The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

Passages are narrowing as the snow piles up in Crested Butte. Photo/Town of Crested Butte Facebook page

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

River-Friendly Snow and Ice Removal

Are you a pusher or a scooper? Of snow, that is.

With all of the snow earlier this winter you likely have a distinct preference for one or the other. I’ll leave it to the medical professionals to advise on proper shoveling techniques. What I’d like to focus on is how to remove snow and ice without negatively impacting our streams. Looking out the window as I write this, it feels a bit out of touch to be writing about snow and ice, but looking at the calendar, I am hoping this information will be put to good use very soon!

Where you put your snow and how you get rid of ice can affect our streams in several ways. Here are some tricks:

First, remove the snow as it falls, before it gets tracked down. This is your first and best defense in preventing ice from forming.

Next, you want to take an extra second to think about where to pile the snow—this will help you down the road. Those that live along a stream may be tempted to push snow into it. After all, “snow is just water.” This is not a good practice, however!

Here is why: Snow from your driveway and sidewalks absorbs oil, antifreeze, overcast fertilizers (particularly with the first snowfall of the year), sand, road salts, or any chemicals that drip off of vehicles. Dumping snow straight into the river introduces all of these to the stream in high concentrations. This reduces water quality, impacting habitat.

Sure, as it melts this is mobilized and makes its way to the stream anyway. However, a large portion of it soaks through the soil first. The ground and our native riparian plants are nature’s water filter, separating the contaminants from the water before it eventually makes its way back to the river.

Therefore, piling the snow in your yard is your greatest option. Pile it in a place where when it melts it doesn’t run across a sidewalk, road or driveway. As we all know, what melts in the day refreezes at night and you could wake up to an ice rink the next morning. A blanket of snow can actually be beneficial to your lawn, as it provides an insulating layer that protects against extreme temperature fluctuations and harsh winds. Additionally, once water reaches an impervious surface (concrete, asphalt, etc.), it’s headed for the gutter and from there the storm sewer—which sees little to no treatment before running straight into a stream near you.

If you follow these tips and still end up with ice, you have a few options. Chipping away by hand provides a great arm and cardio workout right in the driveway. If you are rolling your eyes, you likely are thinking about deicers instead. Deicers, when used properly, are a great tool. When used improperly they can ruin your concrete, impact our streams, hurt your pet’s feet and even ruin your floors if you track them in on your shoes.

Available options range from rock salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate and even urea (fertilizer) or sand. Each has varying costs, benefits and problems—diving into these would take an entire article to cover. That said, sand doesn’t melt ice—it just provides traction. Urea is only effective in high quantities and will runoff into the streams adding excessive levels of nitrogen, which grows algae and causes many imbalances in the stream. It should be avoided out of respect for our rivers and in-lieu of truly better options.

Whatever you use, it’s important to read the label carefully and apply only the amount necessary. If after the ice is melted some of the product remains, you’ve applied too much and can use less in the future. Remember to sweep up the excess before it makes way for the gutter.

Keep in mind that if a product has the potential to damage your landscaping, shoes, concrete or pet’s feet, it will wreak havoc on the nearest stream, too.

Follow these tips and you can rest easy knowing that your snow removal is effective and isn’t impacting our high-quality fishing, rafting and drinking water.

Holly Loff is the Executive Director for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council advocates for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.

#Snowpack news: Above average, but dry forecast

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 8, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado’s snowpack was at 136 percent of normal Monday, as the state moves into March with most river basins already having surpassed average annual peak snowpack levels typically reached in April.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service’s state office in Colorado said in a news release that statewide reservoir storage was at 107 percent of average as of the start of the month, and streamflow forecasts indicate an above-normal runoff year is coming in most watersheds…

The Gunnison River Basin snowpack stood at 147 percent of median Tuesday, and the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 135 percent.

The Yampa/White river basins have the lowest snowpack level in the state, but still are at 119 percent of median. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins lead the state, at 149 percent, and the Upper Rio Grande is at 143 percent.

Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS in Colorado, said in the release that snowpack has exceeded the peak annual average in all parts of the state but the South Platte and Yampa/White River basins.

Reservoir storage levels were at 107 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin as of the start of the month, and 110 percent of average for the Gunnison River Basin.

While storage is at 91 percent of average for the Rio Grande Basin, the NRCS says that plentiful snow in the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains is excellent news for water users there, after six years of snowpack failing to reach the normal peak in the basin. Forecasts for the Rio Grande Basin call for normal to above-normal runoff.

@csindependent: Al Gore continues to build an army, battle climate change denial

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Matthew Schniper):

Gore, Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ founder and chairman, devotes around eight hours of his star power at each free, three-day workshop, says President and CEO Ken Berlin, summing up Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ mission as working internationally “to build public support for addressing climate change.” How that’s done here, he says, is by teaching policy to people who commit to “10 acts of leadership” around “positive climate change action” and instructing them on “how to be organizers, how to go back to their communities and be leaders on this issue.”

The nonprofit runs offices in Washington, D.C., and Boulder, and in 10 countries outside the U.S. In response to the election, Berlin says Climate Reality Leadership Corps is transitioning from concentration on federal matters: “The greater chance of progress is going to be on a state level.”

Still, during a two-hour slide show March 2, Gore plugged an April 29 climate march in D.C., saying, “We all need to go to it. I will be there, we need to demonstrate people power, and we need to get active.”

Watching him speak felt just like watching 2006’s Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, which in late July of this year will be succeeded by An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. However, Gore did tailor many slides particularly for a Colorado audience. He made note of both the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires (noting longer and more intense fire seasons) and Manitou Springs flooding, as well as Lamar’s wild 2013 haboob, Fountain’s 2014 tumbleweed invasion and the sad status of the Colorado River and pine and bark beetle infestations in our forests.

