TV weathercasters hear about climate change — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate

Atmospheric scientist Scott Denning of Colorado State University, left, and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Slipping in climate change amid the daily weather on TV in Colorado

Television meteorologist Mike Nelson has two-and-a-half minutes each night to recap the day’s weather and inform viewers of Denver’s KMGH-TV what to expect in the hours and days ahead. Rarely does he have time to mention the changing climate.

Nelson, though, does speak up when he can. “It’s not just about polar bears. It’s about our children and our grandchildren,” he said on a recent Saturday morning in downtown Denver as he showed a picture of his own grandchildren. “This is really important stuff.”

A handful of representatives from TV stations in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction were at the session held on the Auraria campus. Nelson, chief meteorologist at Channel 7, had helped organize the program with the National Weather Service, bringing in two climate scientists to talk about how greenhouse gases are warming the planet and changing the climate.

It was a low-key affair in an ordinary classroom in the Science building. There was coffee in the back and pink-glazed donuts, but also carrots and dip. Few of the faces were familiar to casual TV watchers. Other than Nelson, only Danielle Grant, a relatively recent addition to the prime-time slots at Channel 9, stood out. Nelson has been reciting the temperatures and dishing out predictions of rain, snow, and sunshine in Denver with his signature voice, smooth and calmly authoritative, since 1991.

The scientists talked about weather and climate, physics and politics, despair and optimism.

Greenhouse gas emissions have actually accelerated in the last three years, said Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist with the Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. “We’re not making a dent in the problem so far,” he said. Half of all modern emissions have occurred since 1985.

Trenberth, whose accent betrays his New Zealand roots, has been consulted frequently by reporters for national news organizations such as when Hurricane Sandy flooded Manhattan. While temperatures have clearly been rising, Trenberth was among the first to proclaim the increased energy could also be detected in extreme weather.

About 90 percent of the increased heat goes into the ocean, causing expansion of the water and rising sea levels. Trenberth said he believes that hurricanes are a way that oceans use to shed heat, much as a body sheds heat perspiration. The warming climate may not result in more hurricanes, he said, but it is already increasing their severity by 5 to 15 percent. The effect of warming produced by accumulated greenhouse emissions can be found in the deeper droughts and more ferocious storms.

Dealing with detractors

In 2009, hijacked e-mails from Trenberth and others were cited by climate contrarians as proof that climate change, as President Donald Trump has said more recently, is nothing more than a giant hoax.

One of the quotes cited as evidence had been sent by Trenberth to climate scientists in Great Britain. “We cannot show any warming, and it is a travesty that we cannot,” he had written. His detractors had conveniently neglected to provide the context. He was referring to the lack of an adequate monitoring system to show the warming in the deeper waters of the ocean.

Nelson said that he, too, often gets angry e-mails and phone calls when he mentions climate change. “Spare me,” was in the subject line of one e-mail he got last October.

“Stick to making erroneous forecasts like you always do and let the real scientists discuss climate change,” said the viewer. “BTW, we’ve had climate change for 4.5 billion years, always have always will. This is just a minor blip.”

Detractors don’t stop Nelson. He speaks to about 50 schools per year, 15,000 students altogether. Youngsters want to hear about tornadoes, he said, but it’s important to also explain the basics of climate change. He also challenges the students to come up with inventions and innovations to solve the problem.

“I tell students the problems are real, but the solutions can be found,” he said. “I thank them for the solutions they will find in the next 25 to 30 years.”

Nelson also uses social media to occasionally push climate change education. He recently interviewed both Trenberth and another climate scientist, Scott Denning, of Colorado State University, for 20 minutes each on Facebook. Those interviews have had 25,000 views.

Denning also spoke to the weathercasters, at first in deference. His audiences usually consist of maybe a couple dozen students. “Every day you talk to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s amazing.”

Then he laid out Climate Science 101 to people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The basic mechanism of the greenhouse effect, he said, is really no more difficult to understand than the science taught in grade schools.

“This really isn’t complicated.” The absorption spectrum of carbon dioxide, he said, was first measured by Irish scientist John Tyndall in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was president. “This is not something we discovered 20 or 30 years ago.”

Denver can expect the heat of Albuquerque, located almost 500 miles to the south, in coming decades, and Estes Park, at 7,500 feet in elevation, the heat now of Denver, 2,300 feet lower in elevation. Trail Ridge Road will be as warm as Estes Park.

“This is huge, and it’s here,” he said. The warming now underway is the most rapid that has occurred on the Earth since the end of the last Ice Age. The post-glacial warming that took 100 centuries is now expected in just 100 years—some of it inevitably, even if rapid progress can be made in abating emissions.

Denning calls his presentation “Simple. Serious. Solvable.” He brings a performer’s intensity to each theme. “This is so depressing I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said, flipping past one no-doubt serious slide.

