Keeping the water flowing through COVID-19 — News on TAP

Denver Water operations shift to protect workers and the community during virus crisis. The post Keeping the water flowing through COVID-19 appeared first on News on TAP.

via Keeping the water flowing through COVID-19 — News on TAP

#Snowpack news: All basins still in the average range or above heading towards April 1, 2020, statewide above average peak

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

And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for March 31, 2020.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 31, 2020 via the NRCS.

The closure of Colorado coal-fired powerplants is freeing up water for thirsty cities — The #Colorado Sun

Craig Station is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, behind Comanche station at Pueblo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Colorado Sun (Ann Imse):

Large electricity generators use lots of water to cool their coal-fired plants. As those units shut down, expect to see battles heat up over how the massive amounts of water can be repurposed.

Any newfound source of water is a blessing in a state routinely stricken by drought and wildfire, where rural residents can be kept from washing a car or watering a garden in summer, and where farm fields dry up after cities buy their water rights.

State water planners long assumed that the amount of water needed to cool major power plants would increase with the booming population. Planners in 2010 predicted that, within 25 years, major power plants would be consuming 104,000 acre-feet per year of their own water. The Colorado Sun found that their annual consumption will end up closer to 10% of that figure.

The 94,000 acre-feet of water that major power plants won’t be consuming is enough to cover the needs of 1.25 million people, according to figures included in the Colorado Water Plan of 2015. (That’s counting water permanently consumed in cities, and not counting water consumed by agriculture and certain giant industries, or water returned to rivers through runoff and wastewater treatment plants.)

Already, water once used by now-defunct power plants is flowing to households, shops and factories in Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder and Palisade, because the local water utilities owned the water and supplied the plants. When the plants closed, the cities just put their own water back into municipal supplies, officials in those cities said…

In Pueblo, Black Hills Energy shut down a 100-year-old, coal-then-gas-fired power plant downtown. After decommissioning stations 5 and 6 near the Arkansas River in 2012, Black Hills donated the water to public use. Water that once cooled the plant now flows in the Arkansas through the city’s Historic Riverwalk, where gondoliers paddle and picnickers gather in the sun for art and music. Renowned Denver historic preservationist Dana Crawford has partnered with a local developer on plans to revive the art deco power plant as an anchor for an expansion of the Riverwalk, with shops and restaurants.

In Cañon City, water that cooled the closed W.N. Clark power plant is going down the Arkansas River as well, Black Hills Energy spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said. It is likely being picked up by the user with the next legal right in line.

The San Miguel River on the Western Slope is gaining some water from closure of the coal power plant in Nucla — at least temporarily until Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns the plant, finishes the tear down and reclamation, which requires some water. Spokesman Mark Stutz said Tri-State has made no decision on what to do with the water rights after that, but “we will listen to the input of interested stakeholders.”

Major power plants’ water consumption peaked in 2012 at about 60,000 to 70,000 acre-feet. It has dropped to about 47,000 acre-feet now and will fall further to about 27,000 acre-feet over the next 15 years, just from closures already announced. By the time the last coal plant closes, major power plant water consumption will have plummeted to about 10,000 acre-feet…

In the past 10 years, 13 coal power plant units in Colorado have shut down. Another 10 will close by 2036 or much earlier. The remaining four units are under review by their owners.

The last gas power plant built in Colorado was in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. All new power generation in Colorado since then has been renewable…

In the past 10 years, 13 coal power plant units in Colorado have shut down. Another 10 will close by 2036 or much earlier. The remaining four units are under review by their owners.

The last gas power plant built in Colorado was in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. All new power generation in Colorado since then has been renewable.

Transmission towers near the Rawhide power plant near Fort Collins, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Technology has driven down the cost of wind and solar, and they now can provide power at a lower price per kilowatt-hour than coal-fired power in Colorado. Even accounting for the need to store electricity, bids to provide renewable energy have come in lower than the cost of coal-fired power.

Closure dates have been accelerating. Utilities are running scenarios on how they could shut down the last four coal-burning units in Colorado not already set for closure. They are Xcel Energy’s Pawnee in Brush and Comanche 3 in Pueblo, Platte River Power Authority’s Rawhide 1 near Wellington, and Colorado Springs Utilities’ Ray D. Nixon unit 1 south of the city.

Emissions controls and customers’ climate concerns are also driving the change, utility officials said.

For example, Platte River Power Authority already expects to be 60% wind, solar and hydro by 2023, and its board said it wants to reach 100% by 2030, spokesman Steve Roalstad said. A public review process started March 4 to discuss how best to achieve that. Closing the coal plant at Rawhide and even the adjacent gas plants by 2030 are options, but not certain, he said.

Early closing dates set for other coal plants could move up. PacifiCorp, a partial owner of three coal power units in Craig and Hayden in northwest Colorado, is pushing its partners, Tri-State and Xcel, for faster shut-downs. It wants to move more quickly to cheaper renewables…

As more power plants close in coming years, much of the water no longer needed will be water owned by the power companies themselves. Many were reluctant to talk about their water rights in detail.

Water court records show Xcel owns water from wells all over the metro area, and draws from Clear Creek. Xcel also owns 5,000 to 10,000 acre-feet in the Colorado River. That water is diverted to northern Colorado through the Colorado-Big Thompson tunnel under the mountains.

Xcel did say it is holding onto its water rights for now. It has been cutting its water purchases from cities, switching to its own water as power plants close.

On a smaller scale, Tri-State is now switching its J.M. Shafer power plant in Fort Lupton from city well water to its own water rights, city administrator Chris Cross said.

Water court records show another example of what can happen to utility-owned water: Xcel wants to use some of its Clear Creek water rights at a hydroelectric plant above Georgetown that is being renovated to produce more megawatts.

Some water might become available for other uses as more Xcel coal plants close, spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said…

Closure of the power plants could open up arguments over where that water should go instead, explained Erin Light, state water engineer for the northwestern district.

“Every water right is decreed for an amount, a use and a place of use,” Light said. With the power plant gone, utilities can try to sell their rights, but other water users may dispute that in court.

Xcel, for example, owns 35,000 acre-feet of conditional water rights in reservoirs in the Yampa Valley that have never been built, she said. But “conditional” means the company gets the water only if it is actually needed, she explained. So when the Hayden power plant closes in the 2030s, Xcel would have to go back to water court to change the use or sell the rights, she said.

“Those conditional water rights become a lot more speculative if they are not operating a power plant,” she said. “Arguably, they would lose their conditional rights.”

Legislators are sufficiently concerned about speculators making money on Colorado’s water shortage that in March they passed Senate Bill 48 asking water officials to give them suggestions on how to strengthen current law against it.

@Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary’s Crane Camera: You may not be able to be there in person but you can experience the incredible Sandhill Crane migration live

Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary features one of the most intimate and spectacular views of the sandhill crane migration that occurs along the Platte River in Nebraska. The five mile stretch of river covered by this camera is one of the most densely populated sandhill crane roosts in the world with 100,000-200,000 cranes at the height of migration. Groups of cranes stay around three weeks once they arrive to this location and the best times to view them on the river is early mornings and evenings. The morning liftoff either happens slowly, with smaller groups of cranes leaving as the sun continues to rise, or more frequently with tens of thousands of sandhill cranes leaving all at once in a cloud that blots out the sky. Sandhill cranes return to the river in the evening to spend the night on the river’s shallow sandbars. Groups of cranes pour into the river silhouetted by the setting sun as they dance and socialize before falling asleep.

EXPLORE is the largest live nature cam network on the planet. We bring nature to you, raw, unscripted, and unedited. Enjoy the natural world as it unfolds in real time in front of our cameras. takes you from Kenya, Africa to the riverbanks of Katmai, Alaska and everywhere in between.

Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

Department of Defense expands list of military sites to investigate for #PFAS contamination

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via [Click the map to go to the website.]

Here’s the release from the National Ground Water Association:

A U.S. Department of Defense progress report released on March 13 states the number of sites it is investigating for potential release of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the environment has grown from 401 to 651 as of September 2019.

The report summarizes the PFAS task force’s accomplishments since its establishment in July 2019 and its planned activities moving forward.

According to the report, no U.S. military personal on or off bases is drinking water above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion where the DoD is the known source of drinking water. Where levels exceed the EPA’s health advisory level, the DoD has provided bottled water and filters, and taken other actions as appropriate.

Additional updates include the following items.

  • No PFAS-free foam has met the strict safety standards the DoD requires to rapidly extinguish fuel fires. The DoD only uses aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to respond to emergency events and no longer uses it for land-based testing and training. To limit environmental effects, the department treats each use of AFFF as a spill response. The DoD is investing $49 million through fiscal year 2025 in research, development, testing, and evaluation to find an effective alternative.
  • Each military service is collecting drinking water sampling results where DoD is the purveyor and maintaining the data in a centralized database.
  • Scientists are still studying the health effects of PFAS exposure. The DoD has provided $30 million and will provide an additional $10 million this year, to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct exposure assessments in the communities around eight current and former military installations, as well as a multisite health study.
  • The task force will explore potential options for addressing PFAS overseas.
  • Aspinall Unit operations update: 550 CFS in the Black Canyon, diversions through the Gunnison Tunnel = 300 CFS

    Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

    From email from Reclamation Erik Knight:

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased to 1050 cfs on Wednesday, March 25th. Releases are being adjusted to accommodate the change in diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel, which will occur on Thursday, March 26th. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 106% of normal. The March 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 78% of average for April-July inflows. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

    Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for January through March.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are at 300 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 400 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be at 500 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 550 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    First map shows global hotspots of glyphosate contamination — The University of Sydney

    Here’s the release from the University of Sydney (Marcus Strom):

    Experts call for phasing out of reliance on controversial herbicide

    Glyphosate, or Roundup, is under scrutiny because of possible impacts on human health and ecosystems. Here Federico Maggi and Alex McBratney present the world’s first map detailing contamination hotspots of the controversial herbicide.

    Global hazard map of glyphosate contamination in soils. Credit: The University of Sydney

    Agricultural scientists and engineers have produced the world’s first map detailing global ‘hot spots’ of soil contaminated with glyphosate, a herbicide widely known as Roundup.

    The map is published as the world’s eyes fall on glyphosate and concerns about its potential impact on environmental and human health. Last year in the US the owner of Roundup, Monstanto (now owned by Bayer), was ordered to pay $US2 billion to a couple who said they contracted cancer from the weedkiller, the third case the company had lost.

    This year, Australia is emerging as the next legal battleground over whether the herbicide causes cancer with a class action suit being prepared for the Federal Court.

    “The scientific jury is still out on whether the chemical glyphosate is a health risk,” said Professor Alex McBratney, director of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. “But we should apply the precautionary principle when it comes to the health risks.

    “And even if no evidence emerges about these risks, it is time for the agriculture industry to diversify our herbicides away from relying on a single chemical.”

    The map and associated study have been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

    Lead author of the paper is Associate Professor Federico Maggi from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and Faculty of Engineering. He said: “Glyphosate is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant. About 36 million square kilometres are treated with 600 to 750 thousand tonnes every year – and residues are found even in remote areas.”

    Hot spots

    The paper identifies hotspots of glyphosate residue in Western Europe, Brazil and Argentina, as well as parts of China and Indonesia. Contamination refers to concentration levels above the background level.

    “Our analysis shows that Australia is not a hotspot of glyphosate contamination, but some regions are subject to some contamination hazard in NSW and QLD and, to a lesser extent, in all other mainland states,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    He said that given the widespread use of the herbicide, soil contamination is unpreventable. This is because it is hard to be degraded by soil microorganisms when it reaches pristine environments, or it releases a highly persistent contaminant called aminomethyl-phosphonic acid (AMPA) when it is degraded.

    The researchers emphasise that contamination levels do not necessarily equate to any environmental or health risks as these are still unknown and require further study.

    “Our recent environmental hazard analysis considers four modes of environmental contamination by glyphosate and AMPA – biodegradation recalcitrance, residues accumulation in soil, leaching and persistence,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    “We found that 1 percent of global croplands – about 385,000 square kilometres – has a mid- to high-contamination hazard.”

    He said that contamination is pervasive globally, but is highest in South America, Europe and East and South Asia. It is mostly correlated to the cultivation of soybean and corn, and is mainly caused by AMPA recalcitrance and accumulation rather than glyphosate itself.

    “While there are controversial perspectives on the safety of glyphosate use on human health, little is known about AMPA’s toxicity and potential impacts on biodiversity, soil function and environmental health. Much further study is required,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    Poor long-term policy

    Professor McBratney said aside from the risks to human health, it is poor long-term agriculture policy to rely on glyphosate as a herbicide.

    “Weeds are genetically adapting and building resistance to glyphosate,” he said. “And there is growing evidence that a new generation of precision herbicide application could further improve yields.”

    Professor McBratney said Australia was well placed to economically benefit from the development of new herbicides.

    “In these times of increasing food demand, relying on a single molecule to sustain the world’s baseload crop production puts us in a very precarious position,” he said. “We urgently need to find alternatives to glyphosate to control weeds in agriculture.”

    2020 #COleg: Groups Applaud Passage of HB20-1095 [Local Governments Water Elements In Master Plans] — Western Resource Advocates

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jamie Trafficanda):

    Western Resource Advocates, American Planning Association Colorado Chapter, and Conservation Colorado today welcomed the passage of a bill to help Colorado communities include water efficiency in their long-range comprehensive planning and identify conservation strategies for new developments and growth.

    HB20-1095 [Local Governments Water Elements In Master Plans] authorizes and provides support for Colorado communities to voluntarily include a water element in their master plan, enabling cities and towns to pursue water efficiency and conservation strategies to meet their needs. Linking land use planning with water planning will better facilitate and enable communities to meet their goals of developing projects sustainably, resulting in connected state and local efforts for water planning and conservation, and ultimately continued implementation of the Colorado Water Plan. The legislation now heads to Governor Jared Polis to be signed into law.

    “In recognition of the importance of water to agriculture, recreation, the economy, and our overall quality of life, APA Colorado has long championed stewardship of water, a scarce resource in the arid West. Stewardship includes utilizing the tool that comprehensive master plans provide to link community land use planning with water planning,” said Susan Wood, AICP, APA Colorado legislative affairs representative. “Passage of this bill is the culmination of a multi-year effort by the APA Colorado Chapter and its members and we are pleased that it provides planning assistance to local governments through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and connects to policies provided in the Colorado Water Plan. Our mission is Making Great Communities Happen and planning for our water future is essential to fulfilling this goal.”

    “As Colorado becomes hotter and drier due to climate change, this bill will support Colorado’s growing communities that are interested in using water more efficiently,” said John Berggren, Western Resource Advocates water policy analyst. “By including water in master plans, our communities can grow without stressing our water supplies, increasing their resiliency and reducing their vulnerability to drought and shortages. We applaud Colorado lawmakers for valuing water efficiency as our communities grow, and we look forward to continuing to work with communities across our state to support locally driven water efficiency efforts.”

    “Due to population growth and climate change, Colorado faces an impending water supply gap where our communities will need more water than they currently have,” said Josh Kuhn, water advocate at Conservation Colorado. “The passage of this bill provides greater direction and resources for communities across our state ensuring planning is smart from the start.”

    APA Colorado, WRA, and their partners have been working for several years to help Colorado communities integrate their water and land use planning processes to improve water conservation and build more water smart communities. They have offered workshops, conducted trainings, and created resources for planners, including a first-of-its-kind guidebook that details how communities can integrate water efficiency into their land use planning and development processes.

    While Colorado’s population is expected to grow from its current 5.8 million to over 8 million by 2050, climate change is causing our state’s water resources to become increasingly scarce, putting greater stress on our rivers, cities, farms, ranches, and recreation opportunities. Rising temperatures in Colorado and prolonged drought are expected to further reduce annual flows in our state’s rivers, making additional local and state water conservation efforts essential.

    Dam It: Why Beavers Matter

    While away your quarantine by learning about nature’s most ingenious engineers with Ben Goldfarb, author of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.”

    A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Coronavirus fears over farmers markets could hit new growers hard – just when Americans need them most — The Conversation #COVID19 #coronavirus

    Shoppers in Brooklyn continue to buy produce at a farmers market.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Tamara J. Benjamin, Purdue University

    The familiar sight of weekend shoppers brushing shoulders at farmers markets across the U.S. is under threat from the coronavirus and fears of its spread.

    In Seattle, farmers markets have been suspended altogether. In New York state – the epicenter of the U.S.‘s fight against the virus – they remain open, but residents are being warned against gathering in groups and told to practice social distancing.

