@POTUS’s #methane rule rollback burns the natural gas bridge #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

This summer’s statistics on electricity use and generation included a significant gem: Over the last 12 months, power generation from coal has dropped to a three-decade low. That was party-worthy news for the climate, for air quality, for folks who live near power plants and for the natural gas industry, which is partly responsible for coal’s decline. Just days later, however, the Trump administration crashed the shindig, causing a major buzzkill.

No, the president’s attempts to revive coal have not succeeded. But on Sept. 18, the Interior Department snuffed out new rules aimed at lowering the oil and gas industry’s methane emissions, just days after the Environmental Protection Agency started the process of euthanizing its own methane regulations. This is a bummer not only for the planet, but also for the natural gas industry’s efforts to portray its product as the clean fossil fuel.

Coal began its climb to dominate the electricity mix in the 1960s, peaking in the mid-2000s, when power plants burned about 1 billion tons per year, generating about half of the nation’s electricity — and an ongoing disaster. Donald Trump likes to talk about “clean, beautiful coal.” It’s anything but. The smokestacks that loom over coal power plants kick out millions of tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide annually, along with mercury, sulfur dioxide, arsenic and particulates, all of which wreak havoc on human health. What’s left over ends up as toxic (sometimes radioactive) piles of ash, clinkers and scrubber sludge.

When natural gas is burned to produce power, however, it emits only about half the carbon dioxide of coal, and virtually none of the other pollutants associated with burning coal. So during the 2008 election season — when climate politics were less polarized than now — both parties pushed natural gas in different ways, with Republicans chanting, “Drill, baby, drill,” and Democrats calling natural gas a “bridge” to greater reliance on renewable energy sources. At the same time, advances in drilling were unlocking vast stores of oil and gas from shale formations, driving down the price of the commodity and making it more desirable to utilities.

(Hilcorp Newco 2 Oil and Gas Well Site, San Juan County, NM (May 2018) via Earthworks)

As a result, natural gas gobbled up a growing share of the nation’s electricity mix, while coal’s portion withered. In 2008, natural gas generated 21 percent of the electricity in the United States; now, its share is 33 percent. Coal use, meanwhile, plummeted from 48 percent to 29 percent over the same period. In consequence, the electric power sector’s total carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by 700 million metric tons over the last decade, with an attendant decrease in other harmful pollutants. Every megawatt-hour of coal-fired electricity that is replaced by gas-fired electricity is a net win for the planet — and the humans who live on it.

Except when it’s not. Natural gas has an Achilles’ heel: When it is sucked from the earth and processed and moved around, leaks occur. The main ingredient in natural gas is methane, a greenhouse gas with 86 times the short-term warming potential of carbon dioxide. Every punctured pipeline, leaky valve and sloppy gas-well completion eats away at any climate benefits. And if methane’s leaking, so too are other harmful pollutants, including benzene, ethane and hydrogen sulfide. And so the fuel’s green credentials, and one of the industry’s main marketing tools, end up wafting into thin air.

The Four Corners methane hotspot is yet another environmental climate and public health disaster served to our community by industry. But now that we’ve identified the sources we can begin to hold those responsible accountable for cleaning up after themselves. The BLM methane rule and EPA methane rule are more clearly essential than ever. Photo credit: San Juan Citizens Alliance

When the Obama administration proposed rules that would make the oil and gas industry clamp down on methane emissions, it was a gift, not a punishment. Not only would people and the climate benefit; the natural gas industry would be able to sell itself as a clean fuel and a bridge to the future.

The Obama-era rules are similar to those passed in Colorado in 2014, with the industry’s support. Far from being onerous, they simply require companies to regularly look for and repair leaks and to replace faulty equipment. Some companies already do this on their own; the Obama rules would simply mandate this responsible behavior across the board. That’s why the Republican-controlled Congress ultimately decided not to kill the rules. That, however, did not discourage Trump.

Trump is not being “business-friendly” by ending the rules. Rather, he is once again indulging his own obsession with Obama and with destroying his predecessor’s legacy, regardless of the cost to human health and the environment. Trump’s own EPA estimates that its rule rollback will result in the emission of an additional 484,000 tons of methane, volatile organic compounds and other hazardous pollutants over the next five years. Meanwhile, the death of Interior’s methane rule on Tuesday will add another half-million tons of pollutants to the air. In the process, it will erode the pillars of the once-vaunted natural gas bridge.

Then again, maybe the time has come to let that bridge burn. We get 70 times more electricity from solar sources now than we did in 2008, and renewables hold 11 percent of the total share of power generation. Perhaps just as significant is a less-noticed fact: Electricity consumption in the U.S. has held steady for the last decade, even dropping during some years, despite a growing population, a burgeoning economy, harder-working air conditioners and more electric devices. That means we’re becoming more efficient and smarter about how we use energy. If we keep this up, we’ll be able to cross that fossil fuel chasm, no matter how many bridges Trump burns down.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.

Raise the River or Move the Ocean? #ColoradoRiver #COriver #FunFriday @RaiseRiver

A look back in time to the fund raising by Raise the River effort that helped with the pulse flow when the Colorado River reached the ocean for a brief time.

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

The latest e-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

Workers place pipeline as part of the Southern Water Supply Project II now under construction in Boulder County. Photo credit: Northern Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Construction begins on Southern Water Supply Project II

Crews from Garney Construction have started work on a new pipeline project to bring reliable water supplies to four water providers in Boulder and Larimer counties.

Called the Southern Water Supply Project II, the pipeline will deliver additional Colorado-Big Thompson Project and Windy Gap Project water from Carter Lake to the city of Boulder, town of Berthoud, Left Hand Water District and the Longs Peak Water District.

The $44 million project includes more than 20 miles of steel pipe that will improve water quality and at some portions of the year will act as the primary source of raw water for the project’s participants.

Officials estimate the project will be complete in early 2020.

Click here for more information, including an interactive map of the pipeline route.

New Aerosol Map Will Improve Air Quality Monitoring, Forecasting in a Changing #Climate — @CIRESnews #ActOnClimate

Here’s the release from CIRES:

CIRES, partners receive NOAA funding to develop global map

As wildfires and dust storms in a changing climate create health challenges for people worldwide, NOAA has announced funding for a University of Colorado Boulder-led project that promises to help improve air quality monitoring and forecasting.

Currently, global observations of aerosols—tiny airborne particles which can cause health problems—are sparse, leading to uncertainties in climate models. The new project aims to produce a better global map of aerosols and improve NOAA’s aerosol monitoring and forecasts.

CIRES AND NOAA RESEARCHER MARIUSZ PAGOWSKI. CREDIT: SUSAN COBB/ CIRES

“Aerosols are also critical to the Earth’s radiative balance and clouds, thus having a major impact on weather and climate,” said Mariusz Pagowski, a CIRES scientist who studies aerosols at NOAA’s Global Systems Division.

Large wildfires blazing in the western United States, storms blowing dust over Europe and Asia, and smog in India and China have people here and around the world talking about air pollution—especially tiny particles or aerosols from fires known as PM2.5, particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter. According to the U.S. EPA, PM2.5, which can become lodged in lungs and exacerbate health problems, is the single most critical factor affecting deaths from air pollution.

The new project is funded through a $495,000 grant from the NOAA Research MAPP Program. Pagowski and his team will use the grant to produce a reliable global map of different aerosol types in the atmosphere. To do this, the researchers will develop novel methods for combining observations with models, a process known as data assimilation. Their goal is to address deficiencies of the current approaches and improve NOAA’s aerosol forecasts.

THIS EXPERIMENTAL MODEL IS FORECASTING WHERE BLACK CARBON (SOOT) WILL BLOCK SUNLIGHT BY ABSORBING AND SCATTERING LIGHT. CREDIT: NOAA GLOBAL SYSTEMS DIVISION

As the changing climate and growing human population are expected to worsen wildfire seasons and pollution in general, improving NOAA’s aerosol monitoring and forecasting will provide information vital for public health and environmental decision-makers.

“This research will benefit scientists involved in aerosol forecasting, as well as the climate, health, and environmental communities,” Pagowski said.

The project’s co-investigators include Georg Grell, a research meteorologist at NOAA’s Global Systems Division of the Earth Systems Research Laboratory; Arlindo da Silva, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office; and Sarah Lu, a research associate at the State University of New York at Albany.

This project is one of five in the area of data assimilation-based climate monitoring funded by the Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) program in the NOAA Climate Program Office.

Mandatory curtailment of water rights in #Colorado raised as possibility — @AspenJournalism @CWCB_DNR #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Water experts say that if the ongoing drought persists, Lake Powell could be empty within three years, and call could be placed on the upper basin to curtail water rights. To avoid the chaos such an unprecedented call might bring, state officials are discussing how a more orderly, but still mandatory curtailment of water uses, might need to be implemented. A wall bleached, and stained, in Lake Powell. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith @AspenJournalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A state-imposed mandatory curtailment of water in the Colorado River Basin within Colorado was discussed as a looming possibility during a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on September 19 in Steamboat Springs.

Representatives from the Western Slope told the statewide water-planning board that while they favor creating a new legally protected pool of water in Lake Powell and other upstream federal reservoirs to help prevent a compact call on the river, they have significant concerns about the pool being filled outside of a program that is “voluntary, temporary and compensated.”

However, Front Range water users told the board that a voluntary program may not get the job done and that a mandatory curtailment program, based on either the prior appropriation doctrine or some method yet to be articulated, may be necessary to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam functioning so Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can deliver enough water to California, Arizona and Nevada to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“With the repeat of historic hydrology beginning in the year 2000, Lake Powell will be dry, and when I say dry I mean empty, within about three years,” Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water told the CWCB board.

Lochhead said that while a voluntary demand management program might help bolster water levels in Lake Powell, “it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”

“So we may need — I know we don’t want to implement — but we may need other mechanisms to accelerate the creation of water into Lake Powell in the event of an emergency,” Lochhead said. “This is not something that Denver Water wants, or is asking for. What we are asking for is that the contingency plans be put into place. We need to have those plans in place before the system collapses.”

On Wednesday, Brent Newman, the chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal, & Water Information Section emphasized that neither they, nor the state attorney general’s office, is at this point “assessing, pursuing or recommending to the CWCB board any type of involuntary or ‘anticipatory’ curtailment scenario.”

And yet, such scenarios are on a lot of people’s minds.

(Please see related memo, slides and audio from the meeting. The audio is via YouTube, as provided by CWCB. The file opens well into the discussion, so click back to the beginning of the file, which opens just after the agenda item began, with brief introductory comments from CWCB Director Becky Mitchell. It’s well worth listening to. Also please see related story from Sept.18.).

The looming possibility of mandatory curtailment of water use has raised concerns among Western Slope water managers, who feel that such cuts could harm Western Slope agricultural, such as this hay filed in the Yampa River basin. However, as water levels continue to drop to record lows in Lake Powell, mandatory curltailments are being discussed as a real possibility, especially by Front Range water managers. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

At hand

Lochhead said Denver Water wants to see a voluntary, temporary and compensated program created as a “first priority,” but also said “I also don’t think that by not talking about mandatory curtailment we can pretend the problem will go away. We need to be thinking about it, and we need to be thinking about it proactively.”

However, Western Slope water interests as represented by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District are concerned that if a new storage pool is created in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtailment program is used to fill it, it could have dire consequences for agriculture on the Western Slope.

NPR panel discussion of The Future of Water at CSU May 24, 2016. L to R: Patty Limerick, Roger Frugua, Melissa Mays, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kathleen Curry, and host Michel Martin.

“This is our livelihood,” Kathleen Curry, a rancher in Gunnison who serves on the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, told the CWCB. “This water is what we depend on. If we move in the direction of mandatory curtailment, and it isn’t equitable, you are going to have significant impacts to the water users in the state of Colorado, especially on the Western Slope.”

The two regional Western Slope water conservation districts had drafted a resolution they wanted the CWCB to adopt Wednesday, which did not happen, as the CWCB declined to vote on it.

The resolution stated that any mandatory curtailment program would be developed on a “consensus basis” with the two districts at the table, and not just be a directive of the state.

However, Bennett Raley, the general counsel for the Northern Water Conservancy District, which provides water to nearly a million people in northeastern Colorado, said the state, as a sovereign entity, should not be constrained by consensus.

He also said that mandatory curtailment may well be necessary in Colorado.

“If the drought continues, there are two paths,” he told the CWCB board. “If there is an infinite source of money, then voluntary works. Great, we’re all happy. If the drought continues and there is not an infinite source of money, then the state will go to mandatory. The Supreme Court will ensure that, sooner or later, it’s not a question.”

Part of the fear of such a mandatory program is that hardly anyone, outside of perhaps the state engineer, knows what it would look like.

“Ultimately it’s a state decision, it’s a decision of the state engineer as to how water rights would be curtailed to meet the state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact,” said Lochhead, when asked after the meeting how mandatory curtailment would work. “The short answer is, I don’t know. There are a lot of questions and viewpoints.”

Lochhead did say Denver Water is willing to “work with the state and with the West Slope to ensure that any curtailment doesn’t disproportionally impact any region of the state, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, and that essentially the same rules apply to everybody.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and other newspapers in the Swift Communications group in Colorado on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Sept. 20, as did the Vail Daily.

University of Nevada Reno, et al., score $4.97 million for #snowpack research from @USDA

Meadows were greening up in Colorado’s Egeria Park by early May [2017] even as snow held on in the Flat Tops. Photo/Allen Best

Here’s the release from the University of Nevada Reno (Nicole Sheaer):

Mountain snowpack is a primary source of water for the arid western United States. This region, which includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, receives precipitation in mountains far from agricultural fields, and during the winter months when crops are not grown. Water allocation institutions are the rules, regulations, rights and management strategies that determine how that water gets distributed among competing uses. Changes in mountain snowpack is altering water availability in ways that are not yet well understood, and it is not clear how well existing water allocation institutions will cope with these changes.

To bring scientific focus to these inevitable changes, the University of Nevada, Reno recently received a $4.97 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to lead a major research effort that includes the Desert Research Institute; Colorado State University; Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University.

“Water is our most precious resource and finding solutions for dealing with water scarcity and quality is critical for communities across the U.S. who grow and raise the food we eat,” Acting NIFA Director Tom Shanower said. “By investing in projects that address a critical problem for American agriculture, we aim to find better tools and technologies for water management practices that make a difference for our farmers, ranchers, and foresters.”

Changes in water availability

“Agriculture in the arid West has historically benefitted from natural storage and predictable melt rates of mountain snowpacks; but, existing built water storage and delivery infrastructure no longer represent our snowpacks,” Adrian Harpold, assistant professor in the University of Nevada, Reno College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, said. “Earlier melting of mountain snowpack alters the timing of runoff, putting additional pressure on reservoirs to meet the needs of agricultural water rights holders.”

Changes in availability and seasonal timing of mountain snowpack runoff mean that everyone, from farmers to municipal managers, is going to have to adapt. Conflicts have already arisen where existing water allocation laws and regulations have failed to allocate water in accordance with all rights holders’ expectations, and water authorities have intervened to limit permitted water rights. According to the researchers on this project, Western water allocation strategies may benefit from changes to adapt to long-term mountain snow-melt patterns.

“This change in runoff timing will require more active management of reservoirs, based on new hydrometeorological forecasts rather than on historical climate norms, to enhance water supply for downstream consumption and to mitigate floods,” Seshadri Rajagopal, assistant research professor in the Division of Hydrologic Science at the Desert Research Institute, said.

During the next five years, the interdisciplinary team that includes hydrologists and economists will evaluate the following:
• How changes in mountain snowpack affect available water;
• Which basins in the arid West are most at risk;
• The effectiveness of existing water allocation laws and regulation in managing these changes, in comparison with proposed modifications;
• How changes in available water, and laws and regulations, affect the economic well-being of various groups in society – including the sustainability of agricultural production in the arid West.

“The impacts of changing mountain snowmelt on water rights holders are profound,” Kim Rollins, University of Nevada, Reno professor and project director for the grant, said. “Increased risk affects private decisions to sell irrigation water rights, potentially causing permanent losses in the capacity for food production in the arid West. Decision-making can be improved with a better understanding of how changes in water flows influence agriculture producer decision-making and how laws and regulations can exacerbate or relieve constraints imposed by these changes.”

Information gathered will aim to inform three sets of decision-makers. The first are the regional, state and federal water policymakers. The second are the local water district managers as they determine, according to the laws and regulations set forth by policy, where and when to divert water flows from the various sources through their systems to end users. The third set of decision-makers are the individual agricultural producers and other water rights holders in deciding how they will use water and how they will respond to changes in their water rights.

“To be of value to decision-makers, empirical information must be provided in a manner that specifically addresses the decision problems at hand,” Loretta Singletary, interdisciplinary outreach liaison, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and professor, University of Nevada, Reno, said. “This means that timing, format, units of measurement, accessibility and other attributes of empirical information need to be designed to be of practical use to improve decision-making outcomes.”

Research Team:
• Kimberly Rollins, professor, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics and Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources;
• Loretta Singletary, interdisciplinary outreach liaison, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and professor, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics;
• Adrian Harpold, assistant professor in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Nevada, Reno, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; Global Water Center;
• Michael Taylor, assistant professor, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics and state specialist in agricultural and resource, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension;
• Gi-Eu Lee, postdoctoral fellow, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business, Department of Economics;
• Seshadri Rajagopal, assistant research professor, Desert Research Institute, Division of Hydrologic Sciences;
• Greg Pohll, professor, Desert Research Institute, Division of Hydrologic Sciences;
• Dale Manning, assistant professor, Colorado State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Resource Economics Department;
• Christopher Goemans, associate professor, Colorado State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Resource Economics Department;
• Abigail York, associate professor, Arizona State University, School of Human Evolution and Social Change;
• Benjamin Ruddell, associate professor, Northern Arizona University, School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems;
• Bryan Leonard, assistant professor, Arizona State University, School of Sustainability.

More on the grant from Colorado State University (Anne Manning):

CSU’s role

Bringing their expertise to the team will be CSU associate professor Christopher Goemans, and assistant professor Dale Manning, both in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Together, Goemans and Manning will develop an economic model that identifies how, over the next 30 years, different groups who use water in the West could gain or lose water access, depending on the timing and amounts of water available within seasons.

The CSU researchers’ ultimate goal is to help water managers, farmers and other users plan for the future by modeling various scenarios of water availability and allocation. For example, their model could help inform decisions about water release versus storage on a seasonal basis, or how water rights within existing laws might benefit from change.

“While infrastructure investment can improve the timing of water deliveries, designing allocation rules and regulations that account for the multiple values of water can be equally important to getting the most out of scarce water resources in the face of uncertain supply,” Manning said. “As snowmelt patterns change, both junior and senior water rights holders may be adversely affected. In this context, inflexible laws and regulations could result in rights holders wasting water, or being reluctant to adopt conservation technology to avoid the risk of losing water rights.”

Water management will change

Water policy analysts predict that water management in the western U.S. will undergo extensive changes to adapt to mountain snow melt patterns. The speed and extent to which these changes can occur depend on water allocation rules and regulations. This has caused recent conflicts where existing water allocation laws and regulations have failed to distribute water in accordance with all rights holders’ expectations. Given existing laws and the risk of over-allocating limited supplies, states and regional water authorities have intervened to limit permitted water rights.

“Water rights laws may hinder adaptation to climate change in the arid western U.S.,” Goemans said. “If senior water rights holders – namely food-producing and cash crop agriculture customers – are unable to get the water they need, the economic viability of irrigated agriculture could decline significantly.”

The impacts of changing volume and timing of snow melt on water rights users are profound, according to Kim Rollins, a University of Nevada, Reno economics professor and the grant’s project director. “Increased risk is involved with private decisions to sell irrigation water rights and lands, causing permanent losses in the capacity for food production in the arid West,” Rollins said. “Decision-making can be improved with a better understanding of how changes in water flows influence agricultural producer decision-making and how laws and regulations can exacerbate or relieve constraints from these changes.”

Information gathered will aim to inform three sets of decision-makers. The first are the regional, state and federal water policymakers that create the legal infrastructure for allocating water. The second are the local water district managers as they determine where and when to divert water flows from the various sources through their systems to end users, given existing law. The third set of decision-makers includes the individual agricultural producers and other water rights holders that decide how they will use water and how they will respond to changes in their water rights.

@USBR revises release forecasts for Olympus and Ruedi dams

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

Due to revised demands, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River are scheduled to rise from 83 to 101 cubic feet per second (cfs) tonight at midnight (cusp between Thursday and Friday), 21 September. Earlier this week I announced releases from Olympus Dam were planned to rise to 225 cfs and that figure has since changed significantly.

At this point in our forecast, we do not anticipate releases to the Big Thompson River rising above 150 cfs as we use the river to deliver C-BT Project water. On that subject, use of the Big Thompson to make project water deliveries is slated to run through October 12, and those deliveries vary frequently. I will of course continue to provide updates while keeping in mind the old adage: “Plans are disposable. Planning is indispensable.”

A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

Yesterday, I messaged you that we at Reclamation no longer planned to increase releases to 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River but would instead be maintaining releases at 355 cfs. That change holds, but I wanted to further explain this.

Due to the persistence of very low river flow conditions in the Colorado River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with Reclamation engineers and other Program partners, has decided to reduce the rate of release of Endangered Fish Recovery Program water stored in Ruedi Reservoir to allow these releases to be extended further into October. The reduced rate of release will enable a longer duration of “fish water” to be delivered to the 15-Mile Reach over the upcoming weeks, optimizing its benefits to the endangered fish.