Click here to read the document:
Colorado’s Water Plan sets forth the measurable objectives, goals, and critical actions needed to ensure that Colorado can maintain our state’s values into the future. This is an update on implementation progress.
SUPPLY DEMAND GAP
Reducing the supply and demand gap is ultimately tied to actions in conservation, storage, land use, and ATMs. Updating the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) to provide accurate and current technical information for many of these efforts is fundamental to success. The SWSI update process kicked off July 2016. The CWCB and the IBCC are working to revise the Water Supply Reserve Fund criteria and guidelines to explicitly link funding requests to the goals and measureable outcomes identified in the Basin Implementation Plans and Colorado’s Water Plan. This will ensure that our funding decisions are congruent with the goals of Colorado’s Water Plan. Draft criteria and guidelines were presented to the CWCB Board in July and the IBCC in August. Final criteria and guidelines will be presented to the CWCB Board for approval in November.
The CWCB is financially supporting a variety of storage efforts and innovations, including a study of storage options in the South Platte (required under HB 16- 1256), exploring groundwater storage technology, and conducting a spillway analysis to identify existing storage that could be expanded. Earlier this year, state and federal partners, as well as community stakeholders, completed a Lean event on the water project permitting process. The Lean team is focused on implementing its recommendations to streamline the permitting process while maintaining rigorous environmental protection.
CONSERVATION AND LAND USE
The CWCB is developing a variety of trainings that will be held over the next couple of years for local governments, utilities, and land use planners to increase water-saving actions and the integration of land use and water planning. The first of the trainings focused on “Breaking Down Silos: Integrating Water into Land Use Planning Webinar Series” was held on September 13th. There were over 100 participants in the webinar. There will be two other webinars and a train-the- trainer session over the next few months. For the Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue, the second exploratory scenario planning workshop was held in July 2016. The Keystone Policy center is working with Denver Water, Aurora Water, and the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) to model the data to quantify the future scenarios. The CWCB is looking at lessons learned from the legislation on indoor watersense fixtures to inform the legislation on outdoor watersense requirements called for in the plan.
The CWCB and IBCC are hosting an Ag Viability Summit in partnership with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) on November 29. The agenda will include discussions about how to encourage regional planning for system-wide conservation and fleshing out the needs for an ag viability grant program. The CWCB is participating in a workshop at CU on meeting the Alternative Ag Transfer Mechanisms (ATM) goal in Colorado’s Water Plan on October 7th. Discussions will include creative ways to support and facilitate ATM projects. CAWA, the Ditch & Reservoir Company Association, and Colorado Cattlemen’s Association have also been working on ATM education and development. The Arkansas Basin pilot water sharing project with Catlin Canal is in its second year with favorable results that suggest statutory changes aimed at incenting alternatives to buy-and-dry transactions.
WATERSHED HEALTH, ENVIRONMENT & RECREATION
We are looking at providing an additional $5 million (through the CWCB funding plan) to the Watershed Restoration Program to work with roundtables and stakeholder groups to develop watershed restoration and stream management plans and projects for the priority streams identified in Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) and other watershed planning documents. The CWCB helped put on workshops at the Colorado Water Congress summer conference in August 2016 on Stream Management Plans: what they are and how to develop one. Another workshop will be hosted on Tuesday, October 11th at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds conference. The CWCB will be including climate change impacts in the SWSI update.
The CWCB is working with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and the One World One Water Center at Metro State University of Denver to develop a proposal for a Water Education Assessment to improve long-term water education program evaluation, identify gaps in water education, and develop case studies of successful programs and best practices to share statewide. The assessment will help align funding with educational priorities statewide. The CWCB created an e-newsletter to update stakeholders on Colorado’s Water Plan implementation and the work of the CWCB Board and staff, IBCC, basin roundtables, and local communities. The next issue will go out the first week of October.
The CWCB is working to connect with and create partnerships with the innovation community, including the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN) and Something Independent, to create pathways for the private sector and the water community to work together to tackle the state’s water challenges and focus on innovating with water data.
Funding is critical to many of our implementation efforts. The CWCB will continue to align funding decisions with Colorado’s Water Plan. We are developing a 3-5 year funding plan that will create a repayment guarantee fund, bolster the WSRF program, and support several education, conservation, reuse, and agricultural viability actions called for in the plan. The following funding plan is being developed by the CWCB staff, which will seek approvals from the CWCB Board and the legislature through the annual project’s bill, to kick-start water funding for plan implementation:
o a one-time investment of up to $50 million (as available) into a repayment guarantee fund;
o an annual transfer of $10 million for the Water Supply Reserve Fund;
o an annual transfer of $5 million for the Watershed Restoration Program;
o and an annual transfer of $10 million for additional non-reimbursable CWCB programming to implement Colorado’s Water Plan.
USE OF $5 MILLION FROM 2016 PROJECTS BILL
Of the $5 million transferred in the 2016 Projects Bill to assist in the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan, staff is recommending the following approximate amounts to the Board for appropriation in 2017:
$1 million will support efforts with watershed-level flood and drought planning and response;
$.5 million for grants to provide technical assistance to irrigators for assistance with federal cost-sharing improvement programs;
$1.2 million for water forecasting and measuring efforts;
$1.3 million to update reuse regulations as well as to fund a training program for local water providers to better understand AWWA’s methodology for water loss control; and
$1 million to support the Alternative Agricultural Water Transfer Methods Grant Program.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
During the past 7-days, frequent frontal activity helped to ensure heavy rainfall (2 inches or greater) over portions of the Midwest, the Middle and Lower Mississippi Valley, the southern Plains, the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, and the Pacific Northwest. The Southern Atlantic Coast region also received areas of heavy rainfall due to the slow passage and subsequent meandering of Tropical Storm Julia. Drought remains entrenched over the southern Appalachians vicinity, parts of the Northeast/eastern Great Lakes region, the northern Plains, and much of the West…
Great Plains and northern Rockies
In western Montana, moderate precipitation (0.5-2.2 inches) led to small improvements in the drought depiction, including the reduction and/or removal of D2 in Granite, Ravalli, and Missoula Counties. However, increasing dryness across the rest of the state prompted the expansion of D0, D1, and D2 categories across most of the southern half of the state. Groundwater levels along the Rocky Mountain Front (especially Teton County) are a concern. In northeastern Oklahoma, persistent dryness, reduced pond levels, spotty rains which keep hitting (or missing) the same areas, dormant grass, 30-, 60-, and 90-day DNPs, CPC Soil Moisture, and the 30-day SPI warranted a modest increase in coverage of D0 and D1 in this part of the state. Recent precipitation in south-central Oklahoma resulted in the removal of a D1 patch. In Texas, localized adjustments were made to the map, though as a whole, the state remains in relatively good shape…
Southwest/Four Corners region
Beneficial precipitation in recent weeks and cooler temperatures are helping to moderate ET demand, prompting some improvement of D1 in north-central Utah (Duchesne and Carbon Counties), and trimming of D2 in Carbon County. The 30-day SPI has improved to the 0 to +1 range in this area. An impact line was introduced in Colorado to emphasize the short-term nature of the drought there, while the “SL” impact label (emphasizing both short- and long-term impacts) still fits for much of the surrounding area. This was based to a large degree on the objective “worst case” drought blends…
California and western Great Basin
Since this is the normally dry and warm time of the year when no real changes are expected to occur, there were no changes made on the map…
During the next 5 days (September 22-26), most dryness or drought areas east of the Mississippi River are not expected to receive significant rainfall. Beneficial rain is, however, forecast for some areas west of the Mississippi River, including the southern Plains (2-3 inches), and from the northern High Plains and northern Rockies southward across northern Utah (1.5 to locally as much as 6.0 inches). During the 6-10 day period, September 27-October 1, odds favor above-median precipitation across the south-central contiguous U.S., peninsular Florida, and the Upper Mississippi Valley/Dakotas region. Odds favor below-median precipitation for portions of the mid-Atlantic, Carolinas, northern Georgia, and eastern parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. Below-median precipitation is also favored for most areas west of the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
ASPEN – A representative of the U.S. Forest Service told Aspen City Council Tuesday that the federal agency is likely to oppose the city if it files to extend conditional water rights it holds for dams on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.
The city has until Oct. 31 to submit a due diligence filing in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs to keep its conditional water rights alive for another six years, and the council held a work session Tuesday where it took public comment on the issue.
Kevin Warner, who is serving as the acting district ranger in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said legal counsel for the Forest Service at the regional level had advised him that the federal agency would likely submit a statement of opposition if the city filed to extend its conditional water rights.
He said that given the city’s ongoing exploration of whether or not it should seek to renew its conditional water rights, the Forest Service also took an “in-depth” look at the rights.
“In this instance, we’ve taken a little more time, looked into it,” Warner told the council. “And based on advice from our counsel, we are considering filing a statement of opposition to this diligence filing.”
If built as currently described by the conditional water rights, the Maroon Creek Reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam, just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks.
The Maroon Creek Reservoir would cover 85 acres of Forest Service land about a mile and a half below Maroon Lake. The reservoir would also inundate portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the ghost town of Ashcroft.
The reservoir, inundating 120 acres, would affect mostly private land but would also flood some Forest Service land within the wilderness.
The city originally filed for the water rights in 1965, citing an expectation that it would need to build at least one of the reservoirs by 1970 to meet demands for water.
In its last diligence filing in 2009, the city told the water court “it has steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation of this water right in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner.”
On Tuesday, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, David Hornbacher, told the city council there could be a gap in the future between the city’s water supply and demand, especially given climate change, but he did not cite the specific size of the perceived gap, or how the potential reservoirs would be used to meet it.
He did, however, recommend that the city file an application in water court to maintain its conditional water rights and then look at alternatives.
A draft resolution put forward by city staff says “the city should also continue to further investigate alternative locations and sizing requirements of the Maroon Creek Reservoir and/or Castle Creek Reservoir, and, if appropriate, seek water court approval for modification of one or both conditional decrees, with their existing appropriation dates.”
Not compatible with USFS management plan
Art Daily, a member of the Aspen City Council and a veteran attorney with Holland and Hart in Aspen, asked Warner during Tuesday’s work session whether the Forest Service viewed filing a statement of opposition in water court as an “opportunity” or a “responsibility.”
Statements of opposition in water court cases do not always reflect a party’s intent in the case. A statement could be simply a way to monitor court proceedings, or it could signal intent to litigate against a proposed water right.
In response to Daily’s question, Warner said the agency saw it as a responsibility to oppose the city, rather than an opportunity.
Warner said the Forest Service’s opposition to the city’s water rights was based on the fact that the reservoirs would inundate portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
“Based on our understanding of the Wilderness Act, and the fact that there was no exception built into the designation for the Maroon-Bells Wilderness Area … it would need to go to the president” in order for the reservoirs to be approved, Warner said.
Without such an authorization, the Forest Service could not support the city’s conditional water rights.
“It is nothing against this particular one, it’s just a legal thing,” Warner told the council. “It is kind of our opportunity in the court system to say, ‘You guys would have to get this done,’ and therefore it is kind out of our control.”
Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, told the city council in an Aug. 19 letter that no president has granted such an exemption to the Wilderness Act since it was approved 52 years ago.
Roush wrote, “the city would have to convince the president of the Unites States that the ability of Aspen residents and second homeowners to water their lawns in late summer was of a greater national interest than the internationally recognized ecological and scenic values of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.”
He also urged the city, on behalf of Wilderness Workshop, to abandon its conditional water rights.
This is not the first time the Forest Service has warned the city of Aspen that its proposed dams and reservoirs conflict with federal policy.
In 2009, the last time the city filed to extend its conditional water rights, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams sent the city a letter about its conditional water rights, but did not file a statement of opposition.
“As currently decreed, the locations of the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs would not comply with the goals and objectives of the White River National Forest’s land and resource management plans for these areas,” Fitzwilliams wrote. “For example, the Maroon Creek Reservoir, as currently sited, would not be compatible with the specific management of the highly visited area for the protection of its high scenic value. Both proposed structures would conflict with our management objective to maintain or improve long-term riparian ecosystem conditions on the forest.”
County in question
In addition to the likely pushback from the Forest Service, American Rivers has also stated it will oppose the city in water court.
“American Rivers strongly encourages the city of Aspen to not file to maintain its conditional water rights for new dams on Castle and Maroon creeks,” wrote Matt Rice, the director of the Colorado River basin program for American Rivers on Aug. 17. “Aspen does not need these dams for municipal water supply, climate resiliency, or for stream protection now or at any time in the foreseeable future.”
Last month, Rice also said in an interview that American Rivers would oppose the city in water court if it filed to extend the conditional water rights.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy also weighed in with an Aug. 25 letter to the council, arguing that based on relevant studies, the city “appears to have sufficient water supply to meet its forecasted demand” without the reservoirs, which would “result in needless, drastic alteration of the natural landscape of two of our state’s most scenic places.”
“Rather than prolonging this debate for another six-year diligence cycle, Roaring Fork Conservancy believes now is the appropriate time to cancel these conditional water rights and tfor the city to pursue any other water demand and supply initiatives,” says the letter signed by director Rick Lofaro.
The city council also heard Tuesday from Lisa Tasker, the chair of Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, which recently sent a letter to the city saying the board “does not support new construction of impoundments on Maroon and Castle creeks.”
Tasker also suggested that Pitkin County might oppose the city’s diligence filing.
But Laura Makar, an attorney with the county who specializes in water issues, said Wednesday that the board of county commissioners “has not taken any position on any possible permutation of a diligence application the city of Aspen might file and I expect the [commissioners] will not have any position until any application is filed.”
Opposition in Maroon Creek Valley
The city also received a letter from an attorney representing the Larsen Family Limited Partnership, which owns water rights on Maroon Creek.
Craig Corona, a water attorney in Aspen who represents the Larsen family, wrote a letter on Aug. 17 to the city saying, “The city has not demonstrated that it will have a water supply shortfall in the future raising questions as to the need for these water rights. Even if such a supply issue arises, the city has other far less damaging options to meet its needs, including improving conservation and efficiency, developing additional groundwater sources (which the city is currently doing), and developing multiple smaller storage structures in more appropriate locations.”
Corona also told the city that it “should not file for diligence on its Castle Creek and Maroon Creek Reservoir water rights and should allow them to be canceled.”
Marcella Larsen of Aspen is co-manager of the Larsen Family Limited Partnership. She’s also a member of the Maroon Creek Caucus, which advises Pitkin County on land use in the Maroon Creek Valley.
Larsen recently sent a comment letter to the city from the Maroon Creek Caucus, opposing the Maroon Creek Reservoir, noting, “The city has made several statements to the public that it has no plans to build the reservoir and merely seeks to keep its options open by maintain the water rights. But when it files in court, the city will have to prove that it ‘can and will’ build the reservoir. Put differently, the city must prove that the project is essentially a foregone conclusion, not just a potential pursuit.”
The caucus concluded, “We think the only reasonable decision is for the city of Aspen to choose to not maintain its Maroon Creek Reservoir water right.”
The city council next plans to meet in a closed-door executive session with its water attorney on Monday about its conditional water rights, and then hold another public work session on Tuesday.
It also plans to vote on Oct. 10 whether or not to file to maintain the conditional water rights.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016.
From Oil Change International (Greg Muttitt):
A new study released by Oil Change International, in partnership with 14 organizations from around the world, scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by revealing the need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion. It focuses on the potential carbon emissions from developed reserves – where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed.
- The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.
- The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.
- With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.
- No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them.
- Some fields and mines – primarily in rich countries – should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries.
- This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.
From The Guardian (Bill McKibben):
The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new study released Thursday are the most ominous yet.
Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do?
Here’s the answer: zero.
That’s right: If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.
The new numbers are startling. Only four years ago, I wrote an essay called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” In the piece, I drew on research from a London-based think tank, the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The research showed that the untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas identified by the world’s fossil fuel industry contained five times more carbon than we can burn if we want to keep from raising the planet’s temperature by more than two degrees Celsius. That is, if energy companies eventually dug up and burned everything they’d laid claim to, the planet would cook five times over. That math kicked off a widespread campaign of divestment from fossil fuel stocks by universities, churches, and foundations. And it’s since become the conventional wisdom: Many central bankers and world leaders now agree that we need to keep the bulk of fossil fuel reserves underground.
But the new new math is even more explosive. It draws on a report by Oil Change International, a Washington-based think tank, using data from the Norwegian energy consultants Rystad. For a fee—$54,000 in this case—Rystad will sell anyone its numbers on the world’s existing fossil fuel sources. Most of the customers are oil companies, investment banks, and government agencies. But OCI wanted the numbers for a different reason: to figure out how close to the edge of catastrophe we’ve already come.
Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere. But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this:
942 > 800
“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director.
It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.
What’s worse, the definition of “morbid” has changed in the past four years. Two degrees Celsius used to be the red line. But scientists now believe the upper limit is much lower. We’ve already raised the world’s temperature by one degree—enough to melt almost half the ice in the Arctic, kill off huge swaths of the world’s coral, and unleash lethal floods and drought. July and August tied for the hottest months ever recorded on our planet, and scientists think they were almost certainly the hottest in the history of human civilization. Places like Basra, Iraq—on the edge of what scholars think was the Biblical Garden of Eden—hit 129 degrees Fahrenheit this year, approaching the point where humans can’t survive outdoors. So last year, when the world’s leaders met in Paris, they set a new number: Every effort, they said, would be made to keep the global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees. And to have even a 50–50 chance of meeting that goal, we can only release about 353 gigatons more CO2. So let’s do the math again:
942 > 353
A lot greater. To have just a break-even chance of meeting that 1.5 degree goal we solemnly set in Paris, we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted.
“Absent some incredible breakthrough in mythical carbon-sucking unicorns, the numbers say we’re done with the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” says Kretzmann. “Living up to the Paris Agreement means we must start a managed decline in the fossil fuel industry immediately—and manage that decline as quickly as possible.”
“Managed decline” means we don’t have to grind everything to a halt tomorrow; we can keep extracting fuel from existing oil wells and gas fields and coal mines. But we can’t go explore for new ones. We can’t even develop the ones we already know about, the ones right next to our current projects.
In the United States alone, the existing mines and oil wells and gas fields contain 86 billion tons of carbon emissions—enough to take us 25 percent of the way to a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature. But if the U.S. energy industry gets its way and develops all the oil wells and fracking sites that are currently planned, that would add another 51 billion tons in carbon emissions. And if we let that happen, America would single-handedly blow almost 40 percent of the world’s carbon budget.
This new math is bad news for lots of powerful players. The fossil fuel industry has based its entire business model on the idea that it can endlessly “replenish” the oil and gas it pumps each year; its teams of geologists are constantly searching for new fields to drill. In September, Apache Corporation announced that it has identified fields in West Texas that hold three billion barrels of oil. Leaving that oil underground—which the new math shows we must do if we want to meet the climate targets set in Paris—would cost the industry tens of billions of dollars.
For understandable reasons, the unions whose workers build pipelines and drill wells also resist attempts to change. Consider the current drama over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. In September, even after pipeline security guards armed with pepper spray and guard dogs attacked Native Americans who were nonviolently defending grave sites from bulldozers, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on the Obama administration to allow construction to proceed. “Pipeline construction and maintenance,” Trumka said, “provides quality jobs to tens of thousands of skilled workers.” The head of the Building Trades Unions agreed: “Members have been relying on these excellent, family-supporting, middle-class jobs with family health care, pensions, and good wages.” Another union official put it most eloquently: “Let’s not turn away and overregulate or just say, ‘No, keep it in the ground.’ It shouldn’t be that simple.”
She’s right—it would be easier for everyone if it weren’t that simple. Union workers have truly relied on those jobs to build middle-class lives, and all of us burn the damned stuff, all day, every day. But the problem is, it is that simple. We have to “turn away.” We have to “keep it in the ground.” The numbers are the numbers. We literally cannot keep doing what we’re doing if we want to have a planet.
“Keeping it in the ground” does not mean stopping all production of fossil fuels instantly. “If you let current fields begin their natural decline,” says Kretzmann, “you’ll be using 50 percent less oil by 2033.” That gives us 17 years, as the wells we’ve already drilled slowly run dry, to replace all that oil with renewable energy. That’s enough time—maybe—to replace gas guzzlers with electric cars. To retrain pipeline workers and coal miners to build solar panels and wind turbines. To follow the lead of cities like Portland that have barred any new fossil fuel infrastructure, and countries like China that have banned new coal mines. Those are small steps, but they’re important ones.
Even some big unions are starting to realize that switching to renewable energy would add a million new good-paying jobs by 2030. Everyone from nurses to transport workers is opposing the Dakota pipeline; other unions have come out against coal exports and fracking. “This is virtually unprecedented,” says Sean Sweeney, a veteran labor and climate organizer. “The rise of ‘climate unionism’ offers a new direction for the labor movement.” And if it spreads, it will give Democratic politicians more room to maneuver against global warming.
But to convince the world’s leaders to obey the math—to stop any new mines or wells or pipelines from being built—we will need a movement like the one that blocked the Keystone pipeline and fracking in New York and Arctic drilling. And we will need to pass the “Keep It in the Ground Act,” legislation that would end new mining and drilling for fossil fuels on public land. It’s been called “unrealistic” or “naïve” by everyone from ExxonMobil to the interior secretary. But as the new math makes clear, keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the only realistic approach. What’s unrealistic is to imagine that we can somehow escape the inexorable calculus of climate change. As the OCI report puts it, “One of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging.” That is, after all, the first rule of holes, and we’re in the biggest one ever.
This is literally a math test, and it’s not being graded on a curve. It only has one correct answer. And if we don’t get it right, then all of us—along with our 10,000-year-old experiment in human civilization—will fail.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):
McDivitt Law Firm said it plans to file a lawsuit this week over the fouling of the Widefield Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to thousands of residents in southern El Paso County.
McDivitt is partnering with a New York firm, Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC, which has been running television ads in recent months to woo clients.
Mike McDivitt, the firm’s founder, said about 1,000 people have retained his firm, and many more residents have expressed interest.
The possible move comes on the heels of another federal suit filed earlier this week against 3M, Ansul Foam of Wisconsin and National Foam of Pennsylvania. The companies manufactured and sold a military firefighting foam laden with chemicals associated with a host of health ailments, including cancer.
The first suit was filed by the Hannon Law Firm of Denver on behalf of three customers receiving contaminated water.
McDivitt’s suit was expected to be filed Wednesday, but he said the filing was delayed.
From The Clear Creek Courant (Corinne Westeman):
Saturday’s eighth annual Clear Creek Watershed Festival was a fun and educational experience for children and their parents. More than 20 local businesses, government agencies and nonprofits put together booths and stations for families to visit. For each station visited, the attendee would have her “passport” stamped. A full passport book earned a prize.
The event was started as a way to celebrate and educate the community, specifically children, on the importance of the watershed and how best to keep it clean…
Organizers Chris Crouse and Dave Holm said the festival is a way to teach attendees about watershed use and cleanliness factors, including wildlife/urban balance, high altitude, land-use impacts. The Clear Creek watershed not only supplies water for several communities, they said, it also supplies several breweries and Water World in Federal Heights.
This year, Crouse and Holm said, they tried to promote the event at schools as much as possible, as an opportunity to stimulate learning outside the classroom. And, overall, they anticipated about 500 people to visit the festival throughout the day…
Cannon said the festival is a great way to “get people exposed to what’s going on” in terms of water cleanliness. Cannon displayed various types of bugs from Clear Creek. He said the presence of certain bugs is “used as an indicator of healthy water,” and that it’s important to keep Clear Creek clean and safe.
“Anything that keeps kids connected to the environment is a good, healthy thing,” he said.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):
Nine months after the much-heralded release of the Colorado Water Plan, conservation groups are watching closely to see that the plan’s water conservation goals are being adequately funded and implemented.
“The plan is only as good as how it gets put into place and gets applied throughout the different basins,” Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for Western Resource Advocates, said in a recent interview with the Post Independent.
A key step in that process comes this week as the Colorado Water Conservation Board holds its bimonthly meeting in Edwards at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.
Today, the Board Finance Committee meets to take a look at the finances for CWCB activities over the coming year, including implementation of the various elements of the water plan through the remainder of this year. Board members will also be taking a tour of Deep Creek near Dotsero, which has been deemed suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation.
On the agenda for the regular board meeting Wednesday and Thursday will be a range of topics including a strategic planning session, reports from the directors of the nine river basins and, to start things off at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, a progress report on the steps taken since last November when the water plan was first presented to the CWCB. Included as part of that discussion will be an update on the “vision, timeline and status” of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is a key aspect of the water plan.
“The urgency for having this plan in place for Colorado is every bit as strong as when the plan was written,” Miller said of the multi-year planning effort that led to the release of the water plan by Gov. John Hickenlooper last December.
Already, the state population has grown by another 100,000 people over the past year and is expected to double to nearly 10 million people by 2050, Miller noted.
“Drought remains an issue in Colorado and around the west, and some of the very reasons for the plan coming into being are even more pronounced,” he said.
Among the key conservation provisions in the plan was to achieve a savings in Front Range urban water usage of 400,000 acre feet of water and establishing stream management plans for most of the priority rivers in the state.
“In particular streams, the objective was to identify what the problems are with that stream, and to lay out options,” Miller said. “That’s an important first step in figuring out what the rivers need for long-term health.”
Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado said it comes down to securing implementation funding for those stream management plans to be developed.
Initial funding for the water plan was the “darling bill” of the last state legislative session, but it was just the beginning, Conley said.
The state Legislature earlier this year allocated $5 million for plan implementation in 2016. But it’s estimated some $175 million will be needed over the next five years to truly implement different aspects of the water plan, she emphasized. Especially as drought conditions worsen in the Colorado River Basin downstream from Colorado, the conservation measures built into the water plan intended to stave off more Front Range water diversion projects become even more critical, Conley said.
“There has been some progress with implementation, but there’s not a lot happening yet with the conservation goals,” Conley said. “It has not moved forward with the gusto that we would like to see.
“The more we plan now, the better off we will be able to respond to crises,” she said.
Local measures such as water sharing between different types of users and water recycling projects go a long way toward that effort, she added.
Miller also added that much work still needs to be done regarding the conceptual framework for new transmountain diversion projects that was a big part of the water plan.
“There needs to be a lot more scrutiny for those types of proposals, and criteria for when the state would fund any project proposals,” he said. “A lot of this will be decided very soon, and it could end up being a very good year for the plan next year if the budget gets approved, and if certain criteria get applied to that funding.”
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
Rocky Mountain National Park’s glaciers are shrinking away.
And that’s a big problem — not only for the park’s scenic splendor, but also for Colorado communities that rely on water from the Poudre, Colorado and Big Thompson rivers, which are fed by meltwater from dozens of glaciers and glacierlike features strewn about the park.
For decades, Mother Nature has protected them from unfavorable conditions, but as the park’s temperatures climb and the promise of heavy winter snowfall grows more uncertain, the park’s glaciers and glacierlike features have slowly and unsteadily started to shrink.
A single decade of prolonged drought and warm summers could spell the beginning of the end for RMNP’s glaciers, according to one park ecologist. It’s already happened in California, where about a decade of drought and warming temperatures have pushed Yosemite National Park’s glaciers to near extinction.
“It’s sad to say, but most mountain glaciers are predicted to be gone by the end of the century,” said Dan McGrath, a Colorado State University research scientist. “I find it hard to believe (Rocky Mountain’s glaciers) could survive given the predicted warming and likely changes in precipitation.”
RMNP glaciers have always yo-yoed in size, partially melting in summer heat and regaining mass from winter flakes. The park has 30 glaciers, according to USGS topographic maps, but some of them technically aren’t glaciers anymore. Between the 1990s and 2005, the glaciers started to shrink at an increasing rate — perhaps faster than “at any other time in the historic record,” according to a 2007 Portland State University study.
And the park’s glaciers don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Its glaciers are tiny compared to well-known glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and elsewhere. RMNP’s biggest glacier is about 31 acres, the size of six Old Town Squares, and the smallest is smaller than two football fields, according to the 2007 study.
Scientists have no idea how the park’s glaciers have changed in volume over time and have only a limited record of how they’ve changed in area. McGrath wants to fix that.
He’s conducting a two-year study to find out how the glaciers have changed in area and volume since 2005 using historic maps, climate records, photographs and present-day measurements to fill the gaps in scientific understanding of the glaciers.
McGrath and his team are focusing mostly on the well-known Andrews and Tyndall glaciers but will monitor about 10 other glaciers along the Front Range. They’ll use electromagnetic waves to measure snow accumulation and ice thickness of the glaciers. With cutting-edge laser technology, they’ll create unprecedented 3D models of the glaciers. And they’re setting up timelapse cameras near stakes planted in the glaciers to study the timing of their shrinkage.
McGrath has discovered that Andrews and Tyndall glaciers are roughly the same size they were in 2005. They grew in 2010 and 2011 because of heavy snowfall but shrunk after that.
To get a better understanding of the glaciers’ timelines, McGrath will pore over climate models to see what’s in store for temperature and precipitation in the park’s higher elevations. It’s clear that warming will continue, but climate models are less certain about how precipitation will change over time in the Rocky Mountains.
Preliminary results from an ongoing study by Glenn Patterson, a CSU geosciences Ph.D. candidate, and Steven Fassnacht, a CSU snow hydrology professor, suggest that snowfall has decreased more in the park’s higher elevations than its lower areas.
Warming temperatures will melt more of the glaciers in summer, but warming temperatures’ larger impact could come in autumn and spring. A bump of a few degrees when temperatures are near the freezing point can turn snow into rain.
“Of all the things I’m worried about for glacier health, it’s that threshold,” McGrath said. “It can be 30 degrees and you get snow, or it can be 34 degrees and you might be getting only rain. That is going to dramatically alter both the behavior of the glacier and the mass balance. That’s universal.”
The final piece: McGrath’s team will study how glacier melt influences rivers, measuring streamflow and collecting water samples to see how much water glaciers contribute to rivers.
Downstream impacts are worth studying because the Colorado, Big Thompson and Poudre rivers are fed largely by snowmelt and groundwater. The park’s year-round snowfields have particularly important downstream impacts, and the snowfields behave a lot like glaciers.
Even a small loss in the snow and ice that feed Northern Colorado rivers would be a huge blow to Fort Collins and other nearby communities that rely on their water. The gradual melting of perennial snowfields bolsters late summer and fall streamflow, said Paul McLaughlin, an ecologist at the park’s Continental Divide Research Learning Center, and our water storage system depends on those established patterns. Changing water volumes and temperatures can irreparably damage delicate river ecosystems.
The strange thing about these glaciers is they shouldn’t really be here.
The park gets too warm in summer and not enough snow falls on them naturally, McGrath said. But most of the glaciers live in cirques that protect them from the summer sun, and aggressive winds shuttle snow across the Continental Divide, dumping between 5 and 10 times more snow on the glaciers than they would get from the sky alone.
“There’s something of a climate disconnect,” McLaughlin said. “In these systems where the glaciers have already retreated to these shady areas, there’s kind of a time lag in which the glaciers may persist even though the temperatures are getting warmer. But at some point in the future, we would expect they’ll reach a tipping point where they would quickly disappear.”
McLaughlin said the best-case scenario for the glaciers would be a future with less greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have the opportunity as humans to manage the amount of carbon dioxide we’re producing and putting into the atmosphere,” he said. “That will have an effect on our climate moving forward, and perhaps on the lifespan of our glaciers.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
If Colorado’s state water plan is to keep the headwaters state in control of its lifeblood, the plan will require a new spring of cash to replace one that is running dry, officials said Friday.
Where the money will come from — and ideas run from mill levies to sales taxes to tap fees to usage fees — isn’t clear, state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.
The state’s severance tax was anticipated to be a major source of revenue for the water plan, which was drafted to encourage water conservation as well as pay for water storage.
Severance taxes, however, have shrunk as oil and gas revenues have fallen in the face of dropping prices and as coal production has slipped.
The plan has twin goals of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water while also storing an equal amount by 2030, when the state would otherwise come 560,000 acre-feet short of the expected demands of residents and businesses…
Coram said he floated the idea of charging 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water on delivery to homes and businesses, to get people talking.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know doing nothing is not going to get things done,” Coram said.
Early projections called for the state severance tax to account for $3 billion, but that reservoir of cash is unlikely to refill soon, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the water plan and is charged with carrying it out.
It could take two to four years to determine how best to fund the plan, Coram said.
“We’re moving forward as aggressively as possible to implement this plan,” Eklund said.
Among the water plan priorities for the coming year are establishing a repayment guarantee fund with $50 million as needed to underwrite water projects; $10 million for the water supply reserve fund; $10 million for programming for the water plan and $5 million for the watershed restoration program.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Ryan Summerlin):
The common denominator among speakers at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday was that stakeholders have an uphill battle to protect the river. The effects of climate change coupled with demand outpacing supply are continuing to leave water rights holders in a pickle — draining every drop of water before the Colorado reaches its mouth.
The Colorado River Basin is in its 16th year of drought, which ultimately hampers water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation and the basin’s ecology.
Jeff Lukas, an research integration specialist with Western Water Assessment, outlined the growing impacts of climate change on the Upper Colorado River Basin, comparing the basin’s temperatures, precipitation and runoff during other periods of record heat. Some of the key climate change risks for Colorado are reduced annual runoff, earlier runoff, degraded water quality, greater water demand and more frequent droughts, according to Lukas.
Many people are seeing a decrease in runoff for a given amount of precipitation, which Lukas links to warmer temperatures.
About 75 percent of precipitation goes back into the atmosphere, and the bulk of streamflow happens during a narrow window of time, about 80 percent occurring between April and July, he said. Rising temperatures indicate that this trend of decreased streamflow will continue.
Record warm years earlier in the 20th century were also very dry, but now the basin is seeing record heat in wet years as well, said Lukas. And the Colorado River Basin is more sensitive to warming than other basins.
Warming also leads to earlier snowmelt and runoff, less snow accumulation and declines in runoff, said Lukas.
Lukas expects rising temperatures to result in increased water consumption and stress on the water supply and rights holders.
Other speakers representing the Colorado River District, farmers and lower basin entities that manage river water distribution presented various efforts to combat anticipated shortfalls.
From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
The Bureau of Reclamation recently awarded two new contracts totaling $66.3 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Those contracts continue construction work on a project that will provide long-term, sustainable water for 43 chapters of the Navajo Nation Reservation, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the City of Gallup, New Mexico.
