The WRA March 2016 E-newsletter is hot off the presses

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What Will the Next President Do to Protect the West?

Presidential elections present Americans with an opportunity to discuss the biggest challenges we face, and for candidates to propose ideas to address those challenges. Thus far in the 2016 primary race, some of the candidates have done little to address the issues all Americans care about: good jobs, opportunities for our children to get the education they need, and access to care that allows us to lead healthy lives. Here in the West, voters also want to know how candidates will address our unique circumstances. However, through the first two western contests in Colorado and Nevada, many candidates have yet to present a vision to preserve the legacy of the West for all Americans and for future generations. As we seek to address climate change, provide clean energy to power our economy, protect the beauty of the West, and ensure that our great rivers sustain our communities, the next four years are critical. Yet we have heard so little from the candidates about the issues that are important, and unique, to the West.

Here’s what the candidates should address if they seek to win in the upcoming general election:

  • Westerners overwhelmingly support protections for our public lands so all Americans can enjoy them. The candidates should act boldly to stop “land seizure” efforts that would undermine access to public lands.
  • Last year, cuts in water supplies to Arizona were nearly triggered by historic low water levels at Lake Mead. We take more water from our rivers than the rivers can provide. The candidates should have plans to ensure that our rivers can support agriculture, cities, recreation and habitat that rely on our rivers.
  • More than ¾ of westerners want more clean energy from the sun and wind. Our region has the potential to become the nation’s center of clean renewable energy, strengthening our economies well into the future. How will the candidates take advantage of the West’s abundant sun and wind to create an electricity system that creates jobs and powers the economy of the future?
  • We have begun to address climate change, but it will take continued leadership to expand these efforts. Each candidate should present their plan to reduce carbon pollution.
  • Recently, 21 Florida mayors, from both major political parties called on the media and the presidential candidates to address the issues of climate change and sea level rise. Perhaps the West, which has been a leader on clean energy, should follow suit. Leadership from candidates on these crucial issues is necessary. Each of us, as Westerners, should demand that the remaining candidates for our highest office provide it.

    Western San Juans with McPhee Reservoir in the foreground
    Western San Juans with McPhee Reservoir in the foreground

    The top 50 Instagram photos by @USInterior

    From the Department of Interior via USA Today:

    Since the U.S. Department of the Interior is in charge of protecting the lands and wildlife of America, it puts them in unique positions to take some of the most spectacular photos you’ll see of the USA. [Click through and scroll through the gallery] to see which of the Instagram photos users liked the best, from 50 to 1. And then check out the rest of the Department of the Interior’s photos at their Instagram account, @USInterior (

    Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.
    Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.

    #ClimateChange will wipe $2.5tn off global financial assets #keepitintheground


    From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

    Climate change could cut the value of the world’s financial assets by $2.5tn (£1.7tn), according to the first estimate from economic modelling.

    In the worst case scenarios, often used by regulators to check the financial health of companies and economies, the losses could soar to $24tn, or 17% of the world’s assets, and wreck the global economy.

    The research also showed the financial sense in taking action to keep climate change under the 2C danger limit agreed by the world’s nations. In this scenario, the value of financial assets would fall by $315bn less, even when the costs of cutting emissions are included.

    “Our work suggests to long-term investors that we would be better off in a low-carbon world,” said Prof Simon Dietz of the London School of Economics, the lead author of the study. “Pension funds should be getting on top of this issue, and many of them are.” He said, however, that awareness in the financial sector was low.

    Mark Campanale of the thinktank Carbon Tracker Initiative said the actual financial losses from unchecked global warming could be higher than estimated by the financial model behind the new study. “It could be a lot worse. The loss of financial capital can be a lot higher and faster than the GDP losses [used to model the costs of climate change in the study]. Just look at value of coal giant Peabody Energy. It was worth billions just a few years ago and now it is worth nothing.”

    “Physical climate change impacts are a systemic risk on a massive scale,” said Ben Caldecott, the director of the sustainable finance programme at the University of Oxford. “Investors can do much more to differentiate between companies more or less exposed and they can help reduce the risk to the global economy by supporting ambitious action on climate change.”

    The new study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change, used economic modelling to estimate the impact of unchecked climate change. It found that in that scenario, the assets were effectively overvalued today by $2.5tn, but that there was a 1% chance that the overvaluation could be as high as $24tn.

