Colorado is now gearing up for a second giveaway. The Can Do Colorado eBike Pilot will award more than 100 e-bikes with $560,000 from the Colorado Energy Office, the City of Denver and the Regional Air Quality Council.
Unlike the first round, individuals can’t apply for a free e-bike. Instead, organizations had to submit concepts before the end of January to manage the bikes for the benefit of essential workers.
Will Toor, the director of the Colorado Energy Office, said the pilot program came in response to the pandemic. Last spring, his office started hearing stories about essential workers who had decided to avoid the closed confines of buses and light rail cars and instead some used their own cars to get around. RTD later cut some of those routes altogether.
Going forward, Toor thinks e-bikes could play a much larger role as Colorado confronts the threat of climate change. Transportation now accounts for more emissions than any other sector of Colorado’s economy. A lot of those emissions come from Coloradans driving bikeable distances. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, three-fifths of each household’s 2017 car trips, nationwide, were six miles or less.
“I think there is significant potential over time for e-bikes to play a really important role in replacing a lot of those short-to-medium distance automobile trips,” Toor said…
Toor said equity “is really important” as Colorado tries to get people out of internal-combustion cars. He noted the Colorado Energy Office supported Xcel Energy’s recent plan to provide $5 million in rebates for low-income electric car buyers. (What Toor didn’t mention is Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission shot down a plan his office submitted for $30 million in rebates. Some PUC members did not like that the plan would have incentivized luxury cars.)
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor February 9, 2021.
West Drought Monitor February 9, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor February 9, 2021.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
A slow-moving coastal storm delivered heavy precipitation in parts of the Northeast on January 31 – February 1, with impacts (windy weather and snow showers) lingering for several days. Later, the focus for stormy weather briefly returned to the western U.S., although significant precipitation was confined to the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. By February 4, wintry weather shifted into the upper Midwest, where blowing snow and gusty winds briefly resulted in blizzard conditions. The same weather system produced generally light rain across the South. Later, additional patchy precipitation fell in the central and eastern U.S., although dry weather prevailed during the drought-monitoring period across much of the nation’s southwestern quadrant. At the height of the early-February cold outbreak, temperatures plunged below -20°F across portions of the northern Plains and upper Midwest. Sub-zero readings occurred across a much larger area, extending southward across the central Plains and into the middle Mississippi Valley…
Overall, there were few changes to the High Plains’ drought depiction. Frigid weather settled across the region in early February, accompanied by periods of snow mainly in Nebraska and upslope (western) regions. Mostly dry weather persisted, however, in several areas, including northeastern Montana and the Dakotas, where lack of snow cover remained a concern with respect to lack of insulation for winter wheat during the protracted spell of sub-zero temperatures. In Glasgow, Montana, snow cover totaled an inch or less each day during the cold blast, which began with a low of 0°F on February 4 and included at least four consecutive readings below -20°F from February 7-10. In contrast, parts of Nebraska remained beneath a blanket of snow, some of which had fallen during a major storm on January 25. However, some additional snow fell in Nebraska and environs during the drought-monitoring period. For example, the weekend of February 6-7 featured Nebraska snowfall totals of 11.6 inches in North Platte, 9.6 inches in Lincoln, and 9.3 inches in Grand Island…
Aside from widespread precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, the western U.S. experienced a much more tranquil drought-monitoring period. In fact, little or no precipitation fell across southern California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest, although mostly status-quo drought coverage was noted in the wake of late-January storminess. Farther north, coverage of severe to extreme drought (D2 to D3) was reduced in parts of southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming. Meanwhile, Oregon’s changes were mixed, with some general deterioration of conditions in the northeast and further improvement west of the Cascades. Following the late-January storminess, the California Department of Water Resources indicated that the average water equivalency of the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at nearly 13 inches (65% of normal for February 10), well above the January 24 value of 6 inches…
