Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS. Since the melt-out has started focus on percent of peak instead of percent of normal.
Here’s the westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for April 25, 2017 from the NRCS.
From Capital Thinking (Sarah Vilms and Mallory Richardson):
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated its plans to solicit comments by June 19 as to how the agency should rewrite the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule following President Trump’s February 28 executive order (EO) directing the agency to revise the contentious Obama Administration rule. Following the EO, EPA specified its plans to revise the rule through a formal notice-and-comment rulemaking process. While this is typically a lengthy procedure, the Trump Administration has expressed its interest in replacing the rule by the end of the year.
This follows a meeting last week that was held between the EPA and a number of groups representing state and local officials, including the National Governors’ Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties and the Environmental Council of the states, where participants discussed the Trump Administration’s rewrite of rule.
From The Colorado Independent (Susan Greene):
Science, they say, is a left-brained endeavor. But, in light of Saturday’s March on Science, The Colorado Independent sought out some decidedly right-brained conversations with three Coloradans working in various capacities around federally funded climate change research. Here’s what they had to say about proposed Trump administration budget cuts, the role of scientists in a purportedly “post-truth” era, and how they’re coping as national faith in their work takes some big blows.
The catcher in the rye
Josh Tewksbury came to his job the long way.
The former University of Washington ecologist spent 10 years researching why chilies are hot. His many trips through the forests of central Bolivia gave him a poignant look at organisms and ecosystems withering from climate change. For him, questions about the heat of the peppers came to seem far less burning than those about the heat of the planet.
Tewksbury – 47 and now director of Future Earth’s U.S. hub at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University – shifted his focus to global sustainability out of a sense of weary responsibility he likens to that of Holden Caulfield, the teenage narrator of “Catcher in the Rye.” He cites the title passage in which Caulfield imagines standing in a rye field surrounded by younger children.
“Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
In Tewksbury’s version of the rye field, the kids are peppers, plants, critters and ecosystems strained by changing climate patterns. The cliff is the point on the climate trajectory beyond which they won’t survive. As he tells it, “Scores of scientists are alone out there in the ryegrass trying to save this species or that incredibly complex ecosystem that they’ve spent their lives understanding, and at this point they’re at a loss about why all this understanding is not enough to allow these things to last another generation.”
There’s something manic about Tewksbury – his rush of speech and urgency of tone, his impatience, it seems, with the knowledge that, as you’re asking questions and as he’s answering, some species is in its last gasp because, despite ample evidence, scientists couldn’t convince a policy-maker to save it.
It’s lonely, he says, to research a problem, identify its cause, and prove it with sound evidence, only to realize that isn’t enough to prompt political action. His job, and the mission of Future Earth, is to harness that loneliness and organize some 50,000 scientists around the world to combine their efforts so that when science is produced, policymakers heed it, regardless of whether the truth revealed is inconvenient.
In case Tewksbury isn’t getting his point across, he cites a study showing that 51 percent of Americans don’t know there’s a scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-caused. What he calls “very crafty opposition messaging” by corporate and political interests still manages to convince a slight majority – including his own mother-in-law – that climate change is theory rather than fact.
This hurts Tewksbury’s head.
“When people you love are making decisions that have a direct impact on your children, it’s demoralizing and antithetical to a democracy and actually very hard to counter because as long as people believe there’s no scientific consensus, there will be no mandate to act.
“So if I’m honest, really honest about how this impacts me, it’s a deep disappointment in our country and in our inability to recognize facts when we see them and distinguish them from statements that are politically expedient. It makes me mad, very mad because the consequences of this one are so broad.”
Tewksbury is at his best channeling his inner-Holden Caulfield. In his anger, his breathless indignation, the hot pepper researcher has found his calling in the slow burn of the global sustainability movement to which he’s marshaling scientists who have nothing to lose but their loneliness.
The marcher who didn’t march
Judging from his credentials, you’d figure Peter Backlund would have rallied for science this weekend as he has for decades within federal labs, agencies and even the White House.
But Backlund stayed home in Boulder nursing a cold and licking his wounds, convinced that waving signs on a spring Saturday won’t heal what’s ailing the planet and his profession.
“Marching is not a solution. It is a symbolic act. I feel like it’s a bit too easy,” he said between coughs and sneezes.
Backlund, 56, has built a career on the right-brained practice of explaining why the fruits of left-brained inquiry matter. He was a senior advisor in the Clinton White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, worked at NASA and spent twelve years helping run the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder before joining Colorado State University’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability as associate director. He has fought his whole career for scientific research, especially on climate change, and for its use informing public policy.
Scientists are nothing if not pragmatic. And from a practical standpoint, Backlund suspects that Saturday’s March for Science in Denver and cities throughout the U.S. gave participants a false sense that, by attending a rally, they’ve done what they could to help preserve federally funded research and defend the values behind it. He winces at the thought of Saturday’s marchers shrugging off their activism like an old pussy hat.
