Climate Change and Water in the West: The Colorado River Basin

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First in the University of Colorado Boulder webinar series addressing climate change and its effect on the environment. Guest speakers are Doug Kenney, Ph.D., Director of the Western Water Policy Program at University of Colorado Law School and Jeff Lukas, Senior Research Associate, Western Water Assessment, CIRES, University of Colorado.
Watch the video replay of this webinar at http://www.learnmoreaboutclimate.org.

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  • INTRO STUFF: * The main focus of our panel today is on science, and specifically, on the latest scientific understanding of what future flow regimes might look like on the Colorado RiverFirst Question: Where is the Colorado River watershed? Where does the river flow?
  • Anne introduces those on camera and others participatingPoint to website information on instructors is there as well as course credit requirements: https://sites.google.com/site/climatesciencewebinars/home
  • Website: https://sites.google.com/site/climatesciencewebinars/homeOur theory of education - Collaborative between educational outreach and k-12 education, between scientists and educators, and between educators at universities, informal settings and k-12 system through collaborative curriculum projectsTwo webinarsWebiste for background and for deeper exploration and referenceCurriculum development project for credit option
  • Physiogeographic outline of Colorado River Basin and the riverMap: Pacific Institute; http://www.pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/pacinst-americas-rivers-creative-commons.jpg
  • Physiogeographic outline of Colorado River Basin and the riverMap: Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coloradorivermapnew1.jpg
  • Demographics: uses; development; outside urban centersMap: US Bureau of Reclamation; http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/rsvrs/ops/aop/index.html
  • Demographics: uses; development; outside urban centersMap: US Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, Executive Summary, Figure 1: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/finalreport/Executive%20Summary/CRBS_Executive_Summary_FINAL.pdf
  • Hydrology of river (including discharge and flow – focus on historic/natural variability)Maps:US Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, Technical Report B, Figures B-5 and B-8; http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/finalreport/Technical%20Report%20B%20-%20Water%20Supply%20Assessment/TR-B_Water_Supply_Assessment_FINAL.pdf
  • Hydrology of river (including discharge and flow – focus on historic/natural variability)SummaryThese slides are great material for lesson planningPlease send any resources that you know about topics that are presented around in the chat - we will share them on the website. Data and plot: US Geological Survey; http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/dv?referred_module=sw&site_no=09380000 [user-selected variable and dates]
  • When did water management of the Colorado River start? Who were the key players? Brief history of Colorado River Basin management– big milestones in management of the Colorado River 1922 compact / Law of River: water divisions
  • Hoover Dam construction; initial LB development
  • Hoover Dam construction; initial LB development
  • Presumption of larger supply than actually exists (the overestimation of flows), as confirmed by the tree-ring recordData: US Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado River Basin Natural Flow Data; http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/NaturalFlow/current.html
  • Presumption of larger supply than actually exists (the overestimation of flows), as confirmed by the tree-ring recordData: US Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado River Basin Natural Flow Data; http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/NaturalFlow/current.html
  • Presumption of larger supply than actually exists (the overestimation of flows), as confirmed by the tree-ring recordSummaryI see lots of potential directions for educators in formal and informal settings to work this content and to connect with intersections of other contents.I see there are great resources coming in from the chat window, thanks so much for these
  • In our conversations about the Colorado River Basin, you have described it as a river in crisis. In which sense is the river in trouble?The over-allocation issue Environmental issues; the river doesn’t reach ocean – river in distress / current environmental problems as a symptom of too many demands
  • Environmental issues; the river doesn’t reach ocean – river in distress / current environmental problems as a symptom of too many demands
  • The endangered fish species are a symptom of the changes in the natural flow regime, sedimentation, and water temperature brought about by development; it’s not simply a matter of too little water
  • The endangered fish species are a symptom of the changes in the natural flow regime, sedimentation, and water temperature brought about by development; it’s not simply a matter of too little water
  • The endangered fish species are a symptom of the changes in the natural flow regime, sedimentation, and water temperature brought about by development; it’s not simply a matter of too little waterData and plot: US Geological Survey; http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/dv?referred_module=sw&site_no=09380000[user-selected variable and dates]
  • The endangered fish species are a symptom of the changes in the natural flow regime, sedimentation, and water temperature brought about by development; it’s not simply a matter of too little waterData: US Geological SurveyPlot: Archived at: http://hercules.gcsu.edu/~sdatta/home/teaching/hydro/case_studies/temp_lees_ferry.gif
  • The endangered fish species are a symptom of the changes in the natural flow regime, sedimentation, and water temperature brought about by development; it’s not simply a matter of too little waterSummaryThinking about teaching about Water in the West - the Colorado River is a terrific case study for students to understand the issues that arise around water usage - both quality and quanitiy issues. Data and plot: US Geological Survey; http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/peak/?site_no=09380000
  • Is the situation getting better or worse? The trends are worrisome: The ongoing drought is focusing attention on longer-term climate change projections / impacts; is it a harbinger of a “new normal” for the 21st century?
