National recognition for WISE water practices — News on TAP

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via National recognition for WISE water practices — News on TAP

#Snowpack news:

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 11, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

In the Colorado River Basin — Eagle County and the surrounding region — the snowpack is 110% of normal.

Statewide, snowpacks range between 104% and 129% of normal, according to NRCS data. The statewide snowpack is 119% of normal…

The water year begins in October, so things started dry and got wetter as winter set in. That means the water year’s actual precipitation is a little low, but winter storms are piling up the snowpack, according to the data…

Similar to the 2019 water year, which started in Oct. 2018, precipitation patterns and month-to-month snow accumulations have varied widely.

The 2020 water year started in October 2019 amid a late summer dry spell in southern Colorado. The northern basins — Eagle County and the surrounding region — were blessed with above-normal precipitation beginning in October and running through December with several snowstorms.

That means in our region, streamflows are also healthy so far this winter, with water supplies at or near average. Weather and precipitation patterns vary from region to region across Colorado, the NRCS report states.

In the Arkansas Basin, the water supply is forecast at 104% of normal. On the low end, the Gunnison and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basins are facing a water supply forecast at 88% of normal…

Across Colorado, 90% of the state’s water supply is forecast to hit between 85% and 115% percent of their average volumes, Wetlaufer said. Statewide reservoir storage is 106% of average, Wetlaufer said.

From The Mountain Mail (D.J. DeJong):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service reported early-season snow accumulations are encouraging for an ample water supply in the current water year in the Jan. 1 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report.

Generous snowfall in October, November and December brought every major river basin above normal snowpack.

The Arkansas River Basin stands at 130 percent of median following two December storm cycles that added several inches of snow water to mountain snowpacks.

Statewide, the snowpack stands at 119 percent of median for the current water year, which began Oct. 1…

Reservoir storage varies across the state, but as a whole sits at about 106 percent of average.

Currently the Arkansas River Basin storage is below average at 98 percent.

The Upper Rio Grande Basin is also below average at 86 percent.

Storage in the other major basins ranges from 104-124 percent of average…

The average of forecasts in the Arkansas Basin is 104 percent of normal volumes, which is on the high end of basin forecasts.


Current Situation and Impacts in the West
January 9, 2020

The large scale spatial pattern of snow water equivalent (SWE) anomalies in the Lower 48 has not changed much since our last update in early December: the Pacific Northwest generally remains below normal with a gradient to above normal as you move southeast into the Four Corners. However, the magnitude of these anomalies has changed significantly due a series of storms bringing above normal precipitation (for the past three weeks) to the Washington Cascades and a drying trend to the Sierra Nevada and Intermountain West. The core of the worst snow drought conditions has now shifted from the Washington Cascades to the central and northern Oregon Cascades. For HUC-6 Basins the Willamette Basin in Oregon currently has the lowest snowpack at 37% of median SWE while Washington Basins has improved to 55-75% of median. As of January 6 there are now no stations reporting record low SWE and only four stations in the Pacific Northwest reporting 2nd lowest SWE on record with one in Oregon, two in Wasington, and one in Montana.

Despite large improvements in precipitation deficits in the Washington Cascades, SWE gains were limited at lower elevations due to warm temperatures and rain instead of snow for much of December. Alpine Meadows SNOTEL, on the west slope of the Washington Cascades at 3500’ elevation, recorded 34.1” of precipitation between December 9 and January with only 11.5” of SWE gains. The most recent storms over the past week have brought colder temperatures and more snow accumulation at lower elevations compared to mid-December storms.

The poleward shift in the storm track has led to a drying trend south of the Cascades. Major storms in the Sierra Nevada have been absent since mid-December and many locations have fallen to near-to-slightly below normal SWE for this time of year. Small SWE losses have even occurred at some locations in the past week. At the Central Sierra Snow Lab, near Donner Pass California, SWE has declined from 13” on December to 12” on January 7 with 87% of median SWE. Overall, the Sierra is still in good shape with the Walker River Basin being the only HUC-6 below normal at 90% of median SWE.

Snowpack in south-central Alaska remain below normal with Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound HUC-6 basins at 56% and 50% of median SWE, respectively. In southeast Alaska there is only one station with long enough records to computes normals: Long Lake currently sits at 91% of median SWE. The few stations in the interior of Alaska currently reporting data all indicate above normal snowpack.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) percent of 1981-2010 median snow water equivalent (SWE) over the western U.S.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) percent of 1981-2010 average precipitation over the western U.S. for the period December 16, 2019-January 5, 2020. Only stations with at least 20-years of data are included in the station averages. For an interactive version of this map please visit NRCS
University of Idaho’s gridded meteorological data (gridMET) mean temperature difference from the 1981-2010 average for the period December 13, 2019-January 3, 2020. For an interactive version of this map please visit Climate Engine.