    The losses would be caused by the direct destruction of assets by increasingly extreme weather events and also by a reduction in earnings for those affected by high temperatures, drought and other climate change impacts.

    If action is taken to tackle climate change, the study found the financial losses would be reduced overall, but that other assets such as fossil fuel companies would lose value. Scientists have shown that most of the coal, oil and gas reserves such companies own will have stay in the ground if the global rise in temperature is to be kept under 2C. The total stock market capitalisation of fossil fuel companies today is about $5tn.

    “There is no scenario in which the risk to financial assets are unaffected by climate change. That is just a fiction,” said Dietz. “There will be winners and losers.” Major investors such as Norway’s sovereign wealth fund – the world’s biggest – have already begun selling off high-carbon stocks such as coal companies.

    #Snowpack news: [#ElNiño] “It’s hanging in there, just barely” — Klaus Wolter

    Westwide SNOTEL map April 5, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL map April 5, 2016 via the NRCS.

    From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

    The El Niño that brought record warm winter temperatures to much of Colorado will continue into April, meaning more precipitation than usual — especially along the Front Range.

    “It’s hanging in there, just barely, which means that we have that setup that’s favorable for a wet spring… It has been wet in the northern and central mountains,” said University of Colorado-Boulder climatologist Klaus Wolter.

    “And the wrinkle in this, in 2016, is that it’s a bit warmer than it used to be so at the lower elevations you get maybe not as much snow, but higher up, the snowpack could continue to be above normal conditions.”

    The 2015/2016 El Niño has broken records. Data from buoys in the Pacific show that for about two weeks in February sea surface temperatures were the warmest recorded…

    Even though each El Niño is different, Wolter, a climatologist for over 20 years, was surprised by the record warm temperatures mid-winter.

    “February was the most unusual month of this El Niño. You could even argue that it looked more like a La Niña. That was when California dried up. March was the sixth wettest in northern California since 1920 and it filled up the reservoirs, that was very good. So that was a bit of a surprise in February.”

    The majority of California’s reservoirs are located in the northern half of the state, but Wolter found that this El Niño didn’t keep to the storm track he predicted earlier.

    “In general, things have been shifted a bit to the north, meaning that places like Seattle had a very wet winter, and southern California, Los Angeles and San Diego had a very dry winter. That’s not supposed to happen. Same in Arizona; Phoenix was exceptionally dry.”

    That dry zone from southern California through Arizona and northern New Mexico extended into southeast Colorado. The southern river basins —including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande — are currently at 86 percent of normal snowpack for this time of year, according to early April 2016 SNOTEL survey data…

    The El Niño, which began in spring of 2015, may keep Colorado’s snowpack at average levels going into spring melt – good news for the millions of people who depend on water from the state’s rivers, both in Colorado and much of the West.

    “If we continue into May with that pattern, that would be a bit less common. There have been El Niño years where it kept going all the way into June, the most recent was 1995… 1983 was like that too, another Super El Niño.

    “Right now we are on this glide path towards probably neutral conditions in the Pacific in probably June or July and then the data will show that the event [El Niño] is over.”

    Climatologists are debating what will happen next. Usually, a La Niña has the tendency to follow up a big El Niño, but Wolter isn’t convinced. Even with the best weather models, we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Activists continue effort in Boulder to block Gross Reservoir expansion — Boulder Daily Camera

    Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera
    Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Alex Burness):

    Environmentalists are rallying support for a renewed fight against a long-standing proposal from Denver Water to nearly triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir by diverting from the Colorado River Basin…

    Before a group of about 30 Monday night at Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place, the directors of two non-profits united in the fight against the expansion — Save the Colorado River and The Environmental Group — made presentations alleging impropriety on Denver Water’s part and soliciting donations to a legal fund.

    “They’ve been working on their decision, and we assume, feel very strongly, that (Army Corps) will issue the permit,” said Chris Garre, President of The Environmental Group, which is based in Coal Creek Canyon. “As soon as that happens, the clock starts ticking.”

    The Colorado River, the presenters said, is the most dammed and diverted on the planet. At the Colorado River Delta, there is no longer water, and there is concern that an expansion of Gross Reservoir would see some creeks and tributaries drained at the 80 percent level, with some “zero flow” dry days.