  • The trends are worrisome: The ongoing drought is focusing attention on longer-term climate change projections / impacts; is it a harbinger of a “new normal” for the 21st century?
  • The trends are worrisome: The ongoing drought is focusing attention on longer-term climate change projections / impacts; is it a harbinger of a “new normal” for the 21st century?Data: US Bureau of Reclamation; http://gis.usbr.gov/Streamflow_Projections/Plot by Jeff Lukas, lukas@colorado.edu
  • Demands (consumption) keeps going up
  • bathtub rings as a symptom; future imbalance
  • Growing imbalance is a major challengeSummaryOne of the challenges in teaching about climate change is the concept of deep time. For people who want to know more about this please look at Climate Literacy principle #4 and its suggested resources.
  • What is happening to address the issues? Several things (Interim Rules in 2007; new agreement with Mexico in past year, etc.), but main thing is Basin Study.
  • Basin Study is one prominent example of how climate change is now being integrated into planning efforts
  • Current work group focus on “no regrets” solutions: conservation, transfers, tribal roleThe historic development and policy efforts as well as the connection to tribal rights shows clearly that teaching about the Colorado River Basin is also relevant for social science classes or history classes.
  • You’ve both mentioned uncertainty: can you describe how uncertainty shapes the future of the Colorado River?Uncertainty surrounds both future supplies and future demandsRegarding supplies: Uncertainty about the long-term future impact of climate change will not go away, but we continue to learn more (new IPCC work); natural variability will continue to create short-term uncertainty, e.g. the current drought
  • You’ve both mentioned uncertainty: can you describe how uncertainty shapes the future of the Colorado River?Uncertainty surrounds both future supplies and future demandsRegarding supplies: Uncertainty about the long-term future impact of climate change will not go away, but we continue to learn more (new IPCC work); natural variability will continue to create short-term uncertainty, e.g. the current drought
  • Demands are also uncertain: some population growth seems certain, but how much, where, and what type?
  • What about agricultural?
  • What about energy development trends? And how does a warmer climate impact demands by both humans and the environment?As we showed in our first report, thermoelectic power plants account for the largest share of freshwater withdrawals in the U.S., representing 60–170 billion gal/day or ~41% of the U.S. total. Most of is from once-through cooling at coal and nuclear power plants, which generate about 60% of U.S. electricity.Power plants also consume 3–6 billion gal/day due to evaporative losses from cooling [Water consumption for fracking = 200-400 million gal/day according to EPA estimates].
  • The challenge is to understand how the system could best function under different possible futures, and devise management strategies that handle the full range of possibilitySo there’s a mix of scientific uncertainties, there’s economic and demographic uncertainties, there’s legal and political uncertainties; piecing it all together to make smart decisions is an ongoing challenge SummaryScientific uncertainty is different from not knowing (an everyday idea). For more information on this and how impacts teaching check out resources on the website under this webinar.
  • What solutions do you see that teachers and kids could be involved in for promoting a positive future for the Colorado River Basin? It’s important for students to learn that every type of water use has a cost, in that it means that there is less water for every other possible use and user. It’s about trade-offs. What’s fair? What’s acceptable? You can’t participate in those conversations unless you understand the finite nature of water. Without a new vision, managers will simply try to perpetuate the existing vision.
  • Some of the things to do differently are obvious: use less water (conservation and efficiency). Others are more complicated (should we reduce irrigated agriculture)?
  • And its important for students to know how the world, and how the management challenges, are changing. Change is a challenge, but its also an opportunity to do things differently going forward. As a practical matter, the best strategies for facing the problems of the future may look very different than the strategies we’ve used to solve previous problems -- the obvious example being dams.
  • The Colorado River is famous for its dams, and they’ve solved many problems regarding water supply, flood control, drought management, and so on. But what about in a drier future?
