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From Aspen Public Radio (Alex Hager):
The City of Aspen is in a stage one water shortage, citing continued drought conditions. The city will make efforts to reduce water usage by 10%, but water-saving measures for residents are voluntary.
After an exceptionally hot and dry spring, most Pitkin County is in a state of “moderate drought,” with some portions in a state of “severe drought” that applies to much of Western Colorado.
Steve Hunter, a hydrologist with Aspen’s utility office, said officials are keeping tabs on water conditions before they become problematic. Aspen’s main water supply, he said, has no storage and comes from Castle Creek and Maroon Creek watersheds.
“Right now we’re fine,” Hunter said. “But without storage, you don’t have a backup, so you need to be really cognizant of the supply and meeting the demand.”
From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic has spent almost a century working to protect pristine swaths of wild lands. The research site, which draws scientists from across the globe every summer and ranks among the world’s largest, oldest and most productive field stations, now is permanently protecting its entire 270-acre research site.
As part of a deal announced Thursday, the lab above Crested Butte — known locally as “Rumble” — is protected under a conservation easement with Colorado Open Lands, ensuring that the hundreds of scientists and students who convene at the remote research station can continue their ecological research free from the ever-creeping threat of development…
Formed in 1928 in the abandoned mining town of Gothic, the lab’s natural landscape in the headwaters of the Elk Range’s East River has hosted a rotating array of scientists who have published more than 1,900 studies. Landmark research into wildlife, insects, habitats, soil, water ecology and the roaming impacts of climate change has flowered in the undisturbed high-altitude terrain surrounding the laboratory.
And the lab has played a critical role in conservation in Colorado, working with advocacy groups to manage protected land. The lab manages the Mexican Cut Preserve atop the Elks’ Galena Mountain, which was the first property protected by The Nature Conservancy in Colorado in 1966. The lab has helped many conservation groups with the management of protected landscapes, including, most recently, the protection of 4,377 acres of working ranch land — the venerable Trampe Ranch — in the Gunnison River and Upper East River valleys. That easement — funded with a $10 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the group’s largest single transaction — protects acreage that borders Rocky Mountain Biological Lab…
“From an ecological standpoint, this is the capstone of the conservation work in that basin. This is at the very top of the Trampe Ranch conservation easement, which protects the whole valley,” said Tony Caligiuri, the executive director of Colorado Open Lands.
There was potential that a deep-pocketed developer with big dreams could scheme a ski resort or community development around Gothic, Caligiuri said, which could threaten the work done to protect the Trampe Ranch. The conservation easement also protects RMBL’s water rights, which were among the first in Colorado and helped establish the now commonly accepted value of leaving water in streams to support wildlife, habitat and recreation…
Caligiuri said about half of all the working ranchland in the Gunnison River Valley has been protected with easements that prevent development. Colorado Open Lands has protected 69 properties totaling more than 25,000 acres in Gunnison County, where voters in 1997 passed a 1% sales tax to fund the protection of open space…
“In some places with high development pressures, agriculture can become a small niche. The Gunnison River Basin is a place that will be guaranteed to remain in agriculture for as long as we can imagine. And now it continues and can be economically viable,” said Caligiuri, who believes the conservation easement over an entire historic town and surrounding acreage — all owned by Rocky Mountain Biological Lab — is a first for Colorado.
Gothic may have been established as a silver mining camp, but it has survived on science. The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab has built housing, research areas, a community center and more since it moved in. Now, as many as 150 biologists gather at the lab every summer. (In the winter, Gothic is accessible only by a long walk or ski.)
The science that flows from the lab’s visiting researchers is one of the world’s largest collections of ongoing research. Those note-takers include Gothic’s longest running resident, billy barr, the capital-letter eschewing citizen scientist who moved to a remote cabin in Gothic 48 years ago and began tracking observations on the weather. (He’s not going anywhere, by the way.)
His daily measurements have made the reclusive barr a sort of accidental apostle among climate researchers, with hundreds of notebooks detailing decades of daily high and low temperatures, snowfall, snowpack and snow water equivalent.
His data are now some of the country’s most detailed observations of a warming climate with shrinking winters and climbing temps.
From KOAA (Melissa Greathouse):
Recent heavy rain is testing draining in Colorado Springs, and so far improvements seem to be working…
The city made a commitment four years ago to improve infrastructure, including redoing drainage and bringing the system up-to-date.
That work is ongoing, but so far the efforts seem to be making a difference.
