@POTUS Delivers Major Blow to the Foundation of U.S. Environmental Law — @Audubon #NEPA

Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
From Audubon (Andy McGlashen):

A new interpretation of the National Environmental Policy Act limits its power and scope, ignores climate change, and cuts marginalized communities out of decisions, critics say.

When a federal judge ruled last week that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline must be shut down, it was because the Trump administration had not rigorously studied the project’s impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. In May, a different federal judge voided 145,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Montana over a similar failure to provide the environmental analysis NEPA requires. One reason that yet another judge last October halted plans to loosen protections for the declining Greater Sage-Grouse? NEPA.

The 50-year-old law is so fundamental and far-reaching that it’s sometimes called the Magna Carta of environmental policy. NEPA says that before federal agencies can issue a permit for logging or drilling, build a highway, adopt a land-management plan, or make other major decisions, the agency must assess how doing so will affect human health, wildlife, air and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and more. It also requires that the public get a chance to comment on such decisions, making it an especially important tool for marginalized communities to stop some projects and make others less harmful.

NEPA has been a persistent thorn in the administration’s side as it has sought to advance drilling, mining, and major construction activity. But it will be a lot less irksome to that agenda—and, environmental advocates say, much less protective of public health—under a major reinterpretation of the law that President Trump announced today.

“Today’s action is part of my administration’s fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that is holding back our citizens,” Trump said during remarks in Atlanta. “This, I would think, is maybe the biggest of all.”

Designed to speed up big projects, the new rule from the White House Council on Environmental Quality restricts environmental reviews to two years and 150 pages—limits that critics call arbitrary and inadequate for major actions. It also enables agencies to skip environmental reviews for actions that have “minimal Federal funding or minimal Federal involvement,” though opponents say such projects can still have major environmental consequences. And, in a change that’s drawn significant criticism, it allows agencies to ignore a proposed action’s effects on climate change by excluding “cumulative” impacts and those that “are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain,” though it never mentions climate.

“We have lost approximately 3 billion North American birds since 1970 and climate change threatens extinction for two-thirds of bird species,” said Nada Culver, vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel for the National Audubon Society, in a statement. “Inscribing the administration’s willful ignorance of the need to address climate change into regulations is irresponsible and dangerous.”

Conservation advocates say the new rule is a giveaway to industries that have lobbied for less regulation, and one of the most harmful rollbacks from an administration that’s taken steps to weaken around 100 environmental policies.

“What the Trump administration wants to do is have no speed humps, no guardrails, nothing whatsoever with any development projects. The goal is simple: Get it done and make as much money as you can,” says David Jenkins, president of the nonprofit Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. “All the changes they’re trying to make, I think they’re just completely contrary to the intent of Congress when they passed NEPA, or Nixon when he signed it into law.”

The changes will be most harmful to Black Americans, low-income families, and others who are exposed to more pollution and are more likely to die from it, environmental justice advocates say. “NEPA is one of the best ways that communities of color can actually get into court where there is a project that has a disproportionate adverse impact” on them, says Chandra Taylor, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Dropping the required review of cumulative impacts is one of Taylor’s biggest concerns with the new rule. “If there’s not a requirement that cumulative impacts have to be analyzed, it eliminates the big picture of the environmental burden that a community is already facing,” she says. “That area may already be burdened by a landfill and a smokestack, and then there’s a new road proposed.”

She also warns that the rule limits public input by requiring that public comments be specific and should “include or describe the data sources and methodologies” to support any request for changes to a proposed project. “That is going to be a real burden for communities that don’t have a lot of money and aren’t already tied in to technical expertise,” she says. “It discounts the on-the-ground experience of environmental justice communities.”

Industry groups, meanwhile, praised the new rule as a needed reduction in red tape. “Today’s action is essential to U.S. energy leadership and environmental progress, providing more certainty to jumpstart not only the modernized pipeline infrastructure we need to deliver cleaner fuels but highways, bridges and renewable energy,” said American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers in a statement. Environmental impact statements now average 650 pages and take four and a half years to complete, the White House says.

But opponents of the rollback say it’s a false premise that the law’s environmental review requirements are holding back needed infrastructure. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in 2012 found that delays in federal highway projects were rarely caused by NEPA and were more often due to funding issues, local opposition, and other factors.

“Despite NEPA, we haven’t exactly seen a stop of development, a stop of infrastructure projects,” says Jenkins, from the conservative conservation group. “You go anywhere in this country and you see constant building, constant road-widening, constant new housing developments. The NEPA process has never stopped this kind of development.”

The rule is set to take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which should happen Thursday. Depending on how November’s election goes, however, Democratic lawmakers could kill the rule early next year, using their authority under the Congressional Review Act. More immediately, it will undoubtedly face legal challenges.

“We’re not going to sit back and allow a decision that could harm public health during a public health crisis go unscathed,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Kristen Boyles in a press release. “We’ll be seeing them in court.”

Larimer County Planning Commission recommends #NISP permit by split vote –The Loveland Reporter-Herald

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

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The Northern Integrated Supply Project moved a step closer to construction Wednesday when the Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the reservoir storage project.

Four members of the volunteer planning board voted to recommend that the Larimer County Board of Commissioners approve a 1041 permit for the project that would include a new reservoir west of Fort Collins for water storage and recreation. Two voted against it, and the other three members stepped back from the decision because of perceived conflicts of interest.

