From The Aspen Times (Jill Ozarski):
One year ago, exactly zero parts of Colorado were officially designated as being abnormally dry or in drought. What a difference a year makes.
Now, even as the ski season starts up, every corner of our state is facing drought conditions. As the effects of unchecked climate change continue to worsen, these conditions, which previously would have been considered extreme, are sadly becoming the new normal, and the impacts are wide ranging.
As Coloradans know all too well, these hot, dry conditions played a significant role in fueling wildfires that tragically steal away lives, communities and our beloved natural landscapes. Images from recent months of families fleeing burning homes and beleaguered firefighters waging battle while air tankers swoop overheard are pictures that we won’t soon forget.
Some of these record-breaking wildfires — like Cameron Peak — are still burning, even as it snows. Last year, the Fern Creek Fire burned all winter, in a place where fire has not occurred in 500 years.
The impacts of these disasters stretch well beyond the fire lines, and have downstream effects on our precious rivers and waterways.
Colorado’s mountains supply water to seven downstream states and the wildfires can directly impact the quantity and quality of that water. This problem is likely to only worsen in the years and decades ahead, which is why we need to take action now to safeguard our water supplies and ensure that our state’s vital natural resources are protected.
This may seem like a daunting problem, but there is so much that our society can do. Fortunately, voters know that protecting our water is critical. Colorado voters are notoriously anti-tax, but on Nov. 3, voters in 23 Colorado counties approved two ballot measures to protect our water and rivers. That follows 2019, where statewide voters approved a measure to provide as much as $29 million annually to implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Similar local county measures were enacted in 2016 and 2018.
The results are clear: Coloradans are aware of the threats facing our water supplies and are willing to dedicate state resources toward preserving and protecting them.
The dollars from these measures are critical and will go a long way toward protecting our water for future Coloradans, but only if we leverage them in the right ways and build on a coalition. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and if we’re serious about tackling these issues we need to marshal all of the support we can find and elicit the help of as many stakeholders as possible.
The federal government can help by funding water conservation efforts by both cities and the agricultural sector, who have both been largely leading the charge. It also can help support natural water storage and build on “natural infrastructure,” i.e. natural or naturalized areas that are strategically managed to conserve the ecosystem’s protective functions while also providing economic and societal benefits.
What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means providing jobs to restore healthy forests. It means safeguarding the wetlands and streams that naturally clean our water, provide firebreaks, and support the wildlife and scenery for which our state is famous. We know these techniques can work, we just need the resources to properly implement them.
And the only way to protect enough forests, wetlands and streams at a big enough scale to make a difference is to layer public funds with other sources of funding in creative ways. The innovative Environmental Impact Fund under development in southwest Colorado is a perfect example of such creativity.
This fund is the result of years of partnerships and collaboration that have brought all stakeholders together with local leadership — homeowners, water providers, agriculture, hikers and agencies. They are working together to combine and leverage funding so that they can protect forests and water resources in a coordinated and cost-efficient way that provides jobs, reaches economies of scale, and protects the community and its water for people, agriculture and nature.
Finally, let’s not forget that all of this helps implement Colorado’s Water Plan, which is currently marking its fifth anniversary. The plan was developed with input from community leaders and residents throughout the state. The resulting plan outlines solutions to address the gap between our finite water supplies and demand, while setting a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. It also outlines steps for maintaining our vital agricultural economy, which bolsters our communities while supplying food and fiber around the world.
Studies show that the entire American Southwest is on the precipice of a historic megadrought, which means that our climate and ecosystems are entering into uncharted territory. The future is already here: We must act now to help our communities and environment navigate future wildfires and intensifying drought.
Protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams today means acting to protect future generations of Coloradans. But we’re Coloradans. We have proven that water is an issue that unites us, and we are poised to lead the nation on creative and effective solutions to address this issue head-on.
Jill Ozarski is a program officer in the Environment Program focusing on the Colorado River initiative for the Walton Family Foundation.
From H2O Radio:
There’s new evidence about the extent of pollution from PFAS compounds—the so-called “forever chemicals”—that were used in non-stick cookware and many other products like firefighting foam and food packaging. PFAS has been linked to suppressed immune function, cancers, and other human health issues. Now, the compounds have been found in a mosquito pesticide, Anvil 10+10, which has been widely applied across the country and could be contaminating water supplies with the toxins.
Anvil is sprayed from helicopters, airplanes, and trucks and is used in at least 25 states from Massachusetts to California. A group known as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found PFAS in Anvil samples, and as the Boston Globe reports, the state of Massachusetts confirmed the pesticide contains the compounds. Given the widespread use of the pesticide over the years, specialists say it’s likely that the chemicals have leached into groundwater and other water sources.
The Clarke company, which makes the product, said no PFAS ingredients are used in the formulation of Anvil, but acknowledged the chemicals could have been introduced though manufacturing or packaging. Officials at EPA, who’ve been criticized for delaying new standards to reduce PFAS exposure, said they were looking into the findings and plan to conduct their own analysis.
A representative of PEER said it’s frightening that we do not know how many other pesticides, insecticides, or even disinfectants contain PFAS.
Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter declared that these findings shock the conscience and that states likely have unknowingly contaminated communities’ water with PFAS hidden in pesticides, and she charged that, once again, the EPA has failed to protect the American people from harmful pollution.
Here’s the release from the IPCC:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has opened a meeting in hybrid format to consider essential business as work on the Sixth Assessment Report advances amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Representatives of the IPCC’s 195 Member countries, meeting in the 53rd Session of the Panel, will convene for the first time in a format combining exchanges in writing and online discussions, as a face-to-face meeting remains impossible.
The main business of the 53rd Session will be to agree the IPCC budget for the coming year. This Session of the Panel will reconvene in early 2021 to consider other urgent business matters.
The Panel is meeting as members of the IPCC Bureau and authors continue their work on AR6. The pandemic has led to delays of 3-4 months in some of the milestones for the preparation of AR6 this year, and the release dates of the report remain under review.
In a letter to delegates opening the Session, IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee thanked the Secretariat for finding a way to hold a meeting that was consistent with the IPCC Principles and Procedures and did not disadvantage any delegates on the basis of connectivity or time zones.
“Their determination to keep the business of the IPCC flowing smoothly parallels the huge efforts and creativity of the Working Groups and their authors and Technical Support Units to advance work on the Sixth Assessment Report despite the pandemic,” he said.
The IPCC meeting will run from 7 to 14 December.
For more information contact:
IPCC Press Office, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Lynn, +41 22 730 8066, Werani Zabula, +41 22 730 8120
About the IPCC
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide political leaders with periodic scientific assessments concerning climate change, its implications and risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation strategies. In the same year the UN General Assembly endorsed the action by the WMO and UNEP in jointly establishing the IPCC. It has 195 member states.
Thousands of people from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC. For the assessment reports, IPCC scientists volunteer their time to assess the thousands of scientific papers published each year to provide a comprehensive summary of what is known about the drivers of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and how adaptation and mitigation can reduce those risks.
The IPCC has three working groups: Working Group I, dealing with the physical science basis of climate change; Working Group I, dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III, dealing with the mitigation of climate change. It also has a Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories that develops methodologies for measuring emissions and removals.
IPCC assessments provide governments, at all levels, with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. IPCC assessments are a key input into the international negotiations to tackle climate change. IPCC reports are drafted and reviewed in several stages, thus guaranteeing objectivity and transparency.
About the Sixth Assessment Cycle
Comprehensive scientific assessment reports are published every 6 to 7 years; the latest, the Fifth Assessment Report, was completed in 2014 and provided the main scientific input to the Paris Agreement.
At its 41st Session in February 2015, the IPCC decided to produce a Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). At its 42nd Session in October 2015 it elected a new Bureau that would oversee the work on this report and Special Reports to be produced in the assessment cycle. At its 43rd Session in April 2016, it decided to produce three Special Reports, a Methodology Report and AR6.