R.I.P. Neil Peart: “I will choose a path that’s clear. I will choose free will”

LEICESTER, ENGLAND – 21st JUNE: Drummer Neil Peart of Canadian progressive rock band Rush at his kit during a soundcheck at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, 21st June 1980. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

From The New York Times (Jon Pareles):

His drumming was at once intricate and explosive, expanding Rush’s power-trio dynamics. His lyrics transformed the band’s songs into elaborate suites.

Neil Peart, the pyrotechnical drummer and high-concept lyricist for the Canadian progressive-rock trio Rush, died on Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 67.

The cause was brain cancer, according to a statement by the band’s spokesman, Elliot Mintz.

Rush was formed in 1968 but found its long-term identity — as the trio of Geddy Lee on vocals, keyboards and bass, Alex Lifeson on guitars and Mr. Peart on drums — after Mr. Peart replaced the band’s founding drummer, John Rutsey, in 1974.

Mr. Peart’s lyrics transformed the band’s songs into multi-section suites exploring science fiction, magic and philosophy, often with the individualist and libertarian sentiments that informed songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Freewill.” And Mr. Peart’s drumming was at once intricate and explosive, pinpointing odd meters and expanding the band’s power-trio dynamics; countless drummers admired his technical prowess.

In a recording career that continued into the 2010s, Rush headlined arenas and had more than a dozen platinum albums. Mr. Peart was also an author, writing books about his travels and his memoirs. After a Rush tour in 2015, he retired from performing, citing its physical toll. According to the band’s statement, he had been suffering from brain cancer for three and a half years…

Neil Peart was born on Sept. 12, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario, where his parents, Glen and Betty Peart, had a dairy farm. In 1980 he told Modern Drummer magazine that as a child he would “pick up chopsticks and play on my sister’s playpen.”


In 1974, an audition got him into Rush. He became the band’s lyricist, he said in 1980, “just because the other two guys didn’t want to write lyrics.” He added that he considered the band’s lyrics “secondary” to the music…

Mr. Peart grew up as a fan of loud, flashy drummers like Keith Moon, Gene Krupa, John Bonham and Ginger Baker, and he was known for hitting his drum kit hard. But as his playing developed, he quickly earned a reputation for precisely conceived, meticulously executed drum parts.

He expanded the standard drum kit with double bass drums and a wide array of cymbals, wood blocks, bells and timpani, and he eventually added electronic percussion to his arsenal when it suited the music.

His recording career with Rush began with the band’s second album, “Fly by Night,” in 1975. His approach immediately transformed the music from blues-based hard rock to compositions that were more demanding, ambitious and changeable. Rush’s 1976 album, “2112,” began with a 20-minute, seven-part title track…

Rolling Stone placed Mr. Peart at No. 4 in its 2016 list of “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.” Mr. Peart paid tribute to one of his influences when he produced a two-volume compilation, “Burning for Buddy,” pairing the Buddy Rich Big Band with jazz and rock drummers including Mr. Peart, Max Roach, Bill Bruford, Steve Gadd and Omar Hakim…

Although Rush’s music was proudly untrendy, it drew fiercely loyal fans who embraced lyrics like those Mr. Peart wrote for “The Spirit of Radio”:

All this machinery making modern music

Can still be open-hearted

Not so coldly charted

It’s really just a question of your honesty.

Video is from the Snakes & Arrows Tour, recorded at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands on October 16 and 17, 2007.

Five points about the proposed revisions to CEQ’s NEPA regulations — #Climate Law Blog #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Photo credit The Climate Reality Project.

From The Climate Law Blog (Jessica Wentz and Michael Burger):

On [January 9, 2020] the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a proposal to dramatically overhaul the federal regulations governing environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposal represents a significant departure from CEQ’s prior interpretation of NEPA as well as decades of agency practice, case law, and guidance consistent with that interpretation. Rather than promoting transparency, public engagement, and informed decision-making consistent with the policy set forth in NEPA, the proposal aims to curtail environmental analyses, limit disclosures to the public, and expedite federal approvals for major projects, including fossil fuel supply infrastructure.

Although the proposed regulations do not explicitly mention “climate change” there are many provisions that would potentially limit or even eliminate analysis of climate change-related issues for fossil fuel extraction leases and infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines. Here are five key points about the proposal and its implications for fossil fuel projects and analysis of climate change-related issues:

1. The proposal would eliminate requirements to evaluate “cumulative” effects, and possibly “indirect effects,” as well.

The existing NEPA regulations require agencies to evaluate three types of effects in environmental reviews: (i) direct effects, which are “caused by the action and occur at the same time and place;” (ii) indirect effects, which are “caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable;” and (iii) cumulative effects, which result from “the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (federal or non-federal) or person undertakes such other actions.”

