Thank you President Obama #kxl

From the Associated Press via The Greeley Tribune:

Defying the Republican-run Congress, President Barack Obama rejected a bill Tuesday to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, wielding his veto power for only the third time in his presidency.

Obama offered no indication of whether he’ll eventually issue a permit for the pipeline, whose construction has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate about environmental policy and climate change. Instead, Obama sought to reassert his authority to make the decision himself, rebuffing GOP lawmakers who will control both the House and Senate for the remainder of the president’s term.

“The presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously,” Obama said in a brief notice delivered to the Senate. “But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.”

Obama vetoed the bill in private with no fanfare, in contrast to the televised ceremony Republican leaders staged earlier this month when they signed the bill and sent it to the president. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans were “not even close” to giving up the fight and derided the veto as a “national embarrassment.”

The move sends the politically charged issue back to Congress, where Republicans haven’t shown they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override Obama’s veto. North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, the bill’s chief GOP sponsor, said Republicans are about four votes short in the Senate and need about 11 more in the House.

Although the veto is Obama’s first since Republicans took control on Capitol Hill, it was not likely to be the last. GOP lawmakers are lining up legislation rolling back Obama’s actions on health care, immigration and financial regulation that Obama has promised to similarly reject.

“He’s looking at this as showing he still can be king of the hill, because we don’t have the votes to override,” Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a vocal opponent of Obama’s climate change agenda, said in an interview. “If he vetoed this, he’s going to veto many others that are out there.”

First proposed more than six years ago, the Keystone XL pipeline project has sat in limbo ever since, awaiting a permit required by the federal government because it would cross an international boundary. The pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands with refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast that specialize in processing heavy crude oil.

Republicans and the energy industry say the $8 billion project would create jobs, spur growth and increase America’s independence from Mideast energy sources. Democrats and environmental groups have sought to make the pipeline a poster child for the type of dirty energy sources they say are exacerbating global warming.

For his part, Obama says his administration is still weighing the pipeline’s merits, and he has repeatedly threatened to veto any attempts by lawmakers to make the decision for him.

The GOP-controlled House passed the bill earlier in February on a 270-152 vote, following weeks of debate and tweaks in the Senate to insert language stating that climate change is real and not a hoax. Republican leaders in Congress delayed sending the bill to the White House until they returned from a weeklong recess, ensuring they would be on hand to denounce the president when he vetoed the bill.

The veto forced Republicans, still reveling in their dramatic gains in the midterm elections, to confront the limitations of being unable to turn their ideas into law without the president’s consent — despite the fact they now control both chambers of Congress.

Republican leaders were mulling a number of potential next steps. In addition to trying to peel off enough Democrats to override Obama’s veto — an unlikely proposition — Republicans were considering inserting Keystone into other critical legislation dealing with energy, spending or infrastructure in hopes that Obama would be less likely to veto those priorities, said Hoeven, R-N.D.

“We’ll look to see if we can get some more bipartisan support,” said Hoeven.

Obama last wielded his veto power in October 2010, nixing a relatively mundane bill dealing with recognition of documents notarized out of state. With the Keystone bill, Obama’s veto count stands at just three — far fewer than most of his predecessors. Yet his veto threats have been piling up rapidly since Republicans took full control of Congress, numbering more than a dozen so far this year.

The president has said he won’t approve Keystone if it’s found to significantly increase U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. A State Department analysis found that the tar sands would be developed one way or another, meaning construction of the pipeline wouldn’t necessarily affect emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month called for that analysis to be revisited, arguing that a drop in oil prices may have altered the equation. [ed. emphasis mine]

Snowpack news: Woo hoo! The San Juans got some precipitation in the wintertime for a change.

From the Associated Press (Steven K. Paulson) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The storm has been a good snow-maker for the northern and central mountains with 10 to 15 inches at some resorts and a grand total over the weekend of 18 to 24 inches.

Boulder broke a record for the month, with 34 inches of snow compared with 32 inches three years ago.

Last year, Denver International Airport got 38 inches of snow for the season. This year, the airport had about 30 inches of snow before the storm began, and officials expect another 14 inches by Monday morning…

National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kalina said Sunday that it’s a bit late in the month for heavy, lingering snow and low temperatures, but by no means a record for Colorado. March is usually the snowiest month along the Front Range.

From The Durango Herald:

Durango Mountain Resort reported 21 inches of snow in 24 hours and Wolf Creek Ski Area said 30 inches fell there in 24 hours. Wolf Creek has received 199 inches to date…

Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of the Denver area. Boulder broke a record for the month, with 34 inches of snow compared with 32 inches three years ago.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner and Tracy Harmon):

A mild, dry winter changed course Sunday and Monday in the San Luis Valley and the surrounding high country.

