Climate Change Worse Than We Thought, Likely To Be ‘Catastrophic Rather Than Simply Dangerous’ – Huffington Post

Cloud photo via Wikipedia
Cloud photo via Wikipedia

From the Huffington Post (Nick Visser):

Climate change may be far worse than scientists thought, causing global temperatures to rise by at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, or about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Nature, takes a fresh look at clouds’ effect on the planet, according to a report by The Guardian. The research found that as the planet heats, fewer sunlight-reflecting clouds form, causing temperatures to rise further in an upward spiral.

That number is double what many governments agree is the threshold for dangerous warming. Aside from dramatic environmental shifts like melting sea ice, many of the ills of the modern world — starvation, poverty, war and disease — are likely to get worse as the planet warms.

“4C would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous,” lead researcher Steven Sherwood told the Guardian. “For example, it would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

Year of uncertainty

Mile High Water Talk

For Denver Water, 2013 was the year of climate uncertainty layered with weather extremes.

Beginning with severe drought and culminating with floods of a “biblical proportion,” there was extensive coverage of the roller coaster ride we endured as a water resource manager in 2013. So, we looked back to find the quotes from news outlets that best highlight our water year.

January & February:A slow start

Reservoirs that store Denver Water’s supply are less than two-thirds full — well below the 80 percent historic median and even below the levels in 2002, when the state was in the midst of a historic, multi-year drought. –Denver Post, Feb. 13

March:First move

… area water providers are positioning themselves to restrict lawn watering to twice a week and call upon residents to be stingy about how they use the precious resource.

We hope everyone is listening. –Denver Post…

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New floodplain maps may force some victims of the #COflood off their land

Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America
Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America

From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Scores of Colorado residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by September’s floods might have to move rather than rebuild because their lots are now considered too vulnerable to future flooding. Local governments are hustling to update old hazard maps, and the revisions could make some existing neighborhoods off-limits for construction, The Denver Post reported Sunday.

More than 17 percent of the houses that were destroyed or damaged in four hard-hit counties — Boulder, Larimer, Logan and Weld — weren’t in designated flood plains at the time of the deluge, the newspaper said. Some of those houses were built long before hazard maps were drawn up, and some of those maps maps were 30 years old.

The mid-September floods killed nine people and damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 homes.

Larimer County is preparing to tell 77 homeowners they cannot rebuild because of flood danger, officials said, but they can appeal.

In the Weld County town of Milliken, officials said a mobile home park might be re-designated as a flood plain. The town has warned the owners of 33 mobile homes they could be required to move if that happens. Park residents said town officials required them to sign an affidavit acknowledging that possibility before they could get a building permit for flood repairs.

“We were trapped — you either sign it or you don’t get your house back,” resident Martha Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said it feels like the town is using the flood as an excuse to get rid of park residents. Town officials said they don’t want to lose the residents but wanted to give them fair warning.

“We just wanted to be transparent and let them know that we care and we want them to know,” Johnson said. “We don’t know if it’s going to be in the flood plain at all,” said Anne Johnson, the town’s economic development director.

State and federal laws do not prohibit construction in flood plains or even floodways, where the deepest floodwater is predicted. Communities make their own rules, and typically, people are not allowed to build in a floodway but can live on the fringes of the flood plain.

State flood-management officials plan to have preliminary revisions of flood plain maps for counties that were flooded in about a month, said Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“Communities are absolutely clamoring to get information as fast as possible so life can go on and planning decisions can be made,” Houck said. “This has been by far the biggest push to update them that I’ve seen in at least my 10 years here.”

Officials still don’t have conclusive evidence between hydraulic fracturing and the leaking well near De Beque

Debeque phacelia via the Center for Native Ecosystems
Debeque phacelia via the Center for Native Ecosystems

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Authorities are still awaiting test results that could help determine the cause of a leak at a 32-year-old, nonproducing oil and gas well seven miles southwest of De Beque.