The indirect and cumulative effect requirements have played a major role in recent litigation involving federal agency obligations to account for climate change when reviewing the impact of fossil fuel extraction leases and approvals for infrastructure such as pipelines. As we have detailed in recent articles (2017/2019), there are many court decisions requiring agencies to evaluate downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (e.g., from the combustion of fossil fuels) as indirect or cumulative effects of such approvals, as well as several decisions requiring consideration of upstream emissions (e.g., from fossil fuel production) in the context of transport projects such as coal railways. In some cases, the cumulative effects requirement has also been interpreted as requiring agencies to consider the effects of multiple fossil fuel leasing decisions under their control. These decisions have played an important role in prompting more thorough analysis of the potential effect of such projects on fossil fuel use and the corresponding impact on GHG emissions and global climate change.

CEQ is now proposing to collapse the distinction between indirect and direct effects and to explicitly eliminate the requirement to evaluate cumulative effects (as well as the related requirement to evaluate effects from cumulative actions). CEQ is also soliciting comment on whether it should affirmatively state that consideration of indirect effects is not required under NEPA. CEQ claims this modification is justified because “the terms ‘indirect’ and ‘cumulative’ have been interpreted expansively resulting in excessive documentation about speculative effects and leading to frequent litigation.

CEQ may face an uphill battle justifying such a modification in light of decades of agency practice, case law, and guidance affirming CEQ’s prior interpretation that indirect and cumulative effects properly qualify as “effects” which must be considered under NEPA. In some cases, courts have directly tied the obligation to evaluate indirect and/or cumulative effects to the statutory provisions rather than regulations. For example, in Kleppe v. Sierra Club(1974), the Supreme Court stated that consideration of cumulative effects/actions is necessary to comply with NEPA’s mandate that agencies use “all practicable means” to achieve the policy of environmental protection set forth in NEPA and to comply with NEPA’s procedural requirements.

2. The proposal would limit analysis to effects which are “reasonably foreseeable” and have a “reasonably close causal relationship” to the proposal.

The proposal would replace the old definition of “effects” – which recognized the distinction between direct, indirect, and cumulative effects – with the following definition:

“Effects or impacts means effects of the proposed action or alternatives that are reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action or alternatives. Effects include reasonably foreseeable effects that occur at the same time and place and may include reasonably foreseeable effects that are later in time or farther removed in distance.”

The proposal defines “reasonably foreseeable” as “sufficiently likely to occur such that a person of ordinary prudence would take it into account in reaching a decision,” but it does not define what constitutes a “reasonably close causal relationship.”

The provision limiting analysis to “reasonably foreseeable” effects is generally consistent with past agency practice and case law – courts have long held that NEPA only requires consideration of “reasonably foreseeable effects.” In cases involving fossil fuel extraction and transportation infrastructure, courts have also repeatedly found that indirect and cumulative GHG emissions (e.g., from the end-use of the fuels) are a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the production and transportation of the fuels.

However, the requirement that there be a “reasonably close causal relationship” appears aimed at limiting analysis and disclosure of certain indirect impacts, such as: (i) upstream and downstream emissions from fossil fuel projects, and (ii) any on-the-ground effects of climate change. In addition, the permissive language specifying that the effects which must be analyzed mayinclude effects that are later in time or farther removed in distance signals to agencies that evaluation of indirect effects is optional rather than mandatory. As a result, both provisions could be used to justify the omission of GHG emissions and climate-relate considerations from NEPA reviews for a broad range of projects.

3. The proposal redefines “significance” and limits consideration of indirect effects in significance determinations.

NEPA requires agencies to take a hard look at “significant” environmental impacts, and only requires preparation of a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) for proposals that may significantly affect the environment. The existing regulations define “significantly” as requiring consideration of both context and intensity. They also provide some guidance on what this means. For example, the regulations outline ten criteria that should be considered in evaluating intensity which include the degree to which the possible effects are highly uncertain or involve unique or unknown risks, the degree to which the effects are likely to be highly controversial, and the degree to which the action may establish a precedent for future actions with significant effects. Even with this regulatory guidance, agencies have a significant amount of discretion in determining whether an impact is “significant” – so much so that it is already very difficult to challenge an agency’s significance determination in court.