The IPCC also publishes special reports on more specific issues between assessment reports.
Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty was launched in October 2018.
Climate Change and Land, an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems was launched in August 2019, and the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate was released in September 2019.
In May 2019 the IPCC released the 2019 Refinement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, an update to the methodology used by governments to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
The contributions of the three IPCC Working Groups to the Sixth Assessment Report are currently under preparation. The concluding Synthesis Report is due in 2022.
For more information visit http://www.ipcc.ch.
The website includes outreach materials including videos about the IPCC and video recordings from outreach events conducted as webinars or live-streamed events.
Most videos published by the IPCC can be found on our YouTube channel.
From the IPCC:
AR6 Synthesis Report (SYR)
The IPCC is currently in its Sixth Assessment cycle, during which the IPCC will produce the Assessment reports of its three working groups, three special reports, a refinement to the methodology report and the Synthesis report. The Synthesis Report will be the last of the AR6 products, due for release in 2022.
According to IPCC procedures the Synthesis Reports (SYRs) should “synthesise and integrate materials contained within the Assessment Reports and Special Reports” and “should be written in a non-technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of policy-relevant but policy-neutral questions approved by the Panel”. They are composed of two sections, a Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of 5 to 10 pages and a longer report of 30 to 50 pages.
The writing of AR6 SYR will be based on the content of the three Working Groups Assessment Reports: WG1 – The Physical Science Basis, WG2 – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, WG3 – Mitigation of Climate change, and the three Special Reports: Global Warming of 1.5°C, Climate Change and Land, The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
It might also take into account issues considered in other global assessment (such as Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and UN Environment’s Sixth Global Environment Outlook), if those issues are also addressed in the above-mentioned reports.
AR6 SYR will be finalized in the first half of 2022 in time for the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement.
From The Sky-Hi News (Amy Golden) via The Summit Daily:
Formal damage assessments for structures in the county have been completed after the East Troublesome Fire scorched through nearly 200,000 acres in northern Grand County. According to those reports, 555 structures were destroyed, nine buildings suffered major damage and 34 sustained minor damage.
Among the buildings destroyed, 366 were residential and 189 were outbuildings. More than 200 were people’s primary residences.
Two surveys went out — one to evacuees and one to homeowners — to begin connecting those in need of a place to stay with those willing to lease out their home. Darland said more than 190 homeowners signed up to offer their houses to the roughly 50 families who responded needing some sort of housing.
However, many of these homes are only available through the spring. Darland and the county are working with community partners like Snow Mountain Ranch and Sun Communities to find a longer-term solution while seeking funding from state and federal sources…
Ten buildings belonging to businesses were also destroyed in the fire.
That includes buildings at C Lazy U Ranch, Winding River Ranch and Highland Marina. Two longtime outfitters in the area — Dave Parri’s Outfitting & Guide Service and Samuelson Outfitters — have also suffered heavy losses.
Three generations of the Samuelson family have operated in the Troublesome Basin for more than half a century. Cathy Samuelson and her husband Richard “Sambo” Samuelson lost most of the 2020 hunting season because of the fire and two of their camps were destroyed. Two employees lost their homes in the fire as well…
Acreage-wise, the fire burned almost 15% of the land in Grand County. With tourism and recreation being Grand’s primary economic driver, the burn scar over public lands — spanning Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and Rocky Mountain National Park — could hamper tourism for years to come.
The county said many ranches have reported a significant or total loss of hay intended for winter feeding of livestock. Damages and impacts associated with agricultural land and operations are ongoing.
The burned lands incorporated significant grazing leases held by local producers, and impacts to agriculture irrigation supply and delivery are being assessed…
In a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the estimated costs of the county’s response has been roughly $352,000 as of Nov. 12. Those expenses include $80,000 for staff, logistics and emergency protective actions in the Office of Emergency Management; $150,000 for evacuations and emergency protective actions for the Grand County Sheriff; and $76,000 in overtime for county government employees…
Before the East Troublesome Fire, the county had been battling the nearly 15,000-acre Williams Fork Fire for over a month. Other fires the county responded to during this dry year included the Dice Hill Fire just on the other side of the Summit County line and the Deep Creek Fire outside Kremmling.