On September 7, 2016, Reclamation awarded a $37 million design-build contract to CH2M for the design and construction of a water treatment plant along the project’s Cutter Lateral. Water for the Cutter Lateral will be supplied from Navajo Reservoir via Cutter Reservoir near Bloomfield, N.M. In addition to a state-of-the-art water treatment plant, work under this contract will include design and construction of a clearwell pumping plant, 500,000 gallon regulating tank, 2,500 square foot operation and maintenance building and 21,400 feet of pipeline. The plant will have a phased water treatment system to accommodate increasing flows over time up to a future total capacity of 5.4 million gallons per day. Work under this contract is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019.
On September 8, 2016, Reclamation awarded a second contract valued at $29.3 million to Moltz Constructors, Inc. for construction of Reach 22B of the Cutter Lateral, which will consist of 16 miles of 24-inch diameter pipe and two pumping plants. The pipeline is designed to handle flows up to 9.6 cubic feet per second and is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2018.
“Vital infrastructure is a key focus for President Obama, the Department of the Interior and Reclamation and we’re proud of the monumental work being accomplished on this project by our employees, contractors and partners,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “These awards mark a significant milestone for the project; all Reclamation construction along the Cutter Lateral is now either underway or under contract and we’re on track to begin water deliveries through the lateral in 2019.” said Brent Rhees, Director of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region. The Navajo Nation is also moving forward with design and construction of downstream sections of the lateral under a financial assistance agreement with Reclamation.
The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement. When complete, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipe, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks.
From the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):
Following above average temperatures in June and July across the entire state, August was cooler with slightly below average temperatures. Precipitation has varied over the last two months with some basins seeing half of normal moisture while others have had upwards of 150 percent of normal rainfall. The Front Range corridor remains dry and warm and drought conditions have also been expanded into Elbert and Lincoln counties. The forecast for the next two weeks shows mostly dry conditions coupled with moderate temperatures.
The months of June, July and August were collectively the 13th warmest summer period on record. Temperatures in September have been above normal in the southern half of the state and near normal to the north.
With the exception of the Yampa & White River basins, the state received near to well above average precipitation in August. However, September precipitation is tracking well below average in all basins. Statewide water year- to-date mountain precipitation, as reported from NRCS, is at 96 percent of normal as of September 16th. The 2016 water year ends September 30th.
Reservoir storage statewide is 107 percent of normal. The South Platte and Yampa& White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 112 and 110 percent of average, respectively. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 91 percent. All other basins are above normal at 104 to 109 percent of average.
Front Range water providers all reported storage levels ranging from 80 to 126 percent of average, however they did express some concern regarding low stream flows, which this task force will continue to monitor.
The long term forecast is highly uncertain at this point. El Nino has concluded and ENSO neutral conditions exist. It remains unclear if La Nina conditions will develop. However, should La Nina materialize it does not necessarily mean Colorado will experience drought conditions.
Granted, it’s not the best photo, given the late afternoon light, but it does show the status of the work as of Monday, Sept. 19, 2016 on the Basalt whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River. Cobble dams are being created to send the flow of the river into a bypass channel so two wave-producing structures can be embedded in the river. The excavator was exiting the river after a day’s work.
– Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Unseasonably warm, dry weather across the eastern third of the nation contrasted with wet, cooler conditions across portions of the west. The overall trend during the past week included rapidly expanding dryness and drought from North Carolina into New England, while highly variable drought lingered over much of the Southeast. Recent rain continued to ease dryness in northern portions of the Plains and Rockies as well as the lower Southwest, while drier-than-normal weather intensified in the Pacific Northwest…
Chilly, wet weather improved conditions over the region’s core drought areas, though impacts remained. Temperatures for the week averaged 2 to 8°F below normal, which coupled with widespread rain and high-elevation snow led to reductions of dryness and drought. During the 7-day period, precipitation totaled locally more than an inch in southern and eastern Montana as well as western North Dakota. This week’s precipitation coupled with a wetter-than-normal period dating back over the past 90 days led to the reduction of Abnormal Dryness (D0) as well as Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2, respectively) in these locales. Precipitation was also noted in the Black Hills and environs, where satellite-derived vegetation health data as well as reports from the field continued to show improving conditions from this summer’s locally Extreme Drought (D3). Despite the cooler weather and recent rain, impacts lingered in the D2 and D3 areas, with 90-day rainfall remaining locally less than 50 percent of normal…
Central and Southern Plains
Changes during the week were generally minor in this mostly drought-free region. Showers eased Abnormal Dryness (D0) and trimmed the Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2) in Nebraska, though deficits over the past 90 days (40-75 percent of normal) lingered. In eastern Colorado, a small pocket of D1 was introduced where 90-day rainfall is currently running one-third of normal. In Oklahoma, locally heavy rain (1-3 inches) and resultant drought relief in central and northern portions of the state contrasted with worsening drought in the south; the state’s new D2 area has received less than 30 percent of normal rainfall over the past 90 days…
Widespread albeit highly variable showers in central and northern portions of the state contrasted with localized drought intensification in Deep South Texas. Rainfall amounts in Texas’ Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) areas ranged from a Trace to locally more than 2 inches, which likewise resulted in highly variable reduction of D0 and D1. Severe Drought (D2) was introduced in far southern Texas, where 90-day rainfall was less than 25 percent of normal…
Moderate to heavy rain from former Pacific Hurricane Newton eased or eradicated drought in the lower Southwest, while increasingly dry conditions were noted across portions of the Pacific Northwest. A welcomed soaking rainfall (1-4 inches, locally more) fell over southeastern Arizona and much of southern New Mexico, bringing widespread reductions to Abnormal Dryness (D0) as well as Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2). In some areas, 2-category improvements were made where the rain from Newton was sufficient to push 6-month precipitation to above-normal levels. Further assessment may be warranted over the upcoming weeks to fully incorporate the impacts of this week’s rain on the region’s lingering drought. In contrast, Severe Drought (D2) was expanded across southeastern California and southwestern Arizona due to a poor monsoon (less than 50 percent of normal rainfall over the past 3 months, locally less than 10 percent). Likewise, a small area of Moderate Drought (D1) was introduced in northwestern Washington, where 90-day rainfall has totaled 50 percent of normal (deficits in excess of 2 inches)…
Tropical Storm Julia will likely be a short-lived tropical storm due to land interaction and unfavorable upper-level winds. Nevertheless, additional rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches or more can be expected, especially along the South Carolina coast. Farther west, a weakening cold front will move through the Northeast and stall across the South, while a robust storm system will emerge from the northern Intermountain West before crossing the northern Plains and upper Midwest on September 15-16. Five-day rainfall could total an inch or more across portions of the northern Plains and upper Midwest, and reach 1 to 3 inches from the central and southern Plains into the middle Mississippi Valley. Parts of the Northeast could also receive more than an inch of rain, while late-week showers will overspread the Northwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for September 20- 24 calls for near- to above-normal temperatures nationwide, except for the northern Rockies, with the greatest likelihood of warm weather in the Great Lakes region and the eastern U.S. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation will linger over the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as well as from the central Plains to the Great Basin and central Pacific Coast. Wetter-than-normal conditions are expected from the Southeast and Gulf Coast States into the Midwest, extending westward along the Canadian border into the Pacific Northwest.
From Alaska Dispatch News (Yereth Rosen):
Arctic sea ice is nearing the end of its annual melt, and one outcome is certain: 2016 will have either the second-lowest or third-lowest minimum extent measured since satellites began mapping ice.
Sea ice extent — the area of sea surface covered at least 15 percent by ice — has fallen below the minimum reached in 2011, which had been the third-lowest minimum recorded since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. Extent is now tracking slightly below the 2007 level for this time of year but well above the record low in 2012.
“We’re neck and neck with 2007,” said Mark Serreze, the center’s director. “We’re either going to be No. 2 or No. 3.”
A notable characteristic of this year’s ice is its low concentration, even at very high latitudes. Even near the North Pole, ice is broken, with a lot of open water exposed, according to satellite readings.
“You can take a boat up to 86 degrees north,” Serreze said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever seen that before, but it’s certainly an eye-opener.”
Imagery has improved with a new satellite, he noted.
The 2007 minimum, a record at the time, was 1.59 million square miles, hit on Sept. 16 of that year. Sea ice extent as of Wednesday was 1.622 million square miles, according to the NSIDC’s calculations posted Thursday. The annual minimum usually occurs in mid-September.
Imagery has improved with a new satellite, he noted.
The 2007 minimum, a record at the time, was 1.59 million square miles, hit on Sept. 16 of that year. Sea ice extent as of Wednesday was 1.622 million square miles, according to the NSIDC’s calculations posted Thursday. The annual minimum usually occurs in mid-September.
Sea ice has been relatively sparse all year, with record lows set for several months. Cloudy and cool weather, however, helped slow the melt earlier in the summer, the center said in its monthly report, issued Wednesday. The average August extent was the fourth lowest for that month. But two Arctic cyclones in August appeared to have accelerated melt by stirring up the broken ice.
In other years, such storms have brought cooler conditions that “have not been conducive to losing a lot of ice in the summer,” Serreze said. This year, however, with ice thinner than it used to be, the storms appear to have had the opposite effect. “It may be that now you’re mixing warmer waters up,” he said. The old patterns may no longer apply, he said.
Large waves used to be rare in the western Arctic Ocean but are becoming more common as open-water areas expand, the center said in its monthly report. Waves of up to 19 feet were recorded during the August cyclones, the center said.
The long-term trend to more open Arctic water over the past three decades has numerous spinoff effects.
With Arctic ice volume above the Pacific Ocean down 75 percent, late-summer extent down 50 percent and the open-water season expanded by four to six weeks, the region has become a friendlier habitat for some baleen whales, according to a new paper in the journal Biology Letters, published by the Royal Society of Britain.
Humpback, minke and fin whales, which up to the 1980s were not seen north of the Bering Strait, are now commonly spotted in the Chukchi Sea, said the paper, and bowhead whales have flourished. The baleen whales eat plankton and copepods — tiny crustaceans — that are more prolific in open water or water with only thin ice coverage, but the benefit to baleen whales may be only temporary, according to the paper.
Arctic shipping routes, which are open this year, are expected to become navigable for much longer periods in future decades, according to a study newly published in the journal Geophysical Research letters. The study, by University of Reading scientists, predicts that by midcentury, Arctic shipping routes will be navigable for annual periods that are twice as long as they are now.
From NASA (Kate Ramsayer):
Not too hot, not too cold – instead, water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean should be just around normal for the rest of 2016, according to forecasts from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, or GMAO. With these neutral conditions, scientists with the modeling center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center say there is unlikely to be a La Niña event in late 2016.
Last winter saw an extremely strong El Niño event, in which warmer-than-normal water sloshed toward the eastern Pacific Ocean. Historically, some of the larger El Niño events are followed by a La Niña event, in which deep, colder-than-normal water surfaces in the eastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of South America.
“We are consistently predicting a more neutral state, with no La Niña or El Niño later this year,” said Steven Pawson, chief of the GMAO. “Our September forecast continues to show the neutral conditions that have been predicted since the spring.”
As part of a research and development project, GMAO contributes experimental seasonal forecasts each month to the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) and other centers. MME produces a forecast by combining the individual forecasts of a number of participating institutions, which helps to reduce the uncertainty involved in forecasting events nine to twelve months in advance. The NMME prediction system delivers forecasts based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operational schedule and is used by many operational forecasters in predicting El Niño and La Niña events.
For GMAO, the seasonal forecasts are one way to use NASA satellite data to improve near-term climate predictions of the Earth system.
“We’re really trying to bring as much NASA observational data as possible into these systems,” Pawson said.
