‘How I Became a Westerner’ — 2012 Annual High Country News Student Essay Contest


I was born and raised in Denver, which might qualify you as a “Westerner” automatically. I became a Westerner while wearing out my hiking boots in the back country with friends and family. The drives to the trailhead helped as well. I can’t name them all but I have favorite restaurants in many mountain and desert towns.

I remember one time back in the Seventies in Escalante. A local policeman asked me what the “bunch” of us were doing.

I said, “We’ve been in the canyons for a week. We’re going over to the Golden Corral for burgers and fries and then up to the state park for a shower. After that we’ll be heading up to Boulder, down into Hanksville and over to Colorado from there.”

“Good,” he said.

From email from the High Country News:

Send essays to studentwriters@hcn.org.
Visit hcn.org/edu for more information.

In 600 words, describe why your heart is at home in the American West. Is being a Westerner a physical state, a frame of mind, an emotional experience? Is it something you earned? Something you were born into? A title conferred on you, or one you adopted on your own?

The contest is open to all currently enrolled high school students and undergraduates at American schools, colleges and universities as well as 2012 graduates. Submissions must be original, unpublished work (the writing can have been published in a student publication). One entry per person, please.

Include your name, contact information, school name, and area of study with your submission.

The winning essay will appear in the upcoming HCN Books and Essays special issue and the writer will receive these backpacking essentials from MountainSmith:

– Lookout Backpack
– Poncha 35 Degree Sleeping Bag
– Rhyolite Trekking Poles

More education coverage here.

Aurora: Anadarko scores 1,500 acre-feet of fully reusable effluent for oil and gas operations


From the Aurora Sentinel (Sara Castellanos):

“We’ve always looked at where our supplies are, where our projected demand is going to be, and where we have windows of opportunity. Where we think we have additional supply, we’ll go ahead and lease it,” Stibrich said.

The Anadarko leasing deal was especially high profile because the city agreed to lease water to the company for hydraulic fracturing purposes — a contentious issue that some Aurora residents have vehemently opposed.

But leasing deals have existed long before then, Stibrich said. Those include a 7,000 acre-foot lease to the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, a 4,340 acre-foot lease to Rocky Mountain Energy Company, now owned by Xcel Energy, and leases that are currently being negotiated for the WISE project that will eventually grant water to 11 water providers in Douglas and Arapahoe counties in times when Aurora has additional water…

As of now, Aurora’s water supply is in good shape. The city stores water in 16 reservoirs — of which they own five: Quincy, Aurora, Rampart, Spinney Mountain and Jefferson Lake. The rest of the reservoirs are shared with other cities, for example, Homestake Reservoir stores water for Aurora and Colorado Springs. The reservoirs have a total water storage capacity of 156,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough water to serve two typical households per year. The amount of storage capacity the city has is three times more than the city’s actual need.

The city uses about 50,000 acre feet annually, and the reservoirs were about 85 percent full in May.

The city is continually looking at more opportunities for water storage. Between 2012 and 2014 the city will be working on land easements and begin pre-permitting activities for the development of the Box Creek Reservoir, which they hope will be online and storing water by 2030…

Under the Anadarko water lease, Anadarko is planning to pay Aurora Water to use 1,500 acre feet of “effluent” water per year over five years. The company will be paying four times the market rate for the city’s effluent water, or water that has already been used and treated that would otherwise flow downstream and out of the state. That equals to about $1,200 per acre foot, whereas the market rate is about $350 per acre foot. Anadarko will pay Aurora about $9.5 million over five years for the water.

Back on August 15 an Aurora City Council committee made sure that the city didn’t lease potable water to Anadarko. Here’s a report from Sara Castellanos writing for the Aurora Sentinel. Here’s an excerpt:

City council members had the discussion after the city received two requests from parties interested in the possibility of acquiring drinkable, or potable, water for oil and gas drilling purposes.

The people interested were not named in city documents or at the Infrastructure and Operations Policy Committee meeting, but committee members said potable water shouldn’t be sold to any entity.

The requests involved using water from city fire hydrants to fill water tankers for use at oil drilling sites, potentially both inside and outside Aurora city limits. The city’s water officials recommended to members of the policy committee that they deny their requests and any future requests for potable water and keep with the city’s current policy against using fire hydrants for any purpose other than fire suppression and system maintenance.

Councilman Brad Pierce said he didn’t think that was an appropriate use of the city’s water…

The discussion comes about a month after council members agreed to lease 1,500 acre feet of “effluent” or used water to Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for $9.5 million over five years. Effluent water is water that has already been used and treated that would otherwise flow downstream and out of the state. The water is sanitary but not potable or made available for public use.

More Aurora coveage here and here.

Roaring Fork River: ‘Hot Spots for Trout’ stream temperature monitoring program nets 440 readings from 21 locations


Here’s the release from the Roaring Fork Conservancy:

Roaring Fork Conservancy’s Hot Spots for Trout program has engaged 50 volunteers to collect over 440 temperature readings at 21 locations throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed in only 6 weeks. The Hot Spots for Trout program was launched on June 28, 2012 in response to the severe 2012 drought, which continues to diminish flows and increase temperatures in local rivers. Collecting temperature data has assisted local wildlife managers in decisions to abate fishing in areas where fish and other aquatic life were already stressed.