    Such uncertainty is likely to hurt so-called “beginning farmers” – typically smaller-scale, start-up operations. As an expert in diversified farming systems, I can see vulnerable farmers closing down as a result of this crisis, and this could have a knock-on effect on the long-term food supply chain.

    Vibrant community

    Nearly 30% of U.S. farms are run by farmers who have been in the business for fewer than 10 years. In comparison to the general farming population, beginning farmers are more likely to be women, people of color and military veterans.

    They also have an average age of 46 – more than 10 years lower than the general farmer population’s average age of 57.5.

    Beginning farmers form a vibrant and diverse part of the U.S. farming community. However, they are also among the most economically vulnerable of farmers. Since they are just starting out, they are often still formulating business plans, balancing farm finances, creating new marketing opportunities and establishing their farms’ viability.

    They are also less likely to farm commodity products – crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat. Instead, they tend to focus on diversified fruits and vegetable crops, such as heirloom tomatoes, green beans and blueberries, depending upon the climate and soil conditions.

    Farm to table

    Beginner farmers also tend to find it harder to access capital investments or federal loan opportunities that would provide support during inclement weather or a pandemic lockdown.

    Clearly, this makes the more than 900,000 beginning farmers in the U.S. at risk from potential closures of farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants due to coronavirus restrictions.

    Beginning farmers typically farm on small acres of land, with a diverse array of crops, and sell to nontraditional supply chains, instead of large grocery stores.

    Many small-scale beginning farmers have found success in the past decade due to the public’s increased interest in consuming local food. That has made farmers markets and community-supported agriculture important supply outlets. The value of sales of local food and products direct to consumers has more than doubled between 2012 and 2017.

    These niche markets have increased engagement between farmers and consumers. The supply chain is based on local farmers modifying what they farm based on local consumer needs. This increased interaction has benefited both parties, but it has also left the system vulnerable to the realities of dealing with the current pandemic.

    Sellers at farmers markets can reduce risk by pre-packing for customers.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    The coronavirus pandemic puts these smaller businesses at great risk amid uncertainty about whether farmers markets will remain open.

    The added challenge for farmers also pertains to their business model. Farms incur nearly all of their costs at the beginning of the growing season when farmers are purchasing seeds, growing seedlings and preparing the land. Without a market in place for these farmers, they will be more at risk of losing their business.

    It is also much harder for small-scale farmers to get contracts to sell into large grocery stores, so they will be disproportionately affected by any lengthy shutdown of restaurants or farmers markets.

    Growing hope

    A hopeful sign is that some places, such as California, have deemed farmers markets essential places where people can go to purchase food.

    Farmers markets can be safe places for people to go to pick up local products at a minimum risk if protocols are put in place to increase social distance and reduced handling of products, such as ordering online and then prepackaging the products into one box or bag per customer.

    Most small-scale beginning farmers will have few options for marketing without the direct sales of their products to consumers. Without them, farming businesses will decrease, impacting the capability of growers in the U.S. of providing enough food, fiber, and flowers in the future.

    There are some glimmers of hope for beginning farmers. By their very nature, they may have had to be creative in identifying new opportunities and innovative in their marketing approach – qualities that might make them innately prepared to adapt to the new conditions, such as moving their business model to online sales. What they need now is for society to ensure that some type of supply chain is in place for them to be able to capture the current demand.

    [You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

    Tamara J. Benjamin, Assistant Program Leader, Diversified Farming and Food Systems, Purdue University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Fremont County fisher’s lawsuit moved to state court — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Photo credit: The Perfect Fly Store

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    A dispute over whether a fisherman has the right to put his line into the Arkansas River near Cotopaxi has been moved from federal court to state court in Canon City.

    Fly fisherman Robert Hill contends the bed of the river is — or should be — public land, entitling him to fish there.

    Owners of residential property adjacent to his favorite fishing spot contend their deed gives them ownership of the riverbed at that location. They say Hill is trespassing when he fishes there.

    The owners, Mark Everett Warsewa and Linda Joseph, “appear hell-bent on stopping him,” U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya, wrote in a 12-page ruling.

    In the ruling issued last week, she said the dispute belongs in Fremont County District Court, not in federal court. In 2018, Hill filed his lawsuit in the federal court in Denver.

    Hill, 77, of Colorado Springs, stated in his lawsuit that Warsewa and Joseph used force starting in 2012 to chase him and his fishing buddies away. The site is near where Texas Creek flows into the river…

    Hill wants a judge to issue a judgment declaring that the riverbed is owned by the state, and to order Joseph and Warsewa not to bar him from using it.

    “The state of Colorado, however, does not want ownership” of sections of privately owned riverbeds, Tafoya wrote.

    The state contends private property rights of the riverbed were established around 1876, when Colorado became a state, the judge states.

    “Public access to Colorado’s rivers has been the subject matter of litigation for many years,” she wrote. “State courts are well-equipped to handle this type of controversy.”

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

    From email from Reclamation (Brittany Jones):

    The release from Ruedi Reservoir will increase the afternoon of March 26 by 50 cfs. The flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir will change from 85 cfs to 135 cfs where it will remain for the near future.

    For any concerns regarding Ruedi Reservoir operations please contact either Brittany or Elizabeth Jones at (406) 247-7611 or (406) 247-7618.

    On Thursday, March 26 at 1600, increase the reservoir release by approximately 50 cfs (carried out by High Country Hydro, Inc. personnel). After this change, the flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir is expected to increase from 85 cfs to approximately 135 cfs, with a gage height of 1.64 feet.

    The Blackest Week: When the Spanish Influenza brought death to Silverton — @jonnypeace

    Flu photo via

    From (Jonathan Thompson):

    James Edward Cole was thirty-six years old when he died. You might say he was in the prime of his life. He was born in Durango, but grew up in Silverton. After high school he started working under the tutelage of his father, William, at the family retail clothing store. He played on the Slattery’s Slobs baseball team. He married Adelia Bausman, and in 1916 they had a son, James.

    They built a house just down Reese Street from the new, stately courthouse. As the nights grew cold and the days crisp in the Silverton autumn of 1918, Adelia’s belly started to show the signs of a second child. James, however, would never meet him. By late October 1918, James was dead, one of dozens who perished during the “Blackest Week Ever Known” in Silverton and the San Juan Mountains.

    Soon after Europe became embroiled in a gruesome war in 1914, the impacts rippled into the Colorado high country. Demand for metals increased, as guns and mortars and tanks and planes rolled off the assembly lines. Metal prices shot up, giving the miners incentive to dig deeper in search of low-grade ore, and new technologies emerged for processing that ore. The county’s mines together produced metal valued at more than $2.5 million ($47.2 million in 2017 dollars) in 1917, close to a record.

    Graphic via

    In 1917 the United States entered the war, again sending ripples into mining country. By the time the war was almost over, in the autumn of 1918, at least 150 of Silverton’s young men, or around eight percent of the total population, were in the European trenches. Nearly half were immigrants or the children thereof, some fighting against brothers or cousins. The mass absence affected the community in obvious ways, and it also created a labor crunch at the mines. The American Mining Congress begged young men to resist the temptation to enlist and instead be “truly patriotic” and remain at their industrial posts, where they were sorely needed.

    Even as the bodies of soldiers piled up on the battlefields of the first modern war, the planet was struck with something even more deadly, the so-called Spanish Influenza—perhaps the first modern pandemic. It might have originated, or at least gathered strength, in Midwestern pig farms before making a run through Fort Riley, a military camp in Kansas that housed nearly thirty thousand men, in March 1918. From there, this dastardly but rarely fatal first wave of the virus spread rapidly overseas along with soldiers and supplies, making life in the trenches even more miserable, and even altering the way the war was fought.

    During the first week of October, the death counts climbed as a second, more deadly wave, crashed over the United States. As hundreds died each day in the nation’s cities, the U.S. Public Health Service set out to hire doctors and nurses to deal with the epidemic. It was a difficult task during war time, and may have been too little, too late, anyway. Geographically, the flu moved with terrifying speed and mobility. It hastily made its way across the country, across the oceans, and even to remote villages in Alaska and tiny Pacific islands.

    Unlike other strains of flu, which typically break down the immune system leaving the bodies of the very young, the old, and the weak vulnerable to secondary infections like pneumonia, the Spanish Flu could fell a person all on its own. Because the virus turned the immune system against the body, it was harder on the young and healthy, people like James Cole, than it was on the old and frail.

    One minute the victim would be sitting down for breakfast, feeling fine. Then, standing up from the breakfast table, he might feel a bit lightheaded, a little twinge of pain in the back, followed soon afterward by a fever and a general sense of fatigue. Maybe he would go to work down at the clothing store, anyway. After all, he had mouths to feed. But by lunch he has become so dizzy that he feels as if he can barely make the three-block walk home. By evening he is bedridden, his lungs filling with fluid, his breathing raspy, his mind haunted by delirium and terrible images. The next day he is retching up a pink bloody froth, but he cannot expel it quickly enough. He is dead by the following morning.

    “While there have been one or two cases of this disease reported in our midst, there has not so far been any serious results,” noted the October 18, 1918, edition of the Miner. It’s not clear how accurate this statement is. The pages of the newspapers in the spring and summer of 1918 were filled with obituaries for people who had died of “pneumonia,” which seems to have been a catch-all diagnosis at the time, and sometimes used to describe such ailments as silicosis, or miner’s lung, and, perhaps, the Spanish Influenza.

    By then the virus was wreaking havoc all over, but the Silverton newspapers — the Miner and the Silverton Standard, which would merge a few years later — seemed fairly blasé about it all. They barely even mentioned the flu in the first two weeks’ editions. Finally, during the third week, the sickness got some print: Postal workers in Durango were fumigating all of the Silverton-bound mail, because it had been exposed to the virus somewhere between there and Denver. Large public gatherings were banned across the state. Parents were urged to keep their kids home from school if they showed any symptoms. And two soldiers who were training at the University of Colorado in Boulder, which had 120 cases at that point, had perished. The soldiers were part of a group of 250 from Montana that had come to Colorado in September for training.

    But the most disturbing news item had nothing to do with the epidemic — at least not on the surface. “Silverton Celebrates,” the headline read, and the accompanying article detailed a town-wide party that had taken place the night before — replete with a bonfire on the main drag, shared bottles of bootleg liquor, dancing, hugging, crying — in defiance of the statewide ban on public gatherings. Rumor had reached Silverton of the German’s unconditional surrender. They didn’t find out that it was false until it was too late. The next day the Standard sheepishly admitted to falling for the fake news, but praised the celebration, nonetheless, noting, “We had a celebration coming and all San Juan County is better off for her turn out.”


    Within days, many of the people who celebrated that night would be dead.

    For the next two weeks or so, Silverton became a living nightmare. At least one member of nearly every household in town was struck. Miners collapsed on the job, mothers at the dinner table. The hospital filled to capacity and then some, so Town Hall became a de facto clinic and then morgue, with the dead stacked next to the dying. The coffins ran out and the undertaker died. The burly Swedish miner who tirelessly dug the graves ended up digging his own. On October 25, the Silverton Standard heralded the “Worst Week Ever Known in History.” They had to issue a correction of sorts a week later, with a headline that read: “Past Week has been Blackest Ever Known …” So many died so quickly that a few went to their graves without being identified except as “Mexican from Sunnyside” or “Austrian from Iowa mine.”

    Herman Dalla, an already fatherless six-year-old, lost his mom and two brothers. In another family a toddler, a teenager, and their forty-year-old mother died. One little girl was orphaned. Temperatures sunk below zero, making the earth at the cemetery nearly impenetrable. There was no way to dig one grave for every corpse, so long, shallow trenches were gouged into the earth, the bodies tossed in by the dozens. Some of the dead were later recovered by the families, but an untold number remain in the mass grave, unidentified.

    When reading through the newspapers of the time, one is especially struck by how determined the editors — and the community as a whole — was to move on, to get things back to normal, even to forget the tragedy that had befallen them. In the Nov. 11 edition of the Standard, which brimmed with obituaries, a story noted that mines had suspended operations, not in order to slow the spread, but because the miners had died off or run off to escape the flu. And then: “While Silverton has been hit very hard in death rate, at the same time our little city has finally checked the disease, and … we are as well off in San Juan County as in any part of the state.”

    Before November had ended, as the community celebrated the actual end of the war, the miners were returning to the boarding houses in the high country and to work, the town council allowed taverns and pool halls to open back up, and the classes resumed at the school. Meanwhile, people were still dying, even after the city had “checked” the disease.

    As one might expect, the Spanish Flu returned to Silverton for another round, beginning in December. This time local health officials imposed a 48-hour quarantine on anyone coming into town from the outside, and the Sunnyside Mine, which was staffing up again, put a 24-hour quarantine on incoming miners. Whether it was effective or not is not clear. What is clear is that the Spanish Flu continued to sicken Silvertonians. It also killed them, though at a rate of a few people per week — enough to fill up the obituary pages, but not to warrant headlines — rather than a dozen per day, as was the case in late October and early November.

    At least 20 million died globally from the Spanish Flu, and 500,000 or more perished in the United States. Colorado recorded 46,000 cases during the autumn 1918 wave, and some 3,000 deaths, making for a fatality rate of about 6%. It was far higher in Silverton. The Spanish Flu claimed at least 150 San Juan County residents, probably more. It was the hardest hit county in the state, and had one of the highest death rates in the Lower 48. Telluride and Salida and Montrose also experienced a rash of death.

    Meanwhile, one Colorado mountain county escaped the worst of the pandemic virtually unscathed. Gunnison physician A.P. Hanson imposed a strict quarantine on the county in late October, which included barricades and armed guards on all incoming highways, and he stubbornly kept it in place for months. Residents could leave, but they couldn’t return without submitting to a quarantine. In February 1919 county officials finally bowed to public pressure and lifted the ban. Within weeks the virus had finally come to Gunnison County; dozens of people were infected and in April a handful of people succumbed to the disease.


    After the sickness finally subsided, Silvertonians seemed intent on turning to denial as their collective coping mechanism. After the “worst” and “blackest” weeks had passed, the newspapers focused on the end of the war, on the resumption of mining, on the remarkable fact that the Caledonia Mine had managed to keep producing ore during the worst of it, thanks to a self-imposed quarantine. Then they stopped mentioning the Spanish Flu altogether. The community never came together afterward to hold a memorial service for the dead. Survivors were reticent to talk about it, even decades later, as if forgetting would make it all go away.

    In Silverton, though, it is not so easy to forget, because the Hillside Cemetery, located just above town, provides a grim reminder of the disease and the death it brought to this valley.

    Go there, to the cemetery. Walk among the graves and look at the dates. Before long you will see a death-date of October 1918. Then you will see another, and another, and another. On the far side of the cemetery, obscured by dried stalks of grass, you will see the flimsy plaques marking the graves of Joe and Christine Anderson. He died first and she went four days later. Underneath a big tree you will see the Wright stone — mother, daughter, and son killed within a few days of each other. And near the entrance of the cemetery’s lower road, if you look closely enough, you will see a long, straight indentation in the earth. It was here, during a cold and snowy October a century ago, that so many of Silverton’s sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers were buried in the frozen dirt.

    Jonathan P. Thompson is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster (Torrey House, 2018), from which this essay is excerpted and adapted, and the forthcoming novel, Behind the Slickrock Curtain (Lost Souls Press, 2020).

    Images and articles on this site are available for reprint, with permission only, and Thompson is available to do freelance work. Contact him at for details.

    #Colorado water officials to hoarders during #COVID19 crisis: Quit buying bottled — @AspenJournalism #coronavirus

    City of Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff and Operations Manager Justin Forman check for anchor ice formation at the city’s Maroon Creek diversion. Colorado water managers have said there is no risk to water supplies from COVID-19 and therefore no need to stock up on bottled water. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

    Municipal water providers in Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other communities say there is no threat from COVID-19 in their water supplies and that people do not need to hoard bottled water — provided that the employees who operate the various water plants can still come to work.

    And yet, two weeks into Colorado’s crisis, you still see people exiting the state’s grocery stores with shopping carts brimming with multipacks of 4-ply Charmin or Angel Soft toilet paper. And buried under the TP, you’ll spot the 48-bottle cartons of Arrowhead or Fiji water.

    Toilet paper aside, water systems operators around the state — including ski towns, which are among the hardest-hit areas for the novel coronavirus pandemic — do not understand why people think they need to stock up on bottled water.

    “Aspen Water provides safe, high-quality water that exceeds all stringent state and federal drinking-water regulations,” said City of Aspen spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. “Aspen’s water-treatment methods use filtration and disinfection process which remove and inactivate viruses.”

    The same is true for Front Range water utilities.

