#ActOnClimate: A more unified ski industry alters tone, raises its climate change voice — The Mountain Town News

Fresh turns in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Photo/Chris Pearson of Ski Utah  via The Mountain Town News
Fresh turns in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Photo/Chris Pearson of Ski Utah via The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In September, as world leaders began preparing for the this week’s climate change negotiations in Paris, the ski industry sent a letter of stern words to President Barack Obama. But it also mentioned a silver lining.

“Failure to act now on climate is unacceptable, and will result in damage to the environment, tourism and the economy,” said the letter, which was endorsed by 13 trade groups and associations, including the National Ski Areas Association. “This is the greatest opportunity of our time.”

The letter was indicative of a new, unified approach by the ski industry and its partners, one that emphasizes solutions, not the worrisome climate-change science. The industry has altogether elevated its climate change voice.

“We aren’t calling people who don’t believe in climate change stupid,” says David Ingemie, president of the SnowSports Industries America, a trade association representing retailers and manufacturers. “More people are listening and it’s less confrontational.”

Some individuals point to the success of Protect Our Winters, a group of athletes, after it moderated its approach. Other say they have been persuaded by the market-based approach advocated by Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina. See story: Idea of carbon tax gets respectful audience

But few talk about the science.

“When you talk doom-and-gloom, that turns more people into deniers. They think things are hopeless,” says Geraldine Link director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, a trade association for ski area operators and suppliers in the United States.

“That has been a huge shift in the dialogue within the ski industry, that recognition that all of that doom-and-gloom is not having any effect on Washington decision-makers or on everyday people.”

Solutions, she says, draw interest from conservative lawmakers. “When you’re in Washington, the most productive conversation is about solutions, and that occurs more frequently than you would expect,” she explains. “Even the most conservative offices in Washington like to talk about solutions. They like to talk about efficiency. And so if we talk about U.S. independence and better energy security for the future, many, many offices in Washington are willing to engage in that conversation.”

Unmistakeable trends

Unmistakable warming trends, however, have also given resort operators an incentive to speak up.

“Fifteen years ago, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was called too high, too cold and too far,” says Jerry Blann, president of the resort company. “I like to say that climate change is working on that middle one.”

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had 20 record warm days last winter; records go back 40 years. In the nearby town of Jackson, the annual snowmobile hill climb in March was canceled for the first time ever, because of warm temperatures.

Jerry Blann via the Mountain Town News
Jerry Blann via the Mountain Town News

Blann says the ski industry always has had skeptics of climate change science. “But it’s less and less so,” he reports. “It’s somewhat the result of younger people getting into our industry, and it’s also a recognition that we’re getting a lot more warmer days.”

“A reasonable person has to wake up,” he adds. “We have to lean in and do our part.”

Multiple resorts—including Aspen Skiing and Vail Resorts—have also agreed to put their names on a full-page advertisement that ran Tuesday, Dec. 1, in the Wall Street Journal. More than 100 businesses signed onto the ad, including Coca-Cola Company, QualComm, Hilton WorldWide, and Ingersoll-Rand.

The advertisement calls for an agreement that “provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Centigrade.”

The full-page ad also encourages the U.S. government to “support investment in the low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors.”

Aspen vs. Vail

Aspen and Vail in the past have approached climate change very differently.

Rob Katz in 2007
Rob Katz in 2007

Vail has focused on cleaning its own house. Chief executive Rob Katz in 2008 announced a goal of achieving a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in energy use. The company succeeded in just three years. He then set a goal of another 10 percent reduction by 2020. The company has already achieved a 7 percent reduction, reports Kelly Ladyga, vice president of corporate communications.

But Katz disavowed using skiing as the axis for making a climate change argument.

“You can count me out of the group that says we need to address climate change to save skiing,” he wrote in a December 2012 op/ed published in The Denver Post, then added: “But to the folks trying to alarm people with images of melting snow, here is the dirty little secret: When the effects of climate change really show up, no one will care about skiing at Aspen and Vail.”

Aspen, while reducing its carbon footprint, has robustly embraced advocacy. This winter, for example, cards are being given out to customers of the company’s hotels and four ski areas. The card describes the shifting climate in Aspen, 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in the last 25 years, and correlates the shift to accumulating greenhouse gases. Aspen’s card also urges customers to contact elected officials about climate change.

