Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world — The Conversation

Planting a diverse blend of crops and cover crops, and not tilling, helps promote soil health.
Catherine Ulitsky, USDA/Flickr, CC BY

David R. Montgomery, University of Washington

One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future.

Myth 1: Large-scale agriculture feeds the world today

According to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, family farms produce over three-quarters of the world’s food. The FAO also estimates that almost three-quarters of all farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare – about 2.5 acres, or the size of a typical city block.

A Ugandan farmer transports bananas to market. Most food consumed in the developing world is grown on small family farms.
Svetlana Edmeades/IFPRI/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Only about 1 percent of Americans are farmers today. Yet most of the world’s farmers work the land to feed themselves and their families. So while conventional industrialized agriculture feeds the developed world, most of the world’s farmers work small family farms. A 2016 Environmental Working Group report found that almost 90 percent of U.S. agricultural exports went to developed countries with few hungry people.

Of course the world needs commercial agriculture, unless we all want to live on and work our own farms. But are large industrial farms really the best, let alone the only, way forward? This question leads us to a second myth.

Myth 2: Large farms are more efficient

Many high-volume industrial processes exhibit efficiencies at large scale that decrease inputs per unit of production. The more widgets you make, the more efficiently you can make each one. But agriculture is different. A 1989 National Research Council study concluded that “well-managed alternative farming systems nearly always use less synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics per unit of production than conventional farms.”

And while mechanization can provide cost and labor efficiencies on large farms, bigger farms do not necessarily produce more food. According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.

Even the World Bank endorses small farms as the way to increase agricultural output in developing nations where food security remains a pressing issue. While large farms excel at producing a lot of a particular crop – like corn or wheat – small diversified farms produce more food and more kinds of food per hectare overall.

Myth 3: Conventional farming is necessary to feed the world

We’ve all heard proponents of conventional agriculture claim that organic farming is a recipe for global starvation because it produces lower yields. The most extensive yield comparison to date, a 2015 meta-analysis of 115 studies, found that organic production averaged almost 20 percent less than conventionally grown crops, a finding similar to those of prior studies.

But the study went a step further, comparing crop yields on conventional farms to those on organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to build soil health. These techniques shrank the yield gap to below 10 percent.

The authors concluded that the actual gap may be much smaller, as they found “evidence of bias in the meta-dataset toward studies reporting higher conventional yields.” In other words, the basis for claims that organic agriculture can’t feed the world depend as much on specific farming methods as on the type of farm.

Cover crops planted on wheat fields in The Dalles, Oregon.
Garrett Duyck, NRCS/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Consider too that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten. Each year the United States alone throws out 133 billion pounds of food, more than enough to feed the nearly 50 million Americans who regularly face hunger. So even taken at face value, the oft-cited yield gap between conventional and organic farming is smaller than the amount of food we routinely throw away.

Building healthy soil

Conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run. Regenerative practices like those used on the farms and ranches I visited show that we can readily improve soil fertility on both large farms in the U.S. and on small subsistence farms in the tropics.

I no longer see debates about the future of agriculture as simply conventional versus organic. In my view, we’ve oversimplified the complexity of the land and underutilized the ingenuity of farmers. I now see adopting farming practices that build soil health as the key to a stable and resilient agriculture. And the farmers I visited had cracked this code, adapting no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations to their particular soil, environmental and socioeconomic conditions.

Whether they were organic or still used some fertilizers and pesticides, the farms I visited that adopted this transformational suite of practices all reported harvests that consistently matched or exceeded those from neighboring conventional farms after a short transition period. Another message was as simple as it was clear: Farmers who restored their soil used fewer inputs to produce higher yields, which translated into higher profits.

Soil building practices, like no-till and composting, can build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility (click to zoom).
David Montgomery, Author provided

No matter how one looks at it, we can be certain that agriculture will soon face another revolution. For agriculture today runs on abundant, cheap oil for fuel and to make fertilizer – and our supply of cheap oil will not last forever. There are already enough people on the planet that we have less than a year’s supply of food for the global population on hand at any one time. This simple fact has critical implications for society.

So how do we speed the adoption of a more resilient agriculture? Creating demonstration farms would help, as would carrying out system-scale research to evaluate what works best to adapt specific practices to general principles in different settings.

We also need to reframe our agricultural policies and subsidies. It makes no sense to continue incentivizing conventional practices that degrade soil fertility. We must begin supporting and rewarding farmers who adopt regenerative practices.