The scientists with GMAO feed a range of NASA satellite data and other information into the seasonal forecast model to predict if an El Niño or La Niña event will occur in the nine months – information on the aerosols and ozone in the atmosphere, sea ice, winds, sea surface heights and temperatures, and more. The models are run on supercomputers at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation – 9 terabytes of data each month.
For much of this spring and summer, however, the Goddard group’s forecast of neutral conditions looked like an outlier. Most other forecasts originally called for a La Niña event, but then shifted to more neutral outlooks in August. But the GMAO forecasts produced in January 2016, which look nine months ahead, saw the Pacific Ocean reverting to normal temperatures after last year’s El Niño, and even getting a little colder than normal. Still, the water wouldn’t get cold enough to be considered a La Niña, according to the GMAO forecasts.
It’s not the first time in recent memory that GMAO was an outlier. “The big El Niño that peaked in November 2015, we actually began forecasting that back in March, and our forecast was in excellent agreement with the real event,” said Robin Kovach, a research scientist at GMAO. While the strength of the 2015-2016 El Niño predicted by the model seemed at first to be excessive, it was borne out in subsequent observations.
The GMAO models aren’t always right, though, Kovach said. In 2014 the group forecast a large El Niño that didn’t materialize.
“There’s a fair degree of uncertainty when you start predicting for nine months ahead,” Pawson said. But the group is constantly upgrading their systems, and is currently working to improve the resolution and bring in new types of satellite observations, such as soil moisture information from the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, which launched in 2015.
GMAO scientists are also investigating how to incorporate observations of ocean color into the seasonal forecast model. Shades of green can tell researchers about how much phytoplankton is in a region, which in turn can provide information about fish populations.
“So if there’s another big El Niño in five years or so, we could be able to do online predictions of phytoplankton,” he said, “and help fishermen predict where fish might be.”
For more information, visit: https://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/
For NOAA’s El Niño and La Niña information and forecasts, visit: https://www.climate.gov/enso
From The Guardian (Oliver Milman):
A coalition of 25 prominent members of US national security community warn that higher temperatures and rising seas will inundate bases and fuel conflict
In a report outlining climate risks, the group state: “The military has long had a tradition of parsing threats through a ‘Survive to Operate’ lens, meaning we cannot assume the best case scenario, but must prepare to be able to effectively operate even under attack. Dealing with climate risks to operational effectiveness must therefore be a core priority.”
Organized by the non-partisan Center for Climate and Security, the group includes Geoffrey Kemp, former national security adviser to Reagan, Dov Zakheim, former under secretary of defense under Bush, and retired general Gordon Sullivan, a former army chief of staff.
Recommendations to the federal government include the creation of a cabinet-level official dedicated to climate change and security issues and the prioritization of climate change in intelligence assessments.
Last year, the Department of Defense called climate change a “threat multiplier” which could demand greater humanitarian or military intervention and lead to more severe storms that threaten cities and military bases and heightened sea levels that could imperil island and coastal infrastructure. In January, the Pentagon ordered its officials to start incorporating climate change into every major consideration, from weapons testing to preparing troops for war.
This new focus has not been warmly welcomed by Republicans, with Colorado congressman Ken Buck proposing an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from spending money on adapting to climate change.
“When we distract our military with a radical climate change agenda, we detract from their main purpose of defending America from enemies like Isis,” Buck said in July. Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has labeled climate change a “hoax”.
But military figures are increasingly expressing concern over potential disruption to the 1,774 coastal military installations the US operates at home and abroad. A mass of military infrastructure in Virginia is at particular risk of being soaked, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warning that by 2050 a majority of US coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due to “dramatically accelerating impacts from sea level rise”.
“The conclusions are clear: climate risks are accelerating in their likelihood and severity,” said retired rear admiral David Titley of the US navy. “The next administration, whomever is elected, has the duty and obligation as commander-in-chief to manage this risk in a comprehensive manner.”
Ronald Keys, former commander of Air Combat Command, told the Guardian that he was initially skeptical about climate change but was then convinced by the impacts he saw first hand when returning to Langley air force base in Virginia after an uneventful spell there in the 1980s.
“I came in as commander in 2005 and there were north-easters that came through and brought three or four feet of water outside where I was living,” he said. “You see that change and think ‘a ha.’ Before, a minor storm was a nuisance, now it is a danger to some of our operations.”
Keys said he hoped in a non-presidential election year that “cooler heads may prevail” over the rhetoric used by Trump and others.
“It’s hard to energize people now, but it’s too late when the water is around your ankles,” he said, “People can say the temperature hasn’t followed the models but I can read a thermometer and a flood gauge. We need to do this threat analysis now.”
From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):
For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.
On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment…
The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.
Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.
The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.
Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.
The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.
As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.
A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.
Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.
Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.
From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):
A half dozen U.S. senators are backing an amendment to expedite federal reimbursements to states, tribes, local governments and individuals for expenses incurred during the Gold King Mine spill.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., led the effort on Monday with senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing an amendment to a Senate bill for the Water Resources Development Act.
In addition, the amendment calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, tribes and local governments to develop and implement a water quality program to monitor the rivers contaminated by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill…
The water quality program would be responsible for collecting water samples and sediment data, and releasing that information online for the public’s review, according to the amendment.
In a joint press release on Monday, the senators said they support holding the EPA accountable for the spill, and they emphasized that reimbursements to government entities and individuals are needed.
Udall said reimbursements to state and tribal governments “have taken far too long,” and the amendment will start the reimbursement process.
“It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through long-term monitoring,” Udall said.
Heinrich called the rate to repay individuals “unacceptable.” He also called for action to reform “outdated policies” to clean up contaminated mines in the West and on tribal lands.
“Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land and livelihoods,” Heinrich said.
The bipartisan effort received support on Wednesday from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who continued his calls for reimbursing Navajo farmers.
Begaye said in a press release that funds received as a result of the amendment would be used to build a laboratory in Shiprock that would be used to study the water quality of the San Juan River.
“This amendment sets forth funds to be provided for monitoring of the San Juan River and irrigation canals. We need for our farmers to be confident that the water quality is irrigable,” the tribal president said.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register. From email:
Just a friendly reminder…
Register now for the 10th Annual Water 101 Workshop and Pilot 202 Session to be conducted September 22 (8:30 am to 5:00 pm) and 23 (8:30 am to 12:00 noon), 2016 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in Durango, CO.
The workshop qualifies for 10 continuing education credits (CEC) for lawyers, as well as CEC’s for realtors, TU’s for water utility personnel, and contact hours for teachers.
Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs (retired) will once again be the keynote speaker. See the sessions agenda and flyer for more information. Register for either session or both online (www.waterinfo.org) or call (970) 247-1302.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
Colorado senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, joined Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, John McCain, R-Arizona, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in endorsing the measure, according to a news release…
In a prepared statement, the senators said they hope to push the Environmental Protection Agency to cover costs incurred beyond Oct. 31, 2015, which the agency said it would not do, barring extenuating circumstances.
The measure would require EPA to pay all costs eligible for reimbursement unless the agency proves that the amount is not consistent with what is mandated under federal law.
If approved, EPA would have 90 days to pay out claims and give notice whether the agency will pay within 30 days of reaching a decision. It would also establish a water quality-monitoring program, which the EPA would reimburse local agencies to operate.
“It’s been more than a year since the Gold King Mine spill, and it’s unacceptable that the EPA still hasn’t fully reimbursed Colorado communities for their costs,” Bennet said in the prepared statement.
“The communities in southwest Colorado paid out of their own pockets to maintain drinking water, provide for extra staffing costs, keep the public updated, provide water for irrigation and monitor water quality. This amendment ensures that the EPA fully reimburses these communities and works collaboratively to institute a robust long-term water quality monitoring plan.”
Reimbursements to entities affected by the Gold King Mine spill, for which the EPA has taken responsibility, have trickled in since an agency-contracted crew released a massive plume of mine wastewater more than a year ago…
According to EPA records, the agency has paid more than $5.2 million in costs associated with the Aug. 5 blowout, but local agencies say outstanding costs remain unpaid.
San Juan County (Colorado) administrator Willy Tookey said the EPA has paid more than $250,000 (EPA records show $269,196) to the county and town of Silverton, yet $90,000 remains outstanding.
Megan Graham, public affairs officer for La Plata County, said the county has received $172,000 in costs, and is waiting for an additional $87,000. EPA records indicate $369,578 has been paid out to La Plata County, and it was unclear Monday why there is a discrepancy.
The city of Durango, too, says it’s due more money, having been paid $45,410 of its $444,032 request. Finance director Julie Brown said the city was notified Monday that the EPA intends to pay $101,465.
Local companies and individuals impacted by the spill also are caught in the EPA’s waiting game for reimbursements.
As of July, the EPA received 68 claims for financial reimbursements, yet the agency has not made any awards. The EPA has maintained it must conduct all reviews and investigations before awarding grants for financial damages.
It was unclear Monday what the 68 filings totaled in cost amount. However, a response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October, when there were just over 30 filings, showed claims of financial damages surpassed $1.3 million.
Those who believe they have been financially damaged by the EPA-triggered event have until Aug. 5, 2017, to file a Form 95, the claim process for financial reimbursements from economic loss caused by wrongful U.S. government actions.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
A great big thank you to all who came out and participated in our 22nd Annual Eagle River Cleanup! Over 300 volunteers came out to clean nearly 70 miles of the Eagle, Upper Colorado, and Gore Creek. Stay tuned for how many bags and tons of trash were cleared from our rivers! Good times were had afterwards at the “Thank You” BBQ in Arrowhead. As always, thank you to our presenting sponsor, Vail Resort’s Epic Promise. This event would not be possible without all of our generous business partners, and we’d like to especially thank Vail Board of Realtors, Antlers at Vail, Newfields, and United Companies.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):
Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly $1 million to cover past costs the government agency incurred while working at the Superfund site during a two-year period.
The Cotter Corp. oversees a now-defunct uranium mill just south of Canon City which has been on the EPA’s Superfund cleanup list since 1984. Officials are in the process of decommissioning the mill.
The agreement requires Cotter to pay EPA $957,604 for past oversight costs, incurred between 2012 and 2014. Funds are required to be paid to the EPA by Sept. 23 and will be placed in a special account and used to pay for any future costs at the site, according to Richard Mylott, EPA spokesman.
Public comment submitted in June urged the EPA to seek full restitution.
“The EPA believes the settlement is in the government’s best interest. The EPA will immediately recover $957,604 in past response costs that will be used to fund EPA’s future work at the site and avoid potentially protracted expensive litigation,” according to the 19-page settlement agreement.
One public comment submitted indicated it is difficult for the public to weigh-in on the agreement because government documents were not made available to assess what the total cost of oversight has been to the EPA. Certain EPA billing documents were not made public because of confidential business information which protects the documents from being released under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the agreement.
In a separate agreement, penned in June 2014, Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay EPA’s costs for oversight of the mill’s cleanup into the future.
Cotter produced uranium oxide, or yellowcake, at the mill in Fremont County from 1958 until 2006. Contamination to groundwater and soil resulted from the use of unlined impoundment ponds to hold tailings between 1958 and 1979.
In addition, a June 1965 flood caused the impoundments to overflow into Sand Creek, releasing contaminates into the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood, Mylott explained.
Cotter officials have been working to clean up contamination since 1988.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
On Monday, a joint project between the Bureau of Land Management, the town of Silverton and volunteers from around the area hauled away the last metal debris around the Lackawanna Mill, a site just north of Silverton not included in the EPA’s Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund designation.
“While there’s still talk about how to deal with the big things, we’re looking around to see what are the little projects we can do that can have some punch,” said Lisa Richardson, a … technician for BLM.
The remediation of the Lackawanna Mill Site began in 1996 when crews removed piles of mine tailings that were dumped beside the Animas River when the mill operated from 1928 until it shut down sometime in the 1960s.