“It won’t amount to anything if they don’t get more deeply involved and stay involved.”
Involved, as he sees it, entails sustained engagement working to elect candidates whose policy decisions pivot on evidence and facts, and working to elect more scientists in particular. It means attending city council and county commission meetings, bending the ears of state lawmakers, showing up at the Rotary Club, the Elks Club, building trust as citizen scientists who do research for reasons beyond just that it’s interesting. He urged his students to march Saturday if they were inspired, but also to work well beyond one rally spreading awareness about how their research – or any solid research – promotes understanding and progress.
For Backlund, the Trump administration’s climate change scepticism isn’t just an attack on research and global sustainability, but also a denunciation of intellectualism, expertise, and evidence-based policy-making. He says the cuts Trump has threatened on environmental and medical research stem less from underestimating the value of those inquiries than from a perceived threat posed by “an elite profession with elite knowledge.”
“There has always been a segment of the population that is hostile to science, universities, and ‘experts.’ Many politicians have pandered to this segment. But this administration feels like it is taking anti-intellectual sentiment to a new level. This scares me as much as budget cuts,” he said.
And so Backlund worries.
He worries that the spectacle of scientists marching Saturday will backfire, spurring even more misperceptions that scientists are driving a globalist conspiracy to take away people’s cars, jobs and profits.
He worries that, in crying out against budget cuts, scientists will seem like an elite group merely trying to preserve their elite status at tax-funded research universities and federal labs.
He worries about Donald Trump making things up, especially about climate change. During Backlund’s years advising Bill Clinton’s administration on science policy, he said, “The one thing we did more than anything was to make sure the President always had the correct information.”
“We would have felt physical pain if the President said something wrong,” he added. “How can you have an administration in which being correct, factually correct, isn’t valued?”
He also worries about his own credibility. Although he backed Hillary Clinton – and was part of the team helping craft her climate change policies – he took a measured view of 2016’s election in his professional life, assuring CSU students, colleagues and visiting researchers that science policy pendulums long have swung back and forth and that “Republicans have done a lot of great things for the environment.” Five months later, he cringes at the memory of his optimism.
“Now I’m pretty sure those people are thinking ‘Wow, that guy is really an idiot’,” he said. “I now feel more worried about the political situation in the United States than I’ve felt in my entire life.”
Backlund struggles with this dark view, his inability to offer young researchers a sunnier forecast about their careers. He’s tempted to “shake people” about threats of Trump’s apparent science agenda, and to shout, “This is just the beginning, this is just getting started.” But nobody wants to be the one squawking that the sky is falling.
He’s well aware that, just when a pro-science megaphone is perhaps most needed, he’s hesitant to use it. Why is it, he was asked, that he has marched for women’s rights, against wars, and even as a young boy behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Albuquerque, but sat out Saturday?
He paused before answering.
“It’s weird, I know. I know it’s weird,” he said. “I guess I’m more comfortable marching for other people’s causes than for my own.”
The risk taker
Things are stressful these days at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, and not just because of its ever-mounting evidence that the planet is overheating.
Scientists throughout NCAR’s campus are on edge anticipating Trump-era budget cuts that may slash their research and many of their jobs.
One of them, Sociologist Paty Romero Lankao has worked nearly 11 years at NCAR studying the human dimensions of energy and water consumption, urban development and climate change. Like her colleagues, she long ago understood the climate trajectory as the factual baseline and primary challenge of her work. It motivates rather than rattles her.
What’s alarming, she says, is that years of quantifiably verified evidence apparently aren’t enough to affect policy in a country to which she immigrated because of the value it once put on research. What hurts is realizing her work isn’t making enough impact.
It’s tempting to suck it up and keep quiet, as some of her colleagues have advised. And on a few mornings, “there has been the urge to leave, or just give up.” But most days she has a stronger impulse to speak up and fight.
“I can understand if people say they don’t care about science. But I can’t understand anyone saying they don’t care about science and nobody else should, either,” she said.
“About that, I can’t stay quiet.”
And so, in her rain boots, poncho and “Forget princess. I want to be a scientist” T-shirt, Romero Lankao set out with her husband and daughter for Denver on Saturday to make some noise. She was buoyed by the crowds and humbled by so many non-scientists marching in support of research like hers and the principles behind it – ideas she realizes “aren’t so sexy” that they typically inspire action.
She delighted in demonstrators’ energy and creativity. “The signs. Oh, I love the signs,” she said, noting with a loud and glorious belly laugh one particular that read, “Earth is not flat. Neither is Uranus.”