Parts of the San Juan Mountains received nearly three feet of snow, while more than a foot fell on the west side of the valley floor.

Weather spotters for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network reported 16 inches near South Fork, 12 inches in Del Norte and 10 inches in Creede Monday morning.

The biggest totals from the multiday storm came from Wolf Creek Ski Area, which reported 34 inches of snow.

Snowfall totaled 8 inches in Alamosa, while 6 inches fell near Crestone, according to spotters for the National Weather Service.

The snow led Adams State University and all 14 of the valley’s school districts to cancel classes Monday.

All of the courts in the 12th Judicial District were closed by 2 p.m. because of weather and road conditions.

“The roads were bad pretty much across the entire valley,” said Capt. George Dingfelder of the Colorado State Patrol.

Despite the conditions, he said there were only a few crashes and only one of those included minor injuries.

Heavy snow and high winds in both the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to issue an avalanche warning for back country recreation in both mountain ranges.

State transportation work crews conducted morning avalanche control work on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass, prompting a closure of U.S. 160 that was lifted by 1 p.m.

Public schools in Canon City, Florence and Penrose also were closed Monday after heavy snowfall Sunday.

In Canon City snow totals ranged from 7 to 10 inches, while Penrose residents reported 6 to 12 inches of snow. Snow measurements were made difficult by blowing and drifting.

Custer County was harder hit with 14 inches of snow in the lower elevations and a whopping 26 inches reported seven miles west of Westcliffe in the high country.

In Chaffee County, Salida residents reported 10 to 13 inches while Maysville residents reported up to 19 inches in the higher elevations and Buena Vista weather spotters reported 6 inches of snow.

Monarch Mountain reported 15 inches of new powder in the past 24 hours and a two-day storm total of 19 inches of snow. The ski resort now has a 70-inch base topped with plenty of new flakes for powder-loving skiers.

Forecasters are calling for a bit of melting Tuesday followed by a 60 percent chance of new snow on Wednesday.

Water Lines: Potential consequences of an early spring

Mrs. Gulch's Moon Garden May 11, 2014
Mrs. Gulch’s Moon Garden May 11, 2014

From The Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Last week, I noticed crocuses blooming in my yard. I like crocuses, but it makes me a little uncomfortable to see them blooming in Grand Junction in early February. Will the unseasonable warmth trick other blossoms, like the all-important peach blossoms, into coming out early as well, only to be destroyed by the inevitable late freeze? What about this year’s water supply?

As plants all over the valley begin breaking dormancy, ditch companies are contemplating the possibility of an early start to the irrigation season. A longer growing season means more water use, of course, and the same warm spell that is prompting plant growth in the valleys has coincided with dry times in the mountains.

After ending December 2014 above average, the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin has added very little moisture so far in 2015. As of Feb. 12, the amount of water held in the snow in the Colorado River Basin in Colorado was just 89 percent of average for this time of year. Other Western Slope river basins are in worse shape, with the Yampa and White river basins at 83 percent of average, the Gunnison at 71 percent of average, and the southwestern basins at a mere 58 percent of average for this date.

Dry conditions in southwestern Colorado are especially concerning, because this area has failed to reach “average” snowpack levels for several years in a row. This has led to the first-ever shortage in deliveries from the San Juan River to central New Mexico through the San Juan: Chama project.

Mostly healthy reservoir levels in Colorado mean that local irrigators are unlikely to suffer in the short term, even if dry conditions continue. However, the Colorado basin-wide imbalance between supply and demand will likely be exacerbated by the warm, dry winter experienced across the West.

On the demand side, the intense drought in California continues, increasing that state’s reliance on Colorado River water. On the supply side, as of Feb. 9, the snowpack for all basins upstream from Lake Powell was at just 85 percent of the median for this time of year, and the reservoir was just 46 percent full.

In the short term, this confluence of factors could hasten the day when Arizona farmers with the most junior water claims come up short, as their deliveries of Colorado River water are cut. Upstream, efforts to keep water levels in Lake Powell high enough for the Glen Canyon Dam to keep producing hydropower are likely to intensify. Increasing releases from upstream reservoirs, such as Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa, and incentivizing cutbacks in water use by both farms and cities are two of the avenues identified by Upper Colorado River Basin state officials to prop up Powell.