The proposed rule would give agencies even more discretion in this context by eliminating the existing definition of “significantly” and replacing it with this provision: “In considering whether the effects of the proposed action are significant, agencies shall analyze the potentially affected environment and degree of the effects of the action.” This language is so vague that it does not provide meaningful guidance to agencies let alone a benchmark that courts could use to evaluate the reasonableness of significance determinations.

If enacted, this change would make it easier for agencies to dismiss the significance of impacts arising from fossil fuel extraction and transportation infrastructure. As we discuss in a forthcoming article, there has been a long-standing debate about the threshold at which GHG emissions qualify as a “significant impact.” Remarkably, we are not aware of any federal reviews for fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure in which the reviewing agency has found a significant GHG impact (despite the fact that these projects would generate millions of tons of CO2e individually and hundreds of millions of tons of CO2e in the aggregate). But plaintiffs have recently begun to challenge this practice in court, relying on the existing regulatory criteria for evaluating intensity as grounds for arguing that GHG impacts from extraction projects qualify as significant impacts under NEPA. Courts have only just begun to grapple with such claims, and the proposed regulations, if upheld, could seriously undermine efforts to hold agencies accountable in this context.

In addition, the proposal would specify that even reasonably foreseeable effects “should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy casual chain.” This provision could certainly be used to justify the exclusion of downstream and upstream GHG emissions from significance determinations for fossil fuel projects. It could also be used to justify the wholesale exclusion of GHG emissions and climate change impacts from all federal reviews, since the impacts of climate change (e.g., sea level rise) are geographically and temporally attenuated from the emission of GHGs. Further supporting this interpretation, the proposed regulations state that “in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend on the effects in the locale rather than in the Nation as a whole.”

CEQ cites the Supreme Court’s decision in Department of Transportation v. Public Citizenas support for this new restriction on significance determinations. But this is a misinterpretation of that case, which held that an agency is not required to consider effects in its NEPA analysis when it has “no ability” to prevent or otherwise influence those effects. Reviewing courts have held thatPublic Citizen is not applicable to federal approvals for fossil fuel production and transportation infrastructure because the reviewing agencies do have the power to act on information about downstream emissions from fossil fuel use when deciding whether to authorize such proposals. See, e.g., Sierra Club v. FERC, 867 F.3d 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

Again, it will be difficult for CEQ to justify such a dramatic revision of the requirements for significance determination due to the long history of agency practice, case law, and guidance supporting its prior interpretation.

4. CEQ has signaled that it will move forward with its proposed GHG guidance, and is inviting comments on whether it should codify any aspects of that guidance in the regulations.

As noted above, the proposed regulations do not include any reference to “climate change.” Rather, in the preamble, CEQ clarifies that it intends to address specific issues related to climate change and NEPA implementation through forthcoming guidance on consideration of greenhouse gas emissions(which it intends to revise to be consistent with the new regulations). However, CEQ is also inviting comment on whether it should codify any aspects of the proposed GHG guidance in this rulemaking.

We discussed the draft guidance and its implications in a previous blog post. One conclusion was that that the guidance, if finalized, was unlikely to significantly affect agency practice or judicial interpretations of NEPA obligation because: (i) the guidance does not carry the same legal force as the statute or implementing regulations, (ii) the guidance does not represent a major departure from current agency practice, and (iii) many of the statements contained therein are too vague to contain meaningful instruction.

However, the situation may change with the finalization of these new NEPA regulations and CEQ’s subsequent revisions to the GHG guidance. If the provisions discussed above are upheld by the courts, then this may open the doors to the promulgation of guidance which could significantly curtail agency analysis of GHG emissions.

5. The proposal would undermine the environmental policy set forth in NEPA.

If the proposal is adopted and upheld in court, it would potentially allow agencies to approve fossil fuel infrastructure and other major projects without adequate consideration or disclosure of GHG emissions and climate change impacts. It would also disrupt agency practices, create considerable uncertainty about NEPA requirements, and make it more difficult for the public to obtain information about and challenge approvals of potentially harmful projects such as coal, oil, and gas extraction leases. It may also enable the Trump administration – if it remains in power – to accelerate its efforts to expand fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and build out fossil fuel supply infrastructure.

This is utterly inconsistent with the environmental policy set forth in NEPA, which states that the federal government will “use all practicable means and measures… to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”

Most of the environmental challenges we face today are in fact cumulative and interconnected. Climate change is a prime example. To ignore this reality is not only irrational – it is also detrimental to the public interest and a flagrant violation of NEPA’s policy. Any future changes to the NEPA regulations should be aimed at improving consideration of indirect and cumulative effects rather than curtailing it. The proposed revisions represent a major step in the wrong direction. [ed. emphasis mine]

CEQ has requested public comments on or before March 10, 2020. Please visit the CEQ website for more information about how to submit comments.