“The river was eroding into the tailings,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Because it was right on the banks of the Animas it justified doing that.”
As a result, an area that once leached heavy metals into the Animas River is now a thriving wetland, home to several beaver ponds and prime habitat for riparian and avian life.
In 1999, the town of Silverton used a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to purchase about 26 acres for $110,000 with the intent of expanding Kendall Mountain Recreation area, which included part of the Lackawanna mill. The BLM also owns a portion of the land.
At the time, Silverton town officials proposed repurposing the historic mill into a space that would promote economic development and heritage tourism. Such ideas as a museum, artist residency, hotel and even an amphitheater were thrown into the mix. Lack of funding stalled the project.
However, last year life at the Lackawanna Mill seemed to reawaken. The town of Silverton launched a project to repair the building’s failing roof and other crumbling infrastructure.
“It (the damage) was significant,” said Chris George, parks, facilities and recreation coordinator for the town. “There were a lot of areas we couldn’t stand on until it was reinforced.”
The project, completed this year, didn’t address any of the structural needs inside the decrepit mill, George said. And many outstanding issues, such as utilities and access, remain a major obstacle to Lackawanna breathing new life.
“It would be an incredibly challenging job to make that a piece of economic return,” said town Administrator Bill Gardner. “Will it happen someday? I hope so. The dream is still there.”
Regardless, Richardson said removing the debris, which included rusty scrap metal, car parts, plywood and “just junk,” was significant both aesthetically – the mill is visible from town – and environmentally as the site is located above the wetlands and beaver ponds.
“It’s been used as a dumping site, so a lot of the junk is not associated with the mill, archaeologically speaking,” she said. “If we can, we want to keep those things on-site and put them in places where they won’t end up in the beaver ponds, which are really taking off.”
Richardson said the genesis of the debris cleanup day started when Outward Bound, an outdoor education program, approached the BLM with the idea of a community service project at Lackawanna.
Last year, a class of Outward Bound students built a temporary boardwalk across the wetland, allowing crews of mostly volunteers access to the mill site.
“All this volunteer work has led this project to cost almost nothing,” Richardson said.
Altruism is no stranger in the once-heavily mined San Juan Mountains around Silverton. The mining has impacted water quality in the Animas watershed since it started in the 1870s. For the past two decades, efforts to improve the watershed have been led by the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a coalition of mainly volunteers.
“If you add it all up over 20 years, there’s probably a million dollars of volunteer time from the stakeholders group,” Butler estimated, adding that the group has held similar community cleanup days.
“I think people really enjoy the beauty of the landscape around them, and this is something simple and easy they can do to try and improve environment.”
Despite the goodwill of countless individuals and organizations, the scope of hard-rock mining’s legacy around Silverton and the effects to downstream communities proved too large for a grass-roots movement to handle.
Last week, the EPA officially declared a number of mine sites responsible for degrading water quality as a Superfund site, thereby taking control of future cleanup efforts on a substantial portion of the district.
The EPA, for its part, has maintained in the year since one of its contracted crews triggered a massive blowout at the Gold King Mine that the agency will involve local entities as best it can.
Bill Simon, a retired co-founder of the stakeholders group credited with organizing countless cleanup days, said he’s not so much opposed to federal intervention as he is to losing community involvement.
“The advantage of doing that is you develop a sense of stewardship so that they care for what they’ve done and fully understand the consequences, environmentally, of extraction endeavors,” Simon said. “It gives an idea of the true cost.”
Next year, if the funds are available, Richardson said a project will aim at reseeding the grounds around Lackawanna. She hopes to draw out volunteers for that effort, too.
By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
BASALT — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said Monday that the county had “closed” the Roaring Fork River at Fisherman’s Park in Basalt so that boaters don’t run into temporary dams the county is building as part of installing a whitewater park.
Ely said the temporary rock dams would be “a significant hazard.” There will initially be two cobble dams pushed up in the river, one just below the other, but eventually they will function as one diversion structure.
The river is to be closed for boating and other uses from Fisherman’s Park, on upper Two Rivers Road, through the construction site, where two wave-producing concrete forms are to be installed.
On Monday, crews with Diggin’ It Riverworks Inc. out of Durango, were using an excavator in a dry river channel, on river left, to shape a bypass channel.
The temporary dams will direct the flow of the river into the bypass channel and, for a short stretch, through a 60-inch pipe.
The Fork was flowing past the job site at about 215 cubic feet per second on Monday.
“First order of business, move the water out of the channel,” Ely said, while showing local reporters the site. “And then come into the channel and construct the two waves.”
The work is being staged from the cul-de-sac on upper Emma Road, just upriver from Stubbies Sports Bar.
By Monday afternoon crews had built an access road from the cul-de-sac to the edge of the riverbank. The excavator will next get in the main channel and build up the diversion dams.
Boating traffic is light on this section of the Fork this time of year, as boaters — be they rafters or anglers — are more likely to put in below the Fryingpan River, which adds another 300 cfs to the Fork’s flow.
But there’s still perhaps enough flow in the Fork above Basalt for an enthusiast in a kayak or ducky to bounce down the river from the put-in at Wingo Junction.
Ely was asked if he was “concerned about the clueless floating down.”
“Totally,” Ely said. “You’ve got to plan for the lowest common denominator. So we’re just going to advertise the heck out of it and sign it all over the place.”
On Monday morning, a message from the county on Aspen Public Radio announced that the river was closed. And the county intends to put up warning signs directing any boaters to take out at Fisherman’s Park, which is river-right just below the low Highway 82 bridge.
It’s about four blocks along Two Rivers Road from the take-out at Fisherman’s to the end of the in-channel work. The next obvious river access is farther downstream, at the bridge on Basalt Avenue by the 7-Eleven store. And the next boat ramp suitable for a small raft is on Willits Lane by the Fed Ex facility.
The project also includes work on the eddy and the ramp at Fisherman’s Park, so at some point taking out there will also be ill-advised.
Ely said he expected that the river would be put into the bypass channel by Oct. 1 and that the river might be returned to the main channel by Dec. 1.
The overall project, at a cost of $770,000, is to be completed by Feb. 1. As of now, the closure is scheduled through Feb. 1.
Power to close
When asked if the county had the legal right to “close” the river to boaters — and other river users, including anglers — Ely said the county owned the land under the project site and had all the permits in place to do the earthwork. And state water law allows for the diversion of water.
Boaters may still have the legal right to float to the construction site, but they will be met with a hazardous dam and an impassable bypass channel if they do.
Ultimately, boaters may appreciate that the temporary in-channel work is expected to yield two play waves, more flow in the river and a recreational water right.
Ely said that the state law around water rights for recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs, required that two structures be installed in the river.
And Ely said securing the water right “was the primary motivation for building this thing – to call water to this spot in the river.”
“So we have to have two different wave structures,” Ely said. “The upper one will be a little bit more radical and should present a decent wave for people to play in with kayaks – with play boats – and the lower wave will be a little bit gentler, and really ideal for anybody who is learning, or for kids, to come in and to utilize it.”
Ely said he expects that kayakers will surf the play waves, and then get out on river left and walk back up to do it again.
The public land on river left along the whitewater park is owned by either the town of Basalt or Pitkin County.
Ely said he expects people to get to the surf by driving up Emma Road, parking in the cul-de-sac, and walking the short distance to the play waves.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. A version of this story was published in the Daily News on Sept. 13, 2016. The printed version contained a reporting error regarding the timing of the project, as it said the river would be restored to its main channel in October. However, the river is to be moved to the bypass channel by Oct. 1 and returned to the main channel – perhaps – by Dec. 1.
Also see a recent story on the project by The Aspen Times.
From email from the Colorado Water Officials Association (Karlyn Armstrong):
Registration for this year’s CWOA Conference, Water: Uniting Across Divides, closes this Friday, September 16th! The main conference, taking place on Thursday, September 29th in Lakewood, features talks from Bob Randall, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, State Representative Jeni Arndt, and many more! Additional networking and education opportunities are available on September 28th and 30th.
Continuing Legal Education credits and continuing education credits for those licensed by the Board of Examiners are available for conference attendees! A copy of the conference agenda is attached. You can CLICK HERE to register for the event. For more information, please check out the conference website HERE.
Click here for the conference schedule.
From BizWest (Doug Storum):
Engineering and consulting firm MWH Global Inc. in Broomfield, a division of Canada-based Stantec Inc., has received an $11.9 million contract to design the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam that will be located between Loveland and Longmont.
The Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District hired MWH to design a 360-foot-tall dam, spillway and outlet works for the 90,000-acre-foot reservoir near Loveland.
Officials said on Tuesday that the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam, located on the west side of Carter Lake, will be the largest dam built in Colorado in 50 years. It will provide water storage for growing communities in Northern Colorado, including Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley. The subdistrict estimates that its communities could see a water-supply shortage of 64,000 acre feet, or approximately 29 billion gallons, by 2030.
The design for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project is expected to be completed in 2018, with construction completed in 2021. The engineering services provided by MWH will include evaluating alternatives, final design and support during bidding.
From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Chris Woodka, one of the most learned journalist on water issues in the state, has left the Pueblo Chieftain.
Today is his first day as issues management program coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which was created decades ago to develop and administer the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which includes Pueblo Reservoir.
“My responsibilities include project management for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and other projects already underway at the district,” he tells us via email. “This involves communication and coordination between the federal agencies involved in the planning and construction of the conduit with the communities which will benefit.”
Woodka was the editor of a small daily newspaper in Santa Paula, Calif., before coming to Colorado where he initially worked at a weekly in Cañon City.
He joined the Chieftain in 1985 and has focused almost exclusively on water issues for the past 12 years.
Go here for more detailed information about his background.
“I am extremely excited about using the knowledge I have gained during my journalism career and applying it to projects that will benefit thousands of people by improving their economic well-being and health,” he says.
The conservancy’s board includes former Colorado Springs Utilities employee Curtis Mitchell and Mark Pifher, who still works for Utilities.
The agency receives about $7 million a year in property taxes from nine counties, including El Paso County.
Here’s the release from The Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon):
Lawsuit Launched Over Fracking, Water, Climate Change in Colorado River Basin
The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel them to update invalid, outdated Endangered Species Act consultations on the impacts of climate change and expanded fracking in western Colorado on the Colorado River system and its four endangered fish. The challenge seeks to halt all new oil and gas leasing and development on federal public lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin of Colorado — including the White River and Grand Junction field offices — pending updated consultations.
“The Colorado River system’s endangered fish can’t handle more water depletions. The river system is already overtaxed, and declining flows because of climate change are making a bad situation worse,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center. “It’s hard to imagine a more self-destructive policy for the Colorado River Basin than using scarce water to fuel more climate-warming fossil fuel extraction — but that’s exactly what the Obama administration is allowing.”
The notice asserts that a programmatic “biological opinion” study authorizing water withdrawals for oil and gas development on public lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin is outdated and invalid. The study fails to consider impacts to endangered fish from the drawing-down of large amounts of water that would be used for horizontal drilling, as well as the impacts of developing expanded estimates of Mancos shale gas deposits, existing and projected future climate-driven Colorado River declines, oil and other toxic spills, mercury and selenium pollution, and the failure of the federal recovery program to provide minimum river flows in critical habitat for the fish.
The notice challenges both agencies’ reliance on the study when they approved new land-use plans for the Grand Junction and White River field offices last year and other oil and gas development plans this year. Together the new land-use plans would allow nearly 19,000 new oil and gas wells in western Colorado. Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service has already conceded that any further water depletions from the Colorado River or its tributaries would jeopardize the four endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail.
