bank of water for both irrigators and the downstream fishery.

But in the years since, a crippling, 20-year drought has exposed intrinsic flaws within the management system put in place. And it all seems to have come to a head this summer after back-to-back poor water years, which has forced a reckoning among water users who rely on the strapped river.

“This is unprecedented,” Mike Preston, who led the DWCD for 12 years, retiring in 2019, said. “And it’s dire for everyone.”

In many ways, the situation on the Dolores River is a microcosm of issues plaguing many communities in the American West where rivers are over-allocated, suffering from diminishing water supply and increased demand.

But the intertwined Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, which is expected to hit by the end of the year the lowest water level since it was constructed, faces challenges all its own.

Dam it

The Dolores River tumbles south out of the high country of the San Juan Mountains, and takes a sharp turn west near the town of Dolores before it heads more than 170 miles north to the Colorado River near Moab.

Near Dolores, the river skirts the edge of the Montezuma Valley, a different drainage basin where water is incredibly scarce. In the 1880s, Western settlers, looking to irrigate these arid fields, constructed a series of tunnels and large diversions to bring water over from the Dolores River.

This system, known as a transmountain diversion, brought a whole host of its own issues. Some years, flows were so erratic, that after spring runoff, agricultural needs reduced the Dolores River to a trickle. On top of concerns for the fishery below the dam, farmers and ranchers further out near Dove Creek also started to eye shares from the river. 4

So, by the mid-1900s, as was custom at the time, a dam was proposed. Much has been written and said about the concept of McPhee; even top-ranking Bureau of Reclamation officials have expressed on record the ill-advised nature of the water project in such an arid environment. Ranchers and farmers, however, came to hold water reserves in McPhee as an economic lifeline.

But, even a few years after completion, the dam started showing proverbially cracks in its plan after low-water years in the late 1980s.

“It’s just a case study of why trans-basin diversions should never be allowed,” Mike Japhet, a retired CPW aquatic biologist that worked on Dolores issues for more than 30 years, said. “Below McPhee, the Dolores River really doesn’t exist.”

“Deal with the devil”

McPhee’s first and foremost priority is to serve agriculture in the Montezuma Valley. Today, water out of the reservoir irrigates the fields of an estimated 1,500 farms, which range in size from small, three acre tracts to 1,000 acre operations.

Early on in the project’s management, however, low snowpack years in the mountains, which resulted in less available water supply coming into the dam, created tension among the competing interests for agricultural and the health of the river.

“This is where it became a deal with the devil,” Japhet said. “And the ecosystem paid the price.”

Ultimately, a “pool” of water was dedicated for releases out of the dam to support the fishery. But as the region increasingly dried out, shares have had to be reduced, and in some years the water sent down river has not provided enough habitat to sustain fish populations.

This summer, the fishery will receive just 5,000 acre feet of water, far below its 32,000 acre feet allotment. As a result, releases out of McPhee are expected to drop as low as 5 cubic feet per second, the lowest amount ever recorded (for reference, summer flows tend to be between 70 and 90 cfs).

Further downstream, the picture is even bleaker as water is lost to evaporation, sucked up by the soil and even in some cases used for irrigation. As of Wednesday, the stream gauge on the Dolores River at Bedrock, about 100 miles downstream of McPhee, was reading an inconceivable 0.45 cfs, virtually a nonexistent flow.

“When the project was conceived, there were wetter years with a lot more water,” Japhet said. “It didn’t plan for climate change to dry us out the way it is. The Dolores River right now is ceasing to function as a fishery if this situation goes on. It won’t be a river or even a creek at that point.”

Short end of the stick

Thousands of fish are expected to die this year on the Dolores River.

For the first 10 miles or so downstream of McPhee Dam, the river boasts a robust trout fishery. Further on, as the river cuts toward the towns of Bedrock and Gateway, the waterway is home to many native fish, like the bluehead sucker and roundtail chub. Survival rates, as expected, are grim.

CPW’s White said that before the construction of the dam, spring runoff would replenish pools for fish to find refuge in. But that’s not the case in the post-dam world, and many fish will likely succumb to high water temperatures and the evaporation of pools in the hot summer months. And, conditions have set up perfectly for the invasive smallmouth bass to take over.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do about it,” said White, referring to the set-in-stone nature of water right allocations. “Fish are tough, but they have a threshold.”

The Dolores River has been so changed and altered by the construction of McPhee Dam, and compounded by the effects of climate change, that it’s also prompted a multi-year study to understand the ecosystem’s new normal. Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College, said vegetation is now growing in the river bed, and the channel is losing the diversification of flow that support so many species.

“It’s a progression common downstream from dams when peak flows are eliminated,” Richard said. “But the Dolores is a pretty extreme example.”

Cutting off the tap

Explaining water rights is never an easy task for reporters with a word count.