Once we see through myths of modern agriculture, practices that build soil health become the lens through which to assess strategies for feeding us all over the long haul. Why am I so confident that regenerative farming practices can prove both productive and economical? The farmers I met showed me they already are.The Conversation

David R. Montgomery, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington

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

Big Thompson Parks all open for the first time since 2013 floods — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.

“This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.

The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…

The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.

The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.

Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.

Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.

Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…

The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.

It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

If things go as “normal,” most U.S. locations will have their hottest day of the year by the end of July — @NOAA

From NOAA (Caitlyn KennedyRebecca Lindsey):

If this year’s weather is statistically “normal,” most locations in the contiguous United States will experience their hottest day of the year between July 15-31. For another significant chunk of the country—including most of Alaska—the historical window for the hottest day of the year has already passed.

Warmest day of the year map credit: NOAA

This map shows the average window for the day of the year with the highest maximum temperature based on the 1981-2010 U.S. Climate Normals, the nation’s official record of recent climate. The colors show date ranges progressing from June 1 (lightest yellow) through September 30 (darkest red). The darker the color, the later in the year the hottest day typically arrives.

For most of the country, the warmest day occurs sometime between mid-July and mid-August. The amount of solar radiation reaching Earth (in the northern Hemisphere) peaks at the summer solstice on June 21, but temperatures tend to keep increasing into July. The continued warming occurs because the rate of heat input from the sun during the day continues to be greater than the cooling at night for several weeks past the solstice, until temperatures start to descend in late July and early August.

The lightest and darkest areas of the map show just how variable the U.S. climate can be. The lightest colors (earliest warmest day) occur in New Mexico and Arizona. This early arrival reflects the influence of the North American Monsoon, a period of increased rainfall affecting the U.S. Southwest in mid-to-late summer. The region’s highest temperatures tend to occur in June, before the monsoon’s clouds and rain set in. The darkest colors occur along the Pacific coastline, where the persistence of the marine layer—a persistent layer of clouds that forms above the chilly coastal waters—maintains cool temperatures in early summer. In many locations, the warmest days on average do not occur until September when the fog lifts.

The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Warmest Day of the Year” maps are derived from the 1981–2010 U.S. Climate Normals, 30-year averages of climatological variables including the average high temperature for every day. Temperature normals are important indicators that are used in forecasting and monitoring by many U.S. economic sectors. Knowing the probability of high temperatures can help energy companies prepare for rising electricity demand and help farmers monitor heat-sensitive crops. They are also useful planning tools for the healthcare, construction, and tourism industries. You may even want to check the normals at your destination as part of any advance planning your next event or vacation.

Of course, any single year’s hottest day may arrive earlier or later than the normal window, depending on the short-term weather. For the latest weather forecasts and heat advisories for your area, visit

Telling the story of the changing West — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Greg Hanscom):

As the Trump administration retrenches, there’s a rising call for justice and political reform.

“On the Road to 50” is an ongoing series of the publisher and editor’s notes to our readers, as they travel the region and plan for our 50th anniversary – through community gatherings, individual meetings, and other listening sessions.

It was June 28, 1983, and things had gone seriously sideways at Glen Canyon Dam. Spring thaw had sent torrents of meltwater into the Colorado River, and the Bureau of Reclamation was desperately trying to get that water through the works before Lake Powell spilled over.

The 710-foot engineering wonder “was shaking, vibrating madly,” T.J. Wolf wrote in this publication in December of 1983. Then he conjured the scene one might have witnessed from the bridge just downriver from the dam:

“You would have seen the steady sweep of the spillway mouths suddenly waver, choke, cough, and then vomit forth half-digested gobbets of steel reinforced concrete (bad, very bad), spew out blood-red water (My God, it’s into bedrock), and finally disgorge great red chunks of sandstone into the frothy chaos below the dam.”

Wolf imagined dams downstream toppling like dominoes, wreaking watery havoc and dooming the Bureau itself. The son of a Bureau engineer, he was aghast at the prospect, though he knew that some would cheer the destruction.

These days, throughout the West, there are new rumblings. They’re coming from a rising generation and resurgent tribal nations and communities of color, demanding justice and political reform. The establishment is hell-bent on holding them back, but one wonders how long the dam will hold.

All this is on my mind as I return to High Country News after 14 years. I got my start here, under Ed and Betsy Marston. Now I’m back to take the publisher’s seat as Paul Larmer concentrates on raising $10 million for HCN’s 50th anniversary campaign.