    “We have wastewater-treatment facilities that work above and beyond the standards devised for us, so there is no worry that water would be impacted by COVID-19,” said Ryan Maecker, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, where surrounding El Paso County is second only to Denver in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

    Those drinking-water standards, established by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    “The water is treated and it’s disinfected, which takes care of all viruses,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in eastern Eagle County, which has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

    Officials say water should be the least of anyone’s concerns during the growing outbreak, which has prompted an unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order and has seen most nonessential businesses and schools shut down.

    “No, there are no water shortages. No, municipal water is not a vector for COVID-19,” said Zach Margolis, utility manager for Silverthorne Water & Sewer in Summit County.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread in the following manner: “Mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) … through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

    Michelle Carr, distribution and collection manager for the City of Steamboat Springs Water and Sewer, attended a CDC webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and drinking-water systems.

    “It said that the coronavirus is essentially very susceptible to our disinfection processes, and that while our disinfection process targets bacteria, bacteria is less susceptible than this virus,” Carr said. “So, the fact that we’re treating for killing bacteria means that we should adequately be taking care of the COVID virus.”

    Buying bottled water during the ongoing pandemic makes no sense, she said.

    “Our water is completely safe to drink,” Carr said. “I don’t anticipate that there will ever be an issue where we’re spreading COVID-19 through the treated potable water system. The bottled water is completely unnecessary.”

    Brooks won’t speculate on why people are hoarding toilet paper, but she does have a theory regarding the stockpiling of bottled water.

    “I think (people) see communications on how to isolate at home, how to prepare to a shelter in place, how to deal with emergencies, and those instructions almost always tell you to get bottled water,” said Brooks, adding that some people inexplicably prefer to drink bottled water all the time. “I don’t particularly understand that because our water here is so great, and (bottled water) certainly has an environmental impact.”

    The approximately 10-acre-foot Leonard M. Thomas reservoir holds water diverted from Castle and Maroon creeks and serves as a holding pond to settle water before it is sent into the city’s water treatment plant. Colorado water providers have said there is no direct threat to water supplies from COVID-19. Photo credit: Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News via Aspen Journalism

    Staffing concerns

    Various municipal, county and state emergency declarations have been enacted, covering water systems, but officials say those mostly just allow them to apply for state and federal funds or obtain additional equipment if necessary. Most water providers and wastewater-treatment operators are planning for staff shortages and doing everything they can to keep their staff healthy.

    “We are not aware of any specific threats to our water system,” said Aspen’s Rapkin. “We have taken proactive measures to isolate our operations staff in order to continue to provide this critical community resource.”

    Brooks agrees that staffing is the biggest concern as the virus spreads.

    “Our biggest risk is absenteeism of our operators,” she said. “But, that being said, we can run with a pretty lean crew even if we got into some pretty significant absenteeism, as long as it doesn’t hit everyone at once, which we don’t think is likely at all.”

    Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which treats and provides water for users from East Vail to Wolcott along Interstate 70, took steps to mitigate against absenteeism early on.

    “We knew that that was going to be our biggest risk and that protecting our employees was the most important thing that we could do. That’s our highest priority — to keep our staff healthy,” said Brooks, who added that any staffer with a symptom of any kind must stay home from work and not return until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours.

    Even if smaller mountain utilities were to be hit suddenly by a COVID-19 outbreak and get into staffing problems, other water-systems operators would step in to help. A cooperative venture among all utilities across the state and codified with intergovernmental agreements dictates that if a utility needs assistance, others will provide aid.

    “So, if there’s somebody that has a plant failure, and we have staffing, we will send our staffing to them,” City of Aurora Water Department spokesman Greg Baker said during a call with other Aurora and Colorado Springs water officials. “I know Colorado Springs has been heavily involved in (mutual assistance) as well, so that should really not be a major concern.”

    The desire to hoard bottled water, on the other hand, escapes officials.

    “The bottled-water hoarding is a phenomenon we do not understand, because we bring safe, high-quality drinking water to your house,” Baker said. “We deliver it for a half a penny a gallon, so why are people going out and buying water? We do not understand that at all.”

    Also, all the plastic is an environmental issue, Baker said, and transporting it around the state or out of state in bottles removes local water from Aurora’s extensive reuse system for irrigation and agriculture.

    “So, whenever people take bottled water and start shipping it out, you’re kind of losing that reusable component, and that impacts our culture because we’re so used to reusability. So that hurts us there,” Baker said. “It also hurts us through the fact that, frankly, we have some of the highest-quality water in the state, and why do you need it in a bottle? It’s as irrational as the toilet-paper hoarding.”

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 28 editions of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.

    5 #Climate Skepticism Tactics Emerging With #Coronavirus — Forbes #COVID19

    From Forbes (Marshall Sheppard):

    As an atmospheric scientist, I am familiar with the various myths and misperceptions about climate change that never go away even though experts have long refuted them. I call them “Zombie Theories.” Let’s explore five of the climate skepticism tactics emerging in the coronavirus narrative.

    Click on the image to go to the John Hopkins website for the latest data.

    The claim of alarmism. I have definitely seen my share of statements like, “What’s the big deal the flu kills more people every year, this is just alarmism or media hype?” The suggestion is that there is an overreaction to the threat. This is something very common to the climate science. Climate scientists Scientists are often called “warmists” or “alarmists.” That “flu question” may demonstrate a real desire for clarification, but for others it reveals a misunderstanding or misuse of the scientific facts. This is also common in climate change contrarianism.

    The Livescience article at this link does a nice job clarifying the facts concerning the flu and coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He told Rachael Rettner, “Despite the morbidity and mortality with influenza, there’s a certainty of seasonal flu….The issue now with [COVID-19] is that there’s a lot of unknowns.” The article also makes another key point:

    “The death rate from seasonal flu is typically around 0.1% in the U.S., according to The New York Times. The death rate for COVID-19 appears to be higher than that of the flu.” — Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer, Livescience


    Dunning-Kruger Effect. This effect is very common in how people consume science today. In a previous Forbes article I defined the Dunning-Kruger Effect as”a psychological concept that people believe they know more about a topic than they actually do (or conversely misjudge how much they do not know).” The term originates from a scholarly study by two Cornell psychologists. I see all kinds of claims about coronavirus that are counter to what public health and medical experts are saying. I often wonder, in this social media age, if there is someone out there willing to debate a fish about the best way to swim. Climate scientists also face all types of opinions, theories, and “long emails.”

    Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias is the process of consuming information from sources consistent with what you already believe. There is an awful lot of information on coronavirus available, however, I am monitoring sites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) FAQ site and the World Health Organization (WHO). As a scientist, I want information from experts on the topic rather than someone’s Facebook post opinion or analysis based on an hour of “Googling.”

    Cherry-Picking. Another common tactic in the climate skepticism narrative is to cite a scientist or study counter to the consensus science. It is important to note that healthy skepticism is vital to science and results should always be questioned in the peer-reviewed literature. However, a few results or opinions do not automatically trump a larger body of work just because it aligns with your belief. This brings me back to coronavirus. A few people in social media have referenced personal doctors and noted that they don’t seem concerned about coronavirus. I suspect many doctors are trying to find the right balance between providing credible information and not inciting panic. There certainly are enough public health officials concerned about coronavirus that I am too.

    Former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), a very strong advocate for climate change action, once told me that it is good conservative principle to prepare for all risks even if some of them are less likely than others. Many of us do this every time we purchase car or homeowners insurance. My takeaway from that statement is that a healthy dose of diligence is required with coronavirus but not hysteria.

    From The New York Times (Paul Krugman):

    Let me summarize the Trump administration/right-wing media view on the coronavirus: It’s a hoax, or anyway no big deal. Besides, trying to do anything about it would destroy the economy. And it’s China’s fault, which is why we should call it the “Chinese virus.”

    Oh, and epidemiologists who have been modeling the virus’s future spread have come under sustained attack, accused of being part of a “deep state” plot against Donald Trump, or maybe free markets.

    Does all this give you a sense of déjà vu? It should. After all, it’s very similar to the Trump/right-wing line on climate change. Here’s what Trump tweeted back in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” It’s all there: it’s a hoax, doing anything about it will destroy the economy, and let’s blame China.

    And epidemiologists startled to find their best scientific efforts denounced as politically motivated fraud should have known what was coming. After all, exactly the same thing happened to climate scientists, who have faced constant harassment for decades.

    Paper: Your money or your life? The carbon-development paradox #ActOnClimate

    Click here to read the paper. Here’s the abstract:

    The relationship between human health and well-being, energy use and carbon emissions is a foremost concern in sustainable development. If past advances in well-being have been accomplished only through increases in energy use, there may be significant trade-offs between achieving universal human development and mitigating climate change. We test the explanatory power of economic, dietary and modern energy factors in accounting for past improvements in life expectancy, using a simple novel method, functional dynamic decomposition. We elucidate the paradox that a strong correlation between emissions and human development at one point in time does not imply that their dynamics are coupled in the long term. Increases in primary energy and carbon emissions can account for only a quarter of improvements in life expectancy, but are closely tied to growth in income. Facing this carbon-development paradox requires prioritizing human well-being over economic growth.

    From Research In Hyperspeed To Canceled Expeditions, Academic Scientists Adjust To A New Pace Under #Coronavirus — #Colorado Public Radio #COVID19

    Fort Collins weather station on the CSU campus via the Colorado Climate Center.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    COVID-19 has launched an unprecedented scope of businesses requiring remote work. However, some jobs just can’t be done remotely.

    In Colorado’s academic world, there’s a class of workers deemed essential and required to continue work on college campuses. At Colorado State University in Fort Collins, there’s the expected, like a group of virologists work on the Foothills campus on a COVID-19 vaccine.

    But researchers at the Colorado Climate Center are also still hard at work maintaining a 130-year weather record in Fort Collins.

    “Actually the first thing I notice is it’s dead here on campus,” said Zach Schwalbe, a Climate Center researcher who records in-person temperature and cloud cover measurements many mornings…

    University of Colorado Boulder ice core scientist Bruce Vaughn had to cancel his summer research trip to Greenland. He said it was a no brainer.

    “We decided that taking 30 scientists from 12 different countries all over the world to get to Greenland, and then sequestering them in a remote location living in close quarters with limited medical supplies and lack of ability to evacuate, may not be the best idea,” Vaughn said…

    If there’s one silver lining to all the delayed and canceled plans, Vaughn at CU Boulder said it could be this: Researchers with months at home and no distractions may begin whittling away at their stack of half- and unwritten papers.

    “I think we’ll probably see a splurge in publishing in the next few months,” Vaughn laughs.

    Cranes Foraging — Platte Basin Timelapse

    Click on the image to go to the article.

    Here’s another great article from Platte Basin Timelapse (Sierra Harris). Here’s an excerpt:

    Sandhill cranes migrate north in the spring from their wintering grounds, located in Texas, eastern New Mexico, northern Mexico, and occasionally from southeastern Arizona. The migration path they use is known as the Central Flyway, in which south-central Nebraska’s Platte River Valley is the pinch in its hourglass shape. This small area is known for its critical habitat needed for sandhill crane survival.

    Each spring, between late February and mid-April, about 500,000 sandhill cranes arrive to the Platte River Valley to utilize its abundant resources. This stretch of the central Platte is one of the most important staging areas in North America for millions of migrating waterfowl, including about 80 percent of the world’s population of sandhill cranes.

    Sandhill cranes fly approximately 300 to 500 miles a day, and some migrate a total of more than 10,000 miles annually. They use the 80-mile section of the central Platte to rest and refuel before they continue their journey north to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, western Alaska, and northeastern Siberia. Cranes roost in the shallow, wide river channel from dusk till dawn for up to six weeks. After their night of rest, flocks disperse to adjacent cornfields and wet meadows to refuel during the day.

    Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

    @CityofDurango completes work above #Whitewater Park — The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Dangerous rapid prompts improvement project

    Tweaks have been made to the Whitewater Park, which flows along Santa Rita Park, as early as the 1980s. But a full-scale $2.6 million project to enhance the park and build a series of rapids began in 2014 and was finished in 2018.

    In summer 2016, the city’s Utilities Department spent $1 million on a separate project just upstream of the Whitewater Park to build several new features to divert more water into the city’s water intake for municipal use.

    It’s these features some people in the boating community say pose too great a risk for running the Animas River at high water…

    In early March, the city started an estimated $113,000 project to make the rapid safer, work that was recently completed, [Jarrod] Biggs said.

    The city has said a permanent solution, which would grout the bottom of the river to hold the boulders in place, has been rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers and Colorado Parks, citing concerns to wildlife.

    As a result, it’s likely the city will have to get in the river every few years to tweak the features so they remain safe.

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    A Weighty Issue: Why Are Some Snowfalls Heavier Than Others? — Westword #snowpack #runoff

    Photo via Snowflakes Bentley (Wilson A. Bentley)

    From Westword (Andy Stein):

    Snowflakes are not created equal (though all snowflakes are arguably very pretty). Many factors determine how big snowflakes can get…and how much energy you’ll exert when you finally go outside to shovel that snow.

    Snowflakes start as little ice particles that form on dust or pollen in the air, creating an ice crystal. Then gravity takes over and the ice crystal begins to fall; as it does, water vapor starts to freeze on it, ultimately forming the six-armed flake that lands on the ground. The different shapes of snowflakes result from atmospheric conditions present at the time. A crystal might begin to grow arms in one way, and then minutes or even just seconds later, slight changes in temperature or humidity can cause the crystal to grow in another way.

    Certain atmospheric conditions exist at different times of the year, and those conditions are what ultimately decide whether those flakes comprise a snowfall that will be light and fluffy or heavy and wet. Springtime snowstorms have a higher water content than wintertime snowstorms. Meteorologists track that by snow ratio, or snow-to-water ratio: how much water you get from melting down a column of snow.

    The snow ratio is not a constant number; it changes storm by storm. Some storms might have a 5:1 ratio, which means that if five inches of snow accumulation were to melt, one inch of water would result. But some storms have a 20:1 ratio, and it would take twenty inches of snow to create an inch of water. Most snows in Colorado fall somewhere within the 8:1 to 20:1 range.

    A 20:1 snow ratio results from limited atmospheric moisture and very cold temperatures. When there is not a lot of moisture in the atmosphere and the air is very cold, the ice crystals freeze into snowflakes that are really very tiny ice balls. When they bump into each other, they essentially just bounce around rather than sticking together.

    In order for a storm to have a low ratio, such as 5:1, temperatures need to hover at or above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). When the air temperature is warmer, the snowflakes don’t freeze as firmly as they do at colder temperatures. As snowflakes fall through the sky, they bump into each other and stick to one another, forming large-looking snowflakes.

    Snow with a high ratio usually sticks to roads quicker (because it’s colder out), doesn’t stick to power lines and is easy to shovel; such storms usually occur in December, January or February. Snow with a low ratio typically lands in October, November, March and April. Such snow makes everything super-wet before it starts to stick, and then it will stick to trees and power lines as well as roads and sidewalks.

    Depending on moisture content, snow can weigh from 1 pound per cubic foot to over 20 pounds per cubic foot, like the snow that landed March 19, resulting in some very heavy lifting for anyone who shoveled.

    Colorado snowpack basin-filled map March 27, 2020 via the NRCS.

    How one Swedish teenager armed with a homemade sign ignited a crusade and became the leader of a movement — Rolling Stone #schoolstrike4climate #ActOnCLimate

    Here’s an in-depth look at Greta Thunberg and the #schoolstrike4climate movement that she inspired. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    “It seems like the people in power have given up,” says Thunberg, taking her hat off and pushing back her mussed up brown-blond hair. She remains on message despite the tourists and teens taking her picture and mugging behind us. “They say it’s too hard — it’s too much of a challenge. But that’s what we are doing here. We have not given up because this is a matter of life and death for countless people.”

    It was my second encounter with Greta in three weeks. Back in January, before the Coronavirus brought the world to its knees, forcing Greta to move her Friday protests online, she was in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual conference of the World Economic Forum, where billionaires helo into the Swiss resort town and talk about solving the world’s problems without making their lives any harder. Thunberg had appeared last year and made her now iconic

    “Our House Is on Fire” speech, in which she declared the climate crisis to be the mortal threat to our planet. Solve it or all the other causes — feminism, human rights, and economic justice — would not matter.

    “Either we choose to go on as a civilization or we don’t,” said Thunberg with cold precision. “That is as black or white as it gets. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival.”

    The speech made Thunberg the unlikely and reluctant hero of the climate crisis. She crossed the ocean in a sailboat — she doesn’t fly for environmental reasons — to speak before the United Nations. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, conjuring the manic jealousy of Donald Trump, who called the honor “so ridiculous” and suggested she go to the movies and chill out.

    In Davos, the illuminati prattled on about planting a trillion trees, even as we are still clear-cutting actual trees from the Amazon all the way to Thunberg’s beloved Sweden. This did not amuse nor placate the hoodie-wearing Greta. She seemed irritated and perhaps a little sick; she canceled an appearance the day before because she wasn’t feeling well. She was in no mood for flattery and nonsense. So when Time editor Edward Felsenthal asked her how she dealt with all the haters, Greta didn’t even try to answer diplomatically.

    “I would like to say something that I think people need to know more than how I deal with haters,” she answered, before launching into details from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report. She mentioned that if we are to have even a 67 percent chance of limiting global temperature change to under 1.5 C, the point where catastrophic changes begin, we have less than 420 gigatons of CO2 that we can emit before we pass the no-going-back line. Thunberg stated that, at the current rate, we have eight years to change everything.

    Thunberg’s face was controlled fury. This was the persona: an adolescent iron-willed truth teller. The Davos one-percenters clapped and rattled their Rolexes. It has become a disconcerting pattern for Thunberg appearances that would be repeated at the European Commission: Greta tells the adults they are fools and their plans are lame and shortsighted. They still give her a standing ovation. A few minutes later, she was gone and the audience dispersed into a fleet of black BMWs and Mercedes, belching diesel into the Alpine sky…

    Screenshot of Rolling Stone Special Edition March 2020. [Click image to go to the article.]
    Greta Thunberg illustration by Shepard Fairey.
    Based on a photograph by Markus Schreiber/AP Images/Shutterstock
    “The phrase ‘A little child shall lead them’ has come to mind more than once,” Al Gore tells me in Davos, before sharing his favorite Greta moment. It was at the U.N. summit last fall. “She said to the assembled world leaders, ‘You say you understand the science, but I don’t believe you. Because if you did and then you continue to act as you do, that would mean you’re evil. And I don’t believe that.’” Gore shook his head in wonderment. “Wow.” He then gives a history lesson: “There have been other times in human history when the moment a morally-based social movement reached the tipping point was the moment when the younger generation made it their own. Here we are.”

    Greta read all she could and sometimes went online and battled with climate deniers, oft exclaiming triumphantly, “He blocked me,” to her parents. She eventually wrote an essay on the climate crisis for a Swedish newspaper. Eco-activists contacted her, and Greta mentioned the inspiration she took from the school strikes after the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, and suggested a climate version. The activists showed little interest. Greta didn’t care and slowly broke out of her cocoon.

    “I thought what the Parkland students did was so brave,” says Thunberg. “Of course, it was not the only thing that got me out of that feeling. I did it because I was tired of sitting and waiting. I tried to get others to join me, but no one was interested and no one wanted to do that. So I said, ‘I’m going to do this alone if no one else wants to do it.’ ”

    So in August 2018, Greta and her father bicycled down to the Swedish Parliament, across the cobblestone street from where Greta and I now stand. She propped up the first Skolstrejk för klimatet sign, which she’d made from scrap wood. Greta also wrote up an information sheet with climate data and a hint of the defiant humor that eventually led her to make her Twitter profile read, “A teenager working on her anger management problem,” after Trump told her to chill out. Her bio was simple:

    “Because you grown-ups don’t give a damn about my future, neither do I. My name is Greta, I am in ninth grade, and I am going on strike from school for the climate.”


    Greta’s rise was the activist version of a perfect storm. Her ascension from bullied Swedish student to global climate icon has been driven by both a loss and a regaining of hope. It is not a coincidence that her ascent happened immediately in the aftermath of the election of Trump. It’s impossible to see a Greta-like phenomena emerging during the Obama-driven run up to the Paris climate talks, when it actually looked like nations of the world were getting their shit together to deal with global warming. It became obvious after Trump and the Paris implosion that 30 years of rhetoric and meetings had created very little except more talk.

    And then you had the natural disasters. California could not stop burning. Floods ravaged Europe. We now watch glaciers melt and collapse in real time. The dawn of 2020 brought the Australian calamity, with images of scorched earth, koalas and kangaroos burned alive, and the death of a way of life.

    The irony of the Greta Age is that we now have options, but refuse to take them. Clean-energy technology has evolved to a point where old arguments that fossil fuels remain the cheapest way to create energy are now obviously nonsense. The cost of clean energy is no longer a barrier to change. Over the past decade, it became an obvious truth: Burning fossil fuels no longer made economic sense anywhere, anytime. What remains is the power and influence of the energy conglomerate superpowers to maintain the status quo. No politician has the courage to face them down. By 2018, it became even clearer that politicians could not be trusted. Talk was wasted. Companies would continue to put profits before nature. We were on our own.
    And that’s when Greta came along…

    “I have been on the road and visited numerous places and met people from all over the globe,” says Greta. “I can say that it looks nearly the same everywhere I have been: The climate crisis is ignored by people in charge, despite the science being crystal clear. We don’t want to hear one more politician say that this is important but afterward do nothing to change it. We don’t want more empty words from people pretending to take our future seriously.”
    She pauses, and her face goes grim. “It shouldn’t be up to us children and teenagers to make people wake up around the world. The ones in charge should be ashamed.”

    Below is a gallery of photos from the climate strike on September 20, 2019 in Denver.

    2020 #COleg: @GovofCO Polis Signs Bill to Expand Voluntary Loans Process for Instream Flows — @CWCB_DNR

    Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    On March 20, Governor Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1157 (HB20-1157: Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment), which provides additional tools to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) for managing voluntary loans from water rights owners for the purposes of preserving and improving the natural environment.

    Specifically, the bill expands the number of years within a 10-year period that a renewable loan may be exercised from 3 years to 5 years, but for no more than 3 consecutive years, and allows a loan to be renewed for up to 2 additional 10-year periods. It also expands the CWCB’s ability to use loaned water for instream flows to improve the environment.

    “This is a really helpful tool for instream flows that fall short. It is always good to have more ways to work with partners to protect flows in Colorado’s streams,” said CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi.

    CWCB’s Instream Flow Loan Program is critical for boosting stream flows, especially in late summer when flows are low, temperatures are high, and fish are particularly stressed. The CWCB appreciates the stakeholder coordination that resulted in this bill advancing to the Governor’s desk.

    What does a state of emergency mean in the face of the coronavirus? — The Conversation

    Pence and Trump attend a coronavirus task force briefing.
    AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

    Amy Lauren Fairchild, The Ohio State University and Marian Moser Jones, University of Maryland

    Following Donald Trump’s declaration of a federal state of emergency nearly two weeks ago, every state except West Virginia had also declared a state of emergency over COVID-19.

    States have statutes that give police powers to the government in situations like hurricanes, fires or disease outbreaks.

    But as experts in public health, we know that different states empower different types of officials to declare an emergency. This is important because a lack of clear lines complicated the response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and, later, Hurricane Rita in Texas.

    Who decides?

    In most states, the power to declare an emergency lies with the governor. Several have used this authority in cases of weather emergencies or severe flooding, for example.

    In some states, both governors and local officials like mayors have the authority to grant such a declaration. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 7, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio – though having declared a state of emergency in the city on March 11 – kept schools open until March 15. The dual lines of authority underscored the struggles that can unfold between mayors and governors.

    The federal government also has power to prevent disease transmission across states and territories because of the 1974 Stafford Act. Evoking this is contingent on a governor’s request, based upon “a finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state.”

    In the case of COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services, using the federal Public Health Services Act, invoked federal powers to prevent “cascading public health, economic, national security and societal consequences.” In addition to this, federal authority empowers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine and quarantine anyone entering the U.S. or traveling across state lines.

    Another key rationale for invoking emergency powers is to trigger federal disaster relief to states. The amount is being debated in Congress as we write.

    Before getting federal assistance, the governor must declare a state of emergency and begin to follow the state’s emergency plan, a provision which emphasizes that the state is the primary authority in the disaster. That is important because emergency powers not only allow state governments to “provide for” populations, but also “decide for” individuals in ways that might limit their rights.

    The idea is that sticking to normal legislative processes and legal standards takes time – and that during a crisis delays could cost lives. In an outbreak, such limits on individual rights involve travel restrictions, social distancing measures and isolation and quarantine.

    Protecting everyone at once

    During an outbreak, people typically accept limits on the liberty of those who are infected as necessary to protect the uninfected.

    It doesn’t matter if a person with COVID-19 wants to go to the mall, for example. As a society we are willing to order that individual’s confinement to protect others. But what distinguishes the U.S. from authoritarian nations is that those whose compelled, for instance, into confinement, can always challenge those orders in a court of law.

    Emergency powers also allow state and federal governments to cancel public events and close businesses. These kinds of measures are designed to keep unexposed folks safe at home but also to protect those who would be willing to risk getting infected at a bar, restaurant or concert hall.

    Emergency orders that protect us from our own poor judgment are the most controversial. After all, we often allow adults to take risks that could harm them. Smoking is legal. In some states, so is riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Neither do we prohibit adults from participating in “extreme sports,” such as rock climbing, sky diving or auto racing, knowing well that some will suffer injuries from these activities.

    An outbreak is different. Even mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases pose a risk to others. And every case poses a risk to health care personnel, who are called on to treat the most serious cases of infection and who run a high risk of infection. Furthermore, health care systems become strained with a scarcity of human and other resources, including beds, respirators and masks.

    Ultimately, emergency public health orders slow the spread of disease, protecting individuals by limiting some choice regardless of their personal perception of risk. This both prevents new infections and protects the ability of the health care system to save lives.

    [Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for our newsletter.]The Conversation

    Amy Lauren Fairchild, Dean and Professor at the College of Public Health, The Ohio State University and Marian Moser Jones, Associate Professor and Graduate Director of Family Science, University of Maryland

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    E.P.A., Citing #Coronavirus, Drastically Relaxes Rules for Polluters — The New York Times @EPAAWheeler #ShameOnYou #coronavirus

    From The New York Times (Lisa Friedman):

    The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.

    The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.

    Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.

    Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.

    “In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.

    It said the agency’s focus during the outbreak would be “on situations that may create an acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment” and said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules.

    The order asks companies to “act responsibly” if they cannot currently comply with rules that require them to monitor or report the release of hazardous air pollution. Businesses, it said, should “minimize the effects and duration of any noncompliance” and keep records to report to the agency how Covid-19 restrictions prevented them from meeting pollution rules…

    Gina McCarthy, who led the E.P.A. under the Obama administration and now serves as president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it “an open license to pollute.” She said that while individual companies might need flexibility, “this brazen directive is nothing short of an abject abdication of the E.P.A. mission to protect our well being.’’

    Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”

    ‘Arrogant’ and ‘ashamed’: The coronavirus mea culpas from people who once thought it was no big deal — The Washington Post

    Click on the image to go to the John Hopkins website for the latest data.

    From The Washington Post (Meagan Flynn):

    Speaking to a roomful of senior citizens on March 13, the same day President Trump declared a national emergency, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said they should “go forth” with their daily activities and forget about staying inside. He called coronavirus “the beer virus” — “how do you like that?” — and said the pandemic was “blown out of proportion,” the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reported at the time.

    Now, much like the celebrities and viral spring breakers who suggested the pandemic was no big deal, the 86-year-old congressman has changed his tune. The impact of covid-19 is “very real, growing” and reshaping our daily lives, he said in a video message Thursday.

    “Weeks ago, I did not truly grasp the severity of this crisis,” Young said, while urging everyone to stay home. “But clearly we are in the midst of an urgent public health emergency.”

    …Now, as the United States surpasses every nation including China and Italy in coronavirus infections, with more than 85,000 cases, apologies for unpopular hot takes and bad social-distancing behavior are pouring in.
    Another came Thursday from Evangeline Lilly, the actress known for her roles as Kate in the TV series “Lost” and as the Wasp in Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” In an Instagram post March 16, Lilly said she was going about her everyday life like it was “#businessasusual,” resisting calls to stay home and arguing that “some people value their freedom over their lives.”

    Fury quickly followed, especially after Lilly revealed that she lived with her father who was battling Stage 4 leukemia. So in another Instagram post Thursday, after days of silence, Lilly offered “my sincere and heartfelt apology for the insensitivity I showed in my previous post to the very real suffering and fear that has gripped the world through COVID19.” She said she realized that her silence about the true seriousness of the situation “sent a dismissive, arrogant and cryptic message.”

    “When I wrote that post 10 days ago, I thought I was infusing calm into the hysteria,” she wrote. “I can see now that I was projecting my own fears into an already fearful and traumatic situation.”

    Coronavirus apologies began in earnest most notably with NBA player Rudy Gobert, who purposely touched a bunch of press microphones in a pregame interview while mocking the coronavirus. Three days later, on March 12, he tested positive…

    In a not-quite-so raucous trip, Jamie Otis, a reality TV star from “The Bachelor” and “Married at First Sight,” went on vacation to Sarasota, Fla., on March 12 while hunting for a winter home. But on Saturday, as she prepared to get on an airplane back to New Jersey, she said she realized she had made a big mistake.

    “I assumed this whole covid 19 thing would kinda just blow over like the seasonal flu, but it’s A LOT more serious than I ever could have imagined,” she wrote on Instagram, describing trips to the beach she now regrets. “I want to send out a sincere apology to YOU [because] by me going out to ‘live as normal as possible’ I was risking YOU and YOUR FAMILY. I’m a registered nurse and I should know better. I’m ashamed of myself for this and I’m genuinely sorry.”

    In other coronavirus mea culpas, local public officials have had to apologize for spreading misinformation, such as that covid-19 stands for “Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease” or that blasting heat from a hair dryer into your nostrils could kill coronavirus. A Pennsylvania pastor has apologized for holding a massive church service. And landlords have even apologized for issuing eviction notices…

    “This pandemic is dangerous and is especially threatening our senior citizens, of which I am one, and those with underlying conditions,” [Young] said. “I very strongly urge you to follow the CDC’s recommendations. Avoid large groups and continue to practice social distancing and proper hygiene protocols.”

    The botched efforts to stop #coronavirus and #climatechange — @HighCountryNews #COVID19

    From The High Country News [March 25, 2020] (Jonathan Thompson):

    In the time of coronavirus, I headed to southern Utah’s remote canyon country to do some extreme social distancing.

    All I knew when I emerged a few days later in western Colorado was that the world was … confusing. I half-expected to find empty highways and shuttered businesses. What I witnessed was an armada of black SUVs, loaded down with passengers and skis, all headed to the resort town of Telluride. This was mid-March.

    Clearly, a lot of folks were determined not to let a deadly pandemic get in the way of their ski vacation. It occurred to me then that perhaps things weren’t so bad, after all. If that many people were still headed for the slopes, the crowded restaurants, bars, and supersized petri dishes — er, hot tubs — then surely the danger of the virus had passed, right? Wrong.

    When the author emerged from a solo Utah trip into western Colorado, he expected to find deserted streets and towns. Instead, he found people, in mid-March, stocking up for their regular ski vacations. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has since closed down the state’s ski areas, seemingly the only effort that would prevent vacationers from flocking to their favorite spots. Curtis Gregory Perry

    What I was witnessing was just one instance of an ad hoc, failed response to a crisis. It resembled a magnified version of the global response to climate change in which half the population is in panic mode, while the other half insists on life as usual.

    I saw this play out in even starker relief in the supermarket in Montrose, which serves as a supply town for mountain towns to the south, including Telluride. The parking lot was packed, and at first glance things inside seemed fairly typical for a ski season Saturday. The avocados and bell peppers were stacked high in the produce section, and the fancy cheese bin was overflowing. Then I noticed the potatoes were all gone.

    I hurried back to the rice and beans aisle only to find what I ascertained to be high-risk folks — older, frail-looking — staring at empty shelves. It was the same with the dried pasta section, where all that remained were a few boxes of gluten-free stuff. I grabbed them and anything else that would give me sustenance for the next week or so while I lived and worked out of my car.

    Back out in the parking lot a massive Cadillac Escalade and a handful of Chevy Suburbans were lined up in front of the liquor store. One woman told her companion to move the car closer because “we’ve got way too much to carry.”

    Then it felt like a cascade: Meetings were canceled, my kids were being ordered to vacate their college dorms immediately, giving them little choice but to get on planes and fly across the ocean back to Bulgaria, where I live. Restaurants were shutting down. Meanwhile, the ski vacationers were stocking up on booze. Did they think they’re immune? Or did they believe President Trump when he first downplayed the virus, even calling it a hoax?