But here we go: the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., formed in 1920 to consolidate the earliest water users, hold the most senior water rights. The next tiers in the pecking order are those served explicitly because of the construction of McPhee: farmers out near Dove Creek, the downstream fishery and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

With McPhee receiving just a quarter of normal inflows from the Dolores this year, MVIC irrigators had their allocations slashed 50%, Curtis said. But that’s not the worst: all other users had their water supply cut to 5% to 10% from normal years, the worst project allocation in its history. 

(The water supply for the towns of Cortez and Towaoc, which serves about 20,000 people, also comes from McPhee Reservoir and is expected to receive a sufficient amount this year.)

“We are all dependent on the Dolores,  there’s not another source,” Curtis said. “So we’re stuck on our own, and all you can do is fallow fields and focus on specific products. But you can’t sustain yourself on that.” 

Most farmers will only get one or two crops this year. There’s a legitimate concern perennial yields, primarily alfalfa to feed livestock, will die and have to be replaced, a costly expense. And, all this under the cloud of not knowing what next year will bring.

Because of shortages, the Ute Mountain Ute Farm & Ranching Enterprise was forced to abandon most of its alfalfa, a profitable yet water-intensive crop, and focus on corn, less water dependent but also less valued. 

“With most of our fields fallowed and very little crop income, everything that we have developed is at risk,” Chairman Manuel Heart said in a statement in May.

Dustin Goodall, a sixth-generation rancher, said the water shortages on the Dolores stem from years of mismanagement and over-allocating the river, and too much of the blame is placed on the agricultural community. Instead, he said it’s going to take everyone to come together and put aside deep-seeded divisions to find solutions.

“You can see what damage has been done down in the canyon, and it’s not a good sight whether you’re a farmer, rancher or recreating,” he said. “Everyone knows there’s a problem.”

Drying out

All predictions show no signs of the drought in the Southwest reversing course, so what’s to become of a reservoir like McPhee that increasingly doesn’t have enough water to meet its own demands? It’s a question managers at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which also face record low levels, also are grappling with.

Curtis, for his part, said the water district is consumed with the emergency-response nature of this year’s drought. Montezuma County earlier this month declared a disaster emergency because of the lack of water, and funds are being sought to offset losses for farmers.

This fall, Curtis expects more serious, long-term conversations about the future of McPhee. Even further on the horizon, the dam’s Operating Agreement plan between DWCD and the Bureau of Rec expires in 2025, expected to reinvigorate the conversation. Still, Curtis doesn’t foresee any fundamental changes in the way the reservoir provides water to its customers.

 “It’s not going to be fun, I can tell you that,” he said. “Fundamentally, the project didn’t anticipate this amount of shortages, so we’re having to think about what the longer-term implications are. I’m not authorized to make those decisions, no single party really is.”

By the end of the year, McPhee Reservoir is expected to drop to its lowest level since construction, at about 40% capacity. Most of that remaining water, Curtis said, is inaccessible because of topography issues. 

Amber Clark, executive director of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said there’s a long history of diverse user groups trying to find compromises for the available water in McPhee. This year, advocating for recreational releases for rafting and kayaking on the Dolores, which is known for its revered whitewater, has taken a back seat as the overall life of the river is at risk.

“We can’t just let this stretch of the Dolores go,” she said. “But it’s really tricky on the Dolores because it feels like there’s not enough water to do all those things, and as we see drought have a bigger impact, it feels like that’s going to get harder, not easier. Across the West, the bigger question is, how do we move forward? How do we value our rivers and take care of them?” 

The disappearing Dolores River

This year, McPhee Reservoir is projected to hit the lowest water level since construction, at about 40% capacity. That remaining water pool, managers say, is not even accessible./Photo by Alex Krebs



The season, which can bring beneficial rain to the parched desert, began Tuesday. Its onset wasn’t always this straightforward.

A monsoon storm produces a forked lightning bolt at Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona on July 23, 2012. (Pete Gregoire/NOAA/Flickr) 

By  Mike BranomJune 17, 2021 at 12:28 p.m. MDT14

Monsoon Awareness Week kicked off across the Southwest on Sunday, while monsoon season itself launched Tuesday. Amid an exceptionally bad drought, people will be paying close attention to the monsoon this summer, hoping it can produce much-needed rainfall.

Driven by temperatures contrasts between the hot desert and adjacent chilly ocean waters, the summer monsoon in a typical year generates nearly half of Arizona and New Mexico’s rainfall.

‘Mega-heat wave’ is peaking in the West, breaking records and intensifying drought, fires

But the monsoon, for all of its benefits, is also a source of hazardous weather. Awareness Week is dedicated to cautioning the public about the monsoon’s potentially deadly threats: torrential cloudbursts, blowing dust, lightning strikes. As summertime rolls on, the potential can turn kinetic: flash floodingzero-visibility conditionswildfires.

