The EPA is coming to get us … or not — the Colorado Springs Independent

Big Wood Falls photo via American Whitewater (2011)
Big Wood Falls photo via American Whitewater (2011)

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

Just before the El Paso County commissioners passed a resolution opposing a proposed change to the federal Clean Water Act last week, Commissioner Sallie Clark had something to say.

“Imagine if every little drainage way was considered a navigable waterway as it relates to requiring permitting,” Clark, who brought the resolution, said from the dais. “It’s just one more example of the [Environmental Protection Agency’s] overreach on everything from the Endangered Species Act to everything that they do.”

The Endangered Species Act is not administered by the EPA. But that didn’t stop Commissioner Amy Lathen from chiming in.

“Our fundamental responsibility is the protection of private property rights,” she said, “and what the feds do [has] a chilling, chilling impact on land. They sterilize land, they erode private property rights.”

The resolution was approved unanimously, with Commissioner Dennis Hisey absent.

The commissioners aren’t the only ones crying foul about the proposed change, which would define the “waters of the U.S.” and therefore the bodies subject to the Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972 to prevent pollution. However, a representative of the EPA, which is proposing the change along with the Army Corps of Engineers, says concerns like those of the commissioners are unfounded, and rooted in a misunderstanding of how the act works.

Lots of concern

Hours after the commissioners took their Sept. 9 vote, Republican U.S. Congressmen Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both of Colorado, sent out press releases noting that a bill they cosponsored, the Water Rights Protection Act, had passed the House and moved to the Senate. H.R. 3189 aims to prevent the EPA and the Corps from making the proposed changes to the Clean Water Act, which Tipton calls “a gross federal overreach” that would expand the act to cover virtually every form of surface water. Gardner says the proposal would even regulate a “puddle.” (Gardner’s “puddle” claim is one of many addressed at the EPA’s Ditch the Myth site, tiny.cc/ditch-myth-cs.)

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is usually a proponent of the environment. Asked whether he supported the change, his office issued a statement saying simply that he encouraged constituents to give feedback to the EPA, which has extended a comment period to Oct. 20.

County public services executive director Jim Reid says the changes would mean that every time the county tries to approve a water project, it would need to pay for two permits relating to water quality, which could take as long as a year and cost thousands of dollars. The change would mean that instead of just protecting “navigable waters,” there would suddenly be federal protection for any waterway, he says, even a dry streambed. That could affect the ability to control stormwater and floods.

“There could be more infrastructure damage while we’re waiting for those permits to get through,” he says.

A different explanation

But is that really true?

No, says Karen Hamilton, chief of the EPA’s aquatic resource protection and accountability unit. Many are confused about what the Clean Water Act already regulates, she says. The EPA has jurisdiction over most surface water, not just “navigable waters,” and this proposed change wouldn’t add any new waters.

The point of the change, she says, is to make permitting for water projects easier. It was proposed after over 100 parties complained to the EPA that new rule-making was needed to clarify the act — everyone from Susan Gordon of Venetucci Farm to the American Petroleum Institute. Projects sometimes required lengthy jurisdictional reviews to determine if a permit was needed.

Hamilton says the EPA considered over 1,000 scientific articles when it assembled ways of determining which waters are covered. (The regulation also includes a list of types of waters that are not covered.) It should mean that fewer projects require jurisdictional review.

Two entities in Colorado issue permits related to the Clean Water Act: the state and the Corps. Allan Steinle, regulatory division chief for the Albuquerque District of the Corps, which includes our area, says of the change, “I don’t think it’s going to be very significant … It will actually make things easier for us and for the public.”

Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the state, agrees that permitting requirements for projects should not increase, as Reid and others fear. But she understands where those fears come from, saying the proposed regulation sometimes sounds like an expansion of powers. So the state has asked the EPA to change that language so that it doesn’t look like a power grab.