    It’s tempting simply to roll one’s eyes: They’ll get what they deserve, while those who hole up in their houses and try to do their part to mitigate the virus’s spread will stay healthy.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. By continuing on with their lives, the vacationers could negate the efforts of the conscientious crowd, and likely spread the virus to the people working in the restaurants, hotels and shops.

    Climate change is no different. It does little good for one person to reduce their carbon footprint if all around them everyone else — with the encouragement of the federal government — drills for oil, burns natural gas or coal and consumes without limits, as if the climate catastrophe were just another media fixation.

    What we need to battle both this virus and climate change is a coordinated, society-wide response. We need leaders who aren’t afraid of taking bold, decisive action, regardless of how it might impact the stock market or the bottom line of political donors. It truly is a matter of life and death.

    That same day, March 14, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis took decisive action: He ordered every ski area in the state to shut down and then imposed restrictions on public gathering places. San Juan County, home of Telluride, went farther: mandatory lock down, shelter in place, all tourists and non-residents must leave, and mandatory testing of the entire population by a private company.

    Now we just need the same kind of resolve to tackle the climate crisis.

    Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about Western issues. He is a freelance writer and author of the forthcoming novel, Behind the Slickrock Curtain. Email High Country News at

    How our team isolated the new coronavirus to fight the global pandemic —

    Coronaviruses get their name from the crown, or corona, of spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, as seen on this illustration of a highly magnified virus. Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    From (Karen Mossman):

    As most people rush to distance themselves from COVID-19, Canadian researchers have been waiting eagerly to get our (gloved) hands on the hated virus.

    We want to learn everything we can about how it works, how it changes and how it interacts with the human immune system, so we can test drugs that may treat it, develop vaccines and diagnostics and prevent future pandemics.

    This is what researchers live to do. Much of our everyday work is incremental. It’s important and it moves the field forward, but to have a chance to contribute to fighting a pandemic is especially inspiring and exciting.

    The secret lives of viruses

    Viruses are fascinating. They are inert microscopic entities that can either hide out, innocuous and undetected, or wreak pandemic havoc.

    They are simultaneously complex and simplistic, which is what makes them so interesting — especially new, emerging viruses with unique characteristics. Researching viruses teaches us not only about the viruses we study, but also about our own immune systems.

    The emergence of a new coronavirus in a market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 set in motion the pandemic we are now witnessing in 160 countries around the world. In just three months, the virus has infected more than 360,000 people and killed more than 16,000.

    Viral isolation

    The outbreak sent researchers around the world racing to isolate laboratory specimens of the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus was later named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.

    In countries that experienced earlier outbreaks, including China, Australia, Germany and the United States, researchers were able to isolate the virus and develop their own inventories of SARS-CoV-2, but logistical and legal barriers prevented them from readily sharing their materials with researchers beyond their borders.

    What Canadian researchers needed to join the fight in earnest was a domestic supply of clean copies of the virus—preferably from multiple Canadian COVID-19 cases. Even in a pandemic, developing such a supply is not as easy as it might sound, and multiple teams in Canada set out to isolate and develop pure cultures of the virus, not knowing which would be successful, or when.

    Ultimately two teams in Canada would isolate the virus for study: one at the University of Saskatchewan and one that featured researchers from McMaster University, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto.

    Arinjay Banerjee, a postdoctoral research fellow at McMaster who typically works in my virology lab, volunteered his special expertise. We were proud to have him share his talent with the team in Toronto, where he set to work with physicians and researchers Samira Mubareka, Lily Yip, Patryk Aftanas and Rob Kozak.

    Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19. The spherical viral particles, colourized blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots. Credit: U.S. CDC

    For Banerjee, it was like a batter being called to the plate with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth. He had come to work at McMaster because of its Institute for Infectious Disease Research and its Immunology Research Centre, and because the university maintains a research colony of bats.

    Banerjee’s Ph.D. work at the University of Saskatchewan, and now at McMaster, has focused on bats and how their viruses, including coronaviruses, interact with bat and human antiviral responses. Over the past few years, studies have shown that bat coronaviruses have the capacity to infect human cells. Multiple researchers had predicted a coronavirus that would evolve and jump into humans.

    Ideal viral conditions

    Isolating a virus requires collecting specimens from patients and culturing, or growing, any viruses that occur in the samples. These viruses are obligate intracellular parasites, which means that they can only replicate and multiply in cells. To isolate a particular virus, researchers need to provide it with an opportunity to infect live mammalian cells, in tiny flasks or on tissue culture plates.

    Viruses adapt to their hosts and evolve to survive and replicate efficiently within their particular environment. When a new virus such as SARS-CoV-2 emerges, it isn’t obvious what particular environment that virus has adapted to, so it can be hard to grow it successfully in the lab.

    We can use tricks to draw out a virus. Sometimes the tricks work and sometimes they don’t. In this case, the researchers tried a method Banerjee and the team had previously used while working on the coronavirus that causes Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome: culturing the virus on immunodeficient cells that would allow the virus to multiply unchecked. It worked.

    Since specimens from patients are also likely to contain other viruses, it is critical to determine if a virus growing in the culture is really the target coronavirus. Researchers confirm the source of infection by extracting genetic material from the virus in culture and sequencing its genome.

    They compare the sequence to known coronavirus sequences to identify it precisely. Once a culture is confirmed, researchers can make copies to share with colleagues.

    All this work must be done in secure, high-containment laboratories that mitigate the risk of accidental virus release into the environment and also protect scientists from accidental exposure. The more versions of a virus that can be isolated, the better. Having multiple virus isolates allows us to monitor how the virus is evolving in humans as the pandemic progresses. It also allows researchers to test the efficacy of vaccines and drugs against multiple mutations of the virus.

    Canadian viral strains

    Both the Saskatchewan and Ontario teams are now able to make and share research samples with other Canadian scientists, enabling important work to proceed, using a robust domestic supply that reflects the evolving virus in its most relevant mutations.

    That in turn gives Canadian researchers a fighting chance to deliver a meaningful blow to COVID-19 while there is still time. I’m glad our colleagues at other Canadian institutions will also have versions of the virus to use in their research.

    There is still so much work for all of us to do.

    #Drought news: Some D1 (Moderate Drought) erased in NW #Colorado

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Storms delivered much-needed precipitation to California’s key watershed areas before soaking an area from the southeastern Plains into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys with as much as 2 to 4 inches of rain. Some of the rain overlapped existing drought areas in southern Texas, providing substantial relief. Widespread precipitation also fell across the remainder of the West, except in the northern Rockies. Significant precipitation was also noted in Iowa and environs, while wind-driven snow blanketed parts of northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska. In contrast, warm, dry weather dominated the lower Southeast, including Florida, boosting irrigation demands and further reducing topsoil moisture. Weekly temperatures averaged more than 10°F above normal in many areas from the central Gulf Coast into the Southeast, contributing to further introduction or intensification of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2)…

    High Plains

    Dryness (D0) and moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) remains mostly confined to the southwestern part of the region, although a spot of D0 was introduced in northwestern North Dakota. On March 19, a spring storm delivered wind-driven snow to parts of northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska. Denver, Colorado, reported 6.0 inches of snow on that date, along with a peak northerly wind gust to 49 mph. Some snow fell in the region’s mountainous areas, but there was little overall change in the drought depiction, except for some removal of moderate drought (D1) in northwestern Colorado…


    It was an active drought-monitoring period in the West, although northern sections of the region received little or no precipitation. During the 10-day period ending March 24, the average water equivalency of the Sierra Nevada snowpack rose from 10 to 14 inches, according to the California Department of Water Resources, representing an improvement from just over one-third of the mid-March normal to about one-half of the late-March normal. Meanwhile, several rounds of heavy precipitation also struck southern California and the Desert Southwest, resulting in modest reductions in drought severity. While the late-season precipitation has reduced irrigation demands and has provided a nice boost in soil moisture and snowpack, the moisture is generally too late for drought-stressed rangeland that has already lost forage yield potential due to winter drought. Farther north, drought slightly expanded in northwestern California and western Oregon, as below-normal seasonal precipitation was reflected by dry soils, sub-par snowpack, and unusually low streamflow. Patches of dryness and drought also stretched from the eastern slopes of the Cascades onto the northern High Plains…


    Heavy rain across interior southern Texas provided significant drought relief. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, statewide topsoil moisture rated very short to short stood at 19% in Texas on March 22, down from 40% the previous week. On the same date, 49% of the winter wheat in Texas was rated in good to excellent condition. In southern Texas, a small patch of exceptional drought (D4) persisted along and near the Rio Grande, but rain resulted in a general reduction in coverage of moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3) in many other areas. Cotulla, Texas, in La Salle County, received 2.98 inches of rain from March 18-22. Closer to the Gulf Coast, however, March 1-24 totals included 0.22 inch in Corpus Christi and 0.01 inch in Rockport. Farther north near the coast, there was some expansion of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) in southeastern Texas. Meanwhile, there was no change in the drought depiction across Oklahoma’s panhandle, but the small area of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in southwestern Oklahoma was split into two pieces and reduced in size and intensity. Elsewhere, dryness persisted along and near the central Gulf Coast. D1 persisted across southeastern Louisiana, while D0 was slightly expanded…

    Looking Ahead

    In the West, showers will gradually diminish as the week progresses. By late Friday, a significant spring storm system will begin to intensify across the central Plains. The storm will move northeastward, reaching the northern Atlantic Coast on Monday. As a result, storm-total precipitation could reach 1 to 3 inches across large sections of the Midwest and Northeast. Accumulating snow may occur from the central High Plains (e.g. northeastern Colorado) into parts of the upper Great Lakes region, as well as northern New England. In contrast, mostly dry weather should prevail during the next 5 days across the southern High Plains and the southern Atlantic region, including Florida.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 31 – April 4 calls for the likelihood of near- or below-normal temperatures in much of the eastern one-half of the U.S. and across the nation’s northern tier, except Maine. Warmer-than-normal weather can be expected in Maine, along with Florida, the Gulf Coast region, and an area stretching from California to the High Plains. Meanwhile, near- or below-normal precipitation across large sections of the country should contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions along the Canadian border from the northernmost Rockies into the upper Great Lakes region, and across the South from Texas to the southern Atlantic Coast.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending March 24, 2020.

    Prairie Research Could Help Farming Become More Resilient, Sustainable — Iowa Public Radio

    TNC Platte River prescribed burn crew 2012. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

    From Iowa Public Radio (May Mayer):

    “Fire is a critical component to the landscape,” says Jesse Nippert, a professor at Kansas State, who is also the lead scientist for the Konza Prairie Long Term Ecological Research project, “because without fire, the grasses lose their dominance. Like, if you stopped burning this, the grasses would start to disappear.” Shrubs and eventually trees would take over.

    Fire, climate and grazing are the primary drivers of the prairie ecosystem, Nippert says.

    For decades, he and other scientists have probed the prairie, asking about its plants, animals, microbes and soil. What they learn can influence how we grow food and how the region adapts to a changing climate.

    Controlling when, and how often, fire comes through certain sections of the prairie allows scientists to explore its impacts and importance. To understand climate, they have to get a bit more creative.

    Leaving behind a perfect black polygon of scorched earth when the fire fizzles out, Nippert climbs into a Jeep and bounces up and down rutted gravel roads to a different section of prairie that wasn’t burned on this day.

    “One of the climate change predictions for this region really wasn’t a change in total annual amount of precipitation,” Nippert says. “It was this idea that when it rains, it’s gonna be a bigger rain event, and then in between them we’ll remove a lot of those smaller rain events.”

    He and his colleagues erect structures with metal tubing and plastic sheets that let them simulate those trends experimentally on certain plots.

    “Even though they got the exact same amount of total water, how you package that water and deliver it matters,” Nippert says.

    Lessons from the Dust Bowl

    That’s something farmers in the Midwest are already experiencing. Heavy spring rains might delay or prevent them from planting their crops. Then it can dry up for weeks until a sudden heavy rain hits the dry soil. (Kansas State has an interactive map showing changes in precipitation by county over time here.)

    Nippert’s colleague Melinda Smith, from Colorado State University, conducts prairie ecosystem research in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Her work on Konza simulated drought conditions, mimicking the hot, dry years of the 1930s.

    “What we were able to do is just pretty much replicate what happened during the Dust Bowl, but do it experimentally,” Smith says. “And we were able to see the same kind of responses.”

    Those included the loss of certain plants and increasing amounts of others. Smith points to blue grama grasses, which are normally found at sites farther west than Konza but showed up here after her experiment.

    “The only reason they’re in those plots is because we droughted them,” she says. “The fact that we could get even such a small-scale conversion of the [plant] community—it took several years for that to occur, but it did occur within the timeframe of our drought experiment—suggests to me that it could occur at a larger scale. And it was a surprising outcome.”

    During the Dust Bowl, precious soil blew away, but the natural ecosystem of native plants recovered within about 20 years.

    “The species that live here in the Great Plains, these native species, are tremendously resilient,” Nippert says. The farming practices of the early 20th century, however, were not sustainable.

    In 1935, partially in response to the devastation of the Dust Bowl, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Soil Conservation Act, which led to the creation of soil and water conservation districts. Still in action today, these groups promote practices such as reducing tillage, which keeps more soil in place…

    Protecting cropland with prairie

    “The idea was, can we be really smart about reintegrating Iowa’s native ecosystem to try to achieve our goals, as a state, for clean water and building soils and maintaining our native, wildlife populations in a way that had as little impact on the agricultural portions of the landscape as possible?” says Iowa State’s Lisa Schulte Moore, a member of the team that spent more than a decade developing prairie strips, small patches of native grasses and flowers integrated into farmland. The answer was an unqualified yes.

    Schulte Moore says putting 10 percent of a field into prairie strips keeps 95 percent of the soil in place. The strips contain a mix of different native plant species, which are appropriate for the specific location.

    “So if you have a cool year, if you have a wet year, if you have a drought year, that diversity conveys resilience,” Schulte Moore says. “You have some of those plants that are going to do well regardless of the kind of weather conditions that Mother Nature is throwing at it.”

    Some of the prairie plants have stiff stems, too, which help protect the land when those intense rain events pour down because they slow the movement of the water. The prairie plants also have characteristic deep roots, which continue to grow throughout the year, year after year.

    “You have biological function happening all year long that you just don’t in an annual system,” like row crops, Schulte Moore says.

    Prairie strips proved so effective that they caught the attention both of farmers eager to try them and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2018 farm bill added prairie strips to the Conservation Reserve Program, which is one of the federal government’s biggest efforts to improve the environmental quality of agricultural lands.

    Still, farming in the Great Plains remains largely dependent upon annual monocultures: plants grown from seed each year, typically across wide swaths of land that may only rotate between two or possibly three crops.

    From The Nature Conservancy (Chris Helzer):

    If You Play With Fire…
    There’s nothing playful about safe and effective prescribed burning. Too many things can go wrong to take it lightly. Sometimes, I think people see prescribed fire as something that needs to be done to maintain prairies, but they can’t necessarily point to specific objectives for a particular fire. Nor can they describe what kind of burning (season, intensity, size, ignition pattern) is needed to achieve those objectives. Falling into the trap of burning because it seems like the right thing to do leads to two big risks. First, there’s a good chance that the fires will not be conducted in a way (or at the right time of year) that do much good – and could even be counterproductive. Second, because prescribed fire can be a hazardous activity, conducting one without clearly defined reasons means taking big risks for no good reason.

    A prescribed fire we conducted last week. This one went off without a hitch. Most of them do.. Nelson Winkel spraying backing fire. TNC Platte River prescribed burn crew 2012. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

    We’ve completed two prescribed fires so far this spring. As always, we spend way more time planning our fires than implementing them. That planning starts with setting clear ecological objectives (defining why we’re burning in the first place) which dictate the location, size, season, and even the tactics used during the fire. Once we know what we’re aiming for, we write a burn plan that can help us achieve that in the safest way possible. Our plans detail the kinds of weather conditions and tactics needed to be successful, but also spend a lot of time on contingencies. What will we do if the fire gets away? What does the surrounding landscape offer in terms of safe areas and threats in the case of an escaped fire. How will we respond if someone gets hurt? For me, writing a good burn plan means thinking through all the worst case scenarios. There’s nothing fun about it.

    Unfortunately, even after all that planning, things still go wrong. Last spring, I wrote about a burn we did in which we ran into repeated equipment issues, and had to shut down for a while until we could get re-equipped and complete the burn. In another fire last year, I overestimated the strength of our blackline containing the fire, and the wind-driven head fire jumped it in one place, forcing us to quickly chase it down. This spring, our first prescribed burn started out well, but the wind came up sooner than had been forecast, and we shut the fire down because a Red Flag Warning was issued. In all of those cases, there were no serious repercussions, and our training and planning helped us deal effectively with unexpected circumstances. Because we’d planned for each contingency, everyone knew how to react when the time came. No property was damaged and no one got hurt.