Then came the solvable, which he suggested is simple enough. Converting to 100 percent non-carbon energy will only cost about 1 percent of the gross domestic product. “That’s what it cost to retrofit the world’s cities with indoor plumbing a century ago,” he added. “It was so worth it.”

Our future well-being need not be based on “stuff we extract from the ground,” he concluded. Changing our technologies will not require us to go back to shivering in the dark. “That is a grim, awful view of human progress.”

What the survey results found

Ten or 15 years ago, many TV meteorologist were deeply skeptical of the conclusions being reached by climate scientists. Some still are. At the Colorado Water Congress several years ago, Brian Bledsoe, chief meteorologist at KKTV in Colorado Springs, argued strongly that the vast majority of climate scientists had it all wrong. Bledsoe, who grew up in a ranching and farming area of eastern Colorado, retains a core audience in the agriculture community for his forecasting service, Weather5280.com.

Even now, broadcast meteorologists altogether remain notably skeptical about the conclusions being drawn by climate scientists. A 2017 survey of 486 participating broadcast meteorologists by the American Meteorological Society found that 95 percent thought climate change is happening. However, only 49 percent of broadcast meteorologists said they were convinced that the changed climate observed during the past 50 years has been mostly or entirely due to human activity.

Another 21 percent attributed the changes equally to human activity and natural forces, and the final 21 percent said the changes were entirely natural.

Members of the American Meteorological Society altogether are far more accepting of the human role in the changing climate. So are Americans altogether. Gallup has asked Americans since 2001 whether they believe global warming is caused by human activities. The percentage has increased from 57 early in the century to a high of 68 percent last year. In the March poll, it fell back to 64 percent.

Opinions differ sharply based on political affiliation. The Gallup poll in March found that 69 percent of Republicans think the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, and 33 percent of independents agreed, compared to just 4 percent of Democrats.

Democrats and Republicans even disagree in what they think they hear scientists saying. Some 86 percent of Democrats say most scientists believe warming is occurring, compared to 65 percent for independents and 42 percent of Republicans.

Nelson likes to say that TV meteorologists like himself are as close as most people get to a scientist on a daily basis. He first encountered climate science as a student in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin. “The talk was of global cooling due to dust, but even then, the majority of scientists thought the CO2 would eventually win out,” he says. By the 1990s, he began thinking about greenhouse gas emissions again and, eventually, his responsibility to insert climate change into his public conversations.

“When we have a climate-related news story in the newscast, I try to have it positioned to lead into my report, so I can comment, perhaps have a supporting graphic or have something posted on social media that I can have the viewer check,” he says.

Nelson had said he hoped the session at Auraria would embolden younger weathercasters to talk about climate change, despite the risk of what he calls “nasty-grams.”

“The fact is we need to talk about it,” he told his younger colleagues while describing climate change as the “most existential threat” to civilization. But, he added, it’s a simple matter of physics—and solutions can be found.

Afterward, Nezette Rydell, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Boulder, defended the turnout to the session, despite the shortage of marquee faces. Like Nelson, she tilted forward with a glimmer of a smile. “Climate scientists used to be so depressing,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world anymore.”

We need a new word for #drought (#aridification?) in the #West

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel):

When is a drought so dry it can no longer just be called a drought? In Colorado, that time may be right now. At least, that’s what University of Colorado researcher Douglas Kenney thinks. Kenney directs the school’s Western Water Policy Program, which recently released a paper called “When is Drought, Not a Drought: Drought, Aridification, and the “New Normal.”

Kenney talked to Colorado Matters about why he and his peers believe that aridification is the more appropriate word. [ed. Click through to listen.] Aridification describes a period of transition where an environment becomes increasingly and permanently water scarce — a new reality for the Western U.S.

Take a trip down memory lane through mid-July West Drought Monitor maps.

An Ode To The Toilet, A Water #Conservation Champion — @LukeRunyon

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Since the 1990s, a strange phenomenon has played out in arid Western urban areas. Populations are booming while overall water use is staying the same or going down. The trend is clear in Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix: Cities are growing and using less water in the process.

It’s impossible to give credit to one single solution, but one could make a strong case that the M.V.P. award for water conservation efforts should go to the modern toilet.

The toilet is the single largest user of water in the home. It uses more than the washing machine, the dishwasher, the shower or the kitchen faucet. About a quarter of all water that enters a home will flow through the toilet according to a 2016 study. Each day the average toilet will use about 33 gallons of water.

That might sound like a lot, but it’s a big improvement. In 1999 the average toilet guzzled more than 45 gallons of water daily…

The road to high-efficiency toilets began back in 1992. The concern was less about water scarcity in the West and more about overwhelmed sewage systems on the east coast.