The Old West has retrenched in the past few years. A sagebrush rebel runs the Bureau of Land Management. Environmental policies have been rolled back. Ammon Bundy is on a revival tour, and there’s talk of putting cows back on the Escalante.

But there’s no denying the rumbling. We heard it at the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and we see it in cities from Seattle to Salt Lake City, where residents are demanding action on climate change. As I write, I see it in the surge of support for a democratic socialist who is vying for the White House, buoyed by primary voters from Colorado to California.

A new, diverse, justice-minded generation is rising, and the political edifice is beginning to rattle. There’s a feeling of inevitability to it — it’s a simple question of demographics, right? But we’ve seen the inevitable halted before.

In 1983, Glen Canyon Dam held fast. Its demise will come, but slowly, as Lake Powell fills with sediment. It will be decades before the hydroelectric turbines whirl to a stop and the river again has its way.

I hope that High Country News will still be here to tell the story. We’re 50 years in, thanks to you, dear readers. May there be 50 more.

Greg Hanscom is the publisher and executive director of High Country News. Email High Country News at

The science of sunsets and the secrets of alpenglow — The Durango Herald

South of Hesperus August 2019 Sleeping Ute Mountain in the distance. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Durango Herald (Liz Weber):

But what is it about the setting sun – what science – explains the variation in colors and intensities we see evening to evening?

“At sunset, the atmosphere acts like a color filter, scattering blues and greens out of our view and leaving behind reds, oranges and yellows,” said Joanna Casey, visiting instructor of physics and engineering at Fort Lewis College…

In Southwest Colorado, reflective surfaces along and above the horizon, like the mountain faces and the clouds that surround them, act like projection screens, Casey said. That environment makes for an “extra spectacular sunset venue.”

In the desert, sunsets often have deeper reds and oranges. That’s because the lower horizon means there’s more atmosphere to pull out blues and violets, said Michael Ottinger, dean of the School of Science, Math and Engineering at San Juan College…

Other factors can affect the colors and intensity of a sunset, whether in the mountains or desert.

For example, moisture or pollution particles in the air can block a lot of the sunlight, dulling and diluting the colors, Casey said. Therefore, when the air is very dry, as it often is in the desert, there will be brighter sunsets.

Winter in particular can have spectacular sunsets because freezing weather pulls even more moisture out of the atmosphere, Ottinger said.

Clouds also affect sunset colors. In particular, when light hits low-lying clouds, sunsets may produce brighter oranges and yellows, Ottinger said.

Interview: Why the Big Drop in California’s #ColoradoRiver Water Use? — The Public Policy Institute of #California #COriver #aridification

Intake towers for power generation at Hoover Dam December 13, 2019.

From the Public Policy Institute of Caliornia (Lori Pottinger):

In 2019, California’s use of the Colorado River—a major water source for Southern California’s cities and farms—dropped to the lowest level in decades. We asked John Fleck—director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network—about the ongoing changes in California’s use of this water, and what it means going forward. He is the author, with Eric Kuhn, of the new book Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River Basin.

John Fleck at Morelos Dam, at start of pulse flow, used 4/4/14 as my new twitter avatar

PPIC: What are the main reasons Californians are using less Colorado River water?

JOHN FLECK: The biggest reason for the recent drop is that Metropolitan Water District (MWD)—the state’s biggest urban user of the river—didn’t need to take as much water in 2019. But this decline also reflects a longer term trend. Prior to the early 2000s, MWD generally took the maximum it could from the Colorado River, usually more than a million acre-feet per year. In recent decades, it has substantially reduced its dependence on the Colorado, only taking a full supply in years of State Water Project shortage. Water conservation has been an enormous success in Southern California. There was a lot of progress in conservation during the latest drought, and even after it ended. We’re seeing a lot more effective use of water in the basin, with a growing emphasis on groundwater recharge, stormwater capture, and reuse efforts. The excellent snowpack in the Sierra in 2019 meant the agency got a good water allocation from the State Water Project, meaning it needed less from the Colorado.

The other part of this story is the conservation success in the Imperial Irrigation District (IID)—the largest user of Colorado River water in the entire basin. On-farm water conservation was part of transfer agreements with Southern California’s urban water suppliers. IID is now using 600 thousand fewer acre-feet per year than before those transfers took place. The agricultural community took cuts and was compensated for them. Farmers have adapted well: revenue has held up even as they’re irrigating less land. What we’ve seen is an increase in acreage in high-dollar crops like winter lettuce and vegetables, and a reduction in alfalfa and forage crops, which bring in less revenue per unit of water and area of land.