Company representatives, including chief executive Mike Kaplan, have lobbied and testified in Washington D.C. Aspen Skiing also filed an amicus brief in a major lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. Massachusetts and other states and cities argued that the Environmental Protection Agency was obligated under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The court agreed in 2007, leading to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electrical production 30 percent by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

Leveraging the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan has been a fulcrum for ski industry advocacy in Utah and in New Hampshire. (See related story on the next page).

Protect Our Winters has been active in coalescing support for the Clean Power Plan. The organization was formed in 2007 by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones and grew to include other winter athletes. “Though we can dress up for meetings, in the end we are pro athletes, dirtbags and diehards; for us, winter is not just a passion, but a way of life,” the organization’s website explains.

Nathan Rafferty via The Mountain Town News
Nathan Rafferty via The Mountain Town News

Nathan Rafferty, chief executive of Ski Utah, a trade group, credits POW as the catalyst of change in his trade group. “I remember thinking it was the right fit,” he says. “They are one of us.” He says POW’s message resonated with the directors of Ski Utah.

“They really focused on the good things, what can be done, as opposed to the sky is falling, which really doesn’t leave a very good taste in our mouth,” he says.

Ski Utah then began investing its political capital. “We have some serious political clout in this state,” says Rafferty. “We are a $1.2 billion industry in the state, and in a state of 3 million people, that’s a big deal. We feel the time is right to use that influence to make us a better place.”

See story: Utah ski areas adn the Clean Power Plan

Rafferty credits—as do others—the skills of Chris Steinkamp, the director of POW. “He has a real reasonable tone about him, and with him at the helm, it gave us a comfort level that this was a group we could engage in. Our goal is just to amplify POW’s voice and craft it in a way to use it locally, different than in California or in Colorado.”

A former marketer, Steinkamp says POW has been downplaying the gloomy science of climate change for a year and a half because the science was understood. Too, people in the ski business were seeing the climate change personally.

“Everything that was being predicted was coming true. There wasn’t any real upside to talk about the dire consequences any more. I think everybody had kind of understood that, and it was basically shutting people down,” says Steinkamp.

At the same time, renewable energy has become cheaper and more effective. “We had solutions,” says Steinkamp. Instead of the gloomy changes, POW could talk about solutions.

In Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley chief executive Andy Wirth has cited both economic and environmental reasons to support the Clean Power Plan in a September op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Evolving stances

Andy Wirth via The Mountain Town News
Andy Wirth via The Mountain Town News

Wirth detected a shift in the ski industry about five years ago, but before that, the strongest voice came from the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Auden Schendler. His alarm-bell message wasn’t particularly popular.

“Ten years ago Auden Schendler was considered a bit of a pariah,” says Wirth. “There were folks in the industry who didn’t think highly of him. He’s now regarded as a pioneer, and he has the bumps and bruises and scars to prove that.”

Schendler, now vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Co., acknowledges change. “I think I have evolved,” he says.

But the industry has also shifted toward his stance. NSAA’s SustainableSlopes Program now requires advocacy, not just in-house energy reductions.

In The Trenches: High-tech hydroponics could revolutionize retail produce merchandising — The Produce News

From The Produce News (Ron Pelzer):

I recently had the opportunity to speak about produce retailing at the AGROWN AgTech Investing Conference at the Ohio Agricultural Research Center in Wooster, OH. It was designed to bring the world’s leading experts in controlled environmental agriculture vegetable production together with investors seeking to expand their portfolios in commercial scale greenhouse production.

Besides presenting an education to attendees about the supermarket retail side of the business, I was likewise educated by all the professionals about the future of sustainable agricultural.

Sue Raftery, chief executive officer of AGROWN in Norwalk, OH, said, “We are focused on three areas. Shorter paths from planning and financing to marketing and production for commercial scale CEA projects — a full turnkey solution. Growing efficiencies, including the integration of renewable fuel sources, responsible use of fresh water to minimize risk and maximize profitability of commercial scale controlled environment agriculture operations. Providing proven work force training for entry-level positions as well as reliable career paths to reduce employee churn and support financial projections.”

