#Drought news: Wildfire is on folks’ minds in the Roaring Fork Valley

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Pitkin County held a meeting last week with representatives of the 11 neighborhood caucuses to urge them to get homeowners to take wildfire mitigation seriously on their property.

“We need all residents to take personal responsibility,” said Valerie MacDonald, Pitkin County emergency manager. “Government alone cannot do this.”

She is particularly concerned because there is “a public that is unaware and unprepared to deal with a wildfire” in the upper valley with rare exceptions.

Landowners in mountain settings often erroneously think they will be urged to rip down a bunch of timber and turn their beautiful retreats into barren sites, MacDonald said. That’s not the case, she said. There are several inexpensive mitigation steps homeowners can take to slow or stop a wildfire advancing on their property and steps to “harden” their homes against common wildfire threats. (See factbox on page A7.)

“If your emergency plan is to call 911,” MacDonald said, “you need to do more.”

Basalt-Snowmass Village Fire Chief Scott Thompson said he remains hopeful that the weather will turn around and moisture levels will soar.

Right now it is not looking so good. The snowpack in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River is at 65 percent of normal.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest state assessment March 13 showed the entire Roaring Fork Valley in “severe drought.” East of Aspen to the Continental Divide is considered in moderate drought.

The worst scenario is for trees to become so dry they get stressed, Thompson said…

While Aspen-area residents tend to feel immune to a big, catastrophic fire, residents of the midvalley and Glenwood Springs know better. The Catherine fire in April 2008 swept from ranchlands along County Road 100 to Catherine Store in no time, posing risk to 150 homes in the bottomlands, closing Highway 82 and threatening to run up into Missouri Heights.

The South Canyon Fire outside of Glenwood Springs, also known as the Storm King Fire, killed 14 wildland firefighters in July 1994. The Coal Seam Fire in June 2002 burned 29 homes in West Glenwood Springs.

The Panorama fire in Missouri Heights scorched 1,500 acres, destroyed two houses, damaged two others and forced evacuations in July 2002.

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

The images above use daily precipitation statistics from NWS COOP, CoCoRaHS, and CoAgMet stations. From top to bottom, and left to right: most recent 7-days of accumulated precipitation in inches; current month-to-date accumulated precipitation in inches; last month’s precipitation as a percent of average; water-year-to-date precipitation as a percent of average.

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

@Ogallala_water: Ogallala Aquifer Summit April 9-10, 2018

High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

Spatial variation of the rain–snow temperature threshold across the Northern Hemisphere

The observed 50% rain–snow Ts threshold over the Northern Hemisphere for 6883 land stations from 1978 to 2007. Each point represents one station and only stations with a sufficient number of snowfall events were analyzed. a Thresholds mapped by station location. b Thresholds plotted by station longitude. The horizontal dashed line represents the Northern Hemisphere mean threshold (1.0 °C), the shaded gray box covers thresholds within ±2 standard deviations of the mean, and the blue line is a generalized additive model fit to the threshold data by longitude. Regions of interest are denoted by text within vertical dashed lines

From Nature Communications (Keith S. Jennings, Taylor S. Winchell, Ben Livneh & Noah P. Molotch):


Despite the importance of precipitation phase to global hydroclimate simulations, many land surface models use spatially uniform air temperature thresholds to partition rain and snow. Here we show, through the analysis of a 29-year observational dataset (n = 17.8 million), that the air temperature at which rain and snow fall in equal frequency varies significantly across the Northern Hemisphere, averaging 1.0 °C and ranging from –0.4 to 2.4 °C for 95% of the stations. Continental climates generally exhibit the warmest rain–snow thresholds and maritime the coolest. Simulations show precipitation phase methods incorporating humidity perform better than air temperature-only methods, particularly at relative humidity values below saturation and air temperatures between 0.6 and 3.4 °C. We also present the first continuous Northern Hemisphere map of rain–snow thresholds, underlining the spatial variability of precipitation phase partitioning. These results suggest precipitation phase could be better predicted using humidity and air temperature in large-scale land surface model runs.

From 9News.com (Cory Reppenhagen):

“One of the big surprises was that zero degrees Celsius or 32 Fahrenheit was not a very good predictor at all of the rain-snow transition temperature, and actually that transition almost always occurs at a much warmer temperature: 1 degree Celsius, as high as almost 4 degrees Celsius depending on where you are,” said Ben Livneh, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the study.

For snow to form naturally in a cloud, the temperature must be 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, but the atmospheric conditions can vary greatly as that snow falls to the ground. The key for that snowflake remaining a snowflake is very low relative humidity.

“You’re giving the snowflake more of an opportunity to cool itself as it falls through the atmosphere, like on a warm day you’re body sweats to cool itself, and it’s more efficient if you’re in a drier place like Colorado,” Jennings said.

It’s a process called evaporative cooling. Ski area’s use this knowledge to create snow early in the season when the air temperature is above freezing, but the relative humidity is still very low.

“We’ve sort of synthesized the state of the science in a way that extends what the ski areas have kind of known for a long time, and we’ve kind of brought it to the scientific community,” said Livneh.