Planning Commission member Curtis Miller, a Loveland resident, said he is convinced that the project meets all the criteria for the permit and will be a benefit for the entire region…

Drake resident Abbie Pontius, a member of the Planning Commission, also spoke in favor…

However, Nancy Wallace, chair of the Planning Commission and a Fort Collins resident, voted against the project. She said that the water primarily will benefit residents outside Larimer County, and the reservoir would draw unwanted and unneeded traffic to the region…

John Barnett, a Fort Collins resident on the Planning Commission, also voted against the project after saying he worries that it will affect water levels in the river downstream from Mulberry Street, particularly at several natural areas…

The main approval for the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade of analysis, is expected sometime in 2020.

But the project also requires a 1041 permit from the county on issues including the pipeline, realignment of U.S. 287 and recreation. A 1041 permit allows the county to make requirements on certain aspects of the project that would affect county residents.

The Larimer County commissioners have the final say on the permit. That elected board has a public hearing scheduled over four consecutive Mondays starting Aug. 17. A final decision will come at the end of that hearing and will include consideration of the recommendation from the planning board…

The last night of the Planning Commission hearing, on Wednesday, included several representatives of Northern Water answering questions previously posed by members of the Planning Commission as well as response to public comments. Those include:

  • Stephanie Cecil, water resources engineer, and Brad Wind, general manager, both said they realized that Northern Water needs to do a better job reaching out to people who live near the proposed Glade Reservoir and associated pipeline. Both committed to doing better at reaching residents, especially those who live in the Eagle Lake subdivision through which the pipeline will run. “Based on what we heard at the last meeting we missed the mark,” Cecil said.
  • The reservoir and dam will be built in an area that includes the North Fork and Bellvue faults. Jennifer Williams, a civil engineer with AECOM, a consultant hired by Northern Water, stressed that both faults are considered inactive, meaning they have not shown movement in the last 1.3 million years. In fact, the most recent movement is estimated to be 30 million to 60 million years ago, Williams said.
  • The project would require a new route for a section of U.S. 287 northwest of Fort Collins. This new stretch of highway would be completed before the existing route is decommissioned, and construction of the highway would commence at the same time as construction begins on Glade Reservoir. A specific schedule depends upon the timing of permits that are still outstanding. The new route will be about 1.6 miles longer than the existing highway.
  • Northern Water also clarified that the NISP participants have committed to paying $16.35 million, or 75%, of the construction of recreation facilities on the land around Glade Reservoir. The remaining 25% would be paid by other partners. Those have not been determined yet but could include corporate sponsors, grants or even Larimer County, which is looking to manage recreation at the reservoir.
  • Wallace, who voted against the permit, disagreed with that piece, saying that she believes that boating at the proposed reservoir should be changed to wakeless only without motorboats, and that associated savings could reduce the costs potentially paid by Larimer County…

    Miller and Jeff Jensen, another Planning Commission member from Fort Collins, strongly disagreed, saying that there is a demand for recreation including motorized boating. They said this added reservoir would help meet that need and provide a resource to Larimer County residents.

    The initial proposal was that Northern Water and Larimer County pursue a 25-year recreation lease with the option for a 25-year renewal. At Jensen’s suggestion, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a 35-year lease also with the option for renewal to manage recreation at Glade Reservoir in the future.

    Jensen, too, spoke strongly in favor of NISP and voted to recommend approval of the 1041 permit by the commissioners.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval of the permit, with commissioners Nancy Wallace and John Barnett in opposition.

    Commissioners said the long-debated project, which would provide water to 15 regional communities and water districts, would be a benefit to the county and the state.

    Commissioner Curtis Miller said the proposal met all of the county’s criteria for approval…

    The requested 1041 permit – named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects – is for siting Glade Reservoir and its proposed recreational facilities, including a visitor center, campgrounds and boat ramps…

    The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade, including one that would release water into the Poudre River to run through Fort Collins and another to take it out again for delivery to communities to the south.

    As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Natural Resources Department. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs…

    Under a condition of approval added by the Planning Commission, the county would have a 35-year management agreement for recreation on the reservoir with an option for another 25 years. The condition was one of more than 80 recommended by the commission and county staff…

    Representatives of Northern Water had answers for each of the objections, in part citing the exhaustive research and planning that went into a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP that began in 2004.

    NISP would pay $53 million to mitigate its impacts to wildlife and the environment, with more than 90% of that funding spent in Larimer County, Northern Water officials said.

    NISP would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to its participants, which include the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor…

    A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators.

    What’s next

    The Larimer County Board of County Commissioners has scheduled the following hearings on NISP:

  • 6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
  • 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
  • Testimony will be taken in person and online. Registration to speak will be available online beginning Aug. 3.

    Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.

