#Snowpack news:

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 29, 2018 via the NRCS.

And just for grins, here’s a screenshot of the major sub-basin SWE map for January 29, 2018 from NRCS.

Screenshot of the NRCS interactive SWE map for major sub-basins on January 29, 2018.

From the Summit Daily News (Allen Best):

Western resorts got blanketed with snow during the weekend. Telluride rejoiced with 17 inches. In Vail, people were reporting the conditions were actually pretty good.

But Crested Butte got only 5 inches of snow, so skiing remains largely limited to those runs with manufactured snow. The extreme stuff, for which the resort is noted, is still thin.

“The 5 inches we picked up this weekend didn’t change the world here,” says John Norton.

Norton is the executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association and a former executive at ski areas, both Crested Butte and Aspen.

Like many other ski towns this winter, Crested Butte’s bookings held up well through Christmas, despite the absence of snow. But in the last month the numbers have faltered significantly.

Norton recently issued a memo in which he reported that March bookings “continue to suck. It used to be the biggest and most reliable winter month. Now it’s falling out of bed. March continues to be a puzzle.”

Billy Barr’s climate records are valuable to #ClimateChange researchers

Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Greeley Tribune:

[Billy] Barr began taking notes in 1974 out of boredom. Every day he would record the low and high temperatures, and measure new snow, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth. Now he has stacks of yellowed notebooks brimming with a trove of data that has made him an accidental apostle among climate researchers.

“I recorded all this out of a personal interest in the weather. And because I’ve done it for so long, it has some benefit and some value. It wasn’t like I was some sort of forethinker, thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write all this down and have absolutely no life whatsoever so I can stay here for 50 years,’ ” he says, tugging a gossamer beard dangling to his well-worn cricket sweater.

“Scientifically, my data are good because I had no goals, therefore no one can say ‘Well, you are just taking data to prove a point.’ It’s just numbers. I just wrote them down,” he says. “It’s the same person in the same location doing it in the same method, so even if I did it wrong, I did it wrong every single day for 44 years.”

He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.

Lately, he’s charting winters with about 11 fewer days with snow on the ground; roughly 5 percent of the winter without snow. In 44 years, he’d counted one December where the average low was above freezing — until December 2017, when the average low was 35 degrees.

More than 50 percent of the record daily highs he’s logged have come since 2010. In December and January this season, he already has counted 11 record daily-high temperatures. Last year he tallied 36 record-high temperatures, the most for one season. Back in the day, he would see about four, maybe five record highs each winter.

Barr’s data jibe with state and federal studies showing Colorado’s snowpack sitting around the third-lowest on record. Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climate scientist in Boulder, recently revised his seasonal outlook for Colorado noting a very low water content in the dismal snowpack, specifically pointing to a second-lowest snow-water-equivalent since 1981 in Barr’s Gunnison River Basin.

The second-year return of the La Niña weather pattern, Wolter wrote, “is playing out in typical fashion, leaving little hope for a recovery to near-normal snowpack or runoff in 2018.”

David Inouye, a conservation biologist who spends his summers at Gothic’s Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, has relied on Barr’s weather data in his study of the timing and abundance of wildflowers, which he began in 1973. He counts on Barr’s wildlife observations as well — a detailed daily analysis of bird and critter sightings that show marmots emerging from hibernation a month earlier than usual and robins arriving about three weeks early.

“Many of the researchers at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in the summer are people (like me) who have made career-long commitments to work at that site, and Billy’s data help many of us to have a climate context for our observations,” Inouye says. “We’re fortunate, for many reasons, that Billy made a commitment to living in Gothic after experiencing it for a summer as an undergraduate student there.”

[…]

Last year a short film featuring his life and weather research — “The Snow Guardian” — became a hit on the outdoor film circuit. He loved the movie. It prompted a steady stream of visitors last season, which he also enjoyed, even though it disrupted his carefully constructed routine. The publicity not only elevated his research, but his undeniable observations on how things are getting warmer. He’s not particularly political, but he recognizes a need to act to preserve winter.

“Let’s say this warming, it’s not our fault but we go ahead anyway and clean up the air and clean up the water. What did we lose?” he says, sipping from a mug of tea. “Why wouldn’t we do something?”