“Fracking in the Colorado River Basin comes at the peril of public lands, our climate, the river, its endangered fish, and tens of millions of downstream water users,” said McKinnon. “It’s backward public policy in face of a worsening climate crisis. Now’s the time for the Obama administration to align our country’s energy policies with its climate goals by ending new fossil fuel leasing on America’s public lands.”
Center for Biological Diversity attorneys Wendy Park and Michael Saul are staffing the case.
Download today’s notice here.
On behalf of the American people, the U.S. federal government manages nearly 650 million acres of public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.
Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. A 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.
Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
Download the September 2015 “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama.
Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).
Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.
Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.
Download Public Lands, Private Profits about the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.
Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.
Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling on the Obama administration to halt all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Two conservation groups say oil and gas leasing and development need to be halted on federal lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin until agencies can take the steps needed to protect endangered fish.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers have notified the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they plan to sue the agencies for failing to take into account new information in order to properly protect the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail. This information includes the growing use of water-intensive horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas from the Mancos shale formation, which holds a much larger developable resource than previously thought. The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that the Piceance Basin’s Mancos shale formation contains 40 times more recoverable gas than it previously had estimated.
The groups say the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service relied on an invalid and outdated study authorizing water depletions for oil and gas development in the Upper Colorado Basin as the BLM approved land-use plans in the region, most notably plans involving the Grand Junction and White River field offices that combined allow for nearly 19,000 oil and gas wells…
The study, known as a programmatic biological opinion, was adopted in 2008, before the BLM recognized the potential for horizontal drilling and the associated water impacts, the groups say in their notice of intent to sue. The notice said while the BLM estimated that local wells drilled out directionally and then vertically into producing formations require an average of 2.62 acre-feet of water, nine local horizontal wells ended up consuming an average of nearly 69 acre-feet each. That largely was responsible for water consumption of nearly twice the projected annual total for oil and gas development for a sub-basin portion of the Colorado River, in violation of a depletion limit intended to protect the fish, the groups say.
The groups’ notice said difficulty meeting minimum recommended flows for the fish in a critical 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River in Mesa County strongly suggests the habitat there will be unsuitable for the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker in dry years, “and that flow depletions from oil and gas development will only exacerbate these unsuitable conditions and reduce these species’ chances of recovery.”
BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service spokesmen said Monday their agencies don’t comment on pending litigation.
Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group said the legal action is another attempt by conservation groups to grasp at straws in their opposition to the industry. She noted a state estimate that fracking consumes less than a tenth of a percent of Colorado water.
“It’s a very small amount of water that is used for fracking and for oil and gas development in general,” she said.
She added that one horizontal well replaces several vertical wells, so the overall water use is actually lower. And she questioned how much impact energy development can be having on fish at a time of minimal drilling activity on the Western Slope.
The conservation groups single out in their notice water consumption by Black Hills Exploration & Production, but that company since has suspended local drilling.
Nine municipalities from a three state region competed for the title of best drinking water based on taste, odor and appearance.
The judges at a taste test at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) annual conference in Keystone deemed Greeley as the city with the best water in the region.
Nine municipalities from a three state region competed for the title of best drinking water based on taste, odor and appearance.
The winner of this competition will represent the RMSAWWA at the national “Best of the Best” taste test at the AWWA Conference in Philadelphia next June.
Castle Rock Water was named runner-up.
Click here to read the discussion. Here’s an excerpt:
ENSO Alert System Status: Not Active
Synopsis: ENSO-Neutral conditions are slightly favored (between 55-60%) during the upcoming Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2016-17.
ENSO-Neutral conditions were observed over the past month, although sea surface temperatures (SSTs) were below-average over the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean. While the Niño-3.4 and Niño-3 regions remained around -0.5°C for most of the month, Niño-4 and Niño 1+2 were -0.1°C and +0.3°C, respectively, by the end of the month. Subsurface temperatures across the eastern and central Pacific remained below average, and negative temperature anomalies remained weak across the western Pacific. Atmospheric anomalies over the tropical Pacific Ocean largely indicated ENSO-Neutral conditions. The traditional Southern Oscillation index and the equatorial Southern Oscillation index were weakly positive during August. The lower-level winds were near average, while the upper-level winds were anomalously westerly in a small region to the east of the International Date Line. Convection was suppressed over the western and central tropical Pacific, although less suppressed compared to last month. Overall, the combined ocean and atmosphere system continues to reflect ENSO-Neutral.
The multi-model averages favor borderline Neutral-La Niña conditions (3-month average Niño- 3.4 index less than or equal to -0.5°C) during the Northern Hemisphere fall, continuing into winter. However, the more recently updated model runs from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) more strongly favor ENSO-Neutral. The forecaster consensus prefers this outcome, which is supported by the lack of significant anomalies in several indicators over the past month (winds, convection, subsurface temperatures). Overall, ENSO-Neutral conditions are slightly favored (between 55-60%) during the upcoming Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2016-17.
From The Colorado Independent (Eliza Carter):
The Environmental Protection Agency decided this week that the Gold King Mine near Durango is a top priority for Superfund designation. The mine, which was abandoned in 1923, spilled about 3 million gallons of mustard hued, toxic sludge into the Animas River in August 2015 and continues to leach today.
The agency added the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes Gold King, to its National Superfund Priorities List, meaning that congressional approval is the only remaining obstacle to Gold King becoming a Superfund site. The designation would unlock millions of dollars for the EPA to investigate and address years of contamination.
Environmentalists, however, aren’t optimistic about swift action from Washington.
Erica Brown, a spokeswoman at the Durango-based environmental group San Juan Citizens Alliance, called Congress “wholly uninterested in acting.” Brown noted that the area around Gold King receives funds for cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, so cleanup will continue, but Superfund money is still out of reach.
The fact that it took more a year after the spill to access Superfund dollars has some wondering why there wasn’t a swifter federal reaction. According to Brown, it was actually a rapid response by the standards of federal bureaucracy. The EPA only considers sites for National Priority listing twice a year – and Gov. John Hickenlooper asked that they do so for Gold King’s district last winter.
The agency then assessed the district’s needs and held a public comment period. Wednesday’s announcement marked the end of the review process, which actually took less time than usual.
Overall, Brown said that the spill helped to highlight the gravity of the mining industry’s legacy in Colorado. State estimates put the number of abandoned and inactive mines in Colorado at about 17,000. But Brown says that, in the past, the potential hazard those mines presented wasn’t perceived with urgency. “A lot of folks in the downstream communities did not understand how bad the problem really was, so was there very little engagement.”
Now, public opinion research shows that Coloradans are more concerned about their waterways in the wake of the mine spill. According to a poll conducted by Chism Strategies in Colorado, 67 percent of Coloradans say they want their elected officials to do more about cleaning up mines.
Of particular concern is the fact that Gold King is still leaking. On the one-year anniversary of the spill, the mine was estimated to be spewing 500 gallons per minute into the river, which serves as a backbone for the region’s economy and way of life. It’s an alarming number, but not cause for alarm, thanks to mitigation efforts from the EPA. The agency installed a treatment plant at the mine in the wake of last year’s spill, so the water emerging from the mine is not likely to cause environmental damage.
While the Gold King disaster grabbed the country’s attention, environmentalists say it’s only a symptom of a much more widespread and grave problem. Some are looking ahead to wholesale reform of the mining industry and mining clean-up – but there are serious challenges.
At issue is the fact that taxpayer-funded government agencies are often on the hook for the impacts of mines abandoned by private companies, which is permitted by mining law from 1872, just before Colorado gained its statehood. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced legislation in November 2015 that would reform how the law works, but it has not yet been voted on in the Senate.
Brown expressed profound frustration about congressional apathy, saying that elected leaders are “more concerned with making the mining industry happy than they do the American people.”
Gold King is among ten other toxic sites being added to the priorities list, including a plastic manufacturing site in New York and a lumber site in Florida.
Here’s the release from NOAA:
Lower 48 also had 3rd warmest year to date and second wettest August
An oppressively hot Summer 2016 for many across the contiguous United States tied 2006 as the 5th warmest in 122 years of record keeping.
The average summer U.S. temperature was 73.5 degrees F, 2.1 degrees above average, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Every state in the continental U.S. and Alaska were warmer than average this summer. Precipitation totalled 0.60 inch above average, making summer the 24th wettest on record.
The month of August was the 17th warmest on record, with an average temperature across the Lower 48 of 73.6 degrees F, 1.5 degrees above average. Twenty-four states were much warmer than average. The precipitation total for the month was 0.85 inch above average, making this August the second wettest.
The year to date (January-August) for the contiguous U.S. was the 3rd warmest on record with an average temperature of 56.7 degrees F, 2.8 degrees above average. All Lower 48 states and Alaska observed above-average temperatures during this eight-month period.
Other notable climate events included:
Northeast/Mid-Atlantic: Eight states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, had a record warm August. Connecticut and Rhode Island had their warmest summer on record. California had its warmest summer on record, which contributed to an active wildfire season. Alaska experienced its third warmest August, second warmest summer and was record warm for the year to date at 7.6 degrees F above average. Louisiana: In mid-August, a storm system dropped more than 30 inches of rain on parts of the state that caused record flooding and at least 13 deaths.
From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):
This summer, the Mancos Water Conservancy District has continued investigating a possible title transfer for the Jackson Gulch Project, Superintendent Gary Kennedy said Wednesday.
The district has been pursuing a transfer of ownership from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, so that the district could be the sole owner of the reservoir project. It’s a lengthy process that could take five years or more and requires an act of Congress, Kennedy said.
One issue with the transfer is what would become of federal lands that have been withdrawn to become part of the project, Kennedy said.
“Our concern is that if we took the title, that land would stay with the project, instead of going back to the Forest Service,” he said.
The MWCD board also has had general discussions about other issues regarding the transfer, including liability.
No funds have been committed to the title transfer, and the process is still in baby steps, Kennedy said. Either party — the Bureau of Reclamation or the MWCD — can withdraw from the process at any time, he said.
Some funding may come through in the next three to four years for the project rehabilitation effort, Kennedy said. The next item the district is focusing on rehabilitating is the reservoir inlet chute.
The cost to get those chutes into top shape would be about $1.2 million, which could be funded by both Bureau of Reclamation grants and MWCD funds, Kennedy said. The district has put in a request for funding to the BOR, he said.
A contractor is on site working on rock mitigation around the project site, especially in West Mancos Canyon, Kennedy said. People are asked not to go in the canyon when there is work taking place there, and signs are posted around the site to make people aware, Kennedy said.
From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):
The commission decided today that it will meet in October to discuss whether to pursue a conceptual design of the pipeline.
Aaron Chavez, director of the San Juan Water Commission, highlighted the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 as a reason the county could benefit from a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse.
During a meeting in August about the spill, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said a pipeline to Lake Nighthorse could be used during emergency situations to provide water to downstream communities…
Chavez said that while the lake could provide additional water to San Juan County, there has been no pumping this year from the reservoir — which is fed by the Animas River — due to concerns stemming from the Gold King Mine spill, which released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater containing toxic metals into the river.
Chavez said the original purpose of Lake Nighthorse was to provide communities a reliable source of water during droughts…
The possibility of a pipeline also comes with other concerns. Chavez highlighted invasive species, such as quagga mussels, as one of those issues. A recreation plan is currently being developed for Lake Nighthorse, and officials fear boats on the reservoir could introduce quagga mussels to the system. The invasive species could then attach to pipeline infrastructure, leading to clogged water systems.
Chavez said a conceptual design for the pipeline is estimated to cost $10,000 to $15,000, while a more detailed study would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.
Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said the pipeline will be expensive to construct.
“We can’t just put it in Lake Farmington and call it done,” Dunlap said.