    Information: http://larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041

    #Drought news: Some or most of #WY, #Colorado, #NE, and #KS in drought (D1 or drier)

    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 and excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    The active Atlantic hurricane season continued (with respect to number of named storms) as minimal Tropical Storm Fay formed off the Carolina coast, moved northward, and made landfall in New Jersey. Rainfall from Fay was beneficial for parts of the Northeast, especially the Delmarva Peninsula, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and western New York, where 2-3 inches of rain, locally to 7 inches, brought widespread relief from growing short-term dryness and drought. Lighter totals also fell on most of New England, but most areas did not receive enough rain to make any marked improvements. Elsewhere, a series of slow-moving fronts drifted across the lower 48 States, generating MCCs (Mesoscale Convective Complexes) with swaths of decent rain across parts of the central Plains, Midwest, and Southeast. Several fronts produced scattered but heavy thunderstorms across the upper Midwest. Unfortunately, many areas received little or no precipitation this week, including much of the West (from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast), the southern Plains, lower and middle Mississippi River Valleys, and most of the Appalachians and Piedmont. Unfortunately, the dryness was accompanied by excessive heat (weekly temperatures averaged more than 4 degrees F above normal) in the southwestern and northeastern quarters of the Nation. For example, Borger, TX, set an all-time record high of 116 degrees F on July 11. The combination of heat and minimal rainfall was a concern for many agricultural areas as crops are at critical stages of growth and reproduction, and with high evapotranspiration rates during the summer heat, topsoil moisture can become rapidly depleted and stress the crops. In contrast, the Northwest recorded subnormal temperatures (2 to 6 degrees F below normal), along with some light precipitation in northernmost regions. In Alaska, light to moderate precipitation fell on southern, central, and southeastern sections, while Hawaii saw some windward showers early in the period but not enough for any improvement. Heavy rains (2-5 inches) fell again on non-drought portions of northwestern Puerto Rico and along eastern sections (2-6 inches), slightly trimming away some of the D2 there…

    High Plains

    Northern and western states had seen an improvement trend the past several weeks as wetter and cooler conditions have gradually eased drought and dryness from Montana and the Dakotas. However, southern states have seen a gradual deterioration this summer, with some or most of Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas in drought (D1 or drier). Fortunately, several MCCs formed in the north-central and central Plains this week, bringing welcome rainfall (1-3 inches, locally 5 inches) to southern South Dakota, central Nebraska, and central Kansas. As a result, some D0 was removed from northern and eastern Montana, southwestern South Dakota, and parts of central Nebraska and Kansas. D1 was improved to D0 in northern and western North Dakota, southwestern South Dakota, northeastern Nebraska (but expanded into eastern Nebraska and western Iowa), and southeastern Kansas. Lighter amounts (an inch or less) also fell on northern and eastern Montana, most of the Dakotas and Nebraska, northeastern Colorado, and most of Kansas. However, high heat negated the effects of the rain in the southern and central High Plains, causing expansion of D0 and drought (D1-D3) in much of Colorado, southern Wyoming, western Nebraska, and western Kansas. According to USDA/NASS on July 12, topsoil moisture rated short to very short was at 74% (WY), 60% (CO), 47% (NE), 45% (KS), and under 25% in the Dakotas and Montana. Similarly, pasture and range conditions rated poor to very poor was 44% in Colorado, 36% in Wyoming, 22% in Kansas, and 18% in Nebraska. Montana and the Dakotas were also in the teens, but these numbers have fallen (improved) the past few weeks in response to the favorable weather…


    Dry weather prevailed across much of the West, with the southwest monsoon yet to arrive in the Southwest. While temperatures averaged near or below normal in the northern half of the region, above to much above normal readings baked parts of the Southwest, southern Rockies, and southern High Plains. With the late start to the summer monsoon and oppressive heat, deteriorations were made in New Mexico, Colorado, southern Nevada, southwest Utah, parts of central coastal California, and portions of Oregon. In New Mexico, the combination of extreme heat stress and high ET on what rain that had fallen over the past few weeks included coverage of D0 in southwestern sections, D1 expansion in central and southeastern portions, and some D3 increase in the northwest, northeast, and southeast. Field reports indicated ranchers selling cattle, cutting yearlings off due to no grass, and feeding cake cubes and buying hay. In California, D1 was extended across Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz Mountains due to significant drying of fuels, while southern Nevada went to D1 from D0 due to short-term impacts, lack of WY precipitation, and recent wildfire activity. In Oregon, WYTD SPIs suggested expanding D3 areas as well as field reports for stream flows and soil moisture drying out. In Klamath County, widespread ag, livestock, and surface water impacts necessitated a downgrade to D2…


    Similar to the Southeast, decent rainfall was generally lacking except for a few areas. Unexpected moderate to heavy (1-3 inches, locally to 6 inches) rains from a couple of MCCs fell on the south-central Great Plains (central Kansas and eastern half of Oklahoma), providing some relief from drying conditions. Tulsa, OK, measured only 0.11” of rain in June, but has 4.00” the first 13 days of July. The rains also ended excessive heat over the weekend when Borger, TX, set its all-time highest reading at 116 degrees F on July 11, and numerous Oklahoma sites exceeded 115 degrees F for their heat index (two sites hit 120 degrees F). Heavy (1.5-5 inches) rains also fell on west-central Tennessee, but mostly missed the three small D0 areas of western and central Tennessee. Accordingly, the D0 in western Tennessee expanded, along with a new D1 area near Memphis, and a new D0 in northeastern Tennessee. Scattered light amounts (inch or less) were observed in the Texas Panhandle, across central and east-central Texas, most of Louisiana and Arkansas, and the southern two-thirds of Mississippi. In contrast, little or no rain combined with excessive heat (weekly temperatures averaging 4-10 degrees F above normal) exacerbated conditions in southwestern Texas, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, and much of New Mexico. According to USDA/NASS for the week ending July 12, topsoil moisture short to very short (in parentheses) gained percent points from the past week in Texas (67%), Louisiana (20%), Arkansas (35%), Tennessee (29%), and Mississippi (14%), but dropped in Oklahoma (45%) as expected with the widespread rains. Not surprising, July 12 crop conditions in Texas rated very poor or poor was: corn (12%); cotton (41%); sorghum (22%); peanuts (17%); oats (22%); and pastures and ranges (39%). South Texas remained wet at 60-days and beyond, but continued lack of rain and heat should soon start taking a toll on the soil moisture and agriculture…