New Addition to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

Here’s the release from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Sandra Snell-Dobert):

On December 27, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) and The Conservation Fund finalized a purchase to add 2,494 acres to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Located near the visitor center and along the South Rim of the canyon, this addition to the park will provide access for additional recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and potential utility improvements in the park, which saw over 300,000 visitors in 2017.

The addition of this property, known as the Sanburg Ranch, will guarantee future access to the Red Rock Canyon area of the park, which is a destination for anglers and other backcountry users seeking a more gradual route to the Gunnison River. This acquisition will allow Black Canyon of the Gunnison to better preserve the viewshed from the visitor center and the popular South Rim Road, the main route through the park. The property also creates potential opportunities for NPS to provide water to the South Rim, reducing operational costs of hauling water to meet visitor and staff needs.

The NPS acquired the property from The Conservation Fund at the end of 2017, using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The property is included within the boundaries of the 1999 legislation that created Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Established 52 years ago, LWCF is a bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to protect irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities.

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) supported Colorado’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program.

“Securing the Sanburg Ranch improves public access to some of our state’s greatest backcountry hiking and fly fishing,” said Bennet. “Not only will this purchase add to the experience for visitors from around the world, but it will also improve management and bolster the water supply in the Park. The use of LWCF funds to preserve public access and improve land management further highlights the importance of reauthorizing this program before it expires later this year. I look forward to returning to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my family and exploring this new area.”

“This newest addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a great example of why the Land and Water Conservation Fund is so important to Colorado,” said Gardner. “I have fought to permanently reauthorize this program to ensure our public lands will be preserved for future generations. In this specific instance, the fund was utilized to purchase a new piece of land that will increase access to the land and the recreational opportunities it provides to Coloradoans and visitors from around the world.”

“Protecting Colorado’s natural treasures and pristine areas like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park continues to be a priority,” said Tipton. “I commend the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund for their commitment and hard work to ensure that sportsmen, hikers, campers and families will all be able to experience this magnificent natural area for generations to come.”

The NPS is currently working through how to process permitting and access to the newly-acquired land; no immediate changes are planned for the Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Permit lottery or access to the park from the Bostwick Park area. The former landowner will continue to hold grazing leases on the property for the next 10 years; the expiration of those leases will sunset grazing on this parcel.

“This addition to the park will improve access to some of Colorado’s most outstanding scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing, boosting the outdoor recreation economy that the surrounding communities depend on,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund’s office in Boulder. “Bipartisan support from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Tipton allowed this project to succeed.”

Montrose Board of County Commissioners Chairman Keith Caddy said, “This is exciting news for Montrose County residents. The addition of this property enhances the beauty and recreation opportunities of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for residents and tourists alike.”

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was first established as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument in 1933 and was designated a national park in 1999. Known for the steep, deep, and narrow canyon carved by the Gunnison River, the Black Canyon exposes some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The park hosts a variety of ecosystems from pinyon pine, juniper, and scrub oak forests at the rim, to the shady vertical canyon walls, and down to the riparian community along the Gunnison River.

The Conservation Fund makes conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense the Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly eight million acres of land.

@CSUtilities: Water Services Officer Named

Luther Earl Wilkinson’s first day as the Water Services Officer at Colorado Springs Utilities is Feb. 26, 2018.

Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

Today [January 26, 2018], Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte announced the new Water Services Officer: Earl Wilkinson. His first day with Springs Utilities is Monday, February 26, 2018.

“Earl’s experience includes managing stormwater, wastewater and water divisions in multiple municipalities, as well extensive planning, design and construction experience,” Forte said. “He has served on numerous committees and boards where he established a focused customer-service approach with staff, politicians, consultants, citizens and other governmental agencies that builds trust and confidence. I am excited for the knowledge and expertise Earl will bring to our organization.”

Wilkinson has more than 26 years of experience working for municipal governments. Since 2009 he’s served as the Director of Public Works for the City of Pueblo. In this role, he collaborated with Colorado Springs Utilities and many of our stakeholders. He previously served as a senior professional engineer and administrator in Toledo, Ohio.

“I’m thrilled to be selected to be a part of the Colorado Springs Utilities team and look forward to working in an organization that is an industry leader in municipal utilities,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson has a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is married and has three daughters and five grandchildren.

The Water Services Officer position has been vacant since Jan. 5, 2018, when Dan Higgins retired.