“I would agree that there needs to be some clarification in the regulatory language,” she says, “to make that abundantly clear.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Climate paradox: More snow, less water? — the Colorado Independent

Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES
Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

Juggling Colorado’s already stretched water resources is going to get even tougher in the decades ahead. Rising temperatures will cut river flows and increase demand from thirsty plants and towns, a new state report concludes, projecting that average temperatures across Colorado will climb by at least 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 35 years, and by much more than that if there are no cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, released last month by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, outlines clearly how global warming has already affected water resources in Colorado:

  • Warmer temperatures and other changes (dust on snow) mean that snowpack is melting earlier, on average, by one to four weeks compared with 30 years ago. This creates a strain for farmers and other users who draw water directly from rivers.
  • Colorado has seen no long-term increase or decrease in total precipitation or heavy rainfall events. Climate models are split about Colorado’s future precipitation, showing a range of possible outcomes from a 5 percent decrease in precipitation to an 8 percent increase by midcentury.
  • Climate models tend to show a shift toward higher midwinter precipitation across the state.
  • Hydrology models show a wide range of outcomes for annual streamflow in Colorado’s river basins, but an overall tendency towards lower streamflow by 2050, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
  • The part about more midwinter snow is not a typo. The best available information now suggests a slight boost in precipitation from December through February, but whether that comes as snow or rain depends very much on elevation, and how fast the overall climate warms, said the Western Water Assessment’s Jeff Lukas, the main author of the report.

    If some high country ski resorts see a bump in snowfall, you can still blame it on global warming. Warmer air holds more water vapor, and even in warmer climate, those clouds will give up some of that moisture as they’re forced up over the high peaks of Colorado.

    The models don’t suggest any other big changes in other parts of the climate system (for example the lifting mechanism that forces air to rise and condense moisture), said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

    “Unlike other parts of the country where temperature is the primary limiting factor for snow, we will still be plenty cold enough throughout the midwinter season,” Doesken said.

    Climate Nuance

    Teasing out a global warming signal in mountain ecosystems isn’t easy. There’s huge year-to-year variability, even without any changes forced by heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide and methane. Tree ring records spanning thousands of years show longer and drier droughts than anything we’ve seen, but scientists are convinced they’re starting to see a pattern.

    “There are so many nuances about this, but we’ve got a signal emerging from noise,” said Lukas. “The precipitation record is still noisy, but we can’t discount that we’re seeing a trend caused by anthropogenic global warming … The global models just don’t get it right for Colorado. It’s pretty difficult to jump from that broad scale to saying there will be more snow in Colorado,” he said.

    Regardless, even if there is a bump in winter snow and rain, the warmer temperatures will suck up the moisture and then some. The end result could be a parched Colorado, unless water managers seriously pursue the path of adaptation and mitigation.

    Report: Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk — Union of Concerned Scientists

    RockyMountainForestsatRiskFullReportcover

    Click here to read the report. Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Tens of millions of trees have died in the Rocky Mountains over the past 15 years, victims of a triple assault of tree-killing insects, wildfires, and stress from heat and drought.

    Global warming is the driving force behind these impacts, bringing hotter and drier conditions that amplify existing stresses, as well as cause their own effects.

    If climate change is allowed to continued unchecked, these impacts will significantly increase in the years ahead, dramatically reduce the ranges of iconic tree species, and fundamentally alter the Rocky Mountain forests as we know them.

    Salida: Council OKs water treatment plant improvements — The Mountain Mail

    Salida Colorado early 1900s
    Salida Colorado early 1900s

    From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):

    Salida City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to increase the water treatment plant improvements Phase 2 project from the original project scope of 2 million gallons to 4 million gallons.

    Councilman Hal Brown voted no, and Councilman Mike Bowers was absent. The upgrade will cost the city an additional $20,000 from the capital fund reserves, plus $6,000 to replace the windows. Brown said he could not vote for the increase because it will use reserve funds.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    25th Headwaters Conference: The Working Wild, Sept. 19 and 20, 2014

    Culebra Peak via Costilla County
    Culebra Peak via Costilla County

    Click here for all the inside skinny from Western State Colorado University. Here’s the pitch:

    Wildness rests upon willfulness – the willfulness of land, of people, of species, and of places. Environmental historians such as Roderick Frasier Nash, and environmental activists such as Dave Foreman, have long reminded us the Old English word wildeor-ness was based upon “Wil: willful, self-willed; Doer: beast, animal; Ness: place.” So what does it mean for a place to be “self-willed”? What kind of human and ecological work cultivates such willfulness, such autonomy and agency, such wildness? What is the human place in producing wildness? Is “the working wild” the path to Headwaters Elder Devon Pena’s challenge that we have and can become a “keystone species?”

    This year’s Headwaters Conference, our 25th program, will explore the intersection of wilderness, working landscapes and environmental-justice perspectives on self-willed lands, self-willed species and self-willed communities in the Headwaters. In this year, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we will go beyond the wilderness debate to discover how Headwaters communities are innovating upon the concept of wildness, while closing the political, philosophical and geographical gap between work and the wild.

    More education coverage here.