Some of the benefits of hydroponic greenhouse production are:

  • The crops grow faster with larger yields, and the product is clean, bright and of very high quality.
  • Pesticides are not necessary.
  • Less land is required with the use of vertical stacking levels.
  • Greenhouses protect crops from harsh weather damage.
  • Less water is required.
  • Reduced farm chore labor.
  • Operating functions are automated by technology.
  • So, where is hydroponic farming headed in the future?

    “We believe the largest untapped market for commercial scale growing is in the U.S. and North America,” Raftery said. “Given that food security is a national security, helping grow the controlled environment growing sector in the U.S. (predicted to be a $1.75 trillion opportunity) creates jobs, economic multipliers and provides the consumers with what they want — local/regional fresh, safe food grown close to home and breaking down the long food system supply chains. This is important to the retailer in reducing shrink and meeting their customer demand for food grown locally.”

    Access to local hydroponic greenhouses will be advantageous for retailers. It will mean locally grown fresh produce can be delivered faster with added shelf life to the product. Also, it will give retailers a 52-week program, especially in cold climate areas. The close proximity will also reduce shrink.

    Jeff Tomassetti, director of produce and floral for Buehler’s Supermarkets in Wooster, OH, said, “We have picked up two new local hydroponic lettuces. One is from Buckeye Fresh in Medina, Ohio, which supplies us with spring mix, spinach, arugula and basil, and is doing extremely well for us. The product has extended shelf life. Currently, we are selling more than they are able to supply as a result of the customer response to the product. We are expecting this to become a very strong new partnership. I love supporting the local farmers and seeing them succeed.”

    The advanced growth of the hydroponic program could open the door to another merchandising venture in supermarket produce departments. It could become another exceptional signature section similar to packaged salads, berries, fresh-cut fruit, mushrooms and other dynamic categories.

    I could visualize a large colorful sign above the subsection that reads, Locally Grown Hydroponic Produce, which would captivate shoppers who seek the freshness of produce from nearby farms on a year-round basis.

    This is a changing produce business and we must keep pace with it. If we can be successful in growing hydroponic produce in space, we certainly can be successful in merchandising it on Earth.

    Agratech.com photo via Todd McPhail
    Agratech.com photo via Todd McPhail

    The November-December issue of “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from CFWE


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

    When you have a staff of five faced with a large task—say, educating the leaders of a statewide citizenry about our most important resource—you’re constantly seeking opportunities to make the products of your hard work go further and accomplish more. Beyond our educational niche in the state’s water sustainability endeavor, Coloradans far and wide are increasingly looking for synergistic relationships and projects for the same reasons: limited resources and big needs. Our coverage this season aims to highlight these examples.

    The most expansive example of this synergistic cooperative action in Colorado’s water community is a recent one: the final draft release on Nov. 17 of Colorado’s Water Plan, the result of 10 years of hard work by hundreds of dedicated individuals. As implementation of the plan ramps up, the need to work together for maximum effect will be just as crucial as it was during the plan’s development. Watch for a special section in both our winter and summer 2016 issues of Headwaters, our tri-annual magazine, to highlight such opportunities.

    #Drought news: D0 reduced in the #Colorado central mountains

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


    This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw improvements in drought conditions across parts of the Midwest, South, Southern Plains, and portions of the West. Starting late last week, a broad, slow-moving frontal system impacted the Central and Southern Plains as well as Texas. The system delivered mixed precipitation (freezing rain, sleet) including locally heavy rainfall accumulations (two-to-eight plus inches) to portions of Oklahoma and Texas – thus, eliminating remaining areas of drought on the map in both states. Moving northward, areas of the Northern Plains and portions of the Upper Midwest received locally heavy snowfall accumulations (six-to-ten inches) including eastern South Dakota while portions of Minnesota received two-to-eight inches of snow. In the West, conditions have steadily improved during the past twelve months in the desert Southwest leading to removal of remaining areas of drought on the map in northwestern New Mexico as well as continued improvement in northeastern Arizona. Removal of the remaining areas of drought in New Mexico marked the first time since November 23, 2010 that New Mexico was drought-free on the map. Despite overall improvements in the region, lingering longer-term hydrologic impacts remain in the managed reservoir systems including Arizona’s Salt and Verde River as well as the Lower Rio Grande of New Mexico. Elsewhere in the West, cold temperatures dominated during the past week with temperatures plummeting from five-to-twenty degrees below normal across the Far West, Great Basin, Northern Rockies, and western portions of the Southwest. In California and Nevada, the snow season has begun favorably with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOTEL stations in the Central Sierras, Ruby Mountains, and the headwater region of the Humboldt River Basin in northeastern Nevada currently reporting average to above average snowpack conditions. In the Cascades of Oregon and Washington and the Northern Rockies, snowpack conditions are below normal…