  • So, overall, the Colorado River is clearly a complex system with a variety of complicated issues, but don’t be fooled: hidden in all this complexity are very familiar challenges, such as:how should a limited resource be shared?who should make those decisions?can all parties be trusted to play fair?how can everyone share equally in the risks and rewards?is doing nothing riskier than doing something?
  • One way to promote a positive future for the Colorado River—and all rivers—is to learn more about the river basin where you live: Where does the water come from? Where and how do people use the water? What fish and wildlife species depend on the river? What issues are facing that river? Being a better-informed “river-citizen” helps all rivers.
  • Education is a fundamental strategy for improving the situation in the Colorado River Basin and we can do something about that.—Next Webinar◦November 13, 2013
  • Climate Change and Water in the West: The Colorado River Basin

    1. 1. Challenges for the Colorado River Basin October 16, 2013 Doug Kenney, Ph.D. Director, Western Water Policy Program University of Colorado Law School Douglas.kenney@colorado.edu Jeff Lukas Senior Research Associate, Western Water Assessment CIRES, University of Colorado Lukas@colorado.edu 1 www.learnmoreaboutclimate.org www.cires.colorado.ed u Organized by: Anne Gold, Ph.D. CIRES and Deb Morrison, CU Boulder School of Education Produced by: Kit Seeborg for Learn More About Climate
    2. 2. Climate Change & Water in the West Webinar Facilitators 2 Deb Morrison Ph.D. Candidate CU Boulder, School of Education Margi Dashevsky CU Boulder Anne Gold, Ph.D. CIRES, Education & Outreach Kit Seeborg LearnMoreAboutClimate.org
    3. 3. Water in the West Webinar Series  Overall Structure ◦ Two webinars ◦ Background reading material on the website  Requirements For Credit  More Webinar Series to come ◦ Extreme Weather in Spring 2014 3
    4. 4. Major rivers of the U.S. 4
    5. 5.  1,450 miles long  Basin covers 246, 000 sq. mi.  Headwaters in high mountains of CO, WY, UT, NM Colorado River 5
    6. 6. A highly developed (and overworked) river  Covers 7 states and 2 countries (and 22 Indian reservations)  Water supply for 40 million people  Irrigation water for 5.5 million acres  Generates 4,200 megawatts of hydropower  Home to 11 National Parks 6
    7. 7. 7
    8. 8. Nearly all runoff comes from the cool and wet mountain headwaters above 8,000’ Precipitation Runoff mm mm 0” 20” 40” 0” 6” 12” 8
    9. 9. Snowmelt-dominated hydrology: ~80% of annual flow comes April 15- July15 Gaged daily flow, Colorado River at Lees Ferry, 1950- 1955 9
    10. 10. Colorado River Compact of 1922 (and the Law of the River) Total Allocation of 16.5 MAF  7.5 MAF to the Lower Basin ◦ 4.4 MAF to California ◦ 2.8 MAF to Arizona ◦ 0.3 MAF to Nevada ◦ Doesn’t include LB tributaries  7.5 MAF to the Upper Basin ◦ 51.75% to Colorado ◦ 23% to Utah  Design of formula requires Upper Basin to release 7.5 MAF downstream each year for the Lower Basin.  Allocations to tribes taken out of state allocations where the reservation is located 10
    11. 11. 11
    12. 12. “A river no more” 12
    13. 13. Data: Reclamation (1906-2010); 2011-13 values estimated from preliminary Reclamation data or projections 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1900 1910 1920 WaterYearFlow,MAF Naturalized streamflow, Colorado River at Lees Ferry, 1906- 1922 The 1922 Compact assumed more runoff than has been available since then Assumption: 16-17 million acre- feet on average based on ~20 years of data 13
    14. 14. Naturalized streamflow, Colorado River at Lees Ferry, 1906-2013 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 WaterYearFlow,MAF Data: Reclamation (1906-2010); 2011-13 values estimated from preliminary Reclamation data or projections Reality: 14.9 million acre-feet on average The 1922 Compact assumed more runoff than has been available since then 14
    15. 15. Tree rings tell us the early 1900s was one of the wettest periods of the last 1200 years 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 750 1000 1250 1500 1750 2000 Water Year AnnualFlow,MAF Tree-ring reconstruction of Colorado River at Lees Ferry streamflow from 762-2005, with 20-year running mean Gage d period Reference: Meko et al. 2007, Medieval Drought in the Colorado River Basin, Geophysical Research Letters Data: TreeFlow: http://treeflow.info/upco/coloradoleesmeko.html 15