Graphic credit: The Public Policy Institute of California

PPIC: Do you expect similar drops in coming years in California or the six other basin states?

JF: We’re going to have ups and downs—especially because MWD use of Colorado River water tends to go up when its supplies from the Sierra are low. But California has really demonstrated that it needs less Colorado River water. It’s taken awhile, but it’s been a really successful adaptation. Scarcity is the norm now in the basin, so the fact that California can succeed in using less imported water is incredibly important. It shows how we can find opportunities for more flexible problem-solving going forward.

We’re seeing similar things going on across the basin. California isn’t giving up water so others can use more. Nevada is using substantially less than they used to—their use peaked in the early 2000s and has dropped since then. Arizona’s use is down, too. And we’re seeing really flat to declining use in all the other basin states. So the notion that economic and population growth means an increase in water use just isn’t the case in the basin.

PPIC: What does this change mean for efforts to bring the basin into balance?

JF: Because we made mistakes over a century ago in allocating more water than the river can provide, these successes are important, but not enough. We’ll need to see more reductions, especially in the lower basin states.

The next steps require renegotiating the rules that govern the basin’s water allocation to solve the basin’s problems. The Bureau of Reclamation is spending 2020 reviewing how the current rules are working, with the expectation that negotiations on new rules will begin soon after that review is complete. There will be a lot of give and take in how that will play out, and we have to let that happen. Once farmers and communities have a clear idea on how much water they will get, they’re pretty good at figuring out what steps are needed to work within those limits. Various options that might come into play include compensating farmers to use less water, additional conservation, and more expensive options like increasing the use of recycled water and building desalination plants. The negotiations will be hard, but the successes we’ve seen in California and elsewhere around the Colorado River Basin suggest that we have the tools needed to respond to the challenges to come.

Interview: Art and journalism combine to create a more empathetic West — @HighCountryNews

Sarah Gilman’s studio desk just before clean up after she worked on several hyper detailed paintings of animals for magazines. Courtesy of Sarah Gilman via The High Country News.

From The High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

In 2006, Sarah Gilman came to Paonia, Colorado, to begin an internship with High Country News. She had spent the summer doing trail work on Mount Massive, a Colorado “fourteener,” and that winter marked the beginning of her long and winding road at the magazine. Over the years, Gilman has worked in various capacities for HCN — editor, illustrator, contractor and writer. These days, she’s based in the Methow Valley in Washington, where she works as a freelance magazine writer, editor and illustrator.

In February, Gilman wrote and illustrated a reported essay for High Country News, in which she examined the human relationship with cougars — animals still surrounded by myths despite new research that’s drawn them out of the shadows. The project, which paired Gilman’s signature prose with her striking watercolor paintings, exemplifies the way her journalism career and more recent ascent as a visual artist are increasingly enmeshed.

High Country News spoke with Gilman about her process, the wonder of the work and how the combination of the written word and illustrations can foster more empathy in the West. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

High Country News: How did the idea for this particular project, “The mystery of mountain lions,” come about?

Sarah Gilman: A little over a year ago, I moved to north-central Washington, and within three or four weeks of moving here, I had run into not one but two cougars — after a lifetime of living in cougar habitat and never encountering a single one, despite being in their territory all the time.

The first encounter I had was when this young cougar came running out of this foggy, dark forest at 3 p.m., when I was texting someone about dog-sitting. I was about to leave to do reporting in California, and I wasn’t paying very close attention until I saw that my dog, Taiga, had turned her head. And so I turned my head. I was stunned. This animal was so close.

For most of my life, cougars were always these things that we talked about but never saw. They were these vacant shapes that we filled up with stories about what we thought they were, what we heard they were and what we read that they were. High Country News Editor Emily Benson reached out to me after she learned that I had had some interesting encounters with cougars in my new home, and I was happy to write about it.

When I am the writer on a project that I’m illustrating, I almost always do the illustration after the writing. In this case, the cover illustration merged concepts from not only my story but also a feature story on wolf reintroduction in Colorado. There, the illustration was a bit of a hodgepodge, because we were trying to get at this idea that there are these misunderstood animals that are made up of all of the different kind of cascading forces of human thought, fear, science and opinion. And that’s where you see those illustrations of bones, traps and guns — to communicate those elements of fear.