    The Plains

    Across the Plains, improvements were made on the map in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) in southwestern South Dakota and in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) in Kansas and Oklahoma. This week’s storm events in Oklahoma and Kansas helped to remove short-term precipitation deficits, improve soil moisture, and enhance streamflow activity. In Oklahoma, this week’s precipitation led to the removal of all drought conditions statewide from the map. Temperatures were generally below normal across the western two-thirds of the region and slightly above normal in eastern portions…

    The West

    During the past week, average temperatures were well below normal across much of the West with the exception of southeastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and parts of Colorado. Elsewhere, record low temperatures were reported in California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. In the Sierras, light-to-moderate snowfall accumulations (generally less than nine inches) were observed late last week and into the weekend. Across the West, current snowpack conditions are above normal in portions of the central Sierra, Great Basin ranges, southeastern and southwestern Utah, and in areas of the southern Rockies. Below normal snowpack conditions are present in the Uintah and Wasatch of Utah, across much of the northern Rockies, and in the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. On this week’s map, improvements were made in areas of Moderate Drought (D1) in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico where drought-related conditions continue to abate as nearly all objective indicators point toward improvement. This week’s removal of the remaining area of Moderate Drought (D1) marks the first time New Mexico has been out of drought on the map since November 23, 2010. It should be emphasized, however, that the managed hydrologic systems have not fully recovered and that some of the state’s reservoirs remain below normal. In central and west-central Utah, areas of Moderate Drought (D1) and Severe Drought (D2) saw minor improvements as slow recovery in these areas continues. In central Utah, NRCS SNOTEL stations are reporting slightly above average snowpack conditions to date. In the central Rockies of Colorado, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) were reduced as early season snowpack data supports improvement…

    Looking Ahead

    The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for significant precipitation totals (ranging from six-to-sixteen inches) in coastal northern California, Oregon, and Washington with coastal areas of Washington expected to receive the greatest accumulations. Otherwise, more meager accumulations are forecasted for the Northern Rockies of Idaho and northern portions of the Sierras; the remainder of the West will be generally dry. In the eastern tier, heaviest precipitation accumulations (one-to-four inches) are forecasted for parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above normal temperatures across nearly the entire continental U.S., with the exception of normal temperatures in southern New Mexico and Texas. Across most of the West, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest and extreme northern California, there is a high probably of below normal precipitation. Below normal precipitation is forecasted to extend across the Central and Northern Plains as well as across the Midwest into the Northeast. In contrast, portions of the Southeast, Southern Plains, and Texas have a high probability of above normal precipitation.

    Snowpack news: So far so good, its still early, NW #Colorado below avg.

    Westwide SNOTEL map December 2, 2015 via the NRCS
    Westwide SNOTEL map December 2, 2015 via the NRCS

    From CBSDenver.com (Justin McHeffey):

    As Colorado heads into a drier pattern this week, it’s good to know our snowpack has started out strong. Early season ski conditions have been excellent, Denver measured above average November moisture, and the current snow field covers almost the entire state.

    Compared to one year ago, statewide snow is more widespread and deeper for parts of the high country. Snow water equivalent maps from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show the distribution of snow on Wednesday versus Dec. 2, 2014. The Thanksgiving storm and our system on Sunday night are both responsible for the increased coverage east of the Divide. This is a welcome site for water storage in the upcoming warm season. The moisture also brought Denver its fourth wettest November on record.

    Snowpack numbers from the Natural Resources Conservation Service are above normal for the whole state. All basins averaged together, Colorado has 102 percent of its snow for this time of the year. On the high end, the Arkansas River basin has 120 percent of average. On the low end, the Yampa and White River basins have 79 percent. The long range forecast models keep the storm track away from us until the end of next week. Sure, a couple of inches could land in the mountains between now and then, but generally the trend is quiet.

    Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 18, 2014 via the NRCS
    Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 18, 2014 via the NRCS

    Pumping rules debate continues to evolve, state engineer’s proposal draws varied responses — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The proposed rules that would govern pumping by roughly 4,500 high-capacity groundwater wells in the San Luis Valley have gotten comments from 21 parties.

    When State Engineer Dick Wolfe submitted the proposed rules to the Division No. 3 Water Court at the end of September, he said he hoped to avoid a trial by negotiating settlements with protesters.

    But to do so he’ll be contending with an array of opponents from around the valley, a number of whom have objections to the state’s computer model and the rules’ sustainability requirements for groundwater, among other issues.

    When the proposed rules were submitted, some hailed the computer model as an advance over the last time the engineer’s office tried to institute rules four decades ago.

    The modeling forms the basis for calculations by the engineer’s office that determine whether and by how much well pumping in a given area depletes stream flows.

    But the model and the reliance of the rules upon it drew comments from seven parties.

    Four municipalities, including Crestone, Del Norte, Monte Vista and Saguache, said the rules should only be implemented insofar as they are supported by accurate computer modeling. [ed. emphasis mine]

    A group of 11 water users in the Alamosa River drainage already have concluded that the model is not a reliable tool for the rules, pointing to its failure to measure depletions from pumping on Arroya Springs and Arroya Creek. Moreover, they call for an avenue by which water users make comment on any changes to the model made by the state.

    They also argue that the rules should contain tougher sustainability requirements for the confined aquifer. Another group from the Alamosa River and La Jara Creek drainages, this one made up of well users, also argues against the rules’ provisions for restoring the confined aquifer, which is the deeper of the valley’s two major groundwater bodies.

    Their protest argues that there is not enough historical data on artesian pressures in the area to determine what their mitigation should be.

    They also contend the rules don’t take into account that factors other than pumping, such as climatic conditions, hydrology and geology that can influence pressure levels of the confined aquifer in a given area.
    Some of the submissions to the court stated general support for the rules while also serving as placeholders that would allow the parties to participate in the proceedings.

    The Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Rio Grande Water Users Association and the Conejos Water Conservancy District all submitted such statements.

    And more submissions may be on the way.

    The court extended the deadline for comment on the proposals to the end of December because published notice was delayed in Saguache County.

    San Luis Valley via National Geographic
    San Luis Valley via National Geographic

    Is the seepage at Rio Grande Reservoir under the jurisdiction of the USFS or a water rights question?

    Rio Grande Reservoir
    Rio Grande Reservoir

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    A pair of environmental groups are challenging a proposed land exchange by the U.S. Forest Service that would assist with repairs to the San Luis Valley’s biggest reservoir.

    The Forest Service would exchange 6 acres of federal land with the San Luis Valley Irrigation District that would help the district repair the 103-year-old Rio Grande Reservoir in return for 8 acres of private land.

    As part of the package, the irrigation district also has offered to sell the agency a 23-acre inholding on the Weminuche Wilderness for $1 and grant a 1,400-foot trail easement.

    Jen Pelz, the wild rivers program director for WildEarth Guardians, said the groups do not object to the dam repairs.

    They do, however, want the Forest Service to better analyze the impact from eliminating seepage at the dam, which ranges from zero to 6 cubic-feet-persecond, and mitigate the impact to fish and wildlife on the river segment below the dam.

    Mike Blakeman, a public affairs officer for the Rio Grande National Forest, said the criticism of the agency’s analysis of the seepage was off base.

    “Rio Grande Reservoir dam seepage was repaired last year and occurred on private property,” he said. “We don’t have jurisdiction over that.”

    He added that the seepage also was part of the irrigation district’s water right that also was not subject to agency authority.

    The reservoir, which sits roughly 20 miles west of Creede on the Rio Grande, assists the irrigation district in delivering water to roughly 70,000 acres of farm ground in the northern half of the valley.

    The 54,000-acre-foot reservoir also plays a key role in helping water officials time deliveries to comply with the Rio Grande Compact and mitigate the impact to the river from groundwater pumping on the valley floor.

    Resolution of the objection by WildEarth and Western Lands Project now sits with officials at the agency’s regional office in Denver.

    The resolution period started Tuesday and could take anywhere from 45 to 75 days.