Lake Powell hits a record-low amid mega-monsoon ~ the Land Desk

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Jonathan P. Thompson
Jul 26

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We’ve got good news and bad news to report regarding the big aridification of the West this week. Let’s start with the good: After a two-year hiatus, the monsoon has returned to much of the Southwest, bringing huge rains with it. Tucson’s arroyos are running full and the Sonoran desert is getting positively lush. Multiple highways in Western Colorado were closed due to debris flows and flash floods. And a lot of farmers, especially those who lost ditch water early, are breathing a huge sigh of relief as, we suspect, are their crops. 

The monsoon days are the best time of year in the desert Southwest. They always start out clear and hot and the mercury can shoot up into the triple digits before the cobalt clouds arrive, piled miles high in the sky. The first big raindrops bring the petrichor—the scent of blood and iron—followed by the deluge, followed by muddy water crashing through arroyos that were bone-dry just a moment earlier. Then the rain subsides, always just before sunset it seems, leaving the air crisp and clean. And the sun bursts through the clouds, setting the sky ablaze. 

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J. C y r @AllophileSabino Canyon is flowing again after last night’s storm; closed beyond the 1.5mi point… #azwx #getintotheoutthere July 24th 20218 LikesTomas Dawson @myfjcruiserWhen you realize the flooding is massive. #gatewaycolorado #flashflood #flood July 25th 2021

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But all of that moisture falling from the sky isn’t enough to bust the drought, yet, nor can it save Lake Powell, which dropped this weekend to its lowest level since 1969 (when it was still filling up). Lake Powell’s growing bathtub ring is a visual indicator not only of the lake’s level, but also of the aridity of much of the West. 

Powell’s downward slide began in 1999, falling 140 feet in just six years and bottomed out—for the time being—during the spring of 2005, before a substantial runoff that year bounced levels back up. But even the huge water year of 2011 was not enough for a full recovery. In the decade since, the level has crashed by 100 feet, in spite of healthy snowfall in 2019, bringing the lake to where it is now: The dam’s hydropower generating capacity is diminished, boat-ramps are rendered unusable, and the Bureau of Reclamation is desperately trying to shore up levels by releasing extra water from upstream reservoirs. 

But the worst part of it all is what the shrinkage says about the health of the Upper Colorado River Watershed: it isn’t so good. And it will take more than one good monsoon to bring it back. 

Bureau of Reclamation @usbrIn the next few days, Lake Powell’s elevation will drop below the record low of 3,555.10 feet reached in April 2005. These record low numbers stress the need for actions started last week under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement.

MONSOON RAINS COULD BUST EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT ACROSS THE SOUTHWEST ~ CNN

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By Haley Brink and Hannah Gard, CNN Meteorologists

Sat July 24, 2021 

(CNN)A surge of monsoonal moisture is bringing rounds of heavy rain and strong thunderstorms to areas of the Southwest that are currently suffering from extreme to exceptional drought conditions. 

Nearly 10 million people are under flash flood watches across Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

While expansive rain and thunderstorms will affect much of the Southwest this weekend, the highest rainfall totals are expected across the state of Arizona where some locations could tally upwards of 6 inches. This amount of rain in such a short period of time have prompted significant flash flooding concerns.

Tucson, Arizona, was under a flood warning for much of the day on Friday where 1 to 4 inches of rain fell across the region, most of it accumulating in the overnight and early morning hours. The city has seen nearly 3 inches of rain so far this month which is more than an inch above the city’s normal rainfall for the month.

The heavy rain Thursday night into Friday morning even submerged highway ramps north of Phoenix, and more rain is expected through the weekend.

Just outside of Tucson, the Vail School District alerted families on its Facebook page that due to the flooding, road closures could impact bus routes Friday. “If you live in an area that is prone to road closures due to flooding, you can assume that bus routes will be delayed or unavailable this morning”.”