    The threat of injury is what makes prescribed fire especially stressful for me. Between potential equipment mishaps and quickly-changing weather and fire conditions, there are numerous opportunities for someone to get hurt. So far, I’ve never had anyone get injured on a fire I’ve been a part of, but that fortunate record certainly isn’t making me complacent. As if I needed a reminder of the danger, one of our crew was helping a partner organization with a fire last week and suffered some slight burns on his neck and face while trying to extinguish a drip torch. After trying and failing to smother the flame at the tip of the torch with a gloved hand (per protocol) the crew member then tried to blow the flame out, and some of the burning torch fuel splattered onto the cotton bandana around his neck. Before he could get the bandana off of his head, he suffered small burns in several places. After a quick trip to a nearby medical clinic, he was fine – though he had to shave off the remainder of his singed beard.

    It appears there were several things that contributed to the torch incident, possibly including some issues with the torch itself that caused excessive fuel to build up in the torch’s tip, making it particularly difficult to extinguish. After the fire was wrapped up there was considerable discussion about what happened, and hopefully we all learned some things that will make us all safer in the future. Regardless of the cause, however, the aspect of the event that struck me the most was that our crew member was injured doing something he had done hundreds of times before. It’s sobering to know that something as mundane as extinguishing a torch led to injury, and that it could have been much worse than it was.

    Lighting the head fire of our prescribed burn last week. This was the easy part. The planning, training, weather monitoring, equipment preparation, and black-lining were all done. (Not pictured – the knot in my stomach). TNC Platte River prescribed burn crew 2012. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

    I am a strong and vocal advocate for the use of prescribed fire to manage both private and public lands. On the other hand, prescribed burning is not a sport, it’s a tool, and it’s a tool that we should employ strategically – not for fun, or without specific objectives in mind. If someone can’t clearly explain what they’re trying to achieve by conducting a particular burn, I don’t know how they can justify taking the risk of dropping a match. In addition, if some doesn’t have a clear and detailed plan for how to ignite and contain a fire, and how to respond when things go wrong, I don’t think they have any business lighting that fire in the first place.

    I know people that really enjoy conducting prescribed fires. Frankly, those people make me nervous, especially if they’re in charge. I don’t dislike prescribed burning, and I get a feeling of satisfaction whenever we wrap one up successfully – especially because I can appreciate the ecological benefits of doing so. But while there is active fire on the ground, there’s a knot in my stomach, and that knot subsides slowly, even after the last of the smoke has faded into the sky.

    It’s fantastic that the use of prescribed fire is growing among prairie landowners and land managers. More importantly, the greatly increased availability of training and equipment means that we’re not only burning more acres, but we’re also more sophisticated – and hopefully safer – as we do so. However, things will still go wrong. Property will be damaged and people will get hurt. It can happen during even the simplest fires. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t burn. It does, however, mean that we should burn only when it can be done safely and only when we can burn in ways that achieve important objectives. Otherwise, the risk can quickly outweigh the rewards.

    Be safe out there…

    You may be interested to read these previous posts about prescribed fire:

    The importance of equipment redundancy in prescribed fire.

    Why prescribed fire doesn’t contribute to global warming.

    #Coronavirus Outbreak Tests Resilience Of Western Water Workforce — KUNC #COVID19

    Willimas Fork River: Photo credit: By US Geological Survey –, Public Domain,

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    Water agencies throughout the West are changing their operations during the coronavirus outbreak to make sure cities and farms don’t run dry.

    Their responses range from extreme measures to modest adjustments to ensure their most critical workers don’t succumb to the virus.

    In San Diego, leadership at the Carlsbad desalination plant asked staff to volunteer for a 21-day isolated stay at the facility. A second set of workers are self-isolating at home to arrive on site for their stay at the treatment plant should the outbreak extend beyond the initial 21-day period.

    Many others aren’t taking as drastic a step as asking employees to live at work. The water agency for millions in southern California, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is scaling back on-site staff and increasing telework capabilities for a portion of its workforce.

    In Colorado, two Front Range water providers aren’t to the point of asking workers to house on-site at pumping, treatment or dam sites…

    As of now Northern’s operations have continued without interruption, and the agency is preparing for a spring snowmelt runoff likely to ramp up in the next few weeks, Stahla said.

    Some water treatment facilities ran with minimal contact among workers even before the threat of coronavirus, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for Denver Water.

    “Water treatment plants readily operate with people spread apart in different sections of the facilities,” Hartman said. “Social distance is also easy to achieve at our dams and reservoirs.”

    Some of Denver Water’s critical infrastructure already house year-round caretakers to keep an eye on remote dam operations, Hartman added. That’s also true of the city of Colorado Springs’ Grizzly Reservoir in the mountains outside Aspen.

    What are viruses anyway, and why do they make us so sick? 5 questions answered — The Conversation

    Patients infected with COVID-19 rest at a temporary hospital in Wuhan, China, Feb. 17, 2020.
    Getty Images/Xiao Yijiu

    Marilyn J. Roossinck, Pennsylvania State University

    Editor’s Note: You may sometimes have felt like you “have come down with a virus,” meaning that you became sick from being exposed to something that could have been a virus. In fact, you have a virus – actually, many – all the time. Some viruses cause the common cold, and some are crucial to human survival. New viruses can also emerge, and they typically create illness in humans when they have very recently jumped from another species to humans. As world health leaders try to determine how to respond to the new coronavirus, virus expert Marilyn J. Roossinck answers a few questions.

    1. What is a virus?

    Defining a virus has been a challenge, because every time we come up with a good definition someone discovers a virus that breaks the rules. Viruses are entities that infect cellular life. They are very diverse. The simplest just have a couple of genes made of RNA or DNA wrapped up in a protein coat. Others have hundreds of genes, more than some bacteria.

    All viruses are ultimately parasites. They require a host for replication. They cannot generate their own energy like cells can.

    2. Why does a virus make people sick?

    When a new human virus disease appears, it is most often because the virus has jumped from a different species into humans. The worst viruses are often the ones that have very recently jumped into the species.

    After jumping species, the virus goes through a process of adjustment to its new host. The real challenge, however, is to the host. As it tries to figure out how to adjust to an invasion from something completely new, the immune system overreacts. This is what makes the host sick. It usually isn’t an advantage for the virus to make people sick; it is an accident of the hosts’ immune system overreacting to something it doesn’t recognize.

    Viruses that have been in a host for a long time are less likely to cause disease. For example, HIV jumped into humans from wild primates, in whose bodies it wasn’t causing any disease.

    Every virus-host relationship is different. In most cases, viruses do not cause any disease, and many are beneficial. For example, in mice a herpes virus prevents infection from the plague bacteria.

    3. Why is it so important to know the original source?

    If the virus comes from an animal, knowing what that animal is can help break the chain of infection. Knowing the source also helps scientists understand mutations that might have occurred in the virus’ genome. That’s because host-jumping affects the variation in a virus genome. When a virus has been in its host for a long time, the genome is fine-tuned to that host, and mutations are not tolerated.

    Students in Bangladesh are shown wearing masks Jan. 29, 2020, in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Experts are divided on whether wearing masks makes a difference, but most agree that hand-washing is imperative.
    Getty Images/Mehedi Hasan/NurPhoto

    4. SARS was a formidable foe, and then seemed to disappear. Why?

    Measures to contain SARS started early, and they were very successful. The key is to stop the chain of transmission by isolating infected individuals. SARS had a short incubation period; people generally showed symptoms in two to seven days. There were no documented cases of anyone being a source of SARS without showing symptoms.

    Stopping the chain of transmission is much more difficult when the incubation time is much longer, or when some people don’t get symptoms at all. This may be the case with the virus causing CoVID-19, so stopping it may take more time.

    5. What is the best way to treat viruses?

    Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, and in some cases taking antibiotics can make things worse, because the normal bacteria in the gut are an important part of the immune response. Antiviral drugs can work with some viruses, but the mutation rate of most viruses means that they become resistant to antivirals very quickly.

    The best treatment is to give the patient the best tools to allow their own body to fight off the infection. This usually means rest and keeping hydrated. Virus infection can suppress the immune system, so patients should be monitored for secondary infections that might require other treatments. Prevention is important. Sick people need to be isolated, and healthy people need to take precautions.

    Most respiratory viruses are not transmitted just by breathing them in from sick people, but by getting them on your hands from tiny droplets that sick people distribute by coughing or sneezing, and then touching your face. Good hand-washing is important!

    [Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]The Conversation

    Marilyn J. Roossinck, Professor of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, Pennsylvania State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    As COVID-19 spreads, how do you ethically get outdoors? — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News [March 24, 2020] (Craig Childs):

    People have been trying to get outdoors during this COVID-19 pandemic, and I don’t blame them. Without fresh air to breathe, clear sunlight or mist on our eyelids, I don’t think we can remain sane. And we need a sane population. Especially now.

    All over the country, beaches and parks are closed, warning tape is wrapped around playgrounds. People are trying to get out, but not finding any place to go to. Central Park remains open, and New York City has been asked by its mayor to close certain streets to vehicles so people can get out and walk. In the San Francisco Bay area, where shelter-in-place orders are in effect, residents are still being told that parks are open and to go enjoy them — with certain caveats: The restrooms aren’t open, and neither are the trashcans, and don’t hike in groups.

    Hikers look out on Tucson, Arizona, from Mount Lemmon in the Coronado National Forest. This weekend, its trails were busier than usual, but still allowed for social distancing.
    Roberto “Bear” Guerra/High Country News

    In the West, we’ve got plenty of space. But are we supposed to be using it? We’re hearing different messages. There’s been a pushback against recreating on public lands, mostly from gateway communities receiving visitors they don’t want, even as people are being encouraged to enjoy parks and open spaces where they can keep a safe distance from others. Most national parks remain open, and entry fees have been waived.

    So which is it? Stay indoors, or go outside? If you go out for a walk, you might hear someone shouting at you from a window, “What don’t you understand about just stay home?”

    Moab was overwhelmed by tourists — a madhouse, I’m told, which is significant when you hear it from a Moab local. Last week, it became too much, and all tourist services were closed down. Mayor Emily Niehaus announced, “Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community.” The Southeast Utah Health Department halted visitor recreation, restaurants were closed or limited to curbside, camping and hotels across multiple counties were closed to non-locals, and visitors centers have shut down. Everybody, go home. Is home restricted to the indoors, or does it include the spaces around you?

    I believe in the right to be outside, but at this moment it shouldn’t be exercised through visitor centers and bottlenecks. Forget the parks; seek out the spaces in between, the backyards and alleys. It’s a great time to explore an irrigation ditch or the woods at the edge of town — to see what’s around you. Be as local as you can. If you’re heading to Red Mountain Pass to ski between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado, and you have out-of-county plates, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office will place a yellow slip on your windshield reading, “San Juan County Colorado is enacting a LOCALS ONLY order until further notice due to the COVID-19 Virus crisis.” Further down the slip, it notes, “Failure to comply with this order will result in charges with the potential of 1 year in prison, and a $1,000 fine.”


    In southwest Colorado, as in much of the West, we’re fortunate to live in a nest of public lands with few trails or kiosks, mostly dirt roads with random pullouts — the spaces managed by the Bureau of Land Management. When I hear “shelter in place,” I think of this place. How far does that legally, ethically extend?

    A couple of days ago, my gal and I met up with two friends, another couple sheltering at home, and drove separately to a rock scarp near where we live. We kept 6 feet or more between us at all times, handing nothing back and forth without an antibacterial wipe. The air we breathed was cavernous, a sandstone canyon without a trail or a sign, a place where you’d rarely see footprints. For half a day, we scrambled over boulders and took pictures of rock and sky. I took more caution than I normally would, limiting the risk, because you don’t want to take any resources from rescue workers who already have tough jobs to do. On our hike, we recounted the weeks since we’d seen each other last, catching up on the stories under the vault of the sky. This, I believe, is sanity. As far as I’ve heard, what we did is neither illegal or unhealthy. Perhaps it’s not unethical, either.

    I realize not everybody can do this; the out-of-doors comes in degrees. Sometimes just standing on a sidewalk and staring into the sky makes a world of difference.

    Currently, federal land agencies, including the National Park Service, defer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for social-distancing guidelines. But for those wondering about going out farther than their own back-forty, Colorado Parks and Wildlife put out simple guidelines reflecting outdoor recommendations from groups and agencies around the West.

    In a nutshell:

  • If you are sick, stay home.
  • Keep a social distance from others.
  • Avoid high-risk or remote activities.
  • Announce your presence to others.
  • Stay regional.
  • Avoid times and places of high use.
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Be kind. Say hi.
  • A key bullet point is “stay regional.” How big is a region? Where do you usually travel for groceries? In some of these big Western counties, a hundred miles or more can be your region. In Denver, I figure this means your city and the land immediately around it; Front Range residents are advised to avoid traveling to the high country or to small mountain communities closed to visitors. In the Pacific Northwest, permits are still being given for the Pacific Crest Trail. Online battles are raging between those leaving the trail — who are being called “quitters” — and those staying on it, who are being accused of selfishly making coronavirus and its host of difficulties worse.

    In other words, there’s no official definition. One good answer came from a friend in Trinidad, Colorado: “If someone gets to a spot and there are a bunch of people there, you should immediately go somewhere else.”

    I was probably one of the last groups to leave the southeast Utah backcountry late last week. I came out with participants in a wilderness archaeology program. We traveled through the town of Bluff to see what was happening, and we found a pandemic in progress: People were telling us to go home, to stay put in Utah, to go back to the wilderness where we’d been living happily for the last five days. Airplanes were still flying, so civilization was still intact. But answers were hard to find. We all headed back home, which sent us in every direction but kept us out of the hair of the locals, which seems to be the major issue. Small gateway communities do not need the strain on their groceries, gas or medical services.

    If you’re looking for justification to take a trip to the backcountry, leaving your area to go through someone else’s, this isn’t it. Stay in your home terrain. If where you live has backcountry wrapped around it, or a trail that’s open and uncrowded, or just some woods to walk through, I consider that an extension of home. It may not be true for most of us, but many live out here on the margins. And all of us, I hope, can reach the outdoors in some form, because sanity is also necessary for health.

    Craig Childs writes about adventure, wilderness, and science. Craig’s newest book, Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America, explores the arrivals of humans into a new hemisphere during the late Pleistocene. Craig teaches writing at the University of Alaska and in the Mountainview MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University and lives off the grid in western Colorado. Email High Country News at

    Many water utilities, one message – News on TAP

    The response to COVID-19 has changed many things, but the water delivered by the nation’s water utilities is safe to drink.

    Source: Many water utilities, one message – News on TAP

    Bicycle-Friendly Driver Webinar

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via

    Click here to register:

    Become a certified Bicycle-Friendly Driver with Bicycle Colorado and help make Colorado’s roads safer for everyone!

    About this Event
    After certifying 1,700 Bicycle-Friendly Drivers in 2019, Bicycle Colorado is excited to continue to support drivers through our first virtual course. We will cover laws and safe practices for both road users, how to navigate on-street bicycle infrastructure and how to avoid common crashes between drivers and bicyclists. At the end of the webinar, we will complete an exam and passing participants will receive a certificate to demonstrate their new knowledge.

    Through evaluations, all ages and levels of drivers (and bicyclists!) have shared that they benefited from the course and that content should be mandatory for everyone on our roads.

    This is a free course funded by New Belgium Brewing. Thank you to those who still choose to donate to support Bicycle Colorado’s work creating safer streets!

    Registrants will receive an email by Friday morning with a participation link and details.

    Contact Education and Safety Director Mo McCanna with questions at

    #Snowpack news: All #Colorado basins in the average range or above and above 100% of normal

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

    And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for today.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 25, 2020 via the NRCS.

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

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:

    Summary: March 24, 2020

    Much of the Intermountain West experienced an active storm pattern last week, with widespread areas receiving between half an inch and inch of moisture. Month-to-date, the majority of the region has received at least an inch of moisture, with some higher elevations seeing over 2 inches. Some areas of Wyoming, southeast CO, and spots in western Utah have been a bit drier for the month. For most of the Intermountain West, temperatures have been above average since the beginning of March.

    Snowpack throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin is in good condition. The northern basins have reached their seasonal average peaks. Typical snowpack peak time is the first to second week of April, so these basins could be well above peak by the time melting starts. While the Gunnison and San Juan basins were struggling, last week they both received a healthy boost in snowpack and are now near their current average, with a better chance of an average peak.