Despite a few showers, the general trend toward drier conditions continued, with some increasing coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. During the first 40 days of the year (January 1 – February 9), precipitation ranged from one-third to one-half of normal in locations such as Crossville, Tennessee (3.02 inches, or 49% of normal); Meridian, Mississippi (3.24 inches, or 46%); Lake Charles, Louisiana (2.86 inches, or 45%); Greenville, Mississippi (2.95 inches, or 43%); Jackson, Tennessee (2.25 inches, or 41%); New Iberia, Louisiana (2.57 inches, or 40%); Lafayette, Louisiana (2.78 inches, or 39%); Monroe, Louisiana (2.43 inches, or 38%); Vicksburg, Mississippi (2.37 inches, or 36%); and New Orleans, Louisiana (2.39 inches, or 35%). Short-term dryness also extended westward to coastal Texas, where some D1 was introduced between Port O’Connor and Galveston. During the first 40 days of the year, rainfall in Galveston totaled just 0.81 inch (16% of normal). Meanwhile, persistent warmth accompanied dry weather in southern Texas, resulting in growing coverage of moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3). Drought deterioration was also noted on the High Plains, particularly in northern Texas and portions of neighboring states. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, statewide topsoil moisture in Texas was rated 55% very short to short on February 7, although agricultural district values were as high as 96% on the Northern High Plains (Amarillo area), 90% in the Lower Valley (Brownsville area), and 84% on the Southern High Plains (Lubbock area). In addition, 53% of Texas’ rangeland and pastures were rated in very poor to poor condition on that date, along with 31% of the winter wheat…
During the next several days, multiple storm systems will travel along or near a boundary separating warm air across the Deep South from frigid conditions farther north. Where storm-related moisture overruns cold air, there will be a significant threat of wintry weather (e.g. snow, sleet, and freezing rain), leading to potential travel disruptions and power outages. The parade of storms will produce generally light snow across the central Plains, Midwest, and Northeast, with periods of wintry precipitation expected from the southern Plains to the mid-Atlantic. Five-day Southeastern rainfall totals could reach 1 to 3 inches or more, except across the southern tip of Florida. Much of the West will also experience multiple rounds of precipitation. Each passing storm system will help to draw cold air farther southward, leading to sub-zero weekend temperatures possibly as far south as northern Texas.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for February 16 – 20 calls for the likelihood of colder-than-normal conditions nationwide, except for near-normal temperatures in southern California and above-normal temperatures along the southern Atlantic Coast. Meanwhile, near- or above-normal precipitation will occur in most areas of country, with drier-than-normal weather limited to southern California, the Desert Southwest, and the north-central U.S.
In the five years since Colorado’s Water Plan took effect, the state has awarded nearly $500 million in loans and grants for water projects, cities have enacted strict drought plans, communities have written nearly two dozen locally based stream restoration plans, and crews have been hard at work improving irrigation systems and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
But big challenges lie ahead — drought, population growth, accelerating climate change, budget cuts, wildfires and competing demands for water, among others.
And though the state has made progress on the plan’s ambitious goals and funding needs since November 2015, it hasn’t yet been able to secure the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050 to fully fund the plan.
Colorado water leaders are optimistic about advances made under the plan thus far. But they acknowledge that this five-year milestone is just the beginning of a long-term effort with no easy path forward. The plan is also undergoing a comprehensive update that will help refine its direction moving forward by incorporating lessons learned and better data.
“Five years in water time is really a blink of an eye,” said Lauren Ris, deputy director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the statewide water policy agency tasked with administering the plan. “Even though we’re so proud of the progress we’ve made, we’ve got a lot of work in front of us. There’s a lot to celebrate but I also think we can’t rest too much on our laurels here.”
The water plan, explained
The plan provides a framework for ensuring there’s enough good-quality water for all of Colorado’s diverse users, as well as the state’s downstream neighbors. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the plan’s creation in May 2013, which set in motion 30 months of meetings, public input, writing and reviewing to ultimately create the 567-page plan.