Debris removal from the East Troublesome Fire will likely be too much for the county to handle alone. Grand has estimated that debris could exceed over 30,000 cubic yards and cost more than $27 million to haul off…
Various watersheds hit by the fire — including the Poudre River, North Fork of the Big Thompson River, North Fork Colorado River, Three Lakes, Willow Creek and the East Troublesome Creek — are expected to feel the effects for a long time.
These impacts will reach far beyond Grand County, which supplies water to major cities on the northern Front Range. Northern Water provides water to more than a million people, which is equal to 615,000 irrigated acres in northern Colorado.
“Sedimentation, debris flows and water contamination will threaten drinking water supplies for years to come,” the commissioners said.
Other environmental impacts like erosion and forest health are only just beginning to be evaluated.
Hazard tree removal is another concern, as fire damage has made many trees in the burn area a falling hazard. The Colorado State Forester estimates over 1,000 trees will need to be removed in county right of ways…
Estimates peg the overall damage from the fire at nearly $200 million. That amount could go up as the aftermath grows clearer.
From the University of Northern Colorado (Kate Stahla):
Ash darkens the sky. The sun is completely blacked out. Everything has an eerie orange glow. Cinders rain down and cover every surface with soot. This isn’t some apocalyptic movie or dystopian future. This is real life on the Colorado Front Range.
2020 has been an active fire year. Four of Colorado’s top five wildfires burned this year. Air quality on the front range has been dire, especially considering the ongoing respiratory pandemic. Now that the two largest fires of the summer are now both sitting at 100% containment, Colorado must face its increasingly flammable future.
The Cameron Peak fire started Aug. 13 in the mountains near Chambers Lake. It smoldered for months until a mid-October wind storm propelled it into becoming the largest wildfire in Colorado history. By the time fire crews completely contained it, on Dec. 3, it had burned up over 200,000 acres.
The East Troublesome fire has an even more explosive story. The fire was reported near Parshall Oct. 14 and contained Nov. 30, but in that short span grew to be the state’s second-largest fire. The fire grew by over 87,000 acres between Oct. 21 and 22, destroyed parts of Grand Lake and threatened Granby and Estes Park.
These fires were a consequence of the long-term drought and pine beetle epidemic that Colorado is facing. According to the official incident report for the East Troublesome fire, between 60-80% of trees burned had already been killed by pine beetles. That, combined with dry and windy conditions, created a perfect storm for fire conditions.
The outlook isn’t good for fires in the future. Many of the areas that were not burned are littered with downed and dead trees. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the entire state of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought. Some of the hardest hit areas are the headwaters of the Colorado and Cache la Poudre rivers — right where the fires started.
These watersheds are vital to the survival of the Front Range. Water from the Colorado river is pumped into the Big Thompson and supplies farms and cities throughout Northern Colorado. The Poudre river provides water and recreation to Fort Collins and Greeley. Because of the fires at their headwaters, flash floods and ash contamination are now more likely.
Ash and smoke blotted out the sky and directly impacted air quality on the Front Range. People were advised to stay inside and avoid exercising. Temperatures under the ash plumes could be 10 degrees lower than under the sun. UNC students, already coping with a deadly respiratory virus, also had to contend with dangerous levels of smoke. Callista Gallegos, a UNC student, had a difficult time facing both at once.
“Half the time I couldn’t go outside because I would not be able to breathe, so I was literally stuck inside and it was awful,” she said.
This year’s fire season is now over, but it contains lessons for the future. Colorado has been grappling with the effects of climate change for a while. Four of Colorado’s top five wildfires burned this year, and all of Colorado’s top ten wildfires have burned since 2000. Whether or not worse things are to come depends entirely on what actions are taken now.