He said the pipeline would need “spurs” to all the San Juan County water treatment facilities.
From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):
Just after sunset in the tiny town of Westcliffe, 147 miles south and west of Denver, two dozen people begin gathering in the Bluff, a park on the edge of town.
The hilly Bluff overlooks the Wet Mountain Valley, and just a bit farther, the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The park hosts all manner of activities, including a large bluegrass festival every year. But on this night, its benches, set into the park’s natural hillside, are a perfect place to look out over the valley and into the night sky. The view is breathtaking. You can see ranches and grazing land dotting the valley floor miles away.
Most of those gathering are older and retired, but there are a few kids, too. At least a half dozen people are holding telescopes – the kinds that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and take a fair amount of muscle to carry or must be rolled on carts to haul them to just the right spot.
That spot is a shed – one with wood siding that isn’t much bigger than one you might have in your back yard. But, soon, the unremarkable structure reveals itself to be tricked out far beyond expectation. When amateur astronomer Jim Bradburn flips a switch, the shed’s roof slides forward, revealing a massive telescope, complete with a large-screen TV and a computer that directs the telescope to search the sky.
Bradburn is no Johnny-come-lately night sky viewer. He’s among a growing group of locals who are serious about the stars.
On this particular night, at least at first, the sky doesn’t cooperate. It’s overcast, and clouds shroud the valley.
Bradburn and others fiddle with the observatory telescope and the computer to find an unobstructed view. Two hours in, the clouds are still veiling the stars.
Wait until about 9 or 10 p.m, someone says.
By then, chimes in another, we’ll see the stars as they were meant to be seen.
Finally, at 9:30p.m., it happens. The clouds begin to clear and the stars come out to play. The group aims their telescopes toward the heavens, capturing views of stars with names like M11 and M13, and the Great Hercules Cluster. Cassiopeia, a gleaming W in the night sky, is brilliant, even to the naked eye.
And there, behind the wisps of remaining clouds, spawls the Milky Way – a mass of stars so thick that the galaxy sometimes resembles clouds itself.
On one hand, Bradburn says, when you look into a clear night sky, you feel very small beneath so many stars. On the other, he says, it feels like you can reach up and touch the entire universe.
It’s about the altitude, and the attitude.
Westcliffe and adjoining town Silver Cliff are the crown jewels in the United States of a movement called Dark Sky. The international crusade seeks to make sure that future generations can see the Milky Way the way our ancestors did, before the advent of the light bulb. The valley west of Westcliffe/Silver Cliff is the best place to see stars for two reasons – the altitude, which at 8,000 feet, puts you closer to the stars than any other Dark Sky community in North America, and the attitude of the people on the Bluff, beholding the view.
There are 14 Dark Sky communities in the world. Westcliffe/Silver Cliff is Colorado’s only certified Dark Sky community, although the state has two Dark Sky-certified parks: Hovenweep, on the Colorado/Utah border west of Durango, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
National media have picked up on Westcliffe/Silver Cliff stargazing scene. In the past month, locals point out, crews from the New York Times, CNN, Today Show and NBC Nightly News have trekked down to the towns (total population, just over 1,100) snuggled between the Sangre de Cristo and Wet Mountain ranges in south central Colorado.
The valley just west of the two towns has something unlike most other communities in the continental United States or Canada: a clear night view of the Milky Way and billions of other stars.
Amy Moulton, who works in the local library, says it would be odd in these parts not to notice the stars at night. Fellow librarians Cathy McCarthy and Ted Ballard say they’ve never seen meteor showers such as those they see here – sometimes as many as 20 or 30 meteors in the span of just a few minutes.
“It’s a gift,” McCarthy says.
That gift didn’t come on its own. The community has taken both legal and financial steps to keep its night sky dark.
The movement in Westcliffe/Silver Cliff started about 15 years ago when a local rancher, Susan “Smokey” Jack, began to notice the night sky was changing, with more light pollution bleeding from the towns as well as from Pueblo and Colorado Springs, about 50 miles west. According to her friends in the local Dark Sky organization, she was the first to push for night-friendly lighting in the community to preserve the special view of the sky over the valley. Jack died in 2004, and the Bluff observatory is named after her.
Nowadays, a dozen years after her death, it’s increasingly difficult to see the Milky Way near any metro area. Steve Linderer, past president of the two-dozen-member local Dark Sky group, points to studies that estimate 80 percent of the population in the United States and Canada live in areas with light pollution that blocks the view of stars. A lot of kids will never see the Milky Way, Linderer laments.
“We’ve been working for 15 years to make sure [light pollution] doesn’t happen here.”
Dark Sky isn’t just another quirky Colorado phenom.
The International Dark-Sky Association – which works with lighting manufacturers, parks, city planners, lawmakers and others to implement “smart lighting choices” – was formed in 1988. According to its website, the group, based in Tucson, is the leading authority in identifying and publicizing the effects of artificial light at night on human health, wildlife and climate change.
“We’re suppose to have night,” Linderer says, citing a recent report by the American Medical Association. He notes that too much light in the nighttime interferes with the body’s production of melatonin. Sea turtles have changed their migration behavior because they head to coastal lights instead of using the shimmering seas to navigate to their traditional nesting sites. Night light has affected bird migrations, too.
As Linderer likes to put it, life evolved on Earth 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, but only since Thomas Edison came up with the incandescent light bulb has it been okay to “take away the night.” The folks in the Westcliffe/Silver Cliff Dark Sky group are striving to grab it back.
That effort has translated into “smart lighting” ordinances requiring developers to use Dark Sky-compliant lighting when they build new homes or developments in the area. It also has meant making sure outdoor lights, such as streetlamps, use more energy-efficient lighting with relatively low-wattage and low-heat bulbs. The communities make sure street lamps have covers so their light reflects toward the ground rather than in all directions. In March 2015, the town’s efforts won it Dark-Sky certification from the international association.
It hasn’t always been easy to persuade locals to get on board. At first, Bradburn says, the Dark Sky members got a little over-enthusiastic about telling people they had to change their lights to preserve the night sky. Their “light police” attitude didn’t sit well among everyone in the community, which has been the home of family ranches going back 150 years. More recently, the valley and surrounding mountains have become homes to empty-nesters and retirees from big cities, as well as both an Amish population and members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter Mormon sect.
It was Jack’s idea to start raising money to change out the streetlights, and that has made all the difference. For those who haven’t been able to afford it, the homegrown group of stargazers raises money to pay for the lights and other Dark Sky-compliant fixtures.
“We need to be advocates and educators to maintain our Dark Sky heritage,” Bradburn says. “We don’t tell the neighbors to cover their lights,” but if they’re willing to change, the stargazers will make it happen. It cost the group about $10,000 to convert all the streetlights in Silver Cliff.
Bradburn notes that if you go above town, such as up to the national forest campground that’s to the west in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, you can’t see the town lights at night, but when you drive down Main Street, it’s as brightly lit as any other place.
The effort has spread outside of Westcliffe/Silver Cliff. The nearby town of Florence houses three federal prisons, whose ultra-bright perimeter lights bleaches the darkness with noxious florescence. Tom Chapman, a spokesman for the Florence prisons, says the facilities are in the process converting standard lights to LED lights that are Dark Sky-friendly, in part because those non-light polluting structures will provide better security and are more energy-efficient.
The area’s Dark Sky designation isn’t just about aesthetics. There’s an economic advantage, too.
Because of the harsh winter weather (think 24 below zero), the two towns will never be a year-round destination for astronomy lovers, but expanding the summer tourist season into the fall or late spring is definitely possible, according to folks involved with economic development in the area. Given the newness of the IDA certification, and the area’s lack of broadband capability, efforts to market the wonder of the Westcliffe/Silver Cliff night skies haven’t yet taken off.
Still, Westcliffe has grown 20 percent in the last 15 years, and many of the regulars at the Bluff are part of that recent migration.
Among the stargazers are Ed and Jacquie Stewart, who moved to the area from Austin, Texas, about 16 years ago. Ed says he has been a stargazer for 50 years, and that they were drawn to Westcliffe by the mountains and the night sky. Linderer, who retired from the National Park Service, has lived in the area for 10 years. Bradburn was an architect in Denver for about 25 years, but has lived just outside of Westcliffe for 15 years.
Charles Bogle, who heads up the Custer County Economic Development Corporation, told The Colorado Independent that city leaders anticipate people coming to see the stars in Westcliffe/Silver Cliff from all over, and hope the Dark Sky designation put the surprisingly lightly-tread Central Colorado area on the map for the more urban folks of our state. It isn’t just the skies, he says. The quality of life in the valley is also alluring.
“We figure by 2040, people won’t want to live along the I-25 corridor,” and that Westcliffe/Silver Cliff will be among the places people choose to live, he says.
There are still some skeptics about growth in Westcliffe/Silver Cliff, Bogle adds. “We still need to win over some elements of the community who are opposed to change.” The county intends to be careful about future economic development planning. Says Bogle: “We don’t want to mess it up.”
As the night grows later and the skies clearer, some on the Bluff muse about our relationship to the stars.
Susan “Sam” Frostman says seeing millions of stars makes her feel small. “But it’s like being in another world. Everywhere else, you see one star here or there.”
Linderer, who says he has been entranced by the stars since he was a boy, gazed up at the heavens. “Since the first human, we’ve been fascinated by the night sky and the Milky Way. I can’t help but think how many humans before me have looked at this.”
Click here to read the summary. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Partners for Western Conservation (PWC) initiated the Ag Water Network in late 2015 with the objective of helping to ‘keep ag water connected with ag land.’ The Ag Water Network is partially funded by a Walton Family Foundation grant.
The state water plan, released in November, 2015, estimated Colorado’s population could swell to 10 million people by 2050, nearly doubling our current population of 5.4 million. The plan projects that the demand for water driven by the increasing population could result in a municipal and industrial water supply gap of 560,000 acre-feet. Statewide, this could result in the loss of 700,000 irrigated acres by 2050 through the purchase and transfer of water rights from irrigated agriculture to urban areas. Such large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have permanent adverse economic, environmental and food security impacts.
The water plan acknowledges the economic, environmental and cultural value of Colorado’s agriculture industry. To minimize ‘buy and dry’ of irrigated farmland, the plan emphasizes water conservation, increased storage, and alternative agricultural transfer methods (ag water leases) as the primary means for closing the projected water supply-demand gap.
Rotational fallowing, deficit irrigation, and planting lower consumptive use crops are the main practices being used and/or tested for “creating” consumptive use water that would otherwise have been used by crops. Consumptive use (CU) water is water retained by the growing plant plus the amount lost through evapotranspiration.
The consumptive use (CU) water can be leased to municipal, industrial, recreational, environmental or agricultural interests provided the lease complies with state water law. All alternative ag transfers, or “ag water sharing” agreements must be voluntary, temporary and compensated. A variety of state laws have been passed over the last decade to ensure that a participating landowner’s water right(s) are not negatively impacted as long as the terms of the lease agreement comply with state law. Ag water leasing represents a sustainable approach that enables irrigated land to stay in production, albeit at a reduced output level, while helping supply water for other uses.
Ag water leasing is a new concept to most Colorado ag producers. The purpose of the ag water survey was to assess the level of knowledge of ag water right holders throughout the state regarding water leasing terms and concepts, and determine ag water right holder perspectives, concerns and interest related to leasing.
The survey was initiated February 26th, 2016 and closed on July 15, 2016, and received more than 300 responses. The first question – “do you own or lease ag water rights?” – was answered “no” by 51 respondents, leaving 266 respondents that said they own or lease agricultural water rights. The survey contained 25 background and water-related questions as well as a section at the conclusion which allowed respondents to leave comments or ask questions. All 25 survey questions are listed in the Appendix .