She was especially fond of a sign reading, “Climate Change is Real. Denial is Deadly,” for which she complimented the woman carrying it. The woman handed it to her. The 54-year-old researcher waved it with pride and incredulity. She’d never expected to be marching for facts.
Romero Lankao realizes there are risks to speaking out against the administration that signs her paychecks. She has taken such risks before, both as a graduate student and as a professor in Mexico where she spoke against corruption in her academies. She lost the grad school job. As for the professorship, she quit and left Mexico in search of a place to research with integrity.
In her work at NCAR, she studies the ways people in different urban areas live, sleep, eat, get around and play, and which practices are more sustainable in terms of climate change than others. She suspects her research wouldn’t be much appreciated by a president who built his brand on luxury developments, a gilded airplane, and well-watered golf courses.
“It’s not desirable under this administration. In this political climate, it’s not welcome. I know how they look at me. I know I represent someone who threatens to take away their freedoms,” she said of a collective “they” who, sooner or later, she understands may try to silence her.
She figures at some point the risk of losing your job is outweighed by the risk of keeping quiet. If she has learned anything as a researcher, it’s that facts don’t change by ignoring them.
“It’s like journalists, you’re also being attacked on those grounds – that facts, uncomfortable ones, aren’t tolerated. What do you do? Would you let this happen? Stay silent? No. You’d feel the need to speak out about the problems we see in front of us. We are not only scientists. We are citizens, people. We feel. We dream.
“And we live here, like everyone else.”
Top photo by Kelsey Ray. Others courtesy of Josh Tewksbury, Peter Backlund and Paty Romero Lankao.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):
[A] contentious battle over a proposed gravel pit at Badger Hills between Avondale Boulevard and 40th Lane came to an end with a granted permit from the Pueblo County Planning and Development Board.
If appealed, the decision would go to the Pueblo County commissioners.
The company has been granted a special-use permit for a 1,500-acre mineral and natural resource extraction and mining operation.
Those in opposition of the proposal have complained about the amount of truckloads that would travel along 36th Lane to U.S. 50 in front of Vineland Elementary School and Vineland Middle School.
The opponents said they do intend to appeal the decision. They have 10 days to do so.
Earlier, there even was contention on the vote. The permit passed 5-1. Donald Thorne voted no. Then he resigned from the commission. He said he was not happy with some of the decisions the planning commission has made recently.
Fremont Paving has an existing gravel pit on 36th Lane. If the commissioners allow the permit, a private road would connect the existing gravel pit to the new operation. The haul route from there would continue on 36th Lane.
John Paul Ary, of Fremont Paving, said his company is limited to 70 trucks a day from the new site to the existing one. Those in opposition said there would be 200 plus trucks a day when added to the truckloads already coming from the older operation.
Those in opposition also have said the operation would cause environmental concerns in the area and thick dust.
Here’s the release from the World Meteorological Organization:
Working paper seeks to support policy and practice on drought mitigation and preparedness
Significant progress has been made over the past decade in improving understanding of droughts and their impacts. However, several questions remain, including the real costs to a country’s economy, and whether the price of preparing for droughts is worth it. A new study released by the World Meteorological Organization and Global Water Partnership seeks to answer these questions.
The working paper reviewed an extensive range of literature on the benefits of action and costs of inaction of drought mitigation and preparedness. It was prepared for the Integrated Drought Management Programme as part of efforts to support the development of more proactive drought policies and better predictive mechanisms.
“Identifying not only the costs of inaction, but also the immediate and long term benefits of being better prepared for drought will be crucial in making a convincing case for mitigating drought risks. This study on the current state of the knowledge will be an important contribution in moving towards a more proactive approach to address drought risks” said Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair of the Global Water Partnership.
“Unlike floods and tropical cyclones, drought is a slow onset disaster. But – as the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa shows – its impact is just as devastating in terms of human suffering and loss of livelihoods. We need to move away from the traditional piecemeal, crisis-driven response and adopt modern tools, in the form of integrated drought management policies, to increase climate resilience,” noted Robert Stefanski, WMO’s Head of the Integrated Drought Management Programme Technical Support Unit.
The paper reviews economic drought impact assessments and describes the main obstacles and opportunities facing the transition from crisis management to risk management. Presently, many available estimates of drought costs are partial and difficult to compare. Too little is known about the costs of indirect and longer-term drought impacts because of lack of data.
Droughts: recurrent feature of climate
Droughts are a recurrent and normal feature of almost any climate, even in comparatively water-rich countries. One study indicates that that about 10% of the territory of the United States is affected by drought at any given time. Between 2000 and 2006, 15% of the European Union’s land area was affected by drought. Droughts have occurred in different locations across Vietnam in 40 out of the past 50 years.
The countries that are most vulnerable to Gross Domestic Product losses due to droughts are in eastern and southern Africa, South America, and South and Southeast Asia, according to one study cited in the working paper.