    Looking Ahead

    During the next 5 days (July 16-20), WPC’s QPF forecasts light to moderate (1 to 3 inches) rains across the middle Mississippi River Valley, upper Midwest, and southern Florida. Lighter totals are expected in the southern Rockies and south-central High Plains, along the central Gulf Coast, and in the Appalachians. Little or no rain is anticipated in the West, southern Plains, portions of the Southeast, and along the Northeast Coast. Most of the lower 48 States should expect above-normal temperatures, with subnormal readings limited to the northern Plains.

    The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (July 21-25) favors above-normal rainfall across the northeastern quarter of the contiguous U.S., along the western Gulf Coast, in Arizona and Utah, and in western Alaska. Odds for subnormal precipitation are likely in the Pacific Northwest, the central Plains, and along the southern coast of Alaska. A tilt toward above-normal temperature probabilities were found across much of the lower 48 States and along Alaska’s southern coast, but highest odds were found in the central Plains and northeastern quarter of the Nation. Subnormal readings were limited to the northern two-thirds of Alaska.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending July 14, 2020.

    Colorado’s Demand Management Feasibility Investigation Update — @CWCB_DNR

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the Executive Summary:

    The Upper Division States of the Colorado River Basin are currently investigating the feasibility of a potential Demand Management program. Demand Management is defined as temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in consumptive use. The Demand Management Storage Agreement, one element of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) finalized by the Colorado River Basin States in 2019, provides the authorization for the Upper Division States to store water created pursuant to a Demand Management program in Lake Powell. The water would only be used for Compact compliance purposes at the direction of the Upper Colorado River Commission. Whether a program is set up and how such a program would operate are still open questions. Each Upper Division State must make an initial determination that Demand Management is feasible before moving forward with creating a potential program.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is Colorado’s agency charged with setting the State’s water policy, and is therefore the agency with authority to determine whether Demand Management is feasible for Colorado. Following adoption of the DCP in March 2019, the CWCB Board adopted the 2019 Work Plan to help guide the initial stage of this feasibility investigation, to take place in Fiscal Year 2019-2020. The Work Plan had three primary components: (1) establish workgroups comprised of subject-matter experts and key Colorado River stakeholders, which were directed to meet publicly at least four times in Fiscal Year 2019-20, and to identify key threshold issues for board consideration; (2) regional workshops designed to facilitate the public discussion around Demand Management and provide opportunities for CWCB staff updates on the feasibility investigation; and (3) continued education and outreach. In addition, the Board directed staff to facilitate a literature review, currently underway by consultants hired following a Request for Proposal process.

    The purpose of this Report is to provide an update of work done pursuant to the 2019 Work Plan. This report will assist the CWCB Board in considering the key threshold issues associated with a potential Demand Management program. The purpose of the report is not to provide guidance on next steps of the feasibility investigation. However, it may help shape the discussions and decision-making about the next phases of Colorado’s feasibility investigation. While the complete report provides a full summary of workgroup discussions and other work, below is a summary of each workgroup’s main discussion points.

    Agricultural Impacts

    • To encourage agricultural participation, a potential program must be viewed as equitable and proportional while remaining voluntary; furthermore, it must be adequately communicated that the potential program is necessary to achieve the objectives set out in the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan and will serve as an insurance policy against mandatory curtailment.
    • In designing a potential program, care must be given to program design to minimize and mitigate on-farm and off- farm agronomic impacts such as reductions in crop yield and soil erosion, including the provision of technical assistance and information; furthermore, the program should account for secondary economic impacts and evaluate potential benefits.
    • Non-injury to water right holders and non-participants is critical and can be achieved through the possible consideration of utilizing existing change of water use approval processes and providing additional mitigation expenses to agricultural water providers to account for potential operational impacts.
    • Structuring the potential program application, review, and the contracting process should consider alignment with the timing of when producers make critical operational decisions and allow for some operational flexibility; furthermore, payments should consider all potential impacts including both agronomic and operational changes.
    • In considering the design of a potential Demand Management program, current programs in place similar to a potential Demand Management program, such as the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and Colorado Fallow-Leasing Pilot Program should be further analyzed; furthermore, pilot and demonstration projects could be useful in better understanding potential impacts and effects of temporary irrigation reductions and should be explored with an effort to capture the potential diversity of projects.