    An expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is a roughly 25-minute drive west from Boulder on Flagstaff Road, would have a significant local impact. In fact, it would be the biggest construction project in Boulder County history, and would likely take about four or five years to complete.

    The proposal seeks to increase the height of the dam by 131 feet, and would require the clearing of about 200,000 trees…

    “Caring for the environment,” Garre added, “particularly those who live in the environment, in the forest, is crucial to your experience in Boulder County. This has never been addressed by Denver Water. It’s been ignored.”

    While the universal downsides such major construction — noise and temporary aesthetic downgrade, among others — aren’t up for debate, Denver Water tells a very different story about the project.

    The public agency that serves 1.3 million people in the Denver metro area gets about 80 percent of its water from the South Platte River System, and another 20 percent from Moffat, a smaller clump up north. Expanding Gross Reservoir and thereby Moffat, Denver Water says, will help balance the existing 80/20 split.

    “This imbalance makes the system vulnerable to catastrophic events, such as the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires, which caused massive sediment runoff into reservoirs on the south side of our system,” the agency published on its website.

    During times of severe drought, the argument continues, “We run the risk of running out of water on the north end of our system,” which would primarily impact customers in northwest Denver, Arvada and Westminster.

    Denver Water also maintains that as the Front Range continues to be one of the country’s fastest-growing areas, a shortfall in water supply is imminent unless addressed through projects like the one pitched for Gross Reservoir.

    #AnimasRiver: “I don’t believe they are manipulating the samples or the results” — Ryan Flynn

    From Environmental Technology Online:

    Utah has joined a growing list of disgruntled states who are unhappy with the manner in which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has handled the Gold King Mine disaster last year. In summer 2015, almost 400 tonnes of heavy metals were released into the Animas River after a collapse in the mine, prompting fears that nearby water supplies would become contaminated.

    In the intervening months, several states have become so impatient and unsatisfied with the efforts of the EPA in monitoring the river that they have set up their own initiative to safeguard the citizens living in towns and cities downstream of the accident.

    An Independent Monitoring System

    Monitoring water quality levels is important at the best of times, but in the wake of last summer’s disaster, it has taken on a new dimension for the states living in close vicinity to the mine. Utah is the latest state to join with New Mexico and Colorado, along with the Navajo Nation, in demanding better sampling of the affected rivers.

    The conglomerate hope to collect samples from the Animas River and the nearby San Juan River on a weekly basis and have them assessed for heavy metal content, including cadmium, copper, lead and zinc.

    They also wish to gather real-time information on the turbidity of both rivers to determine how much sediment is passing through them at any given time. This will be achieved via the installation of a series of multiple sensors and probes – much like the remote water quality monitors mentioned here – at key locations along the rivers.

    In this manner, the concerned states hope to be aware of any impending influx of sediment into their water supplies and make the relevant warnings to residents and preparations for alternative drinking water supplies.

    Unhappy with the EPA

    Though the EPA met with the states at the beginning of March to thrash out a firm plan of action, pledging to provide $2 million towards the initiative, such steps have done little to appease some of the officials involved.

    On the one hand, officials from the state of New Mexico claim that the EPA have been misconstruing or distorting the actual effects of the mine disaster. Ryan Flynn, who is the environment secretary for New Mexico, says that the EPA are using a different set of standards to require governmental action than they normally do, and that they have claimed downstream ditches had not been affected when they actually had.

    “I don’t believe they are manipulating the samples or the results,” Flynn explained. “But when it comes to communicating those results, the EPA is totally misleading the public and the states about what is actually occurring.”

    Secondly, Flynn and his Utah counterpart Erica Gaddis were also critical of the low sum the EPA had pledged towards the monitoring operation. Utah has already spent $400,000 on monitoring equipment and recently committed to spending $200,000 more, while New Mexico struggled to find $100,000 to purchase its own monitoring apparatus.

    “We are a poor state, and we have some real stress on our budget because of oil and gas prices,” Flynn went on, “but this mission is critical to protecting our communities.”

    As a result, both Utah and New Mexico plan to sue the EPA for compensation and damages once the catastrophe has been averted. For now, though, the priority remains to make sure no sediment makes it into local drinking water supplies – especially with the imminence of snowmelt engendered by the arrival of spring.

    The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente
    The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente