@NOAA_Climate: 2017 Arctic Report Card: Extreme fall warmth drove near-record annual temperatures

Here’s the release from NOAA (Rebecca Lindsey):

Spring and summer temperatures in the Arctic were cooler in 2017 than they have been in many years this decade, but the annual average surface temperature was still the second highest on record according to the annual issue of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card.

This map shows temperature from October 2016-September 2017 compared to the 1981-2010 average. (The climate-monitoring year in the Arctic traditionally ends in September, when sea ice reaches it smallest extent of the year). A dashed line at 60 degrees North shows the boundary of the Arctic region. Dark red shows places that were up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the long-term average; blue areas show the opposite.

Below the map is a graph that compares the history of surface temperatures at land stations in the Arctic (red line) to the whole globe (gray line). Each year temperature is compared to the 1981-2010 average (dashed line at zero). The past year was slightly cooler than 2016, but it was still nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1981-2010 average. The rate of warming in the Arctic is twice the rate occurring over the globe as a whole.

According to the 2017 Arctic Report Card, the near-record warmth was driven largely by an extremely warm fall, during which low pressure and persistent southerly winds drew in warmer air from over the mid-latitudes of the both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. That atmospheric pattern clearly left its mark on the annual map, which shows the largest departures from average in the central Arctic, with lower latitudes experiencing conditions closer to the 1981-2010 normal.

Map based on NCEP Reanalysis data provided by NOAA ESRL. Graph adapted from Figure 1.1 in the “Surface Air Temperature” chapter of the 2017 Arctic Report Card.

Durango councillors set April 1, 2018 opening for recreation at Lake Nighthorse

Lake Nighthorse August 2017 via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Durango City Council unanimously committed to opening Lake Nighthorse on April 1 and forming an advisory group to help guide the management of the area…

The advisory group, called the Friends of Lake Nighthorse, would likely include people representing motorized boating, fishing, sailing, city advisory boards, governments involved in the lake and the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, among others, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said…

The recommendation from the advisory group go to both the city of Durango and the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the lake.

Big changes in lake management could require an amendment to the lease agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, and that could postpone opening of the lake beyond 2018, Metz said.

None of the councilors supported changes that would require a delay, but they did seem interested in responding to the flood of emails and suggestions they received on the issue…

Councilor Sweetie Marbury supported designating hours for motorized and non-motorized use to help accommodate both groups.

Limiting use at the lake could raise some budgetary concerns, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city and the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to split any budget shortfalls from operating the lake, and the city has only about $153,000 in the general fund that is not already allocated for other uses. The city as already set aside about $400,000 for operating the lake.

A 2010 market assessment found about 32 percent of Lake Nighthorse visitors would be interested in power boating and 33 percent would be interested in nonmotorized boating.

Limiting the uses on the lake or restricting the hours of certain uses on the lake could cut into the revenue the city can earn, he said.

Before the council started its discussion on Lake Nighthorse Jerry Olivier defended motorized use on the lake…

Johnson with the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, suggested the city consider charging admission to the lake by the person instead of by the carload and to ask residents about the management of the lake in an upcoming Parks and Recreation survey.

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

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

Why Colorado utilities should gear up for transportation electrification — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging at campsite near Steamboat Springs August 21, 2017.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Marrying electrical utilities and electrified transportation

Electric cars constitute disruptive technology. By one estimate, sales will increase almost six-fold nationally during the next five years. Another study foretells that 10 percent of all cars nationally will be plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles by 2025.

Instead of driving up to gas pumps at Shell and other stations, we’ll be fueling up with electricity. This represents increased demand for utilities, a sector that has seen little or no growth in recent years because of improved energy efficiency. For governments that have set aggressive goals for reduction of greenhouse gases, it represents an opportunity to pair up electrified transportation with low-cost renewables, shrinking the carbon footprint in the process.

Where does the Colorado Public Utilities come into this? That was the essential questions asked by PUC commissioners recently as they heard testimony from a dozen speakers.

The intent when inviting their comments, said Jeffrey Ackermann, the chairman of the PUC, was to get a feel for what constitutes “reasonable expectations of utilities.”

The goal is to “see where the market is going and work with the momentum that is already out there,” said Ackermann.

Speakers at the Dec. 8 information meeting repeatedly told the PUC commissioners the same thing: You do have a larger role in this business and technology transformation, not less. Many also spoke about the imminence of autonomous vehicles, such as has been the focal work of another Coloradan, Rutt Bridges.

Chris Nelder, manager of vehicle-grid integration for the Rocky Mountain Institute, described the transition as potentially a problem, but also a benefit. “It’s not something we can sleep on,” he said.

Nelder and other speakers called for the PUC to help ensure that sufficient charging stations are provided by utilities. He and others also called for utility rate schedules that encourage EV-charging in ways that maximize use of low-cost renewable energy.

Widespread adoption of EVs will be good for utility ratepayers altogether, commissioners were told. The significant increase in demand will occur mostly during off-peak periods, causing a downward pressure on electrical rates that benefit all ratepayers.

The commissioners also heard that air quality and greenhouse gas reduction efforts will be aided by more rapid adoption of EVs. Instead of burning gasoline and diesel, EVs will be fueled by electricity, increasingly so from renewable sources. In that way, air quality will be improved.

Will Toor, transportation manager for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said that driving an EV today in areas serviced by Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, is the equivalent of driving an internal-combustion car that gets 48 miles per gallon, in terms of its air quality benefits. By 2025, as Xcel further cleans up its electricity, that same car will be getting the equivalent of 75 mpg in terms of air quality benefits.

Shifting to electrified transportation can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015, transportation overtook electrical production as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nelder, drawing heavily from the Rocky Mountain Institute’s October 2017 report, “Gas to Grid,” which he co-wrote, said that getting people to buy EVs isn’t the main problem anymore. “The EVs are coming—and fast,” he said. Range anxiety has diminished as new models are capable of traveling 200 miles or more on a single charge. You can even buy a Tesla with 600-mile range, but at a cost: $250,000.

But even more bottom-shelf models are getting extended miles even as prices drop. In June, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted price parity between EVs and traditional internal-combustion engines by 2025.

EV owners in Colorado are currently clustered along the Front Range, as is the population altogether. But there are small clusters on the Western Slope, mostly clearly in the Aspen-Glenwood Springs area.

Despite this strong market momentum, speakers testified that the state-regulated utilities have a role in accelerating the transition.

So does Colorado. Gov. John Hickenlooper, in an executive order issued July 11, specified a 2025 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions statewide by more than 26 percent. He asked for a plan by Jan. 1 to “build out key charging corridors that will facilitate economic development and boost tourism across the state while reducing harmful air pollution.”

Colorado intends to use $10 million of its $68.5 million in proceeds from the Volkswagen emissions settlement for charging stations along interstate highways.

Should utilities take part in this installation of charging stations beyond this program? Speakers repeatedly said yes.

More than 80 percent of charging is expected to be at home. However, public charging plays a role, too. That’s why Tesla several years ago began installing charging stations in sometimes out–of-the-way places, to give comfort to owners of Tesla’s electric cars that they could get across North America and back again.

Studies have shown that somebody with charging infrastructure at a workplace is six times more likely to buy an electric car.

While any electrical outlet can charge an EV, more rapid fueling occurs with Level 2 chargers. Faster yet are direct-current fast-chargers, called DCFC. Colorado next year is expected to have 87 of them, but if this rapid growth occurs, within 15 years it will need 3,239. The slower, level-2 chargers will need to grow from almost 23,000 next year to 842,000.

These are apples and oranges in cost, too. Level 2 chargers can be had for $500, but a high-speed charger can cost up to $500,000. With that much invested, they need high rates of use.

“It’s all about utilization, utilization, utilization,” said Jonathan Levy, director of policy and strategy for Vision Ridge Partners, a Boulder-based equity and venture capital fund that specializes in the sustainability sector.

The agency has direct responsibility for regulation of the state’s two investor-owned utilities, Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, which together provide electricity for between 60 and 70 percent of Coloradans, and also the transmission planning by Tri-State Generation & Transmission. The agency has no authority in regulating the mostly rural electrical co-operatives or the municipal providers, such as Colorado Sprigns Utilities.

Nelder said the PUC might allow Xcel and Black Hills higher rates of return if they can figure out how to get high use of the high-speed chargers. He said chargers placed along major highways get higher use than those in cities.

That same point was made by SWEEP’s Toor. He pointed to a study that found the operating cost for a high-speed charger located along a major highway was $10,000 a year, compared to $39,163 for those in urban areas.

He also pointed to the need for charging infrastructure in multi-family housing. In Colorado, 24 percent of people live in multi-family housing. In Denver, it’s closer to 40 percent, he said. That’s challenging on the face of it, and lower-income housing introduces a social-equity issue. He suggested this is where PUC commissioners should nudge utilities into providing charging stations.

That same point was made by Liz Babcock, manager of air, water and climate for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. She said Denver plans to invest $250,000 in charging infrastructure. But she said it was “critical” that incentives be given Xcel Energy to install charging stations in multi-family housing projects.

Denver, she said, has a goal of attaining 100 percent carbon-free energy for public transportation by 2050.

To push vehicle electrification, the city introduced a public messaging campaign to drive electrify vehicles. It’s called Pass Gas Denver. “Kind of cheeky,” said Babcock.

A different kind of social justice issue is how more rural areas can have access to charging infrastructure.

Christian Willis, director of transportation fuels & technology for the Colorado Energy Office, said another question is how to incentivize charging infrastructure along Colorado’s secondary highways, which don’t get as much traffic.

The sheer bulk of vehicle electrification may strain existing utility infrastructure in times and places. Nelder pointed to the effort to develop next-generration solid-state batteries. Toyota says it will deliver these to market within two years. Nelder reported potential for major charging, such as at facilities handling electric buses, causing demand to surge. “Ten to 15 megawatts at a single charging location? That’s not trivial,” said Nelder.

At the pace of adoption that the Rocky Mountain Institute foresees, Colorado will need 37 times as many charging stations in 15 years, said Nelder.

That adoption rate will also cause electrical demand for cars in Colorado to grow from 23 megawatts in 2018 to 849 megawatts in 2033. That’s the load equivalent to Xcel’s largest single electrical sources, such as major coal plants or giant wind farms.

Rate structures that encourage electric car owners to use low-cost electricity at non-peak times, called time-of-use rates, is another area where the PUC may work with utilities.

California utilities have adopted policies that encourage charing of EVs during non-peak times. Slide/SWEEP

“You all control rate design, and rate design is crucial to adoption of electrified transportation,” said Max Baumhefner, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group

Thad Kurowski, from Tesla, echoed that argument, calling for time-of-use rate structures that encourage charging of car batteries when electricity is cheapest.

As for Xcel Energy, it’s not publicly advocating anything, said Jack Ihle, director of regulatory and strategic analysis for the Public Service Co. of Colorado, the Xcel subsidiary. “Our customers and communities are asking for help to do this; we are excited about the opportunity to electrify transportation.”

Colorado won’t necessarily have to invent this electrified wheel. California, said Nelder, is the leader,” far and away. They are hacking through the jungles and clearing the path for everyone else to follow.”

The PUC already has some authority to move into this new arena of electrified transportation, said Ackermann. Another commissioner, Frances Koncilja, suggested the commission may need legislative guidance.

The PUC has scheduled no next steps in this discussion about electrified transportation. The commission uses such information meetings as educational opportunities, but not necessarily as a stepping stone to further action, says Terry Bote, external affairs manager for the PUC. “As far as I am aware, there are no plans to issue a position paper.”

The PUC has scheduled no next steps in this discussion about electrified transportation. The commission uses such information meetings as educational opportunities, but not necessarily as a stepping stone to further action, says Terry Bote, external affairs manager for the PUC. “As far as I am aware, there are no plans to issue a position paper.”

Also worth reading: the New York Times report, “What Needs to Happen Before Electric Cars Take over the World.”

PowerPoints of speakers at the PUC hearing can be found here.

Ranchers, conservationists work to create a water market that benefits ranchers and fish — @WaltonFamilyFdn

Lower Green River Lake

From The Walton Family Foundation (Sheldon Alberts):

As director of Trout Unlimited’s western water and habitat program, Scott [Yates] builds partnerships with private landowners to find creative ways to reduce demand for water in the arid Colorado River basin.

The search for innovative ideas is driven by fears of future water shortages – and conflicts – in a region where a rapidly growing population, extended drought and changing weather are all combining to threaten supply. Declining snow pack and water supply also puts critical fish and wildlife habitat at risk.

Because the system, agricultural producers and fish all need water, there is significant incentive for cooperation among different stakeholders.