    Economic Impacts and Local Government

    • Any potential Demand Management program will be voluntary; those who do not wish to participate should not do so.
    • In designing any potential Demand Management program, the initial goal should be to “do no harm,” meaning to minimize and mitigate any adverse impacts to communities. A number of factors should be considered in analyzing this question, including but not limited to the type of water use, the duration of the Demand Management program, the length of individual project participation, and the geographic location and concentration of projects.
    • Any potential program should create benefits for individuals, the community, and the economy wherever possible. Potential benefits may include avoidance of Compact administration actions, increased revenue to local economies, environmental benefits, and opportunities to improve long-term management of water and land.
    • A number of process considerations should be taken into account when considering how to assure no harm is done to communities where possible, or mitigated if there is harm.
    • In operating a potential Demand Management program, the process should be transparent and collaborative.

    Education and Outreach

    • Workgroup members identified many challenges in helping the State explore threshold questions related to communication, education, and outreach needs around a potential Demand Management program.
    • In lieu of assisting with a communication plan for the active “investigation” process or a future program, the workgroup focused their expertise around priority considerations should the CWCB elect to continue with feasibility, project pilots, or full program development.
    • While it is essential to develop a communications plan well before a Demand Management program is enacted, content substance is needed to proceed in which common terms are defined across workgroups and state partners, clear frames are developed to help unite messaging across stakeholder groups, and essential content from FY19- 20 workgroups are considered by CWCB and incorporated into an agreement on a Demand Management program’s general (initial/draft) shape.
    • At this stage, there is a branding problem, as different stakeholders have different ideas of what a program may look like, how it can be explained, and how often communication is carried to individuals’ direct communities.
    • This workgroup recommends immediate messaging discussions to identify shared priority framing. Several guiding examples are presented in the workgroup’s final deliverable.
    • Throughout the investigation, workgroup members identified the need to help stabilize communication chains, the need for extra transparency, and the need to maintain an open line for all users to communicate concerns and ideas to/from CWCB and to/from one another.

    Environmental Considerations

    • A Demand Management program could provide opportunities for projects with net environmental benefits that would not be available under potential Compact administration.
    • A Demand Management program should not harm the environment, should build in considerations to minimize adverse environmental effects, and should incentivize projects that provide net environmental benefits.
    • A Demand Management program should use the suggestions in the Environmental Considerations document to evaluate project environmental benefits and impacts without creating an unnecessarily burdensome process for applicants. The suggestions should also be used as part of the criteria to prioritize projects. Potential environmental benefits are location and project specific and would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
    • A Demand Management program should identify project impacts and benefits to environmental resources including changes to flow regimes, instream flows, water quality standards, critical habitat, management/planning documents, and conservation needs and strategies if evaluation tools are readily available and applicable (for a more detailed list of potential resources impacted, see Environmental Considerations document).
    • Research and data gaps exist for evaluating environmental benefits and impacts, such as information on changes to hydrology, return flows, and wetlands. Streamlined approaches and methods are needed to make these assessments.


    • The funding workgroup initially identified a number of questions to help frame the conversation around funding a potential Demand Management program, including how much funding would such a program require.
    • To help quantify potential funding needs, workgroup members discussed factors that could affect a Demand Management program and built scenarios around them.
    • The factors included: volume of water needed, cost of potential program (i.e. $/acre-foot), percent of water savings expected from a Demand Management program (versus funded investments in infrastructure), acute or chronic need, year by which water is needed, and reservoir storage options.
    • Workgroup members came up with a preliminary list of funding ideas noting that not one concept, but rather a portfolio (potentially paired with a reverse auction model) would be beneficial: statewide tax (income, sales, property), regional tax, statewide fee, Bureau of Reclamation contribution, hydropower user fee, export user fee (i.e. Front Range water user rate increase).
    • Even with a diverse portfolio, COIVD-19 fundamentally changed the calculus and workgroup members expect we will likely see transformations in many water use sectors and the larger economies of the Western US if hydrology continues to deteriorate and Compact Administration becomes necessary.

    Law and Policy

    • There are several open legal and policy questions relating to a potential Demand Management program, and the conclusions drawn could impact how a program operates and whether it works within existing law. These key legal and policy issues include, but are not limited to:
      • Would participation in a potential program be considered a beneficial use under Colorado law? What is the definition of Compact compliance?
      • How is program eligibility determined?
      • How is conserved consumptive use defined for purposes of participation in a potential program?
      • What is the appropriate definition of “temporary” in the context of a potential Demand Management program?
      • What is the appropriate procedure for project review and approval?

    Monitoring and Verification

  • Quantification, measurement, monitoring, and verification must be honest, accurate, and defensible.
  • Participation and monitoring and verification must be protective of other water users.
  • Participation must result in added water to the system.
  • Participation and monitoring and verification must be as simple, easy, and flexible as possible while still meeting the first three principles.
  • Water Rights Administration and Accounting

  • Any potential program should take into consideration the appropriate process for changing the use of a water right from its current use to Demand Management.
  • The question of whether Demand Management is a beneficial use of water should be considered before a potential program is established.
  • Changes in administration and accounting for storage should be considered in establishing a potential program.
  • Appropriate scrutiny for any program should be balanced against the need for ease and flexibility.
  • The July #Climate Briefing is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment

    Click here to go to their website to read the briefing. Here’s an excerpt:

  • Despite above average rain in some portions of the region, drought conditions expanded slightly and worsened by one drought category across the region. During June, areas of above average precipitation fell in parts of eastern Utah and western Colorado and Wyoming; much of Colorado, southwest Utah and eastern Wyoming saw below average precipitation. After extremely warm regional temperatures in April and May, the western half of the region experienced near-normal temperatures while eastern Colorado and Wyoming saw temperatures 2-6 degrees above normal.
  • June precipitation was much above average in northern and eastern Utah, western Wyoming and northwestern Colorado Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Although June precipitation was 150% – 300% of average in many locations, it is important to note that average June precipitation is typically low (1 -2”) and above-average June precipitation was not significant enough to overcome long-term deficits needed to improve drought conditions. Very little precipitation fell in southwestern Utah, and precipitation was much below normal in eastern Wyoming and much of Colorado except for isolated storms that produced pockets of near-normal precipitation.
  • Temperatures in the Intermountain West were generally near average in Utah, western Wyoming and northwestern Colorado in June (+/- 2 degrees of normal) Western US Seasonal Precipitation. June temperatures in eastern Wyoming and much of Colorado were 2 – 6 degrees above normal. High temperatures in Colorado and Wyoming contributed to the persistence and exacerbation of long-term drought.
  • All Snotel sites in the Intermountain West have melted out and most rivers have returned to near-baseflow conditions. Rivers in much of Utah, Wyoming and northern Colorado are flowing at near-average volumes. Below-average streamflows are occurring in rivers of western Colorado, central and eastern Utah and southwestern Wyoming. The NOAA CBRFC July 1st forecast for the April-July inflow to Lake Powell on the Colorado River is 3.93 MAF (55% of average). Since April 1st, the seasonal inflow forecast for Lake Powell decreased by over 1.5 MAF from an April 1st forecast of 5.7 MAF and 79% of average. The large decrease in forecasted streamflow volume for Lake Powell was due to far-below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures for the Upper Basin in April – June.
  • During June, drought conditions in large areas of Utah and Wyoming worsened by one drought category and the overall coverage of abnormally dry or drought conditions expanded slightly in the region WY Drought Monitor. Drought or abnormally dry conditions now cover 96% of Utah, 84% of Colorado and 74% of Wyoming by land area. Although areal coverage of drought expanded only slightly during June, drought conditions significantly worsened in all three states, especially in Wyoming where D1 drought expanded from only 1% of the state on June 2nd to over 50% of the state by July 7th. In Colorado, D2 and D3 drought expanded to cover 22% and 34% of the state, respectively. D3 drought now covers nearly all of southern Colorado. In Utah, abnormally dry or drought conditions cover the entire state except the northeast corner and a sliver of northern Utah. Aside for the northern Wasatch Front (Cache and Box Elder Counties) where drought conditions improved by one category, drought conditions worsened in much of the state. D2 drought expanded across all of central Utah and D3 drought emerged in Juab County during June.
  • Pacific Ocean temperatures continued a slow cooling trend during June and ranged from 0.5°C above normal to 1.0°C below normal. Sea surface temperatures are projected to remain slightly below normal, but still in a neutral ENSO phase throughout the remainder of the summer and into early fall. ENSO has near equal probabilities (40-55%) to be in its neutral or La Niña phase through the summer and fall . The NOAA Climate Prediction Center issued a La Niña Watch on July 9th. The La Niña Watch indicates that there is a 50-55% chance of La Niña conditions developing in fall 2020 and a 50% chance of La Niña conditions The NOAA one-month temperature outlook for July shows slightly enhanced odds of above-average temperatures for all of the region except northern Utah and northwestern Wyoming. Except for northern Wyoming, there are also slightly enhanced odds of below-average precipitation in July. Over the next three months (July–September), temperatures are more likely to be above average for the region, with the highest probability of higher-than-normal temperatures in Utah and southwestern Colorado. There is a slight tilt towards below-average precipitation for much of the region during the July-September period.
  • Significant weather event for June. On June 6-7, a rare derecho swept northeastward through eastern Utah, much of Colorado and Wyoming, and then through western Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. A derecho is a fast-moving and extensive line of thunderstorms associated with long-duration and destructive winds. The storm produced 272 reports of wind gusts greater than 50 knots, 44 reports of gusts greater than 65 knots, 67 reports of wind damage, and a maximum wind gust of 110 miles per hour in northern Colorado. Two tornadoes and hail up to 1.75” in diameter were also reported. Only two other derecho events have been reported in the western United States: one in 1994 and the other in 2002.
  • The Fed’s independence helped it save the US economy in 2008: The CDC needs the same authority today — The Conversation

    Trump with two of his top health advisers in May.
    AP Photo/Alex Brandon

    Mitchel Y. Abolafia, University at Albany, State University of New York

    The image of scientists standing beside governors, mayors or the president has become common during the pandemic. Even the most cynical politician knows this public health emergency cannot be properly addressed without relying on the scientific knowledge possessed by these experts.

    Yet, ultimately, U.S. government health experts have limited power. They work at the discretion of the White House, leaving their guidance subject to the whims of politicians and them less able to take urgent action to contain the pandemic.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines only to later revise them after the White House intervened. The administration has also undermined its top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, over his blunt warnings that the pandemic is getting worse – a view that contradicts White House talking points. And most recently, the White House stripped the CDC of control of coronavirus data, alarming health experts who fear it will be politicized or withheld.

    In the realm of monetary policy, however, there is an agency with experts trusted to make decisions on their own in the best interests of the U.S. economy: the Federal Reserve. As I describe in my recent book, “Stewards of the Market,” the Fed’s independence allowed it to take politically risky actions that helped rescue the economy during the financial crisis of 2008.

    That’s why I believe we should give the CDC the same type of authority as the Fed so that it can effectively guide the public through health emergencies without fear of running afoul of politicians.

    The paradox of expertise

    There is a paradox inherent in the relationship between political leaders and technical experts in government.

    Experts have the training and skill to apply scientific knowledge in complex biological and economic systems, yet democratically elected political leaders may overrule or ignore their advice for ill or good.

    This happened in May when the CDC, the federal agency charged with controlling the spread of disease, removed advice regarding the dangers of singing in church choirs from its website. It did not do so because of new evidence. Rather, it was because of political pressure from the White House to water down the guidance for religious groups.
    Similarly, the White House undermined the CDC’s guidance on school reopenings and has pressured it to revise them. So far, it seems the CDC has rebuffed the request.

    [Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get expert takes on today’s news, every day.]

    The ability of elected leaders to ignore scientists – or the scientists’ acquiescence to policies they believe are detrimental to public welfare – is facilitated by many politicians’ penchant for confident assertion of knowledge and the scientist’s trained reluctance to do so.

    Compare Fauci’s repeated comment that “there is much we don’t know about the virus” with President Donald Trump’s confident assertion that “we have it totally under control.”

    Experts with independence

    Given these constraints on technical expertise, the performance of the Fed in the financial crisis of 2008 offers an informative example that may be usefully applied to the CDC today.

    The Federal Reserve is not an executive agency under the president, though it is chartered and overseen by Congress. It was created in 1913 to provide economic stability, and its powers have expanded to guard against both depression and crippling inflation.

    At its founding, the structure of the Fed was a political compromise designed make it independent within the government in order to de-politicize its economic policy decisions. Today its decisions are made by a seven-member board of governors and a 12-member Federal Open Market Committee. The members, almost all Ph.D. economists, have had careers in academia, business and government. They come together to analyze economic data, develop a common understanding of what they believe is happening and create policy that matches their shared analysis. This group policymaking is optimal when circumstances are highly uncertain, such as in 2008 when the global financial system was melting down.

    The Fed was the lead actor in preventing the system’s collapse and spent several trillion dollars buying risky financial assets and lending to foreign central banks – decisions that were pivotal in calming financial markets but would have been much harder or may not have happened at all without its independent authority.

    The Fed’s independence is sufficiently ingrained in our political culture that its chair can have a running disagreement with the president yet keep his job and authority.

    Trump slammed Fed Chair Jerome Powell repeatedly in 2019 over interest rate policy.
    Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    Putting experts at the wheel

    A health crisis needs trusted experts to guide decision-making no less than an economic one does. This suggests the CDC or some re-imagined version of it should be made into an independent agency.

    Like the Fed, the CDC is run by technical experts who are often among the best minds in their fields. Like the Fed, the CDC is responsible for both analysis and crisis response. Like the Fed, the domain of the CDC is prone to politicization that may interfere with rational response. And like the Fed, the CDC is responsible for decisions that affect fundamental aspects of the quality of life in the United States.

    Were the CDC independent right now, we would likely see a centralized crisis management effort that relies on the best science, as opposed to the current patchwork approach that has failed to contain the outbreak nationally. We would also likely see stronger and consistent recommendations on masks, social distancing and the safest way to reopen the economy and schools.

    Independence will not eliminate the paradox of technical expertise in government. The Fed itself has at times succumbed to political pressure. And Trump would likely try to undermine an independent CDC’s legitimacy if its policies conflicted with his political agenda – as he has tried to do with the central bank.

    But independence provides a strong shield that would make it much more likely that when political calculations are at odds with science, science wins.The Conversation

    Mitchel Y. Abolafia, Professor Of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York

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

    Navajo Dam operations update

    The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs on Thursday, July 16th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. This release is calculated to be that necessary to maintain the minimum target baseflow.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    Natural gas questions and tensions — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    A new report insists that ‘renewable natural gas’ has too many problems for widespread use. And in Colorado, natural gas may be on the November ballot

    Several years ago, a speaker at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association annual conference became exuberant. At the time, natural gas was hailed as a bridge fuel, one that burned cleaner than coal. That simple fact had produced a tenuous alliance between environmental groups and drillers, who both saw advantages in dismantling coal, with Democratic governors Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper enjoying support in both camps.

    Enough talk about natural gas as a bridge, the speaker at the Denver conference exclaimed. It was the future.

    Now, that future is being challenged as renewables, not natural gas, fills the void created in the retreat of coal. And, with climate scientists issuing throat-clearing warnings about the grave risk if emission are not tamed rapidly, environmental advocates have turned their attention to gas. The bridge, they say, has been crossed.

    This new tension has flared prominently in California, where scores of jurisdictions last year banned natural gas in new buildings. None have done so in Colorado—yet. But the Colorado oil and gas industry has taken preemptory action to ensure it doesn’t, hurrying to get a ballot measure that would preclude local bans of natural gas.

