From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Patrick Malone):
[State Representative Randy Fischer] will chair the House Committee on Agriculture, which is likely to be ground zero for natural resources legislation and forest health. The reach of local government to limit oil and gas development — including the practice of hydraulic fracturing — and efforts to diminish the likelihood of wildfires, could pass through the panel.
But Fischer hopes that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s ongoing rule-making process will reconcile conflicts between communities and the oil and gas industry over well setbacks and air and water quality so lawmakers don’t have to…
Fischer’s first bill of the new session will seek to authorize graywater systems that reuse domestic wastewater as a means of conservation. He also plans to carry legislation aimed at addressing drought and water shortages.
From the Associated Press (Jim Suhr) via The Denver Post:
Despite getting some big storms last month, much of the U.S. is still desperate for relief from the nation’s longest dry spell in decades. And experts say it will take an absurd amount of snow to ease the woes of farmers and ranchers.
The same fears haunt firefighters, water utilities and many communities across the country.
Winter storms have dropped more than 15 inches of snow on parts of the Midwest and East in recent weeks. Climatologists say it would take at least 8 feet of snow — and probably far more — to return the soil to its predrought condition in time for spring planting. A foot of snow is roughly equal to an inch of water, depending on density…
In the West, firefighters worry that a lack of snow will leave forests and fields like tinder come spring, risking a repeat of the wildfires that burned about 9.2 million acres in 2012. Scores of cities that have enacted water restrictions are thinking about what they will do in 2013 if heavy snows and spring rains don’t materialize…
That’s why [Nebraska farmer, Tom Schwarz] is worried about his 750 acres near Lexington in south-central Nebraska. To save his corn last summer, he pulled water from deep wells and other sources in his irrigation district, but the alfalfa he couldn’t irrigate died — something he has never had happen before. The soil was so dry he didn’t even try to sow winter wheat, a crop that is planted in the fall and goes dormant over winter, relying on snow as a protective blanket.
“If we don’t get snow, we’d better get rain this spring, or we’re done,” Schwarz said.
From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Candace Krebs):
Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska are all on track to record the driest year on record; the Midwest has been hit hard too. Climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska have described this year’s drought as historically unusual in its speed of development, intensity and size. While a couple of recent winter storm systems brought welcomed snow to parts of the plains, going into 2013 it’s highly uncertain weather patterns will shift enough to improve range and crop conditions and replenish water deficits.
Well-known meteorologist Brian Bledsoe of KKTV in Colorado Springs is not optimistic. He gave what could only be described as a bah-humbug weather outlook during the Colorado Ag Classic. “Drought feeds on drought,” he said. “The longer it’s there, the worse it’s going to get.”
The eagerly anticipated El Nino weather pattern that began developing early in 2012 — expected to bring more moisture to dry regions of the country — instead turned out to be a scrooge, or what Bledsoe called “La Nada.”[…]
In addition, the current jet stream flow means fast-moving storm systems tend to skip over the High Plains before developing into more-organized storms further east. The last two snowstorms were textbook examples, moving through quickly and leaving marginal snow cover in many desperately dry areas.
Bledsoe ran through several medium-range climate models projecting a continuation of mostly dry weather through March. Spring could bring some relief to Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, but prospects for Eastern Colorado were less encouraging. He called the April-May-June weather model for Colorado “horrific” and “really dry stuff.”
“It will be wet in the Midwest, Upper Plains and the Corn Belt,” he said. “In the summer, Kansas gets some moisture.”
High pressure will set up where the ground is hottest and driest, he added. That will make the Texas Panhandle “drought central” by next summer. Northern Colorado has the state’s best shot for getting some significant drought relief during that time period…
Longer term, the Pacific Ocean oscillation has shifted into a cold phase, which typically brings a dry trend to the High Plains as well.
“We’ve got another 20 years before it shifts out of this phase,” Bledsoe said. “Ranchers under 35 may want to look for a new line of work. We are reliving the ’50s right now. The parallels are unmistakable.”
As someone who runs a private meteorology consulting service advising farmers and ranchers in Colorado and surrounded states, Bledsoe added, “If you do not have a drought plan for your outfit, you better get one. Be prepared to capitalize on wet periods but realize it could be months before it comes back. Prepare for drought until we start getting regular moisture again.”[…]
Heavy snows across the Rockies are also helping to replenish the anemic winter snow pack, a key source of irrigation water for next spring. On the eastern side of the Rockies, the snow pack remains alarmingly low, half of normal in some cases.