What we’re expecting to see here is a widespread rain event across the majority of the state of Arizona,” said National Weather Service Tucson meteorologist Rob Howlett. “Looking at just southeast Arizona a lot of the valleys are going to see rainfall amounts most likely between 1 to 2 inches, maybe higher in other spots.”

The mountains and foothills across the Southwest could see the most rain with five or more inches possible, but even the metropolitan areas, including Flagstaff and Tucson, could see 3 or more inches of rainfall through the weekend. When heavy rain falls in a brief period during the stronger thunderstorms, flash flooding can occur extremely quickly. 

“Normally dry stream beds can instantaneously turn into torrents of fast-moving water, especially below burn scars,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. 

The weather service office in Tucson is likening the weather pattern setup this weekend to that of the 2006 rain event that caused widespread flooding and damage to areas of Tucson. Similarities include large burn scars in the area and already saturate soils from previous flood events earlier this month

“Numerous burn scars scattered throughout the area will be a significant cause of concern for widespread flash flooding events,” according to the Weather Prediction Center. “As such, the Weather Prediction Center has issued a Moderate Risk for Excessive Rainfall for portions of Arizona and New Mexico that will be carried through Sunday morning.” 

Numerous fires have ravaged the state in 2021, with two of the largest fires in Arizona history scorching thousands of acres outside of Phoenix. The record 2020 wildfire season left its mark with a 119,978-acre scar on the Tucson foothills. 

“The Bighorn Fire near Tucson, we are going to be watching that very closely for any heavy rainfall there as we have concerns downstream from that. There is the potential for some flash flooding along those washes and rivers,” Howlett said. 

Heavy rainfall runs off burn scars easily because the soil, once burned, becomes hydrophobic — unable to absorb water — and the vegetation that typically holds soil in place is destroyed. 

Rain to put a dent in the drought

In the short term, this torrential rainfall will lead to dangerous flash flooding. But in the long run these types of rain events bring very beneficial rain that could break the ongoing drought across the region.

Massive heat dome brings yet another heat wave, this time covering most of the USNearly the entire state of Arizona — 99% — is under some level of drought, with more 80% of the state in either extreme or exceptional drought. 

The extent of the drought improved across the Southwest over the last week due to monsoon rains that impacted the region last week. The highest level of drought fell from 58% to 36% and marked improvements are expected again next week, with this current burst of monsoon moisture. 

The heaviest rain is concentrated in the worst drought regions in Arizona along the border of New Mexico up the eastern side to the Utah border.

 “Usually, to make a really good dent in drought conditions you want to have that steadier rain that can infiltrate the soils more deeply, but this time of year that’s just not the kind of scenarios that we see,” said Howlett. “We get thunderstorms and a lot of that is runoff, but every drop counts.” 

The sporadic, intense nature of monsoon thunderstorms frequently leads to runoff instead of moisture soaking into the soils efficiently and reliving the drought-stricken earth. Nonetheless, any rainfall is welcomed during the hottest part of the year.

“It’s going to make a difference, and we really count of rain this time of year to help us out with our drought conditions because for the entire year, half of our rainfall occurs during the monsoon season.” 

CNN’s Allison Chinchar contributed to this report.

Visualizing water inequality–from space ~ The Land Desk

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Plus: Housing crisis creates labor crisis; other news from around the West

Jonathan P. ThompsonJul 23

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You know that water inequality—and drought—have gotten out of hand when you can see them from space. And this year, satellite imagery that highlights vegetation tells a harrowing story of fallowed fields a stone’s throw from emerald-green ones, of empty ditches next to ones with at least some water in them. And it shows how, during dry years, the abyss between the water-rich and the water-poor widens, a phenomenon most apparent this year in Montezuma County, Colorado. 

Exhibit one includes two views of a section of Montezuma County in the far Southwestern corner of the state, one from July 2019 (top) and the other from a few days ago.