    The outlook calls for more moisture in the next 7 days over the northern mountains of Utah and Colorado and into Wyoming. Arizona and New Mexico will not receive much in the next week. Other areas of concern, such as southeast CO and the Four Corners will also not see much action. With warm, dry, and windy conditions expected over the plains of eastern CO and NM, expect red flag warning days and fire danger to be higher.

    2020 #COleg: New law strengthens historical agricultural water uses — @AspenJournalism [#HB20-1159]

    A small pool of water along the Walker Ditch is kept free of ice and snow all winter long in order to provide water for cattle on the Monger Ranch near Hayden. A bill recently passed the Colorado legislature that allows ranchers’ historical stock watering rights to stay first in line, ahead of instream flow rights for the environment. Lauren Blair/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Lauren Blair):

    A bill that cleared the Colorado legislature with bipartisan support March 4 seeks to resolve an eight-year debate over how ranchers and other water users can maintain their historical water use when dry conditions trigger cutbacks to protect streamflows.

    HB20-1159 [State Engineer Confirm Existing Use Instream Flow], which passed the House with a unanimous 63-0 vote and the Senate with a 31-1 vote, authorizes state water officials to confirm historical usages, such as water used for livestock, whether or not it’s held in an official water right. This allows ranchers’ uses to stay first in line for water ahead of the stream protections, known as instream-flow rights.

    “It’s really a belt-and-suspenders clarification of existing authority,” said Zane Kessler, director of government relations for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which drafted the language for the bill. “I think it’s a good example of when we sit down and pore over these issues, it’s not hard to come up with a fix that protects West Slope water users and provides the state engineer the authority he needs to continue administering them.”

    Instream-flow rights, which are held exclusively by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, exist for the sole purpose of preserving the natural environment of streams and lakes “to a reasonable degree.” Most of these date to the 1970s and are junior to most agricultural-water rights under Colorado’s prior appropriation system of “first in time, first in right.” To date, instream-flow rights protect roughly 9,700 miles of stream in Colorado.

    Mud and manure line an access point for cattle to drink from a ditch on Doug Monger’s ranch near Hayden as winter nears its end. A bill recently passed the Colorado legislature that will protect ranchers’ historical uses without requiring them to go to water court. Photo credit: Lauren Blair/Aspen Journlism

    Historical uses

    The debate over historical uses has turned on whether a water user must go to water court to make their pre-existing use official in a decree.

    A 2012 drought brought the question to a head when state officials cut off water users on the Elk River in northwestern Colorado in favor of instream-flow rights. Although many ranchers in the area have water rights for irrigation that are senior to the 1977 instream-flow rights and have historically used that water also for their cattle, the state Division of Water Resources determined that livestock watering wasn’t implicit in irrigation rights.

    Those without specific rights for stockwatering were left high and dry once the summer irrigation season was deemed over, even though they had used the water for livestock for generations.

    “My grandparents bought this piece of land in 1946,” said Krista Monger, a cattle rancher on the Elk River. “We have the records to show we’ve been using (our water) for livestock.”

    Stockwatering and irrigation often go hand in hand. During the irrigation season, if a rancher’s livestock drink from the ditches used to irrigate their fields, the use is considered incidental to irrigation. But once the growing season is over and a rancher keeps the water flowing through the ditch for the exclusive purpose of watering their livestock, the use is not covered under irrigation-water rights.

    The amount of water typically used for exclusive stockwatering is a fraction of what is used for irrigating, around 80% to 90% less. Some ranchers also use stock ponds, which require a water-storage right.

    More than 90,000 irrigation-water rights are held across the state, of which 29,000 specifically name both irrigation and livestock uses. That means the new law could potentially apply to 61,000 water rights, although not all of these are held by ranchers raising livestock. An additional nearly 32,000 water rights are held exclusively for livestock purposes but not irrigation.

    The Monger family holds both irrigation- and livestock-water rights to grow hay and to water their 300 cattle. Her family’s rights and diligent record-keeping meant their ditches kept flowing while their neighbors’ ditches were shut down in 2012, highlighting the need for better record-keeping among the region’s irrigators.

    But the incident prompted a statewide debate over the meaning of Colorado statute C.R.S. 37-92-102(3)(b), which states that instream-flow rights are subject to pre-existing uses of water, “whether or not previously confirmed by court order or decree.”

    The state Department of Natural Resources, home to both the Division of Water Resources and CWCB, argued that when the instream-flow protections were created, lawmakers intended for water users to make their existing use official in a decree. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado River Water Conservation District argued that the statute clearly precludes the need for a court decree and sought to protect ranchers’ historical usage without requiring them to go to water court.

    “The statute says… prior uses would be honored. But they’re saying the statute doesn’t say what the statute says,” said Mike Hogue, former president of the cattlemen’s group.

    After years of negotiations, stakeholders agreed on a simple piece of legislation to clarify the state water engineer’s authority “to confirm a claim of an existing use (if it) has not been previously confirmed by court order or decree,” according to the bill summary. The bill had bipartisan sponsorship from Reps. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

    “I do think this is very helpful legislation,” said State Engineer Kevin Rein, who is with the Division of Water Resources. “We had what I’d call an honest disagreement about what the statute meant. My position is if they change the law and give me a place to hang my hat on, that solves the problem.”

    Ditch water trickles back under the cover of snow and ice from a watering hole for cattle on the Monger ranch near Hayden. New legislation prevents ranchers’ water for stock from being shut off by an instream flow right for the environment. Photo credit: Lauren Blair/Aspen Journalism

    Wakeup call

    However, what the legislation doesn’t resolve — and what is perhaps a bigger Pandora’s box opened by the 2012 incident — is the decision that state water officials made that irrigation rights do not include stockwatering rights. In practice, irrigators around the state, many of whom hold water rights dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, have used irrigation- or agricultural-water rights not to just irrigate their hayfields, but also to water their livestock.

    The new distinction means that ranchers with irrigation rights must apply for livestock water rights if they want to protect their usage into the future. Although the new legislation protects a rancher’s stockwatering use from being shut off specifically by an instream-flow right , their stockwater use could still be cut off if another water user makes a call on the river to fulfill a formal water right.

    “We all thought that was part of our ag water rights,” said Doug Monger, a Routt County commissioner and a cattle rancher on the Yampa River in northwest Colorado, and also uncle to Krista Monger. “It’s a wakeup call for all of us.”

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Craig Daily Press, Steamboat Pilot and Today and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 16 edition of the Craig Press.

    State demand-management investigation moves ahead — @AspenJournalism

    The Government Highline Canal, seen here just before its filled for irrigation season, irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley near the Utah state line. Some Grand Valley irrigators may welcome the chance to be paid to leave water in the Colorado River. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    State workgroups charged with making sense of a program to add water to a savings account in Lake Powell have begun narrowing down the complicated questions such a program would have to grapple with.

    But some state officials worry that a Western Slope group is going its own way, possibly undermining the state process.

    Water managers and experts from around the state met for two days in early March to compare notes on their current investigation of the feasibility of a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use-reduction program, known as demand management.

    The workshop brought together many of the participants who sit on the eight workgroups created by the state to explore different aspects of a demand-management program: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts.

    At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use in an effort to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations. Under such a program, agricultural-water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river.

    Russell George, a former Colorado lawmaker and chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee who helped create the state’s basin roundtables, rallied participants and acknowledged that tackling demand management was a hugely ambitious and thorny project.

    “It’s time for this and here we are, to wrestle to the ground this monster that just does not want to give,” he said.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is heading up the investigation into demand management and is about nine months into the process. Workgroups have met two or three times so far, and many have acknowledged the chicken-or-egg dilemma in front of them.

    “It’s like going on vacation, but we don’t know if we even want to go on vacation or where we are going or who’s going with us,” said CWCB Interstate and Federal Manager Amy Ostdiek.

    Some groups say they can’t complete their work because they need the input of other groups to inform their work. Some want to know what the alternative to demand management — shutting off water rights in the event of a compact call, known as curtailment — would look like before they commit to creating a water-use-reduction program.

    Under the terms of the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) are required to deliver 75 million acre-feet over 10 years to the Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). If the Upper Basin fails to deliver the water, the Lower Basin could make a “compact call,” triggering cutbacks — something water managers want desperately to avoid.

    Some members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board expressed concern that the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s demand management study may be at odds with the state process. From left, back row: Steve Anderson, Dan Gibbs, Kevin Rein, Jim Yahn, Heather Dutton, Russell George, Curran Trick, Greg Felt; front row: Jessica Brody, Gail Schwartz, Celene Hawkins, Jaclyn Brown, Becky Mitchell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism


    Equity is one topic that demand-management discussions keep turning to again and again. Some Western Slope water users fear that their ranches and fields will be ground zero for a water-use-reduction program. And with temporarily dry fields comes the potential for secondary negative economic impacts to agricultural communities.

    “The other side of the fairness coin is mistrust,” George said.

    But members of the agricultural-impacts workgroup pointed out that equity means equity of opportunity, not just shared burden. Some irrigators may welcome payment for their water.

    “There are many people in ag that don’t want others being too quick to take away potentially profitable opportunities for their farm or ranch,” said Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. “If demand management can be considered a different kind of crop, farmers and ranchers will consider it because they have an economic incentive. Farmers and ranchers are not dead-set against it.”

    But for all the uncertainty still out there, workgroups have begun to narrow the focus of their work down to “threshold” issues, some of which overlap among the eight workgroups.

    The two-day workshop concluded with a group exercise that found the following issues to be the most important for those who could be crafting Colorado’s demand-management program: simplicity of monitoring; state-wide resiliency; environmental impacts and benefits; agriculture viability; and shared responsibility.

    Some said it was time to stop talking and start acting. According to a real-time text poll, 57% of the workshop participants said the demand-management feasibility investigation was moving too slowly.

    “It’s time to take the next step and start doing some pilot projects,” said Barbara Biggs, general manager of Roxborough Water and Sanitation District. “We can’t answer questions sitting around a room talking about it.”

    This cornfield in Fruita is an example of agricultural land that could be temporarily fallowed and farmers paid under a demand management program. State workgroups are working toward narrowing the scope of a demand management feasibility investigation. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    River District study

    A week after the state-led demand-management workshop, Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager Andy Mueller stood before the CWCB board at its regular meeting and told board members that the River District had received a grant for its own study of demand management and water marketing on the Western Slope, a move that some board members saw as subverting the state’s grassroots process.

    “All the conversations we had in this room for two straight days and to preempt that discussion, that bothers me somewhat because I think we are getting out in front as a river district,” said Gail Schwartz, a former lawmaker and Basalt-based CWCB board member who represents the Colorado main stem on the board.

    CWCB South Platte River Basin representative Jim Yahn agreed.

    “We have to be careful because it could be somewhat confusing,” he said. “We want to project this unified front. We are looking at everything we can, but we want to be on this path together.”

    Mueller said the study, which will be funded in part by a $315,721 WaterSMART grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, is meant not to compete with the state process but, rather, to feed into it. He said the decision to undertake the study is not a result of dissatisfaction with the CWCB’s work but, rather, is based on the need to fulfill the River District’s mission.

    “We think our district has an obligation to the water users in the communities within our district to make sure that the water supply within our district and for water users in our district is adequate for all our needs,” Mueller said. “(The CWCB) is not the only governing body that has the right and obligation to be involved with demand management; the River District shares that obligation.”

    The mission of the River District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties, is to protect, conserve, use and develop water in the Colorado River Basin. Mueller said the study is meant to come up with policy recommendations for the state if and when it develops a demand-management program.

    Still, the move had echoes of a lingering and long-standing mistrust between Western Slope and Front Range water users, which George had alluded to the week before.

    “There can be a perception in rural Colorado that people on the Front Range don’t have our best interest in mind,” Mueller said.

    Larimer County sets #NISP hearings despite limits to gathering size during #coronavirus pandemic — The Loveland Reporter-Herald #COVID19

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Opponents ask county to delay the hearings

    Larimer County has tentatively scheduled hearing dates for a county permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project — hearings that are expected to draw crowds in a time of social distancing.

    Northern Water applied in February for what is known as a 1041 permit for the project, which calls for county approval of pieces of the project including a pipeline, highway relocation and recreation plan associated with the water project.

    Northern Water proposes pulling 42,000 acre-feet of water, primarily from the Poudre River, and storing it in two reservoirs on behalf of 15 water providers. The largest of the two reservoirs, Glade, is proposed to be built northwest of Fort Collins, with recreation to be managed by the county.

    The overall permit to build the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with some requirements from state agencies as well, the result of an environmental permitting process that has stretched over a decade. A federal decision is expected this year…

    Right now, the county is navigating ways to move to virtual public hearings, allowing public comments over the phone and through email for all of its meetings. There have been some hiccups as the county works to streamline the process to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic…

    For the Northern Integrated Supply Project, as of now, the plan is to have a public hearing before the Larimer County Planning Commission on May 6 and the Board of County Commissioners on June 8…

    However, Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, said the water district has been working on this project for a long time, has collected and is continuing to collect public input on the process. He said Northern Water will continue to work with the county to achieve that result through this hearing process.

    “We want to make sure the public has a chance to offer their input on this application,” Stahla said. “I applaud the county for trying to accommodate the public while acknowledging the health risks that are out there. We want to make sure there’s a public an deliberative process, so we’ll work with the county to make sure that happens.”

    Misrepresenting traditional knowledge during #COVID19 is dangerous — @HighCountryNews #coronavirus

    While herbs may help address some symptoms of COVID-19 and are good for overall health, they do not prevent, treat or cure coronavirus. Photo credit: Monterrey Bay Spice Company

    From The High Country News [March 23, 2020] (Rosalyn LaPier and Abaki Beck):

    Indigenous scholars say claims of herbal cures amounts to malpractice.

    As COVID-19 makes its way into Indigenous communities, so too does the spread of misinformation about cures. On social media, we have seen posts by Native American herbalists telling us to drink herbal teas, along with tweets promoting the healing properties of essential oils purported to be “used by Native Americans.” But when traditional knowledge is shared inaccurately as herbal “remedies” that can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, it presents a new threat.

    Herbal teas or essential oils will not cure COVID-19 and may even be harmful. As a traditionally trained ethnobotanist and professor of environmental studies, and a public health graduate student and writer, we see the sharing of misinformation about herbal remedies and ethnobotanical knowledge on social media as potentially negligent.

    As the descendants of survivors of epidemics, we are also concerned about the effects of the incorrect information regarding cures currently being shared within our Indigenous communities.

    Scholars tell us that up to 90% of Native American or Indigenous peoples died in the Americas when epidemics of new diseases brought by settlers ravaged their populations. The few who did survive often suffered from long-term medical issues, including infertility and other reproductive issues, as they struggled to rebuild their families and communities.

    Today, the danger of not knowing how a disease is spread or how to stop it is well understood by researchers and experts. Before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, claims of herbal “cures” began circulating on social media. WHO launched a page called Myth Busters in an effort to combat false or misleading claims regarding the prevention, treatment or cure of the virus, including the use of herbal remedies. WHO’s Myth Busters even created a cartoon meme of a smiling head of garlic (Allium sativum) — a traditional herb used by people around the globe — which warned people that it cannot protect them from COVID-19.

    Graphic credit: World Health Organization

    Traditional knowledge, including ethnobotanical knowledge, has long been and continues to be one of the strengths of Indigenous communities. Even the United Nations recognizes the importance of Indigenous knowledge for sustaining healthy ecosystems and the biodiversity of our environments.

    Herbal medicine and ethnobotanical knowledge have been used for thousands of years in cultures around the world, becoming the basis for many of our current Western medicines. The most well-known is aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which was developed from salicylic acid, which came from the salicin found in the bark of willow (Salix spp.). Many ethnobotanists still utilize willow bark as an analgesic or pain reliever.

    Traditional knowledge like this is usually acquired after years of formal training and practicing proper protocols. Our grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall, received ethnobotanical knowledge from her grandmothers, who were taught by their grandmothers as well. She provided herbal medicines to our family and to other members of the Blackfeet community throughout her lifetime. This kind of knowledge and its application are not taken lightly by those who are trained. Our grandmother once admonished a family member for putting berries that she used for medicine in a milkshake. “They’re medicine!” she proclaimed.

    That respect for herbs and what they can and cannot do for us — as well as an awareness of the time and attention it takes to understand when, how and why to process them into useful medicine — is important to remember right now. While herbal medicines may help address some symptoms of COVID-19 and are good for our overall health, at this time they cannot prevent, treat or cure coronavirus. And believing they could do so could have dire consequences for our communities.