Colorado has long faced unique water challenges in part because its high-altitude rivers deliver water to 18 other states and Mexico, activity that is carefully governed by legal agreements that include compacts and treaties. Accelerating climate change and rapid population growth have only added more complexity. Colorado’s population is expected to grow as high as 8.1 million by 2050, up from 5.76 million in 2019, with much of that growth occurring on the East Slope. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of the state’s water originates on the West Slope.
Many Colorado water leaders agree that the plan — and the multi-year processes for creating and updating it — has fostered an authentic spirit of collaboration. Even if they disagree, people have to work together to find common ground because the plan prioritizes projects that achieve multiple benefits, which in turn makes them more likely to receive state funding.
“Collaboration is now the starting point of conversations about water and maybe that wasn’t always true before,” said Russ Sands, water supply planning section chief for the CWCB. “Like any dinner party, you have some strong conversations and it’s hard. But then ultimately, we do come together around these multi-purpose, multi-benefit projects.”
Key to putting the plan to work are the public roundtables in each river basin, whose volunteer members are charged with identifying each region’s needs and the methods and funding to meet those needs.
The plan hasn’t completely eased tensions, but it has given water users a forum for voicing their opinions, popular or unpopular. And, perhaps above all else, it has succeeded in keeping water top of mind.
“The best thing the water plan has done is kept the water problem in everybody’s face,” said Max Schmidt, manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Project Power Plant. “Traditionally, we have a dry year and everybody gets all worried. Then the next year’s a wet year and everybody forgets about it. People are now saying, ‘This is a long-term, serious problem.’”
Progress under the plan
Work on the plan is occurring mostly on specific projects in Colorado’s eight river basins, which are often funded by loans and grants administered by the CWCB. Five years in, the plan has provided $63.5 million in grants to 241 projects, and $420 million in loans to 82 projects.
According to the CWCB’s data, 76 percent of the plan’s actions have been initiated or completed, but how this translates to progress on the plan’s eight measurable objectives isn’t clear yet. Those objectives set measurable targets for things like water conservation, new water storage, and water-smart land use, as well as informing the public. When asked about progress toward the objectives, the CWCB said it is no longer calculating specific progress metrics using the objectives but is instead tracking new projects or programs that work toward the goals outlined in the plan.
Since taking office in 2019, Gov. Jared Polis has made water one of his “Wildly Important Goals,” issuing a call to the CWCB and roundtables to create a database of 500 local water projects that are ready or nearly ready to launch and are backed by strong data demonstrating costs and potential outcomes.
While the “water WIG,” as it is known, did not come with any funding attached, the exercise has forced local water leaders to refine, prioritize and provide cost estimates for their most promising ideas.
Though the focus on specific projects has been effective for achieving goals in each river basin, some water leaders feel the plan doesn’t go far enough to address statewide issues.
“We need to think more broadly about water,” said Kathleen Curry, chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the West Slope, rancher and lobbyist. “Having a project-specific focus is great if you’re the entity pushing the projects, but really, overall forest health, stream measurement, snowpack measurement, some of the overall statewide water supply challenges that are out there, those need to be part of the plan as well. [We need to] make sure the plan isn’t simply a laundry list.”
Funding wins and challenges
Since the Colorado Water Plan’s inception, state funding for implementation has ranged from a low of $5 million in 2016 to $30 million in 2019, far short of the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050
In 2020, lawmakers appropriated $7.5 million for the water plan, however, that money is expected to be stretched over three years because of declining oil and gas severance tax revenue and the economic consequences of COVID-19 on the state budget. Many other water-related programs are also not expected to receive additional funding in the near future, according to CWCB spokesperson Sara Leonard.
The plan got a new funding source in 2019 when voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and directed tax revenue to the water plan.
Sports betting got off to a slow start in the spring of 2020, thanks to the near-total shutdown of sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic. But activity picked up speed during the second half of the year, generating $3.4 million in taxes between May and December, double the estimated $1.5 million to $1.7 million per year.
Though not an immediate source of cash, the sports betting initiative was a big win in a state where voters have historically balked at statewide funding for water.