Volunteer Greg Bovee of Carbondale explained that the “2012 has been an especially challenging year for the Roaring Fork watershed. Hopefully, the work of the volunteer hotspotters will shed some light on the affects of a very low snow-pack, drought conditions and excessive water diversions on our natural rivers and their ecosystems. Temperature data is but one element of effective river monitoring.”

During the week of August 5, 2012, four monitoring locations exceeded the state temperature standard of 68 degress Fahrenheit. These include the Crystal River near CRMS in Carbondale, the Roaring Fork River near the Carbondale boat ramp, Brush Creek near the Snowmass Village Rodeo Round About, and the Roaring Fork River in Aspen at the Hopkins Street footbridge. Afternoon rains have helped to keep rivers cool, however the low flows are still permitting river temperatures to rise.

The state standard for temperature in the Roaring Fork Valley is a maximum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife is authorized to close sections of the river if daily maximum temperature exceeds 74 degrees Fahrenheit, or if average daily temperature exceeds 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

How hot or cold the water is determines what can survive in it. Aquatic species have evolved to live at certain temperatures ranges. For example, Brown Trout adults thrive at temperatures from 54-66 degrees Fahrenheit. In the upper and lower limits of that range, an organism becomes stressed, meaning it could be at a competitive disadvantage for food and more susceptible to disease or in extreme cases death. In addition, temperature influences both water biology and chemistry. For example, temperature affects how much oxygen is in the water. Elevated temperatures lead to decreased oxygen levels, which in turn negatively impact aquatic plants and fish. Increasing temperatures also promote growth of bacteria and algae which can increase pH and use even more of an already depleted oxygen supply.

Thanks to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent for the heads up.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here and here.

Tri-State starts release of 400-500 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to help keep a senior call off the Yampa River


From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

The release started at about 1 p.m. Friday and should boost the Yampa River’s flows by about 50 cubic feet per second, McBride said. Low steamflows at the Craig plant triggered the release of water, which is used in the power plant’s cooling operations.

Division 6 State Water Engineer Erin Light said the Stagecoach release is the result of an agreement reached with Tri-State that stipulates a flow that must be met to satisfy senior rights holders downstream of the Craig power plant. She said her agency gathered data on what diversions are occurring and what ones are senior to Tri-State to reach a number of 50 cfs natural flow that would avoid a call on the river.

Tri-State “can pump the river dry, but that would force a call downstream,” Light said. “Rather than force a call on the river and its tributaries, we’d rather make this decision.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.

Forecast news: Looking ahead to winter and El Niño


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

Long-term weather prediction is fairly simple, Gratz said. Forecasters look at about 50 years or so worth of data and look at winters with similar patterns, such as El Nino or La Nina, and determine that whatever happened during those winters is what generally happens every winter under similar conditions.

“That’s it,” Gratz said. “What I really trust is that if it’s a really strong La Nina, the Pacific Northwest gets a lot of snow. If it’s a really strong El Nino, the southern states get a lot of precipitation. But, if it’s anything in between, it’s really just a crap shoot.”

The 2012-13 winter is certainly something in between, with El Nino appearing to be very weak or possibly moderate, Gratz said.

The National Weather Service’s long-term forecast shows Colorado in the region where above average temperatures are possible November through January. There are equal chances probability for above average or below average precipitation during that time.

Then, the December through February forecast shows equal chances for above average or below average temperatures and precipitation…

Klaus Wolter, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences Climate Diagnostics Center, won’t comment on the upcoming ski season weather before the end of September at the earliest, he said.

Optimism and dreams aside, the fact remains that August is simply too early to tell whether this winter will deliver the goods in large quantities. The fact that meteorologists even make these long range forecasts annoys Gratz — he said it just perpetuates this idea that meteorologists are just blowing smoke. That’s why he likes to stick to forecasting actual storms when they’re seven days, five days or three days out — those are the forecasts that are going to be most accurate.

“The accuracy of long-range forecasts is so low,” Gratz said. “Basically, you could just throw a couple of darts at a dart board.”

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac — not to be confused with the Old Farmer’s Almanac — has forecast “near normal” or slightly above-normal precipitation for the Rocky Mountain region in November, December, January and February. The publication forecast slightly below-normal precipitation at the end of ski season, in March and April. November will start and conclude with snow, the almanac said, with only the middle part of the month dry. And if the publication’s meteorologists are correct, Aspen-Snowmass won’t be sweating a lack of snow for the holidays. Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac is calling for locally heavy snow in the mountains for most of December starting in the second week of the month. The weather will ease up from Dec. 23 until Dec. 28, which always helps to lure tourists out to the slopes. January will bring “mountain snow showers at any time,” the publication said. February will be the snowiest month of the season, according to its forecast. “Frequent snow showers in the mountains at two- to three- month intervals,” it said…

This winter, Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac is forecasting temperatures “near normal” in December, January, February and April and slightly above normal in November. October and March will be “slightly above normal,” the publication forecast.