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Feel of Drought: So this is Drought

As Colorado enters the heat of summer and the prospect of another drought year, PULP looked at some of the forces of drought and found there’s more to drought than the heat. 



“We should never be living in the illusion of plentiful water.  Because of this, during a D2 drought, and especially in the third consecutive summer of drought in southeast Colorado, I would recommend that residents voluntarily restrict how much water they use this summer,” said Becky Smith, Colorado Climate Center’s Drought Specialist.

As Colorado faces a D3 (severe) and D4 (extreme) drought conditions, in many areas, the response to drought is mixed.

However, with future prospects of prolonged drought affecting the majority of this country, demand on water will only continue to increase, or simply put, there will be less water to sustain a growing population.

Most Coloradoans think of drought as a yearly event where less snowfall means less water and there’s unbearable heat killing all the crops. However, the consequences Pueblo County and other parts of southern Colorado are likely to encounter are extremely high risk of wildfires potentially devastating to forests and communities, failed crops, diminished yields, soil and irri-gations issues, but also consumption restrictions like those already being faced by residents of Colorado Springs and Denver on nonessential water use.

Everyone understands natural drought mechanics on a basic level. Less snow and rain means less water. But there is something called consumptive use, or the water you use and the water used for industrial and agricultural means. What’s happening is Colorado is in a natural severe drought that is being worsened by the demands of human consumptive use. The system, the lakes, reservoirs, the underground aquifers, and ground water doesn’t have time to replenish naturally because of continued drought and continued use. 

Also, average water storage at reservoirs across the Colorado is down 34 percent from this time last year, according to the Colorado Board of Natural Resources, and filled to only 39 percent of capacity. This year is the third consecutive year of severe drought conditions. 

Factors contributing to the Colorado’s drought are a historically dry season, exacerbated by Colorado’s perception that water is abundantly plentiful but in reality is being drawn at a rate faster than it can be naturally replenished. All this done in a semi-arid state trending towards an even more arid climate.

To understand drought mechanics, you have to first look at the intensity the current drought in the West. 

Currently, the majority of the country is in a severe drought with conditions ranging from moderate to exceptional across two-thirds of the lower 48 states. Colorado is one of six states –  along with Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa – facing an exceptionally dry period unlike any other period since 1895. 

Aiguo Dai, associate professor of climate science at University at Albany, suggests “we are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be ful-ly recognized by both the public and the climate change research community.” 

Models from Dai’s study indicate that most of the United States, especially the West, will be significantly drier by the 2030s. Estimates show some areas reaching a level of drought sever-ity rarely, if ever, observed in modern times. 

Still, gaining an understanding of what Coloradoans can assume about the state of their climate, along with what influences are applying stress on it only paints part of the picture of Colorado’s current climatological situation. Climate scientists agree that Colorado’s climate is not going to change overnight into a radically dry climate with no wet seasons. Colorado will still see fluctuations in wet and dry seasons as the history of Colorado weather shows but with a long-term move to being an overall drier climate due to climate change.

Information for US Drought Monitor - David Miskus

Information for US Drought Monitor – David Miskus

 The analysis conducted by NWS indicates Southern Colorado has seen some level of beneficial moisture in the past few months, however it also reports “a continued lack of moisture … along with increasing temperatures and the start of the convective [fire risk] season … will likely keep high fire danger across the area and could lead to more local governments instituting fire restrictions over the next several months.”

NWS’s data also indicates the soil across Southern Colorado is much drier than normal and the southeast plains region, dense in agriculture-centered communities, faces the greatest deficits of moisture in the state. Those deficits in soil moisture only return to normal levels after sustained wet seasons.

To translate: Colorado is dehydrated and the water we do have is going to satisfy a thirst that is unquenchable because of the heat and drought conditions. While climate change does im-pact the drought, according to Becky Smith, consumption practices are the most immediate threat to continued drought. 

Tracing transmountain municipal water supply (mountain snowpack) shows several locations reporting an overall decrease in average water content over the last 50 years. With the most dramatic decrease seen in the Ivanhoe Snotel (SNOwpack TELemetry) where the average water content in April fell from 18.2 feet between 1961-1990 to 11 feet during the years of 1981-2010. Additionally, in the mid-2000s snow course reports started being conducted around areas of the Columbine Ditch, located on Fremont Pass 13 miles north of Leadville, as well as Ewing Placer and Wurtz ditches; all of which either collect and divert or store transmountain water eventually seen flowing through the Arkansas River. The Ewing Ditch is one of the oldest diversions in Colorado and was constructed in 1880. 

So where does the latest analysis leave the region as the summer heat approaches? 