Montezuma County in July 2019 and July 2021. Red is an indicator of leafy vegetation. Source: Sentinel-hub.com

The Montezuma Valley north of Cortez looks about the same in both images—a big swath of red, which is an indicator of leafy vegetation (piñon, juniper, and sage don’t seem to register). But the area northwest of there, heading towards Dove Creek, is clearly a lot drier now than it was two years ago. Meanwhile, McPhee Reservoir has not only shrunk considerably—by about 10 billion gallons—but its shape also changed dramatically as a result. 

So what gives? Seniority, that’s what. 

Western water law is based on a simple foundation: First in time, first in court, first in right. Which is to say, whoever files for a portion of the water in a stream first gets priority. When the stream starts shrinking, the junior water rights holders must shut off their ditches so that the senior rights holders can continue to get their share of water. 

That’s what happened in Montezuma County. When the flow of the area’s main source of water—the Dolores River—waned after a string of dry winters, and McPhee Reservoir began shrinking, it became clear that there wouldn’t be enough water to go around to all the users. 

The river, itself—and the fish and other aquatic life that depend on it—were the first to get cut off, as the McPhee Dam operators decreased downstream releases to about 10 cubic feet per second or less, a mere trickle that does not make it as far as Slickrock, where the riverbed is dry. Next to go were the Towoac Canal (which I’ll get to in a moment) and the Dove Creek Canal, which carries water from McPhee west to the town of Dove Creek. The canal serves Dolores Water Conservation District irrigators from Yellowjacket up to Dove Creek and provides drinking water to the town. During the first part of the irrigating season, flows in the Dove Creek Canal 50 to 75 percent below normal. Then, in early July, they stopped altogether. 

The meagre flows in the Dove Creek Canal are manifested in the image above. In 2019, the fields west of McPhee Reservoir were mostly bright red—which is to say the alfalfa, corn, sunflowers and other crops were well-watered and healthy. In 2021, however, many of those same fields show no vegetation at all, indicating that they were fallowed or simply shriveled up due to lack of water. The few fields that did get a little water produced far less. Some Montezuma County alfalfa farmers told the Cortez Journal they expected a 95% decrease in yield this year—which amounts to an equivalent decrease in revenue, more or less (with some help from rising hay prices—up to $300/ton—resulting from scarcity). 

Even worse off are the irrigators on the Towaoc Canal, most significantly the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s extensive agricultural operations located south of Ute Mountain. Most years, the canal’s flow ranges from 60 to 70 cfs throughout the summer, enough water for multiple alfalfa cuttings and a strong corn crop to feed the operation’s mill. This year flows ranged from 10 to 20 cfs until June, when they plummeted to the single digits, forcing the operation to fallow most of its fields. The results are apparent below.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprise in July 2019—following a wet winter—and in July 2021 (right). The operations received about 10 percent of their usual water allocation this year. Source: Sentinel-hub.com

Now, keeping that image in your brain, go back up to the first image and notice all the red north of Cortez. The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company was able to keep its ditches about half full this summer, and have yet to be cut off entirely, which should allow them to get more than one cutting of hay and a relatively decent yield from their other crops, assuming the grasshopper plague (of Biblical proportions, I’ve been told) doesn’t devour them. They got more water than other users because they have the most senior rights on the Dolores River, having filed for them back in 1885, a century before construction of McPhee Dam was completed. 

If you’re having trouble wrapping your mind around the concept of the Ute Tribe’s farms getting cut off from water before the Montezuma Valley irrigators, you’re not alone. The Ute people were here, relying on the water in the Dolores River, for centuries prior to the arrival of the white settlers who built a tunnel from the Dolores River to a network of canals in the Montezuma Valley. And under the Winters Doctrine, the tribe is entitled to all of the water they need and then some, with an appropriation date of 1868, meaning the tribe should get all the water. 