“A lot of that too is coordination with us and the 2C program, so when they go in to repave roads, they’re rebuilding curb and gutter, we’re working with them to replace pipe, fix that conveyance as we go,” said Stormwater Enterprise Manager Richard Mulledy.
City leaders say runoff appears to be cleaner because less trash is making its way downstream.
Controlling the speed and the amount of water is also helping.
From AgInfo.net (Maura Bennett):
USDA forecasters say they are beginning to see signs of the North American monsoon season in the southern US as humidity levels creep up…
…questions remain about how helpful the monsoon will be for Colorado growers.
Bolinger: “It is coming and hopefully it is coming for us too.
Becky Bolinger Assistant State Climatologist. She says a Tucson, Arizona weather station has picked up signs that the monsoon is beginning to move up from Mexico and toward Arizona, New Mexico and then hopefully north to Colorado and Utah.
Bolinger: “Unfortunately the last couple of years Colorado has not had much benefit from the monsoon as we’ve had previously so we’re hoping for a stronger showing of that monsoon this year.”
The monsoon is one of last opportunities for measurable summer rains in Colorado before typically dryer weather in the fall.
Bolinger says as of now, the state’s water supply is doing okay. But it didn’t get as much benefit from snow melt as it normally would. Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the state, is below the average for this time of year but, so far, not as low as it was after the 2018 drought.
COVID-19 is changing how the U.S. disposes of waste. It is also threatening hard-fought victories that restricted or eliminated single-use disposable items, especially plastic, in cities and towns across the nation.
Our research group is analyzing how the pandemic has altered waste management strategies. Plastic-Free July, an annual campaign launched in 2011, is a good time to assess what has happened to single-use disposable plastics under COVID-19, and whether efforts to curb their use can get back on track.
From plans to pandemic
Over several decades leading up to 2020, many U.S. cities and states worked to reduce waste from single-use disposable objects such as straws, utensils, coffee cups, beverage bottles and plastic bags. Policies varied but included bans on Styrofoam, plastic bags and straws, along with taxes and fees on bottles and cups.
Social norms around plastic waste have evolved quickly in the past several years. Pre-COVID-19, “Bring your own” tote bags, mugs and other foodware had become part of daily life for many consumers. Innovative startups targeting reusable foodware niches include Vessel, which partners with cafes, enabling customers to rent stainless steel to-go mugs, and DishCraft, which picks up dirty dishes from dine-in restaurants and to-go food outlets, cleans them with high-tech equipment and returns them ready for reuse.
Just before COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, the New Jersey senate adopted a bill that would have made the state the first to ban all single-use bags made of either paper or plastic. And U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act – the first federal measure limiting use of single-use disposable items.
COVID-19 shutdowns drastically changed all of this. In just a few weeks, plastic bags returned to grocery stores in states that had recently banned them. Even before lockdowns were official, restaurants and cafes started refusing personal reusables such as coffee mugs, reverting to plastic cups and lids, wrapped straws and condiment packets.
By late June, cities and states had temporarily suspended almost 50 single-use item reduction policies across the U.S. – mainly bans plastic bag bans. The pandemic also spurred demand for single-use personal protective equipment, such as masks and plastic gloves. These items soon began appearing in municipal solid waste streams and discarded on streets.
The plastic pandemic
With legislation restricting disposables suspended, many food vendors and grocery stores have shifted entirely to disposable bags, plates and cutlery. This switch has raised their operating costs and cut further into their already-low margins.
Grocery stores have sharply increased plastic bag usage. Households are generating up to 50% more waste by volume than they did pre-COVID-19. Anecdotal reports indicate that these waste streams contain more single-use disposable items.
The recycling industry has weighed in on the impacts of more single-use bags and higher residential waste volumes. Waste industry workers, who have been uniformly declared essential, work in closed spaces with many other people, so even if surface transmission of coronavirus is not a serious risk, the pandemic has increased person-to-person transmission risks in the waste industry.
Hygiene: A red herring
The main rationale that states, cities and vendors have offered to justify switching from reusables back to disposables is hygiene. Plastic packaging, the argument goes, protects public health by keeping contents safe and sealed. Also, discarding items immediately after use protects consumers from infection.
This narrative handily dovetails with the plastics industry’s ongoing effort to slow or derail bans and restrictions. The industry has loudly supported turning the clock back toward single-use disposable products.
[The Conversation’s newsletter explains what’s going on with the coronavirus pandemic. Subscribe now.]
In a March 2020 letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Plastics Industry Association argued that single-use items were the “most sanitary” option for consumers. Industry representatives are actively lobbying against the Break Free From Plastics Act.