An increasing number of studies indicate that higher demands on reduced supplies are not just a temporary consequence of the current regional drought, but could become a chronic condition. The recently released Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study, developed by researchers at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University for the Colorado Energy Office, recaps data on the observed warming of Colorado’s climate in recent decades along with climate projections in order to assess what sectors of the state’s economy and environment could be stressed as the climate continues to change.

The study notes that towns and irrigators with little storage upstream are at risk for water shortages as the snowpack continues to melt off earlier, further dropping late summer stream flows. Low flows in late summer can stress fish as well, and shorten the season for rafters. The study also notes that fruit growers are vulnerable to crop losses from frost damage due to early budburst. You can find the complete study at http://wwa.colorado.edu/.

It’s still not too late for spring storms to bring back cooler temperatures and rescue the 2015 water year, but it’s also not too early to start planning for the possibility that at some point, what seems like a crazy-early spring could become our new normal.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More education coverage here.

Water woes among top voter concerns in the west — Conservation in the West poll

consesrvationinthewestpoll2015stateoftherockies
From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

Concern over water conservation and management for the first time rivals unemployment in the minds of voters in the West, according to recent data released by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project.

The study polled 400 voters each from Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, all which indicated water as a major concern for the state.

Overall, four in five voters indicated “inadequate water supplies” were a serious problem, while half ranked the issue as very or extremely serious.

Since 2012, the percent of voters that find inadequate water supplies to be a serious issue has grown 5 percent to 80 percent total.

When compared side-by-side with unemployment, water worries stand out as a hot issue for voters.

In the 2015 study, 53 percent polled found low levels of water in rivers to be extremely or very serious, compared to 46 percent regarding unemployment.

In 2014, these numbers were reported at 50 percent and 54 percent, respectively.

Lori Weigel, a pollster and partner with Public Opinion Strategies, said that while concern is most acute in southern states such as Arizona and New Mexico, interest has increased across the region on this vital resource.

“We’ve really seen a growing recognition in our state (Colorado) that supplies are limited, even if we are not at any one time technically in a drought,” Weigel said.

Water quality also ranked as a leading reason for residing in the West, Weigel said.

“We asked people to tell us some of the factors on why they decided to live and stay in (the) West. It was kind of surprising to me: clean air, clean water and environment,” she said, indicating that pollsters had anticipated greater importance given to economic factors.

In Colorado, 90 percent pointed to the clean environment as a reason for living in the state.

The finding coincides with another in the study, indicating Western voters prefer water conservation over further diversions to address demand.

In Colorado, 74 percent chose “using our current water supply more wisely, by encouraging more water conservation, reducing use, and increasing recycling of water,” compared to 16 percent of voters that preferred “diverting more water from rivers in less populated areas of the state to communities where more people live.”

Importance of inadequate water supplies

Arizona

Serious – 87%

Extremely/very serious – 58%

Colorado

Serious – 78%

Extremely/very serious – 48%

Montana

Serious – 44%

Extremely/very serious – 17%

New Mexico

Serious – 85%

Extremely/very serious – 62%

Utah

Serious – 85%

Extremely/very serious – 62%

Wyoming

Serious – 46%

Extremely/very serious – 20%

For more on the studies findings on water, click here.

Bathtub Ring, and yet more thoughts on why Lake Mead is dropping — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

Lake Mead water levels via NOAA
Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

From InkStain (John Fleck):

One of the innovations in the 2007 shortage sharing agreement among the federal government and the seven basin states was the creation of “Intentionally Created Surplus” water management widget, a tool to free Lower Colorado River Basin water users from the tyranny of “use it or lose it”. Its purpose, according to the decision document that created it (pdf), was to “minimize the likelihood and severity of potential future shortages” by allowing water users to bank unused water in Lake Mead:

ICS may be created through projects that create water system efficiency or extraordinary conservation or tributary conservation or the importation of nonColorado River System water into the Mainstream. ICS is consistent with the concept that entities may take actions to augment storage of water in the lower Colorado River Basin.
The 2007 agreement anticipated use of things like fallowing, desalination and canal lining to create ICS credits.

One of the big ICS users has been the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which by the end of 2012 had banked 489,389 acre feet of ICS credits in Lake Mead. But with drought hitting California and Met in a big way, in 2013 the agency began taking its banked water out, withdrawing 93,858 acre feet in 2013 and another 331,965 of ICS water in 2014.

This is a smart water management tool, allowing MWD to build some resilience by saving water now in order to consume it later. But it offers zero overall net basin water conservation over longer time frames – water conserved in one year is simply used in a later year. ICS simply moves water in time. That 331,965 acre feet Met took out last year above and beyond its normal allocation is five feet of elevation it put in in previous years and withdrew in 2014.