It features a case study on Brazil, where droughts, especially in the northeast, are expected to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of global climate change. Drought and climate change combined with existing pressure on freshwater availability and quality are likely to lead to new and increased water management challenges. These have been recognized by the Brazilian water community, including resource managers and users, researchers and policymakers.
Drought preparedness and risk mitigation helps lower the eventual drought relief costs. For example, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated that the US would save at least USD 2 on future disaster costs from every USD 1 spent on drought risk mitigation, the study shows.
“Given the scale of the issue and the likely drought trends under climate change, it is essential to have a well-defined strategy for mitigating the impacts of drought and enhancing drought preparedness,” conclude the paper’s authors, Nicolas Gerber and Alisher Mirzabaev.
Integrated Drought Management Workshop
The working paper was released ahead of a workshop on the benefits and costs of drought mitigation and preparedness organized by the World Bank, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Global Water Partnership (GWP) Integrated Drought Management Programme on 26 and 27 April in Washington DC, USA.
“The workshop aims to achieve a better understanding of the drought costs, impact pathways, vulnerabilities, costs and benefits of drought crisis and risk management approaches as well as the co-benefits of risk management approaches,” highlighted Frederik Pischke, GWP’s Integrated Drought Management Programme Senior Programme Officer.
It will explore the benefits of actions and the costs of inaction of drought preparedness, which includes the evolution of resilience across time scales, namely how lessons on pro-active drought management have been learned (and which actions were taken) over time and in different sectors.
The working paper is available at http://www.droughtmanagement.info/literature/IDMP_BACI_WP.PDF
From the Colorado River District:
What are the State of the River Meetings?
Each spring, during snowmelt runoff, the River District organizes informational “State of the River” meetings across parts of the Western Slope of Colorado to help educate the public and water users. Meeting speakers offer up-to-date information on snowpack figures, water supply forecasts and anticipated stream flows and upcoming conditions.
Specifically, reservoir operators and climate profession will discuss the amount of water expected to flow into the local reservoirs due to melting snow and will forecast how conditions may affect the rise and fall of reservoir levels and the amounts and timing of water to be released to the rivers over the upcoming season.
Here’s the release for the May 4, 2017 meeting in Silverthorne:
Top researcher on rising temperatures speaking at Summit State of the River meeting
Brad Udall, renowned climate researcher with the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, will keynote the Summit State of the River meeting set for 6 p.m., Thursday, May 4, 2017, at the Silverthorne Pavilion. Bureau of Reclamation and Denver Water officials will discuss reservoir operations at Green Mountain and Dillon.
Learn about the health of the snowpack and what it forecasts for river flows and reservoir operations at the 24th annual Summit State of the River meeting set for 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, May 4 at the Silverthorne Pavilion. This free, public event is sponsored by the Blue River Watershed Group and the Colorado River District. Finger-food and refreshments will be served.
The special guest keynote speaker will be Brad Udall of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, who recently co-authored a study that describes how rising temperatures are as villainous in reduced Colorado River flows as the drought itself between 2000 and 2014.
In this time period, flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average, the worst 15-year drought on record. At least one-sixth to one-half of this loss is due to unprecedented temperatures (0.9°C above the 1906-99 average). This confirms model-based analyses that continued warming will likely further reduce flows, according to the paper.
Another top speaker is Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn, who is retiring next year. Kuhn has been a leader in the Colorado River Basin in cautioning that low reservoir levels at Lake Powell threaten dire consequences for the entire basin unless water management policies change.
Summit County Water Commissioner Troy Wineland will discuss local water supply and streamflow predictions. Also, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and Denver Water will be on hand to detail operations this year at Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs, two key water bodies in Summit County.
For more information, contact Water Commissioner Troy Wineland at 970-355-4516 or Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District at 970-945-8522.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
The bill would have allowed Northern Water to run Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, water through 12 miles of the Poudre River in Fort Collins and recapture it at the Timnath Reservoir inlet for storage east of Fort Collins.
The bill failed 6-5 last week in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, with Democrats and Republicans voting against it…
Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said the district will still go through with its plan to run 14,000 acre feet of water through the river in Fort Collins with the goal of maintaining flows of 18 to 25 cubic feet per second. He attributed the lack of consensus on the bill to “uneasiness” in the water community about unintended impacts of the legislation.
“We’re still going to do it,” he said of the so-called “conveyance refinement plan.” “We’re just going to look at Plan B, probably.”
Whether Northern Water needs legal permission to carry out the plan remains a “gray area,” Werner said. But he added Northern Water will pursue the plan regardless of whether formal legislation is passed.
Werner wasn’t sure if Plan B would come in the form of another bill or pursuing the plan without legislation. He said Northern Water was trying to pass a bill to make its case “air-tight.”