But when negotiating to get their water delivered to them, the Ute Tribe made some concessions. They didn’t give up their 1868 priority date, but they did accept a later priority date for the delivery of that water—at least that’s how I understand this language from the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement of 1986:

(Dear Land Desk water expert readers: Please feel free to correct my understanding of Dolores River water rights or to further elucidate the issue in the comments section or via email to me.)

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To be sure, all farmers are having a tougher time of it this year, even the ones whose ditches are running full. If they aren’t suffering from lack of water, they’re dealing with grasshoppers, which are more prevalent this year due to the lack of precipitation and the relatively warm winter. If they’re lucky enough to be outside the grasshopper zone, then they’re grappling with heat, which damages the health of crops and the people who tend to them. And if they’re wannabe farmers trying to help supply the burgeoning, pandemic-induced demand for local produce, they’re running into skyrocketing land prices. And guess which land is most expensive and most out of reach of folks on a farmer income? The land with the good water. 

And so, wealth inequality leads to water inequality—and round and round we go. 

The “Dryside” of La Plata County in July 2019 and 2021. Source: Sentinel-hub.com

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‘THE DAILY SHOW’ AT 25: THE CREATORS LOOK BACK ~ NYT

The Comedy Central stalwart debuted in July 1996. The creators Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead reflect on the early days, when “Dateline” was a main target and Jon Stewart took over from Craig Kilborn.

“The Daily Show” became more politically oriented with Jon Stewart as host (pictured with Senator Bob Dole); Stewart took over from Craig Kilborn in 1999.
“The Daily Show” became more politically oriented with Jon Stewart as host (pictured with Senator Bob Dole); Stewart took over from Craig Kilborn in 1999.Credit…Comedy Central

By Saul Austerlitz

July 21, 2021

And now for your moment of Zen: “The Daily Show” turns 25 years old on Thursday. The scrappy news spoof that debuted on a second-tier cable network has since become a staple of late-night television, a nearly unmatched comedy launchpad and a satirical extension of the thing it was created to mock: the TV news media.WATCHING: Get recommendations on the best TV shows and movies to watch.Sign Up

While most of the show’s huzzahs have been directed toward its hosts, like Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah, and alumni like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Samantha Bee, it is worth remembering that “The Daily Show” was created by two women: Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead. The writers and producers, veterans of MTV’s “The Jon Stewart Show,” were brought in by Comedy Central in 1995 to put together a nightly news parody.

Originally hosted by the former ESPN anchor Craig Kilborn, “The Daily Show” began as a rejoinder to the excesses of mid-1990s TV news, in a pre-Fox News era when the worst of those extremes was CNN’s increasingly stagecraft-over-substance approach, and NBC’s ubiquitous “Dateline” was the model for TV smarm.

“The Daily Show” didn’t begin to evolve into the institution it has become until Stewart took over as host in 1999. By then, Winstead had already left the show; she departed in 1998 after clashing with Kilborn. She went on to co-found Abortion Access Front, a comedy-driven reproductive health organization, and she is set to premiere a weekly talk show on YouTube called “Feminist Buzzkills Live” this fall. Smithberg left “The Daily Show” in 2003 and went on to executive produce National Geographic’s “Explorer,” among other series. She now hosts a cooking show, “Mad in the Kitchen,” on YouTube.

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Robbing Peter to save Powell ~ The Land Desk

The Bureau of Reclamation is draining reservoirs to fill reservoirs 

Jonathan P. ThompsonJul 21


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Throw a few pesos to Thompson. He’s not some entitled white guy, but a creative and hard working journalist that loves his home in the South West. rŌbert

The Horseshoe Bend overlook, which affords some 50,000 selfie-snappers per month a gander of the Colorado River as it bends back on itself, is surely one of the most popular viewpoints in the Southwest. I’ve passed by it many a time, but have never been tempted to stop. Instead, I rev the engine on the ol’ Silver Bullet, drive into the western fringe of Page, past the McDonalds and the most-out-of-place golf course on the planet, and then take a left turn to get to my favorite viewpoint: The one that offers a stunning, explicit, full frontal look at Glen Canyon Dam. 