From there, he went national and global with a list of 1-in-1,000-year weather events, detailing everything from “rain bombs” that dump tremendous water volumes rapidly to lethal heat waves that have literally melted streets in India. Then there’s the stat about the rate of global warming being equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs dropped daily. Oh, and climate-driven political destabilization such as Syria’s drought, plus food shortages that kicked off The Arab Spring.

But before attendees could tire of melting glacier and iceberg images or the phrase “point of no return,” Gore took a turn for the positive, championing many worldwide successes. One particularly hopeful slide read: “We expect innovation and global markets, rather than politics, to continue to be the primary driver for growth in low-carbon technologies. In our view, prices for batteries and solar panels will continue to drop, and global market-share gains will continue for wind, solar, EVs and LEDs, regardless of who occupies the White House.”

Over the weekend, Gore announced that Colorado State University has taken Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ 100% Committed pledge to move fully to renewable electricity in the coming years, making it the largest university to do so, to date.

He concluded his talk on both a somber and upbeat note, saying, “This climate movement is right in the tradition of the great moral causes that have led to a better world for all of us. … Every single one of those movements was met with no after no after no, until finally, when all the underbrush was cleared away, and it was resolved into a simple choice between what’s right and what’s wrong, then the outcome became foreordained. … just remember the will to change is itself a renewable resource.”

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Upper Colorado River Basin February 2017 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Spring has sprung for spots in E. #Colorado

In 2017, we see very large anomalies in the southeastern United States on the Spring Leaf Index map, where the Index was met up to three weeks earlier than what is typical for these locations. The timing of leaf-out, migration, flowering and other seasonal phenomena in many species is closely tied to local weather conditions and broad climatic patterns. The Spring Index maps offered by USA-NPN shed light on plant and animal phenology, based on local weather and climate conditions.

From The New York Times (Jeremy White and Henry Fountain):

After a mild winter across much of the United States, February brought abnormally high temperatures, especially east of the Rockies. Spring weather arrived more than three weeks earlier than usual in some places, and new research released Wednesday shows a strong link to climate change.

By the 2017 calendar, the first day of spring is March 20. But spring leaves arrived in mid-January in some parts of the South, and spread northward like a wave. The map above plots the date of “first leaf,” a temperature-based calculation of when vegetation that has been dormant starts to show signs of life. This year, with the exception of a few small areas, the wave has arrived much earlier than the 30-year average.

An early spring means more than just earlier blooms of fruit trees and decorative shrubs like azaleas. It can wreak havoc on schedules that farmers follow for planting and that tourism officials follow for events that are tied to a natural activity like trees blooming. Some plant species that bud early may be susceptible to a snap frost later, and early growth of grasses and other vegetation can disrupt some animals’ usual cycles of spring feeding and growth.

E. #Colorado February 2017: Great for bicycling, lousy for soil moisture

US February 2017 temperature departures from normal via NOAA.

From Climate Central (Brian Kahn):

The rise in planetary heat made the freakishly warm February up to 13 times more likely than it was around 120 years ago, according to the analysis by scientists working on the World Weather Attribution team. While it was a month to remember, by mid-century that type of heat could occur every three years unless carbon pollution is curtailed.

The warm spell is just the latest piece in a growing body of evidence that climate change is playing a role in almost all extreme heat events. Winter is the fastest warming season in the U.S. and February is no exception. February temperatures in particular have risen by 3°F since 1895, which is roughly twice as fast as the global average.

This February fits right in line with that trend. It was the second warmest on record for the U.S., trailing only 1954 [during the 3-year drought in Eastern Colorado], according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The U.S. average for February was 7.3°F above normal, the fifth-most anomalously warm month ever recorded. In all, 16 states had their warmest February on record from Texas to New York…

Scientists used historical data and climate models to understand what was driving the heat. Historical observations show that around 1900, this type of persistent heat was a 1-in-160 year event, but in our current climate it’s now a 1-in-12 year event. Using models to tease out the specific role climate change played, they found that it made the Ferbuary heat at least three times more likely.

If the world continues on its current pace of greenhouse gas emissions, this type of February could become the norm by 2050.

Dolores River: #Snowpack = 3 month rafting release?

Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit RiverSearch.com.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The most probable runoff forecast shows inflow of 440,000 acre-feet for April through July, enough to fill McPhee Reservoir and provide more than a three-month rafting release below the dam.

“Operations this spring are lining up to be exciting,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “The March forecast is typically not as accurate as the forecast that will come later, but it is good as a planning tool.”

The predicted runoff will fill the reservoir for farmers, with 270,000 acre feet potentially available for whitewater release below the dam. That is enough for an estimated 116-day boating season for approximately 100 miles between the Bradfield Bridge and Bedrock.

By comparison, in 2016, only about 30,000 acre-feet was available for a whitewater release below McPhee Dam, which generated about 10 days of boating flows.

Should the current forecast hold, operators will be able to provide releases of 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) and greater for about 67 days, with flows greater than 2,000 cfs for 45 days, and peak flows of 4,000 cfs for four days. Several ecological benefits also will be realized from a release of that magnitude.

The data in the March 1 operating plan is provisional and subject to change because of Dolores River inflow, future precipitation, weather patterns, managed release criteria and use.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District will be the primary source of information pertaining to release schedules and updates this spring. It will have a newly remodeled website at doloreswater.com.

Last year, the whitewater release lasted about 10 days and only peaked at 1,000 cfs. Before that, there had not been a release since 2011 because of drought conditions and low snowpack.

The main Lower Dolores River boating run stretches for 100 miles through winding, red-rock canyons interspersed with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV. It is considered one of the premiere multiday boat trips in the nation when it has enough water to run. No permit is required.