    A new report from the Sierra Club and its legal arm, EarthJustice, warns against the dangers of what’s being called renewable natural gas. Better, says the report, “Rhetoric vs. Reality: The Myth of ‘Renewable Natural Gas’ for Building Decarbonization,” is to electrify new homes.

    The fundamental problem is the tendency of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, to leak. Methane is far more potent in the shorter term than carbon dioxide. The report cites research published in the journal Science in 2018 that found the leakage rate in the U.S. gas supply chain equaled 2.3% of U.S. gross gas production, 60% higher than the EPA’s official estimate.

    The Sierra Club is particularly worried about the rise of what it calls fossil gas alternatives, including what some companies are calling RNG, or renewable natural gas. RNG can include biogas, such as comes from wastewater treatment plant, landfills and livestock operations, or—using thermal gasification – forest and agriculture residues. There’s also synthetic gas, in which electricity is turned into hydrogen and then synthetic methane.

    Of these, the only one that meets the smell test, so to speak, is biogas, as it would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. But the study estimates that only enough methane from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and similar sources could be captured to meet less than 1% of current gas demand.

    “The rest must be intentionally produced and will pose the risk of additional methane leakage that can offset any potential emission reductions.”

    The Sierra Club report says these fossil gas alternatives have roles, but very limited ones, such as for delivering high industrial heat for steel production or powering air or marine transportation.

    “Biogas and synthetic gas as well as other renewable liquid fuels, have several advantages over electricity. Though costly, limited and inefficient to produce, they are energy dense, can be stored and transported more readily than electricity, and work with existing infrastructure that must rely on combustion,” the report says.

    “In optimizing their use, the advantages of renewable fuels (e.g. flexible, combustible, dispatchable) should be weighed against their disadvantages (cost, leakage, limited supply) and the availability of alternatives such as electrification and demand management. Because heat pumps and electric vehicles offer super efficiency and eliminate end-use air pollution, direct use of electricity should be used to the maximum extent feasible in buildings and transport.”

    Building electrification is not the same as that which occurred in the 1970s. With the aid of efficient air-source heat pumps, which can extract heat from the outside air, and better understanding of circulation, natural gas is being eliminated from some buildings. Geos neighborhood in Arvada, Colo., is one such project, and the Basalt Vista in Basalt, Colo., another. Boulder and Bouilder County are using a program called Comfort 365 to encourage fuel and technology switching.

    Those are voluntary. Now come bans of new natural gas infrastructure. In California, Berkeley in July 2019 adopted the first ban in the country on natural gas in new buildings. By February, when the New York Times took note of the trend, 22 other California cities and counties had also adopted similar bans, as had several jurisdictions across the country.

    None have in Colorado, although a climate change task force report to Denver’s elected officials issued last week calls for building electrification when natural gas infrastructure fails but also net-zero homes and buildings being part of all new buildings in the 2027 base building code.

    In California, battle lines have been drawn. The Los Angeles Times in October 2019 reported that Southern California Gas Co., which has 22 million customers in California, had already started working to convince local officials that policies aimed at replacing gas with electricity would be wildly unpopular. Called SoCalGas, the company had already released a strategy paper that calls for the company to replace 20% of the fossil gas in the company’s pipelines with renewable gas by 2030 and later adding large amounts of hydrogen and other non-fossil fuels. It makes its case on this web page.

    Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist at UC Berkeley, compared SoCalGas’ dilemma to that of a company selling hay to feed horses at a moment in time when horse-drawn carriages were being replaced by cars. Electrification, he said, posed a similarly existential threat to gas utilities.

    Colorado looks to be hurrying toward a similar battle over public minds. In a July 6 posting, S&P Global Platts reported that a group backed by the Colorado oil and gas industry is pursuing a ballot initiative meant to prevent local governments from banning the use of natural gas in new residential and commercial developments. The ballot initiative must get signatures from 142,632 registered voters by Aug. 3 to qualify for Colorado’s election ballot in October.

    Protect Colorado bundles the ballot initiative as a message for consumer choice.

    “Initiative 284 prevents governments from removing your consumer choice when it comes to what energy is used in homes and businesses for cooking, heating homes and water, and generators,” it says on its website. “If passed, local and state governments could not enact any laws banning natural gas usage in new construction.”

    The measure has already received support from the dominant newspaper in Colorado Springs, the Gazette. Stop the fringe from prohibiting natural gas.”

    But the majority of the Colorado Legislature in 2019 adopted laws calling for rapid decarbonization of Colorado’s economy. The first target of 26% by 2025 can be met by closing coal plants and some other measures. Much harder will be the 50% reduction by 2050. For that, decisive steps will be required in the built environment. This is even more true of the 2050 deadline of 90% reduction.

    Even if no local jurisdictions have been reported to be considering natural gas bans, the issues will likely arise in the next legislative session. State Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, says he is considering legislation that would, if adopted, create a social cost of methane, similar to the social cost of carbon adopted by Colorado in 2019. That cost, $46 a ton, has legally become a consideration for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission when considering plans proposed by regulated electrical utilities.

    Hansen also expects to reintroduce a bill, SB20-150, which got shelved in the covid-crimped 2020 session. The bill proposed to create a renewable natural gas standard, to spur the use of existing methane emissions from landfills, dairies and other such sources.

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