It gets me every time—an almost physical blow to the gut coupled with the insta-vertigo inflicted by confrontation with the sublime. 

I’m not sure what it is about the dam that invokes such a strong reaction. Perhaps it’s just the sheer size—700-feet high, 1,500 feet long at the crest, 300 feet thick at its base—or the ungodly amount of water it holds back. Maybe I’m mourning the hundreds of miles of Edenic canyons that were inundated. Maybe it’s a combination of terror and anticipation of the power that would be released if the dam finally cracked and crumbled. 

Or maybe it’s the hubris that the dam represents, the belief that, with enough concrete and engineering ingenuity, we humans could control that wild, tumultuous creature known as the Colorado River and harness it to turn thousands of miles of desert into lawns and alfalfa fields and golf courses and housing developments. Sure, it worked. Until it didn’t. And now Lake Powell’s water levels have taken a great fall, and all of Bureau of Rec’s engineering, and all of Bureau of Rec’s plumbing, can’t put Powell back again. 

Still, they’re trying. Last week the Bureau of Reclamation announced that they would crank open a few valves on the massive plumbing system known as the Upper Colorado River, releasing extra water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo reservoirs in order to shore up the rapidly declining water levels in Lake Powell. 

The point of this exercise is not to keep houseboats from scraping bottom—which is already happening—but to preserve what remains of Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower generating capacity. Already the dam has become less potent in this respect, because as water levels drop, so does the pressure the water exerts, meaning that the same amount of water run through the turbines generates less power. More worrisome is what happens when the level falls below 3,490 feet, or the minimum power pool: Generation stops altogether. 

That would mean that Glen Canyon Dam’s electricity output would plummet from 10,000 megawatt-hours or so of juice each day—enough to power some 350,000 homes—to near zero. That would be very bad for the Southwestern electricity grid, which is already strained by heat-induced soaring demand coupled with diminished hydropower generation across the West. Grid operators would have little choice but to turn to natural gas generation to fill the gap, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and electricity costs. 

In one month, from mid-June to mid-July, Lake Powell lost 416,000 acre feet of water—or 135 billion gallons (which translates to about five and a half feet of surface-level elevation). About 36,000 of those acre feet vanished via evaporation. The rest was sent through Glen Canyon Dam’s turbines, destined for the Grand Canyon and then shrinking Lake Mead. If levels continue to drop at that rate, the Lake will reach minimum power pool in a year from now (The Bureau of Reclamation is projecting a slower rate of decline, even in its worst case scenarios. See accompanying graph).

The feds know they can’t stop the drop with this scheme. But via the planned releases—totaling an additional 181,000 acre feet over the next six months—they can slow it down, theoretically. Instead of falling another 28 feet by the end of the year, the surface level should only drop by, wait for it, 25 feet, assuming a continuation of current rates of decline. Basically, the Bureau is draining down three reservoirs in order to offset evaporation from Lake Powell. 

It just might succeed, in delaying the inevitable. But without a lot of help from Mother Nature in the form of massive winter snowfall across the entire Upper Colorado River watershed, there is little chance that the planned plumbing adjustments will amount to much. And if the snows don’t come, what happens to the depleted upper basin reservoirs and the people who rely on them? 

The plan seems even crazier in light of a proposal to build a pipeline that would siphon yet more hydropower-generating water from Lake Powell and ship it to southwestern Utah, or plans to divert yet more water from the Colorado River Basin toward the urban centers of Colorado’s Front Range. But then, none of it is any crazier than building the dam in the first place with the belief that doing so would turn a desert into an oasis.

Lake Powell is just six inches away from hitting it’s lowest level since it was filled. The previous low record was set in 2005. 