The Dollars and Cents of Soil Health: A Farmer’s Perspective — @USDA


From the US Department of Agriculture:

Last year, the United States lost 2 million acres of land in active crop production. As the global population grows towards a projected 9.8 billion people by 2050, so too does demand for the food, fuel and fiber grown in America. The result? American farmers are looking for sustainable ways to produce high yields year after year.

To support this growing demand, many farmers are incorporating soil health management principles into their operations. Conservation practices such as cover crops and no-till are widely recommended to build soil health over time, but do these practices actually improve crop yields and lead to stable profit margins? To answer this question fully we will rely on universities, private scientists, government researchers and those most directly impacted: farmers themselves.

Meet Russell Hedrick

Russell Hedrick is a first-generation corn, soybean and specialty grains producer in Catawba County, North Carolina. Hedrick started in 2012 with 30 acres of row crops. Since then, he’s expanded to roughly 1,000 acres.

“When we first started, farmers in the area said we needed a 150 horsepower tractor and a 20-foot disk,” says Hedrick. “We started out broke and we couldn’t afford the tillage equipment,” he adds, with a good-natured laugh. “I was lucky to have a fantastic district conservationist who set us in the right direction from the beginning.”

His first year, Hedrick practiced 100 percent no-till and planted cover crops across part of his land. “We tried out a six or seven species cover crop blend,” says Hedrick. “Back then, a lot of people thought we were crazy.”

That initial blend consisted of cereal rye, oats, triticale, legumes, crimson clover and daikon radish. Hedrick compared yields for soybeans grown with cover crops versus those grown without and noticed a significant difference: higher yields for cover cropped beans, and noticeably improved weed suppression.

“We started off our first year seeing yields higher than the county average,” Hedrick says. “That really lit me on fire to keep growing and trying new things to improve the soil health.”

Soil Health Case Studies

Though every farm and every field are different, a recently-completed Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grants project shows promising results for farmers interested in adopting soil health management practices.

Conducted by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in partnership with Datu Research, the project provides economic case studies focusing on four corn and soybean producers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The profiled farms range in size from 25 acres of row crops to 2,300 acres, with three focusing on the economics of cover crop adoption and one specifically focusing on no-till.

Of the three farmers focusing on cover crop adoption, two reported average net economic gains over their first four to five years of cover cropping compared to a pre-adoption baseline. The no-till case study showed economic gains for all three years studied.

Giving Soil Health a Shot

When asked what he’d suggest to farmers considering trying new practices to build soil health, Hedrick’s answer is simple – just give it a shot.

“It’s not that hard to try something new,” says Hedrick. “Farmers should remember that soil health practices aren’t silver bullets and some take time to establish. When you’re first starting, try no-till or cover crops across 20 percent of your land. That’s manageable, and it leaves you a safety net if you don’t get the economic results you want to begin with.” Farm Bill programs such as NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program can further reduce the economic risk farmers face after adopting new conservation practices.

With 318.5 bushels per acre, Hedrick was the dryland division state winner in the 2016 North Carolina Corn Yield Contest. His corn and soybean yields are typically 20 to 30 percent higher than the county average, and over time he’s been able to reduce fertilizer costs by more than $70 per acre thanks to the nutrient boosts associated with cover cropping.

“I spend $45 per acre on my best cover crops,” says Hedrick, “and I spend about $20 per acre on my least expensive. Either way, I’m still saving money because of my fertilizer reductions.”

Hedrick encourages farmers to try different practices until they find what works for them. “At the end of the day,” he says, “there’s no one right way to do this. You just have to do the best you can, and try to do better each year. As long as you’re making progress, no one can fault you.”

To read more about the economics of no-till, please visit the Saving Money, Time and Soil: The Economics of No-Till Farming blog. Visit the NRCS website to learn more about voluntary conservation programs for your working lands.

2018 #COleg: Legislation aims to prevent new mining operations from polluting #Colorado waterways

Acid mine drainage. Photo credit: University of Colorado

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado lawmakers on Tuesday took a step toward preventing future mining disasters while acknowledging that contamination of waterways from old mining sites continues each day.

They rolled out legislation, immediately opposed by industry, that would require mining companies to make reclamation plans that include an end date for water treatment to remove pollution. Proponents say this would force a responsible assessment, before mining begins, of how best to minimize harm.

The bill also would force companies to post better financial assurance to cover costs of cleanup…

“This bill is an important, yet moderate, step forward in addressing Colorado’s mining woes. If it were to pass, there would certainly still be more work to do,” Conservation Colorado water advocate Kristin Green said. “Even moderate policy such as this by no means has a clear path to the governor’s desk. ….. This bill will not solve our existing problems, but it works to ensure the problem is not getting worse.”


A state requirement that companies submit reclamation plans specifying an end date for when water-cleaning no longer would be necessary is aimed at preventing perpetual treatment as a remedy. The bill also would require companies posting financial assurance bond money to include costs of protecting water, to reduce taxpayer vulnerability. And the bill would eliminate “self-bonding.” Colorado remains one of seven states where companies can self bond, or cover themselves, without posting recoverable assets.