From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:
…GRAND JUNCTION EXPERIENCED A VERY WARM AND VERY DRY 2012…
IN 2012, THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN GRAND JUNCTION WAS 55.2 DEGREES. THIS TIED FOR 3RD WARMEST EVER ON RECORD, DATING BACK TO 1893. THE WARMEST EVER WAS 57.5 DEGREES IN 1934.
THE AVERAGE MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE FOR THE YEAR WAS 69.2 DEGREES, WHICH IS 2ND WARMEST ON RECORD… WHILE THE AVERAGE MINIMUM TEMPERATURE WAS 41.1 DEGREES, THE 17TH WARMEST.
IN 2012, THE PRECIPITATION TOTAL FOR GRAND JUNCTION WAS 4.53 INCHES. THIS IS THE 3RD DRIEST ON RECORD. THE DRIEST EVER WAS 3.64 INCHES IN 1900.
We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) (flycatcher) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 1,975 stream kilometers (1,227 stream miles) are being designated as critical habitat. These areas are designated as stream segments, with the lateral extent including the riparian areas and streams that occur within the 100-year floodplain or flood-prone areas encompassing a total area of approximately 84,569 hectares (208,973 acres). The critical habitat is located on a combination of Federal, State, tribal, and private lands in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura Counties in California; Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties in southern Nevada; Kane, San Juan, and Washington Counties in southern Utah; Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, and La Plata Counties in southern Colorado [ed. emphasis mine]; Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai Counties in Arizona; and Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Mora, Rio Arriba, Socorro, Taos, and Valencia Counties in New Mexico. The effect of this regulation is to conserve the flycatcher’s habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
The designation covers about 208,000 acres of riparian habitat along 1,227 miles of rivers and streams in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Some of the critical habitat is along the banks of well-known rivers, including the Rio Grande, Gila, Virgin, Santa Ana and San Diego.
The flycatcher is a small, neotropical, migrant bird that breeds in streamside forests. It was first listed as endangered in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Protection of critical habitat for this tiny, unique bird could make a crucial difference to its survival, and also gives urgently needed help to the Southwest’s beleaguered rivers,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “For all of us who love our desert rivers, this protection is great news.”
The USFWS initially designated 599 miles of riverside habitat in 1997 but was challenged by the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. That led to a revised designation in 2007 that protected more stream miles.
But that was not enough to ensure recovery of the species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenged the rule, pointing out that it failed to consider hundreds of miles of rivers identified in a scientific recovery plan for the flycatcher.
“Like so many desert plants and animals, southwestern willow flycatchers have suffered from the wanton destruction of rivers by livestock grazing, mining, urban sprawl and overuse,” Greenwald said. “We have to take better care of our rivers.
This week’s designation still excludes hundreds of miles of river habitat that was identified in 2011 plan. Greenwald said his organization will take a close look at these the exclusions to determine if the recovery of the flycatcher was properly considered.
Federal wildlife officials designated just over 9,000 acres in the San Luis Valley Tuesday as critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. While the move excluded all of the endangered bird’s habitat on private and stateowned land, it designated an 11.4 mile stretch of the Rio Grande through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and another 12.7 mile segment that sits downstream under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.
The bird, which also received habitat protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in five other southwestern states, makes its home in the dense streamside cover often provided by willows, cottonwood trees and tamarisk.
Mike Blenden, who oversees the Alamosa refuge for the service, said the designation would change little about how the refuge is operated but added that activities such as ditch cleaning and prescribed burning would involve more discussion with others in the agency.
Likewise, Denise Adamic, a BLM spokeswoman, said little would change for how the agency manages its land along the Rio Grande, save for a stricter consultation process with the service to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
The official rule designating the habitat said 11 miles on the Rio Grande and 64 miles on the Conejos River were excluded because of work by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and other local governments to set up a conservation plan for the bird.
The ruling also noted that the flycatcher’s habitat had benefited from the establishment of conservation easements on nearly 9,000 acres of private land lining the Rio Grande and Conejos.