ICS is a cool tool, but the only thing that will keep Lake Mead from dropping is a new class of policy tool that would allow conserved water to stay in the reservoir for good.

More 2007 Shortage Sharing Agreement coverage here.

The state of oil and gas pipeline regulation in Colorado

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A spill from an underground pipeline northeast of Denver has contaminated soil and possibly groundwater — the latest of at least 13 spills over the past year from oil and gas pipelines that are largely unregulated.

While none of the recent spills appears unusually large, they highlight a gray area in how Colorado and other states are handling the domestic energy boom.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission receives spill reports but does not regulate or inspect pipelines beyond well pads, COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman said. Federal authorities say they regulate interstate pipelines that transport oil and gas, but this does not cover tens of thousands of miles of production-related pipelines within states.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission regulates nonliquid gas lines around the state, PUC pipeline safety chief Joe Molloy said.

But no government agency regulates the proliferating production and other pipelines that carry natural gas liquids, Molloy said. These can be hazardous, containing ethane, propane and cancer-causing benzene.

A DCP Midstream operator saw stained surface soil about 7 miles north of Keenesburg on Jan. 30 and reported the spill. DCP has excavated 7 cubic yards of the soil and deployed a contractor to conduct lab tests for benzene and other toxic chemicals and to find the leak.

DCP officials “don’t have any more information just yet on source or contamination levels or groundwater impacts of the spill near the Tampa Compressor,” corporate spokeswoman Sarah Rasmussen said. “All of that is still being investigated and assessed.”

Moving oil and gas through pipelines promises safety and environment benefits — an alternative to trains and tanker trucks. For companies, pipelines can be cheaper, depending on fuel costs. In recent years, more trains are hauling crude oil from North Dakota and tar sands from Canada, leading to accidents such as last week’s disasters in Ontario and West Virginia.

Nationwide, more than 2.6 million miles of underground pipelines carry natural gas, crude oil and natural gas liquids from producing fields to refineries, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

But PHMSA officials estimate more than 200,000 miles of “gathering line” pipelines are unregulated in Colorado and other states.

The federal authorities are considering expanding their purview to regulate and inspect these pipelines, PHMSA spokesman Damon Hill said.

“We’re here to make sure operators are doing all they can to protect the environment and the safety of the public that may live near these pipelines,” Hill said.

“There’s a lot of development in the country where pipelines that were once in rural areas are no longer as rural. A lot of homes and businesses are now located near these pipelines. We want to make sure operators are indeed making sure the unregulated pipelines are safe.”

In recent Colorado legislative sessions, industry officials pushed to bolster companies’ power to condemn private property in order to install more pipelines.

Yet the impact of pipelines and spills from pipelines remains uncertain.

The COGCC spill database shows DCP reported 13 spills from its pipelines since February 2014. Most appear relatively minor, due to human error or equipment problems, though toxic material in some cases has contaminated groundwater.

Among the spills:

• In January, a DCP trencher hit a pipeline in Weld County, causing a spill, leading to an excavation of 40 cubic yards of contaminated soil.

• In November, a trencher hit an 8-inch pipeline and the spill contaminated groundwater — within a half mile of two water wells — spreading contamination at levels above the standards. DCP contractors excavated 370 cubic yards of soil and removed 40 barrels of contaminated groundwater.

• In September, five to 100 barrels of liquids leaked from a 10-inch underground pipeline inside the town of Frederick.

Colorado regulators have not taken enforcement action in response to any of these spills, according to COGCC records.

“A spill by itself doesn’t necessarily result in enforcement steps, but failure to report it, contain it and clean it up will,” Hartman said.

DCP officials pointed out that the COGCC lowered its threshold for reporting spills in 2014.

“In general, increases in reported releases in 2014 are likely attributable to this substantially lower reporting threshold,” Rasmussen said. For example, she said, DCP reported five spills in 2013 compared with 11 in 2014.

DCP Midstream operates 4,000 miles of various natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines, Rasmussen said.

Oil and Gas Accountability Project organizer Josh Jos wick said state regulators must do more to regulate and inspect pipelines.

“What are the ages of the pipelines that the product is put through now? How well were they put in? Are they being inspected? Was the right material used? The state does not know,” Joswick said.

“We should not just sit here saying ‘Yeah, you can go wherever you want to go.’ That’s too dangerous. There’s too much potential for really negative impacts if something goes wrong.”

More oil and gas coverage here.