The Maralex Resources well is now producing about 100 barrels, or 4,200 gallons, of fluids a day into a containment pit, about a week and a half after the discovery of gas and fluids leaking from and around the well. Part of the leak investigation is focused on whether recent hydraulic fracturing of a nearby Black Hills Exploration & Production well could have caused the leak.

As of Tuesday, results weren’t back from water and soil tests that could confirm or rule out the presence at the leak site of frack fluids from the recent operation.

Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said test results are expected the first week of January.

Black Hills drilled a well about a mile away that by design turned horizontally underground. The company believes it came within about 400 feet of the Maralex well, which is on Bureau of Land Management land. The Black Hills well is targeting the Niobrara shale formation, whereas the Maralex well was drilled deeper to reach the Dakota sandstone formation.

BLM spokesman Chris Joyner said it’s theoretically possible the two wells are as close as 260 feet. He said that in the spring, Black Hills ran measuring tools down the Maralex well, and it headed in a direction that would place the new well about 400 feet from it. But for some reason Black Hills didn’t measure the entire length of the Maralex well, so if it happened to make a 90-degree turn beneath the measured length, the wells could be as close as 260 feet, Joyner said. That’s unlikely for what is considered to be a vertical rather than horizontal well, and the 400-foot distance is probably correct, but the BLM has to consider worst-case scenarios, he said.

An unknown amount leaked from the well before it was discovered and Maralex began diverting it into the pit, from which fluids are being removed by trucks. The BLM says no surface water impacts have occurred. The nearest surface water is the Colorado River, which is anywhere from four to six miles away as measured by the winding canyons below the spill site.

Crews have built a berm and shored up the downhill side of the pad, and installed a trench to protect a nearby draw, particularly from any possible leaked fluids that may now be frozen but could flow when thawed. Soil samples also have been taken in the draw, and Joyner said it’s likely Maralex also will be ordered to install groundwater monitoring wells in the area.

Following the leak’s discovery, Maralex opened the well and installed a diversion pipe from it, and leaking around the well ceased. Flows from the well itself also have been intermittent. Joyner said some of the flows may simply consist of substances coming up from the well’s target production zone because it’s no longer shut in. That shut-in occurred in 1981, the same year the well was drilled, but it remained capable of production, the BLM says. The well showed no structural problems during a BLM inspection this summer.

The BLM has ordered Maralex to permanently plug and abandon the well and reclaim the site. Joyner said plugging could occur as soon as the end of this week, but first the problem with the well must be identified and fixed.

“Right now we’re very actively engaged in trying to figure out what the problem is with the well,” he said.

“… It’s a very controlled situation now. We just don’t have the well killed, so to speak, and fixed.”

He said the BLM has been happy with the efforts by Maralex and the industry in general, including contractors and companies that have lent equipment. Quick early actions helped contain the leaking fluids, he said.

Black Hills also has been involved on the scene.

“It’s certainly not looked at as just a Maralex problem. It’s looked at as a problem that we need to fix as a group,” he said, referring to the industry, BLM and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Hartman said the COGCC has had personnel on the scene daily. He said the agency has had discussions with Maralex about a remediation plan that will be carried out after the well is plugged.

Joyner said site access has been a challenge due to alternately frozen and muddy roads.

An employee for Ignacio-based Maralex who declined to give his name said Tuesday that the company was waiting on test results before it would speak to issues surrounding the leak.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Pagosa Springs hopes to tap geothermal for electrical generation

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept -- via the British Geological Survey
Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

From the Pagosa Sun (Randi Pierce):

The Town of Pagosa Springs council met in executive session with town attorney Bob Cole last Thursday, Dec. 19, with the topic of conversation centering on matters involving funding for a possible geothermal electric utility. According to town manager David Mitchem, council gave Cole instruction during the executive session. Mitchem said that the executive session did, “move the process forward,” but that no decisions were made at the meeting. A decision, Mitchem indicated, is expected in the next three weeks to a month…

Mayor Ross Aragon said the geothermal utility discussed Dec. 19 was the same contract the county [Archuletta] earmarked money for, and said the town and county have been and are expected to continue to be on par with each other in contributing to the project.