NWS forecasts, “May and June indicate better chances for above normal temperatures along with a slight tilt to below normal precipitation … Especially across southwest Colorado.”

Even the Pueblo Board of Water Works in its most recent state-of-the-drought report to customers acknowledges, “This ongoing drought is a natural disaster beyond human control.”

But a paragraph later, the same report states the Pueblo Board of Water Works does “not anticipate watering restrictions or curtailment of extraterritorial water leases this coming summer [2013].” 

In 2002, Pueblo felt the impact of the severe drought conditions when the board placed restrictions on outdoor watering and some water leaseholders. 

Having learned from the 2002 experience, the board has worked proactively to maximize storage and explains that it currently has more water stored in reservoirs it draws from than it did entering the irrigation season in 2002. 

Still Smith urges all Coloradans to bear in mind that the NWS is a government entity and most water providers are private companies. Even if the area is considered to be in an extreme drought, water providers will not immediately put water restrictions into place.

“NWS is going to tell you what they observe, based on objectively analyzing data.  Water providers are a business, selling customers a product.  They may take some more time before they advise the customers not to ‘buy’ as much of their product,” said Smith.  

She adds that the public should keep in mind the lack of restrictions doesn’t mean the area isn’t suffering from an “impending water shortage.”

As Colorado enters to what looks like another drought year, the State may be faced to change its long-standing policy where it can stave off drought through water storage. In the next decade, for the first time since the Arkansas Frying-Pan system was created, southeast Colorado may again realize what water shortage looks like and the only way to fight drought is at the source — the modern source — the tap.

by Matthew Ramirez & Rob Donovan

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More than just pie, the Pecan industry sets sights on snacks



The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America’s only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan’s largest export market.

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

The retail value for packaged nuts, seeds and trail mix in the U.S. alone was $5.7 billion in 2012, and is forecast to rise to $7.5 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council, formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion, is a half-century in the making, said Jim Anthony, 80, the owner of a 14,000-acre pecan farm near Granbury, Texas.

Anthony said that regional rivalries and turf wars across the 15-state pecan belt — stretching from the Carolinas to California — made such a union impossible until recently, when demand for pecans exploded in Asian markets.

Until 2007, most U.S. pecans were consumed domestically, according to Daniel Zedan, president of Nature’s Finest Foods, a marketing group. By 2009, China was buying about a third of the U.S. crop.

The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to North America, growers say. Sixteenth-century Spanish explore Cabeza de Vaca wrote about tasting the nut during his encounters with Native American tribes in South Texas. The name is French explorers’ phonetic spelling of the native word “pakan,” meaning hard-shelled nut.

Facing growing competition from pecan producers in South Africa, Mexico and Australia, U.S. producers are also riding the wave of the Trump Administration’s policies to promote American-made goods.

Most American kids grow up with peanut butter but peanuts probably originated in South America. Almonds are native to Asia and pistachios to the Middle East. The pecan council is funding academic research to show that their nuts are just as nutritious.

The council on Wednesday will debut a new logo: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.”

Rodney Myers, who manages operations at Anthony’s pecan farm, credits the pecan’s growing cachet in China and elsewhere in Asia with its association to rustic Americana — “the oilfield, cowboys, the Wild West — they associate all these things with the North American nut,” he said.

China earlier this month released a list of American products that could face tariffs in retaliation for proposed U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Fresh and dried nuts — including the pecan — could be slapped with a 15-percent tariff, according to the list. To counter that risk, the pecan council is using some of the $8 million in production-based assessments it’s collected since the marketing order was passed to promote the versatility of the tree nut beyond pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

While Chinese demand pushed up prices it also drove away American consumers. By January 2013, prices had dropped 50 percent from their peak in 2011, according to Zedan.

U.S. growers and processers were finally able in 2016 to pass a marketing order to better control pecan production and prices.

Authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, federal marketing orders help producers and handlers standardize packaging, impose quality control and fund research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees 28 other fruit, vegetable and specialty marketing orders, in addition to the pecan order.

Critics charge that the orders interfere with the price signals of a free, unfettered private market.

“What you’ve created instead is a government-sanctioned cartel,” said Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Before the almond industry passed its own federal marketing order in 1950, fewer almonds than pecans were sold, according to pecan council chair Mike Adams, who cultivates 600 acres of pecan trees near Caldwell, Texas. Now, while almonds appear in everything from cereal to milk substitutes, Adams calls the pecan “the forgotten nut.”

“We’re so excited to have an identity, to break out of the pie shell,” said Molly Willis, a member of the council who owns an 80-acre pecan farm in Albany, Georgia, a supplement to her husband’s family’s peanut-processing business.

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Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland



A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico



ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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