HCN: There’s a lot of creative ownership in being both the writer and the illustrator for a project. Can you talk about what it’s like to juggle that, and how each process feeds the other?

SG: For me, the two complement each other really well, in part because I actually have a formal background in studio art. I came later to literary nonfiction, but I had often thought about writing in the same way I thought about painting when I was conceiving of ideas and the overall arc of the story. When I get to do both, it actually feels like me doing my whole work — the kind of thing I’m meant to do. I don’t know if I can have a full-time writing job again, and that’s because I’m kind of a mush. I’m not any one particular thing. I am a journalist — but I would go crazy if I was writing journalistic pieces only. When I write and draw a story, I feel complete in a way that is uniquely mine. And so when I’m chasing a story that I know would be a good one to illustrate, often the two are really tied together from the get-go. I’m most attracted to the stories that I know would be a good story to illustrate.

HCN: I’d love to hear more about your origin and progression as an illustrated artist and how that existed alongside or outside of your trajectory as a journalist.

SG: At this point, I probably have much more experience as a journalist professionally. In college, I majored in both fine arts and biology, but I went to a liberal arts school, so writing was a huge part of what I did as well. When I was working as an artist in college, I had this feeling of not really being sure how to translate that into a life for myself that I actually wanted. My perception at the time was, you know, if you wanted to be a working artist, you were cloistered in your studio, you had to live in city, you needed to sort of play this gallery art game that seemed really sealed off from the experiences of most people and very linked to the wealthy. That always felt really alienating to me.

When I discovered literary nonfiction in a workshop class in college, I just totally fell in love with it because it combined some of the creative thinking you do with art while also combining it with analysis, which was what I really loved about biology. Writing in this way felt more democratic and connected to the people and places that I wanted to be: in a small town, out on the land in the West, where I was from. My early opportunities — the High Country News internship in particular — set me on this trajectory.

Later, as an editor, I felt like there was this part of myself that wasn’t really getting answered. I would conceive of illustrations for magazine stories and cover stories that I was editing, and that was so satisfying. As an editor, I would key on these big messages and themes that were coming through the writing, and I would able to work with an artist to make those things come alive. It was really neat — but also not ultimately satisfying, because I wanted to do it.

My earliest editorial illustrations were for HCN, my first being this kind of hilarious illustration for a story about search and rescue statistics. It was a terrible illustration of a purple man who would be the most likely to have trouble evacuating.

HCN: The West is this dynamic, complicated region that’s misunderstood. How do you think that this combination of journalism and art can help people understand it in a deeper way?

SG: One of the things I am most interested in as a writer is trying to insert nuance into these issues that are often portrayed as black-and-white. A boilerplate example would be thinking of rural people as backwards and uneducated, instead of thinking of rural places as being incredibly dynamic and diverse, and filled with different kinds of people and lots of unexpected stories. That’s been a focus for me as a journalist — to focus on those places that get flattened out or left out altogether by larger discussions.

I hope this kind of art creates an immersive experience for readers so that they feel transported and engaged in a person’s life or an issue in a way that they might not if it were just written. Art creates a sense of wonder that is accessible without being value-loaded. I hope the combination creates empathy and gets past some of the polarization that makes so many Western issues hard to talk about. Stories that are digested in this way, I think, reach a broader cross-section of readers and become something that people can unify over. Finding ways to tell stories that way makes them accessible, more broadly. I hope that builds empathy and helps us build more space for each other and for wildness.

Paige Blankenbuehler is an associate editor for High Country News. She oversees coverage of the Southwest, Great Basin and the Borderlands from her home in Durango, Colorado. Email her at

The greening roofs of Denver — The Mountain Town News

Photo via Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Result of Denver’s 2017 voter initiative now showing up in greener buildings

In 2017, Denver residents approved a voter-initiated proposal to require green roofs on buildings of more than 25,000 square feet.

Now comes the first report since the initiative was folded into a broader Green Buildings Ordinance in November 2018. City officials say that nearly all the approximately 65 projects subject to the law have been able to include a cool roof.

The U.S. Department of Energy identifies a cool roof as one designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof. Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles. Nearly any type of building can benefit from a cool roof, but consider the climate and other factors before deciding to install one.

The voter initiative was amended to give developers and builders more options to meet the intent of the law, which was to more briskly take action to reduce energy use, in keeping with the city’s bold climate-change goals, and tamp down the heat-island effect.