Thanks to a decision made years ago by the National Weather Service, the focus of forecasters, emergency officials and the media can be about safety alone, as this monsoon season commences.

The term “monsoon” describes a seasonal wind shift that brings moisture to an ordinarily parched area. Low- to mid-level winds take on a southerly component, drawing ocean moisture northward. This allows for isolated thunderstorms to form during the summertime. While sporadic, they can be intense.

For decades, the monsoon’s onset was determined by a meteorological tripwire: three consecutive days with a dew point of at least 55 degrees in Phoenix, evidence of the usually dry desert skies moistening up.

The dew point is an indicator of the amount of moisture in the air and, when it’s above 55 degrees in desert environments, that’s considered humid. Over time, the Weather Service learned people found this standard to be confusing and misleading, prompting officials’ concern that public safety suffered.

Some 15 years ago, a push began within the Weather Service to scrap the dew point definition. Despite grumbling, both externally and internally, the Weather Service forged ahead with what we have now: monsoon season, which runs from June 15 through September.

Phoenix television meteorologist Amber Sullins of ABC15 praised the simplicity.

“Before, when we were tracking dew points, we’d have a couple of days where we met the threshold then dropped below on the third day,” Sullins told Capital Weather Gang. “We’d have to keep resetting the three-day clock over and over — and then the messaging gets really complicated.”

If monsoon season sounds much like Atlantic hurricane season, with start and end dates determined by the calendar and not meteorology, that’s the point, according to Sullins and others.

“Now we can start our messaging at the same time every year, and even if no thunderstorms start then, at least people are prepared,” Sullins said

Adding emphasis was Allen Clark, director of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management. He believes repetition of the warnings to the public is what makes cautionary messages sink in.

“If you’re relying on the monsoon season to start, based on dew points, you may miss a year,” Clark said. “As you’ve seen over the past couple of years, we really haven’t had busy seasons. By defining a period of time, it doesn’t matter what the season is, because it allows us to educate regardless.”

Over the previous two summers, according to data provided by acting state climatologist Nancy J. Selover, Phoenix’s official monsoon rainfall totaled but 1.43 inches — a “non-soon” when measured against an annual average (compiled from records starting in 1948) of 2.61 inches.

The 3-of-55 rule has its genesis in a 1963 paper, said Paul Iñiguez, science and operations office at the Phoenix Weather Service office, with the three other offices in Arizona adopting it about a decade later.

In an era without actionable data from satellites and radar, Iñiguez said, the dew point near the ground was used as a stand-in for determining whether winds at the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere had shifted, from the west to the south and southeast, bringing up humid air from the gulfs of California and Mexico.

But it didn’t take long before this signal of adequate moisture began springing leaks.

For one, 55 degrees didn’t hold up everywhere. Tucson, at a higher elevation than Phoenix and located closer to the moisture surge creeping up from Mexico, found it needed to set the triggering dew point at 54. In Douglas, even higher and in the state’s far southeast, 53-for-3 worked. Albuquerque, at one of the highest elevations of any major American city, began tracking at 47 degrees.

Obviously, this meant the monsoon lacked a uniform start across the region. For Douglas and southwestern New Mexico, the average onset date is July 3. Three days later is Phoenix’s mean start date, with Albuquerque’s following on July 9. At the extremes, the season could begin as early as mid-June or as late as the final week of July.

Also, while the dew point was okay for determining the monsoon’s start, there was nothing to mark the end. Usually, the monsoon was declared over only after a few days of evidence piled up that the winds had shifted back to the west. But even that was educated guesswork.

Finally, floating starts and vague endings added a layer of frustration when undertaking climatological comparisons spanning years.


When it was announced in March 2008 by NWS-Phoenix’s meteorologist-in-charge, Tony Haffer, that the coming summer would be the first with a monsoon season, he wasted few words in explaining why the change was needed.

Haffer, now retired and living in Eloy, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, remembers pushback to the idea and how “it took a lot of convincing the dunderheads — like me.” His opposition, he recalled, was based in how the traditional method brought a “semi-scientific” way to measure, with some precision, the monsoon’s arrival.

Doing the convincing was the Weather Service’s Tucson office, led by meteorologist-in-charge Glen Sampson. As he saw it, what was needed was an effective way of looking forward and cautioning the public about the monsoon’s dangerous weather “rather than, ‘Here’s something that happened.’ ”

But what finally convinced Haffer was a reminder of who he worked for: “The real purpose of the Weather Service is service — hello?!”



