Denver: Climate Reality Project training

I’m having a great time at the training. Look for more in-depth coverage of climate change from Coyote Gulch in the future.

Here’s a recap from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post:

…this 34th training — the first since Trump rose to power — drew 1,000 more applications than usual as 2,600 people from around the West vied for 972 slots in Denver.

Climate Reality leaders are vowing to fight Trump team measures from proposed EPA budget cuts to rule rollbacks “every step of the way” — including direct action tactics such as tent camps and consumer campaigns against financiers of new fossil fuel pipelines. They’re bracing for White House action expected this month against President Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan to cut U.S. carbon emissions.

“We are winning. We are going to win,” Gore said in an interview after the speech. “Large numbers of passionate grassroots activists can make all the difference.”

Heat-wave deaths and more extreme storms, combined with falling costs for clean energy, are forcing a shift off fossil fuels, Gore said.

“And this grassroots movement is advancing on multiple fronts,” he said. “The fastest growth is in interacting with elected officials, not only in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, but also city councils, county commissioners, state legislatures. There’s also an important branch of the activism that is focused on businesses…

Meanwhile in the convention center, Gore narrated his slide show, updated after midnight to include latest images of climate change impact around the world — such as a burning building floating in Maryland floodwaters just before crashing into a bridge.

He presented latest data from climate scientists during a past decade where average global temperatures repeatedly have set new records. And photos documents growing human health impacts with temperatures in some regions topping 120 degrees, up to a 165-degree record in Iran – evidence of a trend where authorities increasingly deem areas “uninhabitable.” One slide showed people collapsing as a street melted in India where government officials during a heat wave in 2015 reported 2,330 deaths, and another showed work crews in Pakistan last year digging graves in anticipation of more heat wave deaths.

The activists devoted hours to viewing and discussing wide impacts of climate change, including the recent wildfires and severe flooding in Colorado that scientists and government officials have linked to climate change.

Climate Reality runs offices in 10 nations outside the U.S. and will open an office in Mexico this year, president Ken Berlin said. “We oppose the pipelines like other groups yet have not been involved in the tent camps yet. We will consider that as we go along…. We are taking a look at the best ways to be effective through traditional political action. We want to do everything we can to protect climate change laws.”

The organizers of the training hailed signing of the international Paris Treaty last year as a huge step forward. Cities, businesses and universities around the United States made pledges to shift to cleaner, renewable sources for all the electricity they use. But organizers also acknowledged growing uncertainty about whether the U.S., a main source of the heat-trapping gases, will keep its commitments as part of that treaty.

“It would be a catastrophic setback for the climate movement, and for the world as a whole, if the United States did withdraw,” Gore said.

“There’s a big struggle under way within the Trump White House. … There’s still an excellent chance that, even if he tries to kill the Clean Power Plan, he will decide not to formally withdraw from the Paris Treaty. There’s hardly anything he could do that would create more ill will, diplomatic damage and friction between the U.S. and virtually every other country in the world than pulling out of the Paris Treaty.”

As EPA and other government employees dealing with environment issues worried about loss of momentum, the activists rallying in Denver through Saturday exuded a mostly hopeful determination despite a dizzying deluge of heavy information.

“Most of this can still be stopped,” Gore told them after looking at time-lapse images of arctic glaciers melting and collapsing into a rapidly-warming ocean.

“This is reality. We have to take it out of the partisan framework. That is insane,” he said.

“We have to change. Can we change? If we have to change and we don’t have the ability to change, I don’t want to hear anything more about it because that is just a recipe for anxiety and stress. … Yes, we can change.”

The #ColoradoRiver and #ClimateChange #COriver

From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

“Every major city gets water out of this basin. 40 million people, seven states, two nations, 22 federally recognized Indian tribes — everybody depends on it,” said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.

According to a new study by Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, a climatologist at the University of Arizona, this essential river is seeing its water levels drop due to climate change.