The green-building ordinance also gives builders and developers other options for complying with the intent of the law. Those options include on-site solar power production, purchase of off-site solar power, payment to the city’s Green Building Fund, and other conservation methods, or some combination of them.

This story is from May 11, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. For a copy, send your e-mail to

The initiative was passed over the opposition of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who said it went “too far,” echoing what development and real estate lobbies said.

Ean Tafoya, who was deputy director of the 2017 campaign, said his side won handily despite being outspent 10 to 1. Now, he’s been to see the results of that on a hotel roof in RiNo, and he’s proud of what he sees.

“We’re excited that it is actually being implemented,” he said. He also notes the benefit that the green rooftops will help with not only the long-term climate impact, but the short-term air quality.

The idea was first broached formally in Denver in 2008 by a task force. “But the overriding lesson is that citizens can use the initiative to effect change.” Following the success of the cool roof law in 2017, others have used the same process to effect other changes in Denver.

Denver planning officials credit the green building ordinance with sparking conversations among developers and builders.

“Developers, property owners, and project teams are participating in important conversations around the value of higher-performing buildings, both to the environment and for the people who live and work in as well as visit these places,” said Laura E. Aldrete, executive director, Denver Community Planning and Development.

“Continuing these conversations will be central to the development community’s ability to meet mandatory building codes designed to help Denver achieve its broader climate action goals,” she added.

“The Green Buildings Ordinance has accelerated the citywide conversation about the role of our built environment in combating climate change,” said Grace Rink, executive director, Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency. “New codes and programs, including the Denver Green Code adopted in December 2019, will build upon this foundation to work toward our community’s climate action goals.”

Learn more about the Green Buildings Ordinance and read the full report at

#Snowpack news: The Upper #SanJuanRiver is mostly melted-out #runoff #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Graphic via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

An email from Pagosa Area Wa- ter and Sanitation District Manager Justin Ramsey indicates that snow water equivalency (SWE) hit 0.0 on May 15, with the median date for SWE to hit 0.0 being June 2…

As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 1,200 cfs.

That total is below the average for May 20, which is 1,430 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The highest reported river flow for May 20 was 3,680 cfs, which oc- curred in 1948. The lowest reported river flow came in 1977 when the San Juan River had a flow of 158 cfs.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District approves its half of intergovernmental agreement with Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District — The Pagosa Springs Sun

Wastewater lift station

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

At a regular meeting on May 14, the Pagosa AreaWater and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved its half of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID).

The IGA pertains to the two entities sharing equipment. The PSSGID approved its half of the agreement at a meeting on May 5…

A new vacuum truck would cost about $600,000, Ramsey explained. According to Ramsey, the PSS- GID just bought a new vacuum truck and uses it about two times
a month.

“We would use it half a dozen times a month. Neither of us use it all that much, but both need to have it because you’ve got a lift station that’s failing and backing up you’ve got to suck that stuff out,” he said. “It just kind of makes sense that we share a vac truck as opposed to both buying two $600,000 pieces of equipment.”

In the event that the PSSGID allows PAWSD to use the vacuum truck and also supplies a driver, PAWSD would pay the PSSGID’s driver.

he IGA also applies to sharing staff, Ramsey explained, adding that PAWSD had recently hired a supervisory control and data acquisition engineer that PSSGID would like to utilize sometimes…

The IGA between the PSSGID and PAWSD was approved unani- mously by the PAWSD board.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District approves River Rock Estates petition for inclusion — The Pagosa Springs Sun

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

River Rock Estates

Also at the May 14 meeting, the PAWSD board approved a revised petition for inclusion from River Rock Estates LLC.

The PAWSD board had previously heard a different petition for inclusion request from River Rock Estates LLC in March of 2019 and June of 2019.

“They’ve come to us a couple of times. This was originally going to be somewhere between 80- and 100-unit subdivision,” Ramsey said, adding that the proposed development is off of Light Plant Road.

The current site plan asks for an inclusion of 10 units, Ramsey explained.

“This is just kind of infill for us at this point,” Ramsey said, explaining that all four sides of the site plan are already within the PAWSD boundaries.

The home sites on the development range from one to three acres, Ryan Searle of construction company Beyond Your Wildest Dreams explained.

“It’s a good project. Like I said, it’s surrounded by properties that are already within the district, so it’s just kind of an infill of our inclusion area,” he said.

Memorial Day 2020

Thinking of Gertie and Frankie today. Thanks to all the veterans out there.