In 2013, both the town and the county pledged $65,000 toward research on geothermal resources and the possibility of using a geothermal resource to create power. That exploration work is being done by Pagosa Verde, LLC, headed by Jerry Smith.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

The Nature Conservancy passes 1 million preserved acre mark in Montana

The Nature Conservancy has been involved in protecting a million acres in Montana, including lands along the Rocky Mountain Front such as the Rappold ranch near Dupuyer, where conservation easements restrict development. / Courtesy photo/Dave Hanna
The Nature Conservancy has been involved in protecting a million acres in Montana, including lands along the Rocky Mountain Front such as the Rappold ranch near Dupuyer, where conservation easements restrict development. / Courtesy photo/Dave Hanna

From the Great Falls Tribune (Karl Puckett):

…combined with another recent easement on the Rocky Mountain Front, this one 14,000 acres, it put the The Nature Conservancy over a million acres of land protected in Montana. That’s about an acre protected for every resident.

“To me it’s unbelievable we’ve reached that size,” said Dave Carr, a Nature Conservancy program manager in Helena and a 24-year employee. “That’s a very large amount of land we have helped protect and conserve, and many of those lands are what I call working lands. They’re still being used. They just won’t be subdivided.”

It took 35 years for TNC to reach the million-acre milestone, which the group announced earlier this month. The largest conservation organization in the world, TNC opened its doors in Big Sky Country in 1978 when it secured its first conservation easement in the Blackfoot River Valley, one of the state’s first private conservation easements, Carr said.

Today, the organization has had a hand in protecting 1,004,308 acres of land statewide, from ranches in the Rocky Mountain foothills of northcentral Montana in grizzly bear habitat to unbroken native prairie on the northeastern plains to forested land in the river valleys of western Montana.

Lands TNC works to protect often are privately owned ranches that feature native habitat and wildlife, but the aim isn’t to end agricultural uses.

“We very much like to see lands stay in some productive use,” Carr said. “We feel that for long-term conservation, if the community is not part of that decision or doesn’t buy into that, it won’t be lasting.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Conservation easements are tailored to the needs of the landowner, but generally speaking they restrict development rights and preclude subdivisions, drainage of wetlands, plowing of native prairie and commercial gravel pits.

Easements The Nature Conservancy works on allow the landowner to continue to ranch. In some cases, harvesting timber to manage trees for beetle kill or fire hazards is allowed.

Sometimes The Nature Conservancy purchases the easements from landowners, other times they are donated. The recent 14,571-acre easement on the Rocky Mountain Front that helped push the group past the million-acre mark was an anonymous donation.

Meeting rising costs is a challenge for ranching families, and landowners, particularly those on the Rocky Mountain Front and Blackfoot River Valley, are using easements as a planning tool to keep the family ranch in business, Carr said. Money they received from The Nature Conservancy, for example, can be used to buy adjacent lands…

Almost half of TNC’s protected acreage falls within western Montana, in a geographic region called the Crown of the Continent, but some 200,000 acres (including TNC’s partnership with other land trusts, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and The Conservation Fund) is now conserved along the Rocky Mountain Front and another 66,000 acres is located on northern Montana prairies. Another 320,000 acres won’t be developed in southwest Montana.

More conservation easement coverage here.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council December newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

January Stakeholder Meeting – Snow Course Demonstration

A snow course is a permanent site where manual measurements of snow depth and snow water equivalent are taken by trained observers. Data collected at these sites provide important information related to forecasting water supplies among other indicators. On Friday, January 31st, the Council will be hosting a demonstration to show how snow courses are set up, sampled, and evaluated. Details of the meeting are forthcoming, but we are hoping to conduct the demonstration in the vicinity of Rifle. Look for a special invitation to this event sometime in January.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.