Some of the most promising water management solutions are being tested along the mountain-fed tributaries of the upper Green River, near the headwaters of the Colorado River system.

For more than a century, farmers and ranchers in Wyoming’s high desert rangeland have relied on irrigation water from these streams to raise crops and cattle, sustain their livelihoods and build the state’s agricultural economy.

Trout Unlimited has worked with landowners to construct fish passages to prevent trout from getting stuck in irrigation ditches and save water by improving the efficiency of aging canals, some of which were dug in the 1880s.

Over the past three years, the conservation organization has also focused on helping landowners enroll in the System Conservation Pilot Program, which compensates ranchers and farmers in the upper and lower Colorado basin for voluntarily reducing water consumption.

Started by the Bureau of Reclamation and large municipalities including Denver and Las Vegas, the program aims to help stabilize water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In Wyoming, landowners are paid to stop irrigating in early July when mountain runoff is lighter and trout benefit most from having more water in the stream.

“In higher elevation country like the upper Green River, ranchers have shown remarkable interest in marketing late-season water flows. It’s after haying season and their crop is already baled and harvested, so they have less need to irrigate,” Scott says. “That’s good news for fish because the water that flows in late July, August and September is of really high value to them – especially during drought years.”

Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

If streams become too shallow, water temperatures rise and trout die off. Streams can dry up and become disconnected from the main stem of the Green River.

While many of the creeks in the upper Green River are small, Trout Unlimited has sought to enlist multiple landowners to participate in water markets. “When you do that, there is a significant amount of land and a significant amount of water. It adds up.”

The Walton Family Foundation supports Trout Unlimited as part of its strategy to address the supply/demand imbalance of water throughout the Colorado River basin, which includes pursuing a flexible market-based water management system in cooperation with the agricultural community, rewarding water efficiency and restoring targeted flows.

Whether conversations about water management in the West occur in major cities, ranch houses or small town bars or coffee shops, they have the potential to stir controversy.

“These rural communities depend on that resource for their livelihood. It’s a hot bed issue,” Scott says.

The key to getting buy-in from landowners on reducing water use, he says, is to design a solution that adds value to their operation.

“The goal is to create a market so if it makes economic sense for a landowner to take land out of production – temporarily, on a voluntary and compensated basis – they can choose to leave the water in the stream,” says Scott. “That improves the overall reliability of the Colorado River system and provides maximum benefits for both ranchers and fish.”

Trout Unlimited staff work in small agricultural communities throughout the West, so they can build personal relationships with landowners and listen to their concerns and ideas.

“You have to bring something to the table that works for the community,” Scott says.

“The potential with water markets is that water can be acquired temporarily. The water right stays attached to the land. That’s important for landowners.”

For Scott, the personal reward is seeing the tributaries feeding the upper Green River remain healthy and viable for fish.

“The small streams draining out of the Wyoming Range support some of last native habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout populations,” he says.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Many of these streams are no wider than a one-lane road but produce trout 16 inches long.

“That signifies that the fish have everything they need. The water is clean, and there’s enough of it, for the most part,” he says.

“You can’t get any closer to great fly fishing than right here. It is truly one of the last great places.”

Evans: Riverside Park restoration update

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Tommy Wood):

The beginning of the project was delayed because Evans kept the bidding for contractors open for a longer period than it planned, which pushed the project completion date to August 2018. The increased costs come from more complicated trash removal than contractors foresaw, and from increased wages for workers mandated by the Davis-Bacon Act. The project will cost $12.1 million, still under the $13.2 million budget.

Riverside Park, 4000 Riverside Parkway, was destroyed in the 2013 floods when a berm protecting the park broke and inundated it under seven feet of water. The flood scattered debris all over the park and uncovered a landfill underneath Evans officials said they were unaware of. The park has been closed to the public since.

Keith Meyer, the project manager for the restoration, said workers discovered asbestos in the trash that made cleanup riskier than they’d foreseen. It’s also heavier and denser than expected because it’s packed with dirt. Because Evans is paying for trash removal by the ton, that added $976,488 to trash removal costs.

Additionally, Meyer said, Evans has to pay a total of $27,567 to workers to conform to the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates public works laborers be paid the local prevailing wage — the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime paid in the largest city in each county.

The council will vote whether to accept the added costs in its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Jan. 2.