“The water plan requires about $100 million a year in sustainable funding to meet many of the goals outlined for 2025, 2030, 2050,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill. “We never thought Prop DD was going to achieve that annual goal, but at least it established a reliable critical revenue source.”
Garnett said he always envisioned general fund money, plus the sports betting tax revenue, to help get the water plan closer to $100 million a year, but this year’s state budget challenges showed just how fraught that path forward may be. Since its launch, lawmakers have contributed general funds to the plan just once.
“Our economy and state budget have been turned upside down by the pandemic and we have to move through this period before we can talk about sustainable funding,” Garnett said. “It’s just hard to navigate with the changing environment.”
There were other wins for water funding over the last five years, too. Several local water districts and initiatives found success at the polls, garnering millions of dollars in new taxpayer support for an array of local and regional goals aligned with the plan.
In November 2020, voters approved property tax increases to support water projects in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.
“We’re already seeing where [funding is] being piecemealed together so maybe it’s statewide or maybe it’s a local thing,” said Garrett Varra, who chairs the South Platte Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “Voters are more apt to trust people they know and be able to sit down and talk with directly than maybe the state Legislature itself or the CWCB or whoever it is. One way or another, whether it’s done region by region or statewide, it will happen at some point.”
Colorado water leaders are in the middle of a comprehensive water plan update that will conclude in 2022. The update will incorporate five potential supply and demand scenarios for Colorado water in 2050, created by adjusting variables like water availability, climate change and population growth.
“It’s about choices that we make,” said the CWCB’s Ris. “We’re not locked into any future, that we have the ability to make choices in how we deal with everything coming down the pipe, including population growth, funding, climate change.”
Using the various planning scenarios and other data, the CWCB has also developed new tools to help estimate the environmental impacts and costs of water projects, as well as the costs and consequences of doing nothing. The board also created a new “Engage CWCB” website to encourage more community engagement with the plan.
This month, the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide board charged with helping shape policy and coordinating among the various river basins, will re-ignite talks about how best to fund the water plan and, ultimately, achieve its goals.
Set against the backdrop of record-setting wildfires, intensifying drought in the Colorado River Basin and other parts of the state, escalating climate change, and fears around potential water speculation, state water leaders say that funding can’t come soon enough.
“There’s a lot of talk about how do we get to that $100 million mark with the ever-increasing challenges that Colorado faces, with climate change happening faster than anyone really thought, even in 2015 when the water plan was created,” said Garnett.
Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graphics created by Chas Chamberlin, principal with cdcgraphics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The pledges countries made to reduce emissions as part of the 2015 Paris agreement are woefully inadequate, and the world must nearly double its greenhouse gas-cutting goals to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, according to research published [February 9, 2020].
“The commitments are not enough,” said Adrian Raftery, a University of Washington statistics professor and co-author of the study, published in Communications Earth & Environment.
The study found that even if countries were to meet their existing pledges, the world has only about a 5 percent chance to limit the Earth’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels — a key aim of the international agreement.
Raftery and a colleague calculated that global emissions would need to fall steadily — about 1.8 percent each year on average — to put the world on a more sustainable trajectory. While no two countries are alike, that amounts to overall emissions reductions roughly 80 percent more ambitious than those pledged under the Paris agreement, he said.
In many respects, the race to slow the Earth’s warming is a daunting math problem. Emissions have risen about 1.4 percent annually on average over the past decade, not including the abnormal plunge in 2020 driven by the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2019, the world logged the highest emissions ever recorded, at 59 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, a category that includes not only carbon dioxide but also methane and other climate-warming agents. If that trend continues unabated, scientists say, the world could begin to cross troubling climate thresholds within the coming decade.
The architects of the Paris accord and numerous world leaders have long underscored that the pledges made in 2015 were not enough to limit warming to acceptable levels. The expectation was always that nations would grow more ambitious with time, and there is evidence that is happening.
But as global emissions have continued to rise, as countries have failed to hit even modest targets and as the consequences of a warming world have become more tangible, the push for leaders to act more aggressively has become only more urgent.