    As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, Indigenous people will need to modify their traditions, as they adhere to Western medical protocols.“Some of our old practices like ceremony, or how we gather for funerals to show respect for individuals, need to change,” Dr. Evan Adams, Chief Medical Officer of British Columbia’s First Nations Health Authority, recently stated.

    As scientists work to create a vaccine, we need to protect our most vulnerable community members — our elders, the immunocompromised and those experiencing homelessness — by mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of our Indigenous communities do not have strong public health systems, and we need to follow the evidence-based protocols and prevention measures set out by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They represent our greatest opportunity to slow the spread of the disease.

    As scientists work to create a vaccine, we need to protect our most vulnerable community members — our elders, the immunocompromised and those experiencing homelessness — by mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of our Indigenous communities do not have strong public health systems, and we need to follow the evidence-based protocols and prevention measures set out by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They represent our greatest opportunity to slow the spread of the disease.

    Before we share that new post telling us that drinking herbal tea cures COVID-19, consider that sharing misinformation about Indigenous knowledge on social media, especially anything that claims it can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, is dangerous. It amounts to traditional knowledge malpractice.

    Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet/Métis), Ph.D., is an award-winning Indigenous writer, ethnobotanist and environmental activist. She is an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana and a research associate at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

    Abaki Beck (Blackfeet/Métis), M.P.H. candidate, is a freelance writer and public-health graduate student. She writes about Indigenous science and knowledge and gender-based issues in Native communities. She previously worked for a member of Congress and conducted community-based research on traditional plants and food systems on the Blackfeet Reservation.

    Email High Country News at

    #Colorado Young Farmer Water Fellowship

    Click here to go to the National Young Farmers Coalition website for all the inside skinny:

    Young farmers and ranchers are underrepresented in Colorado’s water policy decision-making bodies, such as the Basin Roundtables, water conservancy districts, agricultural advocacy groups, local water districts, and conservation districts. As a result, the next generation of Colorado’s producers are denied a critical opportunity to help shape the implementation of Colorado’s water plan and their farming conditions, and the State of Colorado misses the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of young producers.

    The decisions made around Colorado’s water resources today will impact the state’s agricultural community for decades to come. By providing opportunities for young producers to take a more active role in water planning conversations, and by providing them with knowledge and resources to educate their local peers around water issues, the Fellowship will lead to more farmers and ranchers deeply engaging in the water supply planning process.

    Read more about the Colorado Young Farmer Water Fellowship here!

    Pentagon IDs Four More #NewMexico Sites At Risk Of #PFAS Contamination — New Mexico in Focus

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via [Click the map to go to the website.]

    From New Mexico in Focus (Laura Paskus):

    On Friday, March 13, just as federal and state agencies ramped up emergency efforts to address the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report summarizing its progress on PFAS issues through the end of last September.

    According to its updated list, the military will assess whether activities at the Army National Guard armories in Rio Rancho and Roswell, the Army Aviation Support Facility in Santa Fe, and White Sands Missile Range have polluted groundwater with PFAS. The toxic compounds do not biodegrade, and have been linked to cancer and many other health problems.

    Nationwide, the updated list of military sites under investigation swelled from 450 military locations to 651. The military does not appear to have notified states, including New Mexico, prior to making the list public.

    According to the report from the Defense Department’s PFAS Task Force, the military’s earlier investigations focused on contamination from aqueous film forming foams, which the military used for firefighting and training from the 1970s until just a few years ago.

    The updated progress report notes that the task force’s expanded investigations now also focus on “installations where PFAS may have been used or released.”

    The report does not include details about specific activities that might have exposed people or the environment to PFAS. Defense Department spokesman Chuck Pritchard could not be reached for additional information before publication…

    The recent Defense Department report also notes that the funding for PFAS cleanup included as part of the newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act is inadequate.

    According to the report, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles will need to be retrofitted entirely—meaning that each vehicle component that came into contact with the firefighting foams will need to be replaced—at a cost of almost $200,000 per vehicle. That alone, according to the report, adds $600 million to earlier cleanup estimates.

    Alternately, replacing the Defense Department’s current fleet of about 3,000 contaminated vehicles will cost $4 to $6 billion—and take 18 years.

    The report also notes that as part of the Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department has committed $30 million to study PFAS exposure in eight communities near former and current military installations. Those studies are happening in West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Washington, and Delaware. The military is also “developing a framework” to annually test the blood of military firefighters for PFAS levels.

    U.S. flood and climate outlook for spring 2020 — @NOAA

    From NOAA:

    NOAA forecasters predict widespread flooding this spring, but do not expect it to be as severe or prolonged overall as the historic floods in 2019. Major to moderate flooding is likely in 23 states from the Northern Plains south to the Gulf Coast, with the most significant flood potential in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

    This U.S. map shows where the chances of major (purple), moderate (light red), or minor (yellow) flooding during March-May 2020 are greater than 50%. NOAA map, based on data from the NWS Water Center.

    Ongoing rainfall, highly-saturated soil and an enhanced likelihood for above-normal precipitation this spring contribute to the increased chances for flooding across the central and southeastern U.S. A risk of minor flooding exists across one-third of the country.

    The greatest risk for major and moderate flood conditions includes the upper and middle Mississippi River basins, the Missouri River basin and the Red River of the North. Moderate flooding is anticipated in the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Missouri River basins, as well as the lower Mississippi River basin and its tributaries.

    Spring (April-Jun) precipitation can fall into three categories: well above, near, or well below average. White areas mean all outcomes are equally likely (33.3%). Green colors indicate the odds of a wet spring are higher than the odds of a dry spring (brown). Darker colors mean higher chances of a relatively wet or dry spring , not how extreme the outcome will be. NOAA map, based on data from NOAA CPC.

    Above-average precipitation is favored from the Northern Plains, southward through the lower Mississippi Valley across to the East Coast. Large parts of Alaska are also likely to experience above-average precipitation in the months ahead.

    Warmer-than-average temperatures are most likely from coast to coast with the greatest chances in northern Alaska, across the central Great Basin southward into the Gulf States, and into the Southeast and portions of the Mid-Atlantic. No part of the country is favored to experience below-average temperatures this spring.

    Spring (April-June) temperature can fall into three categories: well above, near, or well below average. White areas mean all outcomes are equally likely (33.3%). Red colors indicate the odds of a warm spring are higher than the odds of a cool spring (blue). Darker colors mean higher chances of a warm spring, not hotter temperatures. NOAA map, based on data from NOAA CPC.

    Drought conditions are expected to persist and expand throughout California in the months ahead, and drought is likely to persist in the central and southern Rocky Mountains, the southern Plains, southern Texas, and portions of the Pacific Northwest.

    Pearl Harbor altered Colorado’s path after 1941, and Covid-19 will also — The Mountain Town News #coronavirus #COVID19

    Boring of the Eisenhower Tunnel began in 1968 and was completed in 1973 at a cost of $117 million. The Colorado Department of Transportation estimated the cost early in the 21st century would have been $1 billion to $1.1 billion. Photo/ C-DOT.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    This pandemic has started feeling like something more than an extended snow day or having the mumps when you’re a child. Perhaps it’s now more like 1941, after Pearl Harbor.

    The potential for a pandemic has been amply reported over the years. People in the early 1940s knew we would inevitably go to war. When abstraction became reality on that December day, so much changed in the context of Colorado.

    In the late 1930s, ski areas were about to blossom. The Union Pacific’s Averell Harriman in 1936 opened Sun Valley in Idaho, and resorts were taking off in New England. Colorado had a few smaller ski areas, including Berthoud and Winter Park, plus town ski areas at Steamboat Springs and Gunnison.

    Others were thinking bigger. In Aspen, a boat-tow had been installed, primitive but effective in transporting people uphill. One of them was Elizabeth Paepcke, the wife of a wealthy Chicago industrialist. She wanted her husband to see Aspen, to see the potential she saw. Others saw a different resort, one on Mount Hayden, in the Castle Creek Valley southwest of Aspen. Colorado legislators gave the venture $650,000, which was backed by a federal fund.

    Closer to Denver, tunnel crews had begun boring an exploratory tunnel under Loveland Pass, with the idea of creating a highway under the Continental Divide. To the west, the state government had used federal New Deal funding to upgrade the horse trail across the Gore Range to a two-lane gravel road. They called it Vail, to honor Charlie Vail, then the boss of the Colorado Highway Department.

    In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt had had engineers develop plans for a national system of highways with separated lanes.

    In Colorado, work had begun on Green Mountain Reservoir. The intent was to provide a service to the Western Slope as a result of the giant trans-mountain diversion planned at Grand Lake to benefit farmers in northeastern Colorado.

    And in northeastern Colorado, my father was working on a dryland farm near Fort Morgan and lopping off the tops of sugar beets in that quiet before the distant clouds of war arrived.

    Pearl Harbor changed everything.

    The war brought the 10th Mountain Division to Colorado, to a high valley along the Continental Divide between Leadville and Red Cliff called Eagle Park. The Army named it Camp Hale, and at the height of the training it was among the largest cities in Colorado, with 14,000 people, mostly men.

    After the war, in 1946, Elizabeth Paepcke’s husband, Walter, finally visited Aspen and saw what had so impressed her. But he put a new touch on it, the idea of invigorating the body and challenging the mind, a DNA that lingers to this day. 10th Mountain Division veterans returned in droves to Colorado to convert Aspen from a derelict mining town into an international resort. A resident, for a time, was Pete Seibert, who had grown up in New England dreaming of creating a ski resort. But he wanted his own resort. That dream in 1962 became Vail.

    In time, my father was inducted into the Army, leaving behind the dryland farm where he was reared and its house, which had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity, and took the train to California for basic training, then a posting at the Presidio, near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Eventually he was shipped to India at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains.

    The bore under Loveland Pass was completed in 1943, but it revealed too much difficult geology for a highway tunnel. Later, a different alignment was chosen, and that tunneling work resulted in the first of two tunnels in 1973.

    The idea of superhighways that many people want to attribute with singularity to Dwight Eisenhower finally was given a federal sponsorship in 1956. Among the Senate sponsors was Albert Gore, father of the future vice president. But if not for the war, it might have happened sooner.

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    As for that big New Deal-era water project, the Colorado-Big Thompson, it was finally completed in 1957.

    And my father returned to northeastern Colorado, married the girl he had met at a gathering of young Baptists in the 1930s and took up work as a carpenter. He never flew again, never traveled abroad, but he did have a taste for curry that was never satisfied. He died before the spread of Indian restaurants in Colorado.

    Vail probably would have happened eventually. The mountain itself and the proximity to Denver made it a natural. But World War II put Pete Seibert into Colorado. Aspen would have flourished, but perhaps in a different way. As for Mount Hayden, it came to nothing, in its own way perhaps a casualty of World War II.

    This pandemic is different than World War II, and we have to go back further to see precedent. In 1918, Gunnison quarantined itself and survived with little loss of life, while Silverton, as remote a town as there may be in Colorado, isolated in the icy fastness of the San Juan Mountains, lost 10% of its population.

    In this COVID-19 pandemic, the first case in Colorado was a visitor to Summit County who had recently been in Italy, then Australian visitors to Aspen-Snowmass. But then Eagle County flared, and as of early this week had 22 cases from the Vail area compared to 24 in Denver County, which has a population about 12 times as large. County officials on Thursday said they suspected hundreds, if not thousands, had contracted COVID-19.

    A century ago the influenza spread globally, but by rail instead of by air. The world has shrunk, with consequences both good and bad.

    We will survive this pandemic, but there will be changes. I sincerely doubt we’ll see the significant expansion at DIA that had been announced just a few months ago. That may actually be good.

    Can other good also result? Many of us hope that it will result in greater acceptance of facts, more acceptance of science. Ideology played a powerful role in the sluggish, or worse, acceptance of the virus by powerful people, most notably the president. That same ideology, the same denial, has shrugged off or rejected the power of accumulating greenhouse gases to produce costly changes in our climate.

    I hope we develop a greater sense of a global community. It could easily take us the other way, one exemplified by the run on guns and ammunition. What we see early on, the sniping between President Trump and his counterparts in China, is not encouraging.

    This was first posted by the Colorado Independent.

    Press Release: ADWR creates new, informational “Continuing Operations” web page — Arizona Water News

    PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Doug MacEachern or Shauna Evans March 20, 2020 PHONE: 602.771. 8507 or 602.771.8507 ADWR creates new, informational “Continuing Operations” web page PHOENIX – Like virtually all other […]

    via Press Release: ADWR creates new, informational “Continuing Operations” web page — Arizona Water News

    Reclamation will support #ArkansasRiver forecasting — The Leadville Herald Democrat

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    From The Leadville Herald:

    The Bureau of Reclamation selected the Colorado Water Conservation Board to receive $150,000 in WaterSMART Applied Science Grants to increase functionality of the Arkansas River Colors of Water and Forecasting Tool. This is just one of 19 projects that will receive $3.5 million across the West. Financing of these projects will be supplemented by more than $4.5 million in non-federal matching funds, supporting total project expenditures of $8 million.

    “Water managers need the most updated information to ensure they are making the best water management decisions,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Applied Science Grants fund tool development and studies that help make western water more reliable.”

    The forecasting tool assists water users in making informed decisions related to water use and management. The enhanced forecasting tool will include modeling capabilities and will serve as a communications tool that will portray a “color of water” which will describe the destination, use, type, or purpose of water for the Arkansas River. The enhanced capabilities will allow for a more accurate capture of reservoir releases, increased efficiency, and reduced potential injury to other users in the basin. The forecasting tool will be generically built to allow for adoption in other basins in Colorado. These other users are contributing $150,000 in non-federal funds to the project.

    Learn more about all of the selected projects at

    Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with states, tribes and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit to learn more.

    @USDA Designates These Colorado Counties as Primary Natural Disaster Areas — The Prowers Journal

    From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue designated 21 Colorado counties as primary natural disaster areas. Producers who suffered losses due to recent drought may be eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency emergency loans.

    The Colorado counties with the primary natural disaster designation include Alamosa, Archuleta, Baca, Conejos, Costilla, Delta, Dolores, Garfield, Gunnison, Huerfano, La Plata, Las Animas, Mesa, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Rio Grande, Saguache, and San Miguel.

    Producers in the contiguous Colorado counties of Bent, Chaffee, Custer, Eagle, Fremont, Hinsdale, Lake, Mineral, Moffat, Otero, Prowers, Pueblo, Routt, and San Juan, along with Apache County, Arizona; Morton and Stanton counties in Kansas; Colfax, Rio Arriba, San Juan, Taos, and Union counties in New Mexico; Cimarron County, Oklahoma; and Grand, San Juan, and Uintah counties in Utah, are also eligible to apply for emergency loans.

    Ten Kansas counties were declared as primary natural disaster areas. Producers in Finney, Grant, Gray, Hamilton, Kearny, Morton, Scott, Stanton, Stevens, and Wichita counties who suffered losses due to recent drought may be eligible for USDA FSA emergency loans.

    Producers in the contiguous Kansas counties of Ford, Gove, Greeley, Haskell, Hodgeman, Lane, Logan, Meade, Ness, Seward, and Wallace, along with Baca and Prowers counties in Colorado, and Cimarron and Texas counties in Oklahoma, are also eligible to apply for emergency loans.

    Two Utah counties were declared as primary natural disaster areas. Producers in Kane and San Juan counties who suffered losses due to recent drought may be eligible for USDA FSA emergency loans.

    Producers in the contiguous Utah counties of Emery, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Washington, and Wayne, along with Apache, Coconino, Mohave, and Navajo counties in Arizona; Dolores, Mesa, Montezuma, Montrose, and San Miguel counties in Colorado; and San Juan County, New Mexico, are also eligible to apply for emergency loans…

    This natural disaster designation allows FSA to extend much-needed emergency credit to producers recovering from natural disasters. Emergency loans can be used to meet various recovery needs including the replacement of essential items such as equipment or livestock, reorganization of a farming operation or the refinance of certain debts.

    The deadline to apply for these emergency loans is Nov. 7, 2020…

    Farmers may contact their local USDA service center for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at

    #Snowpack news: SW basins SWE = 101% of normal

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 22, 2020 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

    Snow water equivalency (SWE) saw a slight increase since last week, going from 20.3 inches to 20.8 inches.

    The SWE median also saw an increase, going from 26.1 inches to 27.2 inches.

    This week, SWE data is 76.5 percent of median. Last week, it was 77.8 percent of median.

    Precipitation data has seen an increase from last week, going from 21.1 inches to 21.6 inches.

    The precipitation median has decreased since last week, however, going from 28 inches to 23.4 inches.

    This week, precipitation data is 92.3 percent of median. Last week, it was 75.4 percent of median.