    16. 16. UT WY NM AZ NV CA Allocations at 15 versus 16.5 MAF* CO Mexico Mexican apportionment and delivery to Lower Basin are generally considered the first two priorities on the river 16
    17. 17. Photo provided by Jennifer Pitt No flow to the Colorado River delta in most years since Glen Canyon Dam built (1963) 17
    18. 18. The Colorado River’s endangered native fish  Evolved with warm, muddy water conditions  Need off-channel “backwater” habitat for raising young 18
    19. 19. Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell 19
    20. 20. Sediment is now trapped behind dams, so downstream water is clear 1963: Glen Canyon Dam built Sediment in Grand Canyon decreases >95% 20
    21. 21. Dams release water from lower levels of reservoir: cold water, less seasonal change 1973 Lake Powell nearly full Water Temperature, Colorado R. at Lees Ferry, 1960-2000 21
    22. 22. 1963: Glen Canyon Dam built Dams cut off the annual peak flows needed to maintain backwater habitat 22
    23. 23. Naturalized streamflow, Colorado River at Lees Ferry, 1906-2013 Data: Reclamation (1906-2010); 2011-13 values estimated from preliminary Reclamation data or projections Since 2000, Colorado River flows have been very low overall 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 WaterYearFlow,MAF 14.9 million acre-feet long-term average 12.3 million acre-feet average, 2000-2013 23
    24. 24. Causes of low flows since 2000  Main cause: Below-average precipitation – likely natural variability  Contributing: Above-average temperatures – likely due to anthropogenic climate change Future: Climate models uncertain about precipitation change, but high confidence in further warming 24
    25. 25. Data: Reclamation (1906-2010); 2011-13 values estimated from preliminary Reclamation data or projections 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1950 2000 2050 2100 AnnualRunoff,MAF Climate models: decreasing flow likely in the Colorado River over the 21st century 13.0 million acre-feet average, 2035-2064 Median of 39 climate model runs, mid- emissions scenario 25
    26. 26. Demands have caught up with supply 0 5 10 15 20 25 1923 1927 1931 1935 1939 1943 1947 1951 1955 1959 1963 1967 1971 1975 1979 1983 1987 1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 Volume(MAF) Year Total Supply (10-yr running average at Imperial Dam) Total Demand (10-yr running average) 26
    27. 27. Emergence of the “bathtub rings” 27
    28. 28. 28
    29. 29. Framing of the Study Development of Water Supply Scenarios Development of Water Demand Scenarios Identification of System Reliability Metrics Identification and Characterization of Options Development of Portfolios of Options Evaluation of System Reliability without Options and Strategies Characterization of System Vulnerabilities Evaluation of System Reliability with Options and Strategies Summary of Findings and Future Considerations Plan of Study Technical Report(TR) – A TR – F TR – B Study Report TR – C TR – D TR – E TR – G Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study 29
    30. 30. Basin Study: 4 water supply scenarios, using gaged flows, tree-ring flows, and projected flows 1) Gaged Flows 2) Tree-ring Flows 3) Tree-ring Flows blended with Gaged 4) Projected Flows Less water supply 30
    31. 31. A wealth of possible solutions 31
    32. 32. 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1950 2000 2050 2100 AnnualRunoff,MAF Uncertainty in future water supply: differences among GCM runs 32
    33. 33. 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1950 2000 2050 2100 AnnualRunoff,MAF Uncertainty in future water supply: differences among GCM runs Most runs show decreasing flow in 21st century, but some show increasing flow We know that high variability will continue 33
    34. 34. Source: Reclamation – Basin Study Interim Report No. 1 (2011) Observed Projected (2011-2060) Less uncertainty about timing of runoff: warming will shift the peak earlier 34
    35. 35. 35
    36. 36. 36
    37. 37. Water withdrawals for electricity production Kenny et al. 2009 37
    38. 38. Planning for an uncertain future 38
    39. 39. Understanding choices and trade-offs 39
    40. 40. 40
    41. 41. Change is:  Ever-present is human and natural systems  A challenge for planning and management  An opportunity to do things differently in the future 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1950 2000 2050 2100 AnnualRunoff,MAF 41
    42. 42. 42
    43. 43. 43
    44. 44. 44
    45. 45. Watch this webinar’s video replay: http://www.learnmoreaboutclimate.org 45

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