Congress was feeling pressure to pass national standards for water use and came up with the Energy Policy Act, a law that spawned a generation of low-flow fixtures.

For the plumbing industry, it was a huge deal.

“Absolutely, it was an extremely watershed moment, no pun intended,” says Pete DeMarco with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

The law mandated that toilets only flush using 1.6 gallons of water or less. Throughout the 1990s, low-flush toilets flooded the market. DeMarco says even though the regulations received input from toilet manufacturers, the new models received heaps of scorn from users who complained that their new and improved toilets performed worse, unable to finish the job in a single flush.

“There were some poor-performing products back in the mid-90s. I think the regulation caught some manufacturers off guard,” he says.

In many cases, DeMarco says, manufacturers had simply reduced the amount of water a toilet used without making significant changes to its inner workings. A lower flow just couldn’t cut it.

The frustrated customers sent toilet-makers back to the drawing board. A new test from a company called Maximum Performance allowed manufacturers to demonstrate that their low-flow toilets could actually evacuate the bowl with one flush. In simulations, toilets would be loaded up with logs of miso paste to show their effectiveness.

DeMarco says toilets can’t take all the credit, but this one innovation is a big reason why cities have been able to grow and still keep their water use in check. Indoor use dropped 22 percent nationwide between 1999 and 2016, much of that due to swapping out old fixtures.

In recent years some states with water scarcity problems — like Colorado and California — have passed even tighter regulations on how much water toilets can use…

Even though some conservationists feel like the indoor water use fruit has been plucked, a 2017 Alliance for Water Efficiency study found that more than 13 million non-efficient toilets — those that flush more than 1.6 gallons — remain installed in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia and Texas.

A nationwide push to rid the country of old toilets could have a significant effect.

If all toilets were high-efficiency indoor water use could drop an additional 35 percent to below 40 gallons per person per day, the study projected…

This story is part of a collaborative series from the Colorado River Reporting Project at KUNC, supported by a Walton Family Foundation grant, the Mountain West News Bureau, and Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between public radio and TV stations in the West, supported by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

South Adams County Water and Sanitation shuts down 3 wells citing PFC pollution

Typical water well

From 9News.com (Allison Sylte):

A news release about the contamination was distributed on Friday morning. This comes after the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District found perfluorinated compounds (commonly known as PFCs) in water samples from certain shallow groundwater wells. These chemicals are known to pose significant health risks if people are exposed to them – especially expectant mothers and young children.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and the Tri-County Health Department are working to find the source of the contamination.

However, health officials say the water distributed to the 50,000 customers in the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District is safe after three wells with the highest concentration of the PFC chemicals were shut down earlier this month. This means the district is taking 40 percent of its water supply from Denver rather than the usual 20 percent.

The concern now, according to South Adams County Water and Sanitation District Water Systems Manager Kipp Scott, are private wells and the people who use them – which is what prompted the advisory to the public in the first place.

“When we find something that is of a concern like this, we notify the health department,” Scott said. “The concern is, we are treating for that chemical here and removing it to levels below the health advisory, but the concern is with other people that maybe using wells that are not on our system and supplied water by our district.

Scott said some wells tested positive for PFCs in May. When that happened, they tested the treatment process – and results took five weeks to come back. Next came contact with the health department.

Brian Hlavacek, the director of environmental health at the Tri-County Health Department, issued a statement to 9NEWS that said:

“Tri-County Health Department is working closely with EPA, CDPHE and SACWSD to identify the extent and source of contamination. TCHD is working to identify private drinking water wells in the initial area of investigation in order to sample for PFC’s. Sampling could begin as early as next week as we identify any wells. Residents who receive their water from a private drinking water well, are near this area, and are concerned about PFC levels can call Tri-County Health Department at 303-288-6816 or email questions to ehwater@tchd.org.”

#Drought + pipeline break = shutdown of boat ramp at Rampart Reservoir

Rampart Reservoir. Photo credit: The Applegate Group

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster, Brian Blevins):

The immediate cause was the diversion of more than 3 billion gallons to other reservoirs in late January when a 100-foot section of pipeline broke, Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said.

And, Abby Ortega, Utilities’ water resource manager, remains confident that its reservoirs are holding enough water to last more than three years.

Unless the drought persists and it doesn’t snow enough next winter to bring the snowpack up to normal. Then, Utilities officials said, residents could be looking at restrictions on when they can water lawns and wash cars by August 2019.

“The lower reservoir level is because of the break, not so much the drought,” Berry said. “Looking ahead, our reservoir capacity and its impacts on customers really depends on how we look going into next year. What is the fall like? What is the winter like, especially in the high country where we collect a lot of our water.”

Rampart Reservoir is at 65 percent capacity, 10 percent below the 10-year average, Ortega said. Early snow is needed to get Rampart’s levels back to where they need to be in April, when the reservoir’s storage levels are at their peak.

Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake, two of the other reservoirs on the Western Slope that feed into the Homestake Pipeline that ruptured in January, are full…

The Utilities Board would consider restricting water use — generally limiting the days when outdoor watering and washing vehicles is permitted — if water stored in reservoirs dropped to a 1½-year supply, Ortega said.

The last time Utilities imposed water restrictions was in 2013 during the seventh driest 12-month period in recent Colorado history, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported. That June, Colorado received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation.

When Stage II restrictions were approved by the Utilities Board, the city had an estimated two-year supply, Ortega said.

But 2013 paled in comparison to 2003 and 2004, when the city’s reservoirs held less than a two-month supply.

That experience combined with the city’s comprehensive Integrated Water Resource Plan gives the city the flexibility to deal with droughts, Berry said.

The 93-page plan approved by Utilities in February 2017 looks at the city’s water supply for the next 50 years, taking into account six variable factors: climate, population growth and demand, water rights challenges, aging infrastructure, environmental risks and state regulations. Its ultimate goal is to maintain a minimum of one-year’s storage at all times and a year-and-a-half’s at least 90 percent of the time…

Only hand-launched, nonmotorized watercraft will be permitted between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday at Rampart Reservoir for the remainder of the season.

Gunnison: #Colorado Water Workshop recap

Western State Colorado University Gunnison

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

Which brings us to today’s topic: How do we prepare tomorrow’s decision-makers today, when we can’t be sure what tomorrow is going to look like?

This is the trial facing the Colorado Water Workshop held annually at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. This spring the workshop marked its 44th gathering by asking a select group of participants, most with long ties to the workshop, to look to the future and decide possible options for the workshop to follow.

Even though the WSCU gathering is older than most, if not all, of its competitors, there are plenty of the latter. At last estimate, 11 similar workshops are conducted around the state. And they all (but for one or two notable exceptions) are cookie-cutter reproductions of “water geeks talking to other water geeks,” as one CWW participant said this year.

And why attend the WSCU conference if it doesn’t provide something different?

Workshop director and WSCU environmental studies professor Jeff Sellen admitted this year that although the Colorado Water Workshop is a “different kind of workshop, we recognize the need for change.”

He called it a “retooling” of the workshop aimed at increasing involvement of WSCU students and connecting them to established water leaders and those water managers (a very broad category) early in their careers.

It’s an opportunity, Sellen said, to design a “future for western water that acknowledges new challenges.”

Which eventually boiled down to the existentialist question of why and for what does the conference exist? OK, that’s two existentialist questions.

This year’s pared-down conference included in its invitation-only audience not only the well-experienced (including conference founder and longtime Gunnison water attorney Dick Bratton) as well as a half-dozen or more present-day WSCU students in Sellen’s environmental studies program…

The 30 or so participants seemed to agree that inviting “water geeks” (and you know who you are) to talk arcane language and hydrologic philosophy to similarly inclined devotees has its place and certainly provides opportunities for education, although perhaps only to like-minded adherents.

But does it reflect the best option for Western State and its role in the future of water education and management?

Education seems to be the key and that, said John Hausdoerffer, director of the school’s Center for Environment and Sustainability, remains the provenance and function of Western State Colorado University.

“What is it we add to the conversation?” Hausdoerffer asked during a thoughtfully taxing presentation.

Focusing on the generations of students that will be needed to make effective decisions, Hausdoerffer urged the conference to explore at least 10 years ahead, developing the tools and skill sets needed to deal with climate change and similarly perplexing hurdles.

These include communicating with the public, dealing with rapid environmental and climatic changes, and most of all, continuing to learn and adapt.

“Who have we been educating and who do we want to educate?” posed George Sibley, author and former Colorado Water Workshop director and a well-respected voice in Colorado’s water matters. Education, he said, necessarily involves breaking away from the old regimes and means involving new voices.

Some of those voices were heard from the handful of past and current WSCU students at the workshop, predominantly female and well-spoken on what they need to be successful in what is a mostly male-dominated field.

“Speak to all levels” of water knowledge and “push for education disciple,” urged Sara Porterfield, former WSCU student and newly minted Ph.D (history). “The purpose of a discipline is to challenge assumptions.”

And don’t be afraid to “cross-pollinate” among academic disciplines with collaboration and the sharing of educational resources, said Hannah Holm, coordinator for the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at the Colorado Mesa University.

“We don’t want (to seek answers in) traditional continuity,” added George Sibley. “What we’ve been doing won’t work for the future.”

In closing, Jeff Sellen said educational institutions sometimes must “swim upstream against cultural currents” in developing answers to present and expected conditions.

“I’m excited for the future of the Western Water Conference,” he said. “We just don’t yet know what it is.”