The researchers contrasted the most recent drought on the river — from 2000 to 2014 — with another one from the mid-1950s to about 1967. The earlier drought’s primary cause was a sharp fall in precipitation. In the most recent drought, however, the primary factor was heat.

“Since 2000, the Colorado River has been in a drought. The flows are down about 20 percent. We say that about a third of that reduction is due to the higher temperatures that we are now experiencing in the 21st century,” Udall said.

Since 2000, temperatures have risen on average 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin annually. Udall and Overpeck found that the hotter weather stripped the river of at least 500,000 acre-feet of water. That’s enough water for half a million families of four for a year according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Where is the water going? Into the atmosphere, ecosystem and human consumption and agriculture.

“We now have snowmelt two to three weeks earlier, so you have a longer period of time for plants to use water, you have hotter conditions so the plants use more water and the atmosphere as the climate warms demands more water. It’s a bigger suck, if you will, for moisture,” Udall said.

The researchers predict that as weather continues to warm over the next three decades, the water in the Colorado River will decline by about a quarter. That would be a dramatic impact on a river that supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states, including Colorado. By the end of this century, the river could drop by more than half, far more than federal water managers have predicted.

But some scientists aren’t so sure.

“So this is my question: is this drought, are we going to recover, is it climate change and we’re not going to recover, how much of each — the paper doesn’t quite address that. It certainly doesn’t do the science to get at the bottom of it,” said Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist specializing in climate dynamics at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. He was not involved in the study.

“That’s a big deal. Now, I’m saying this like it’s a certainty — it’s not. But the aggregate, the average, of all the models do indicate a wetter climate,” Hoerling said. “Why? Well it may simply be the water vapor content is going to be more abundant, so when storms come they will be able to bear more moisture and when they drop that moisture there will be more snowpack as a result in the core of winter in the upper Colorado River Basin. That effect is enough to compensate for most of the warming.”

Why Trump’s water order heartens ranchers and worries conservationists — @COIndependent

Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, Dan Hobbs, and a string of fish for dinner, Mary Alice Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, 1986 via Greg Hobbs
Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, Dan Hobbs, and a string of fish for dinner, Mary Alice Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, 1986 via Greg Hobbs

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

President Donald Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back a clean water regulation that Colorado ranchers have criticized as overly burdensome but environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts say is essential to protecting the health of the state’s rivers and streams.

Trump’s executive order Tuesday concerns what is known as the Waters of the United States rule, a regulation passed in May 2015 under President Barack Obama that clarified the scope of waters protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Calling Obama’s expanded regulations “a disaster” and “one of the worst examples of federal regulation,” Trump said his order was “paving the way for the elimination” of the rule, which had yet to be implemented.

Obama’s rule set about clarifying which U.S. waters are protected from pollution under the Clean Water Act. Until 2015, the Act protected “navigable waters, interstate waters and the territorial sea” and also, on a case-by-case basis, waters that were upstream given that protecting major waterways requires looking after what flows into them. Obama’s rule expanded protections to include most tributaries, wetlands near floodplains and even some “isolated” waters — those that don’t actually flow into protected waters, but are near them.

Trump’s order seeks to scale back this definition to be more in line with an opinion issued by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a 2006 case about the Clean Water Act. In ruling that Clean Water Act protections did not extend to a particular wetland, Scalia defined protected waters as “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” Obama’s rule, in contrast, relied more heavily on the definition presented in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion. The Supreme Court could not reach a majority on that case, ruling 4-1-4.

Rob Harris, a senior attorney at Western Resource Advocates, says that under Scalia’s definition, impermanent and seasonal streams and waterways, such as those that rely on snowmelt or are particularly vulnerable to drought, may not be protected. That poses a particular threat in Colorado because, Harris says, only 15 miles of Colorado rivers and streams are what might be considered traditionally navigable waters. “The other 95,000 stream miles are not,” he said.

Trump said he was signing the order on behalf of farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers, who find the rule overly burdensome. “It’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said, adding that the Waters of the U.S. rule applies to “nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land, or anyplace else that they decide.” As an example, Trump said, “If you want to build a new home, for example, you have to worry about getting hit with a huge fine if you fill in as much as a puddle — just a puddle — on your lot.”