Heat waves across the West are already straining electricity supplies, as severe drought crimps hydroelectric power generation

Hoover Dam, which is on the Arizona-Nevada border, is fed by Lake Mead, where water levels are under threat. PHOTO: DAVID BECKER/ZUMA PRESS

By Katherine Blunt and Jim CarltonUpdated June 18, 2021 8:32 am ET

States across the West are at risk of electricity shortages this summer as a crippling drought reduces the amount of water available to generate hydroelectric power.

Some of the region’s largest reservoirs are at historically low levels after a dry winter and spring reduced the amount of snowpack and precipitation feeding rivers and streams. The conditions are especially dire in drought-stricken California, where officials say the reservoir system has seen an unprecedented loss of runoff this spring—800,000 acre-feet, or enough to supply more than a million households for a year.

The California Department of Water Resources operates eight major hydroelectric facilities that are now forecast this year to be about 30% of their 10-year average generation, the agency said. Hydroelectric power, some of which was imported from other states, accounted for about 16% of California’s generation mix in 2019, according to state data. California needs all the electricity it can get when temperatures climb: The margin for error is slim when it comes to balancing supply and demand, so any reduction in generation capacity can pose significant challenges.

Meanwhile, streamflow forecasts for Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are among the five driest on record, according to an update this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Colorado River’s Lake Powell is projected to receive only 25% of the water it normally would between April and July, according to the agency. Lake Powell is the main reservoir that feeds Nevada’s Lake Mead, where the Hoover Dam is located. The dam is one of the nation’s largest hydroelectric facilities, capable of producing enough power to serve about 1.3 million people. About 23% of its output serves Nevada, and 19% serves Arizona. Most of the remainder serves Southern California.

Hoover Dam’s current generation capacity is 1,567 megawatts, down 25% from its peak of 2,074, said Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patti Aaron.

Already, power grids across the West and South are under strain this week amid a heat wave that has caused a surge in electricity demand, the first of several expected this summer. Grid operators in both Texas and California have called on people to conserve power by reducing reliance on air conditioning, among other things, to avoid the need for rolling blackouts to bring demand in line with supply.

The West is gripped in one of the most severe droughts on record, with California among many places getting less than half of average precipitation. Mostly dry years over the past decade—fueled in part by climate change—have left so little moisture in the ground that it is sopping up much of the runoff normally destined for reservoirs, hydrologists say.

Water levels at Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir, have fallen to 41% of capacity. PHOTO: NOAH BERGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The soil is like a sponge that absorbs water and stores it for vegetation,” said Safeeq Khan, adjunct professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Merced. “If you don’t get enough water, the storage will deplete and the next year first it [new runoff] will fill that sponge.”

The California Independent System Operator, or Caiso, which oversees the state’s power grid, last summer resorted to rolling blackouts during a West-wide heat wave that constrained the state’s ability to import electricity. The supply crunch was most acute in the evening, after solar production declined.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, warned in a report last month that across the West, grid stability is a “significant concern for the summer,” with supply and demand projections at levels similar to 2020.

Caiso last month issued a similar warning that “a second year of significantly lower-than-normal hydro conditions and an increased possibility of extreme weather events” could exacerbate electricity-supply shortages throughout the summer. Reservoir levels since then have fallen even further, and state agencies are studying the impact of the decline.

Elliot Mainzer, the grid operator’s chief executive, said it was monitoring reservoir levels, particularly at the State Water Project’s largest hydroelectric facility, the 750-megawatt Edward Hyatt plant at Lake Oroville. The Northern California lake has fallen to 35% of capacity, putting the plant at risk of losing its ability to produce power by August or September for the first time in its 60-year history, officials say.

In Northern California, Lake Oroville water levels are so low that by late summer a key hydroelectric plant may not be able to generate power. PHOTO: NOAH BERGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“We’re having to watch that very, very carefully here, between now and August, to see if the reservoir levels drop enough that we see a significant decrease in generation,” Mr. Mainzer said.

The five main generators at Shasta Lake—the largest reservoir in California, which has fallen to 41% of capacity—are running at 70% of normal, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

PG&E Corp. , an electric and gas utility that serves about 16 million customers in Northern California and operates one of the state’s largest hydroelectric networks, has cut back on its use of water this spring to keep reservoir levels higher in anticipation of a hot summer. PG&E says it is prepared to rely more heavily on other forms of generation, including wind, solar and gas-fired plants.

“Knowing that we’ll have less water available this year, we’ll be utilizing our hydro during the peak demand periods,” said spokesman Paul Moreno.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that sells power from 31 hydroelectric projects, as well as several other power plants, has seen water levels fall to 85% of average across the system. Spokesman Doug Johnson said the decline was manageable, but could constrain the agency’s ability to export power outside of the region, including to California, if a severe heat wave boosts demand for power across the West.

“We would hope that everyone who relies on us for surplus energy across the Western Interconnection is keeping in mind the amount of water we have available,” he said.