However, studies show that these products are not necessarily safer than reusable alternatives with respect to COVID-19. The virus survives as long on plastic as it does on other surfaces such as stainless steel. What’s more, studies currently cited by the plastics industry focus on other contaminants such as E.coli and listeria bacteria, not on coronaviruses.
Viewed more holistically, plastics generate pollutants upstream when their raw materials are extracted and plastic goods are manufactured and transported. After disposal – typically via landfills or incineration – they release pollutants that can seriously affect environmental and human health, including hazardous and endocrine disrupting chemicals.
All of these impacts are especially harmful to minority and marginalized populations, who are already more vulnerable to COVID-19. In our view, plastic goods are far from being the most hygienic or beneficial to public health, especially over the long term.
Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic make it hard to see the bigger picture. No longer having to remember reusable tote bags or coffee mugs can be a relief. But the quick return of single-use disposable products shows that recent restrictions are precarious, and that industries don’t cede profitable markets without a fight.
Waste reduction advocates, such as Upstream Solutions and #BreakFreeFromPlastic, are working to gather data, educate the public and prevent decision-making about plastics that is based on perception rather than scientific reasoning. On June 22, 115 health experts worldwide released a statement arguing that reusables are safe even under pandemic conditions.
Some governments are taking notice. In late June, California reinstated its statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and requirement for plastic bags to contain 40% recycled materials. Massachusetts quickly followed suit, lifting a temporary ban on reusable bags.
For the longer term, it is unclear how COVID-19 disruptions will affect consumerism and waste disposal practices. In our view, one important takeaway is that while mindful consumers are part of the solution to the plastics crisis, individuals cannot and should not carry the full burden.
We believe that at the local and federal levels, policymakers need to build cross-jurisdictional alliances, recognizing shared interests with the waste management industry and emerging businesses like Vessel and Dishcraft. To make progress on reducing plastic waste, advocates need to reinforce measures in place before the next crisis hits.
Jessica Heiges, PhD Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley and Kate O’Neill, Professor, Global Environmental Politics, University of California, Berkeley
Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:
Governor Jared Polis and members of his administration released a statement following the Trump administration’s increased efforts to rollback the bedrock National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
“This bedrock law helps protect the air we breathe and the water that is the lifeblood of our communities. We know NEPA needs to be more streamlined to ensure renewable energy and infrastructure projects can get moving. The voices of Coloradans should be heard on the projects that impact our communities,” said Governor Jared Polis. “Yet the Trump administration continues to put its thumb on the scale in order to favor special interests over hardworking Coloradans who value our environment and support a deliberative, citizen involved government. While I share the goal of cutting red tape, this latest Trump move is a misstep.”
Director Lew and members of the Polis administration testified at a field hearing in Denver in opposition to the Trump administration’s misguided NEPA roll-back
“Our nation’s roads connect our country and economy, but, historically, they divided many communities in their path,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “Construction of the interstate cut through the heart of many cities and rural areas in America, with right of way often acquired disproportionately from lower-income and minority communities. On the heels of this activity in the 1950s and 1960s, NEPA provided a structured way to ensure a conversation with citizens about how a road, bridge or railway would affect their neighborhood, and to ensure opportunity for them to articulate their views or concerns. We can and should always find ways to improve these processes, but it is critical that we do so in ways that improve our understanding of the cumulative, direct, and indirect impact of projects on both our environment and our neighbors. This action misses the mark.”
“The decision by the Trump Administration to significantly alter NEPA implementation is the wrong direction for our country and Colorado,” said DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs. “Coloradans highly value clean air and water. They want to protect our wildlife and open spaces, and ensure their communities are safe and healthy. The Trump Administration’s changes reduce safeguards, minimize the need to consider the broader or long-term impacts of federal decisions, and put arbitrary limits on environmental studies. These are contrary to Coloradans’ values and will likely result in further harm to Colorado’s natural resources, our economy, and communities.”
“Colorado’s economy and quality of life depend on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate,” said CEO Executive Director Will Toor. “The Trump administration’s new guidelines appear to be surgically designed to avoid consideration of the climate impacts of projects, will eliminate consideration of the cumulative impacts of fossil fuel development, and will undermine efforts to protect air quality in Colorado and other states.”
“This is what disempowerment looks like,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “The federal government is telling agencies to tune out community voices and ignore the most important issues when making decisions. This includes disregarding or diminishing questions of environmental justice, climate change, ozone pollution, and cumulative impacts. Colorado will once again step into the breach to protect its communities’ health, as well as our air, water and lands.”