But that’s not true. The rule, in fact, clarified that the Clean Water Act does not apply to puddles, nor to groundwater, artificial ponds and lakes, artificial dryland irrigation or to many kinds of ditches. Trump’s remarks upon signing the rule, saying that “In one case in a Wyoming, a rancher was fined $37,000 a day by the EPA for digging a small watering hole for his cattle” and that “I’ve been hearing about it for years and years” could not have been as a result of the Waters in the U.S. rule, which, again, had not yet gone into effect.

Still, farmers and ranchers said the rule was unclear about what agricultural-related waters were included. They worried, as Politico reported, that the rule would “give bureaucrats carte blanche to swoop in and penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch.”

“We wanted to see the rule rescinded. We asked that it be reconsidered,” said Terry Fankhauser, the executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association which contributed funds to a lawsuit filed by a national cattlemen’s association and several commodities groups challenging the Obama administration’s expanded definition of which bodies of water should be protected.

Fankhauser said groups like his worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to try to find answers, but remained unclear about what enforcement might look like. He thought the best answer would be to redefine the terms and reconsider the rule itself before finalizing it.

Environmentalists worry that Trump’s order will hurt Colorado’s water quality and wildlife by narrowing which waterways receive protection from pollution. “The people of the American West want clean, healthy rivers, not a return to the days when rivers in America caught fire and were severely polluted and dead,” Gary Wockner, director of Save The Colorado, said in a statement. The way he sees it, basing water protections on Scalia’s definition could leave the Poudre River, the South Platte River and rivers across the Front Range vulnerable to pollution not just from agriculture, but from coal-fired power plants, refineries and even city wastewater treatment facilities.

Sportsmen, too, are concerned about the environmental effects of the order. David Nickum, the executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said that anglers know clean water starts at the source. “If we degrade and pollute those headwaters, it is only a matter of time until the next snowmelt or rainstorm sends those impacts down into our larger rivers and water supplies.” Chris Wood, the CEO of Trout Unlimited, said that altering the rule to follow Scalia’s definition would cause 60 percent of U.S. streams and 20 million acres of wetlands would lose protection of the Clean Water Act. That would be, he said, “an unmitigated disaster for fish and wildlife, hunting and fishing, and clean water.”

But Fankhauser insists that clean water matters to cattlemen, too — “it’s not only a right, it’s an obligation to us” — and said calling Trump’s order a rollback of the Clean Water Act was a “pretty significant overstatement.” Rather, he says, it’s an opportunity to come up with a solution that protects the environment without strapping the agricultural sector with unnecessary regulations.

Trump can’t simply undo Obama-era water quality protections with his executive order. His EPA chief Scott Pruitt will have to undergo a lengthy federal rulemaking process to repeal the Waters of the U.S. rule. And, as Vox reports, federal courts have historically interpreted the rule as Kennedy did, rather than along Scalia’s narrower view. [ed. emphasis mine]

Colorado, in the meantime, has the ability to enact more stringent water regulations. Harris, who hopes either the state legislature or the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPHE) will take on the task, wondered, “Are we going to wait until something bad happens and our waterways are impacted, or are we going to protect our waterways before the problem even starts?”

Jacque Montgomery, spokesperson for Gov. John Hickenlooper, says the administration wasn’t completely satisfied with the Waters of the U.S. rule, but that “the complete absence of a rule means ambiguity and uncertainty” regarding which waters apply. Said Montgomery, “Colorado aims to keep protecting our watersheds and streams,” and will follow through on the watershed and stream management plans called for in the state water plan. Her remarks, says CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley, speak for that organization as well.

Trout Unlimited’s Nickum predicted a lengthy battle in Colorado from groups looking to push against what they see as a threat to their clean water.

“You can expect Colorado sportsmen and women to be aggressively involved, fighting for the headwater streams and wetlands that are essential for healthy fish and wildlife habitat,” he said.