CANADIAN HELI-SKI LEGEND MIKE WIEGELE DIES AT 82 ~ Yahoo news

Fri, July 16, 2021

Mike Wiegele, founder of the Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing resort in Blue River, B.C., died at the age of 82 last week. (Wiegele Media - image credit)
Mike Wiegele, founder of the Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing resort in Blue River, B.C., died at the age of 82 last week. (Wiegele Media – image credit)

Canadian helicopter ski legend Mike Wiegele has died at the age of 82.

Wiegele founded Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing in the early 1970s, and soon established at base at Blue River, B.C., located about halfway between Kamloops and Jasper National Park.

His company announced his death Thursday although he passed away last week.

In 1978, the entrepreneur staged Canada’s first ever Powder 8 World Championships as a way of promoting powder skiing and showcasing his helicopter ski business.

Born in August 1938 in rural Austria, Wiegele came to Canada in 1959 to pursue his career as a skiing instructor. He taught in Quebec, California and Alberta before building his heli-skiing enterprise in 1969 with his wife Bonnie Shubin.

Wiegele Media
Wiegele Media

“Mike’s close and enduring relationships stretched to a broad community of colleagues, guests and friends from all walks of life, whose kinships were regularly forged on skis, on bikes, and on hikes up mountain trails,” his company wrote in a statement on Thursday.

Former Powder 8 Canadian champion and ski guide Bob Sayer says he remembers Wiegele as his good friend and “second father.”

“I had a great father, but I lost him years ago, and Mike took me into the ski business and drove me like a hard-driving father would, who treated me more than fairly and demanded a lot and wanted to see me grow,” Sayer told Shelley Joyce, the host of CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops.

Sayer says Wiegele started to suffer from dementia after turning 82 and had been in the hospital since September. Up until then he was still working hard and playing hard.

“Mike loved to get out there and ski, and when he was skiing, he was completely relaxed and at ease in the mountains,” he said. “Then he came back in and [went] back to the office and worked hard.”

Mike Wiegele Media
Mike Wiegele Media

Wiegele’s contributions to Canadian skiing hit the big screen at the Whistler International Film Fest in December 2019 with the documentary premiere of Call Me Crazy: The Legend of Mike Wiegele.

Sultry sunday in the south of Baja

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Cow skull thanks to Raul at Rancho Cardon, succulent painting thanks to San Juanico aritista Beatrice Burgoin, free range cattle photo thanks to Mickey Munoz, Fencing thanks to Señor Sandoval, Stones thanks to wind rain sea.

crédito total, SXB

Athletes to sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds at Olympic Games amid COVID ~ NY Post

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Lustful Olympic athletes should think twice before making the bed rock in Tokyo.

The world’s best sports competitors are set to spend their nights on cardboard beds — allegedly designed to collapse under the weight of fornicators to discourage sex amid COVID-19.

Olympic officials — who already warned 2021 Games participants to avoid two-person push-ups because of the coronavirus — have set up 18,000 of the cardboard beds in the notoriously sex-crazed athletes’ village, according to Dezeen magazine. 

“Beds to be installed in Tokyo Olympic Village will be made of cardboard, this is aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes,” American distance runner Paul Chelimo tweeted.

“Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sports,” Chelimo cracked. “I see no problem for distance runners, even 4 of us can do.”

Journalists take photos of the cardboard beds for athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.

Olympic athletes have never shied away from hanky panky, but officials have warned it could spell particular trouble this year amid the pandemic.

The 100 percent recyclable cardboard beds were designed by the Japanese company Airweave.

But officials are apparently aware it’s going to take a lot more than the makeshift berths to keep players out of the pole position.

They are distributing a cache of condoms to the athletes, as they have at every Olympic Games since 1988. This year, the condom tally is 160,000. Still, that’s a far cry from the 450,000 doled out for the last summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.

This year, Olympic officials insist the rubber is for athletes to bring home to spread the message of safe sex. 

“Our intent and goal is not for athletes to use the condoms at the Olympic Village, but to help with awareness by taking them back to their own countries,” the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee said in a statement to Japan Today.