Wildfires & Watersheds: New science brings new insights | Life in the Watershed — The Tri-Lakes Tribune

Slopes above Cheesman Reservoir after the Hayman fire photo credit Denver Water.

Here’s a guest column from the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District (Bill Banks) that’s running in the Tri-Lakes Tribune:

How do wildfires impact our watersheds?

This seemingly straightforward question actually has a variety of answers, and some are quite complex. First, here are the more evident issues:

Fire retardants enter our streams, which degrades water quality.

The soil in a burn area can become hydrophobic — it actually repels water!

This increases surface runoff and erosion and can lead to devastating mudslides, flash floods and debris flows that dump soil, rocks and trees into our streams and reservoirs. These water-driven incidents endanger our citizens and significantly impact water quality for wildlife and people.

According to a recent article published by Eos.org, new science is revealing a variety of risks to surface water after a wildfire. For example, after two large fires in California, environmental engineers identified benzene (a known carcinogen) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water distribution network where wildfires had overtaken communities, burning houses and plastic pipes.

Wildfires in areas that are predominantly wilderness — such as the foothills of Pikes Peak — present another set of challenges for watersheds. The article points out that different trees release different metals when burned. Ponderosa pines might release iron, manganese and other metals absorbed from the soil and air; aspen and spruce trees might emit lead and copper. Scientists are studying this ash and sediment’s geochemical reactions in water to more clearly understand the impact to water quality.

Clearly, the type of burn area — wilderness with vegetation or a community with structures — will affect what ends up in the surface water. Additional considerations that impact runoff and water quality include these questions: How much of the watershed burned? Was the fire behavior considered extreme, as with Colorado’s Cameron Peak Fire and East Troublesome Fire?

We can continue to expect “extreme fire behavior” in the future

In a recent statement, Monte Williams, the forest supervisor for Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, said: “The number of large fires and extreme fire behavior we are seeing on our forests this year is historic.” In fact, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the wildfire-management environment has profoundly changed over the last few decades:

The fire season lasts longer.

Fires are larger and, on average, burn more acres each year.

Fire behavior is more extreme.

To address these challenges, the Forest Service and its many partner organizations — including the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control & Greenway District — are collaborating to support a Wildland Fire Management Strategy in which a key component is creating “fire-adapted communities.”

In a fire-adapted community, residents are knowledgeable about the risks of wildfire and engaged in wildfire mitigation efforts. This means everyone in the community — including individual homeowners — actively participates in mitigation projects. This reduces the impact of wildfire and helps to protect our watershed.

We can ALL help. Here’s how…

When you participate in mitigation efforts — at your home, neighborhood, and public lands — you are contributing to a fire-adapted community. The many benefits include improved public safety, water quality, restored wildlife habitat and a healthy creek system. Find tips from Firewise USA to help protect your home from wildfire at tinyurl.com/y4kzcet4.

Bill Banks is the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The District was established in 2009, to manage, administer and fund capital improvements necessary to maintain critical infrastructure and improve the watershed for the benefit of everyone in the Fountain Creek watershed.

Interior department announces plans to strengthen #LWCF implementation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers commends decision

Elk mountains via the Colorado River District.

Here’s the release from the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Walker Conyngham):

Interior order reverses restrictions, restores funding for public access programs, repeals damaging changes put in place by the Trump administration

The Interior Department today announced its intent to restore clarity to the implementation of and elevate conservation and access programs in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reversing damaging measures put in place by former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and reinstating bipartisan language passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act.

The secretarial order from Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega rescinds the order from the previous administration, removing a litany of rules governing deployment of LWCF funds that effectively eliminated funding for land acquisition projects by the Bureau of Land Management and stipulated that state and local officials could veto LWCF-funded land acquisitions from willing sellers (thereby infringing on the rights of private landowners). Interior’s new order also restores the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program, LWCF’s only competitive grant program dedicated to underserved recreation needs in urban areas – a program experiencing increased demands and needs.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for years has advocated for LWCF’s permanent reauthorization and full, dedicated funding and had strongly criticized the actions by the former administration at the time they were announced. BHA welcomed today’s action by the Biden administration.

“No other federal program has achieved such substantial, durable outcomes – outcomes that have benefited every county and citizens nationwide – than the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Over and over again, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers members have joined with other sportsmen and women, recreationists, business owners and others to stand up for LWCF. Today we offer thanks to the Biden administration for heeding the wishes of the people and the intent of bipartisan lawmakers to restore clarity and purpose to LWCF implementation.

“For over half a century, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has enhanced public access, conserved critical fish and wildlife habitat and bolstered state and local recreation infrastructure,” Tawney continued. “It’s well established as the most effective and popular conservation and access program in the country. BHA looks forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that crucial LWCF funds are deployed in ways that will open up public recreational and access opportunities and sustain important populations of fish and wildlife, continuing a national outdoors legacy that is unique the world over.”

Advanced by Congress and signed into law last August, the Great American Outdoors Act achieved a longtime BHA goal by securing resources for deferred maintenance needs on public lands and ensuring full and dedicated funding at $900 million annually for LWCF. The Dingell Act, which became law in 2019, responded to the outspoken advocacy by millions of Americans, including sportsmen and women, by permanently reauthorizing LWCF.

What the somersaults in automotive industry mean for #Colorado’s #EV goals — The Mountain Town News

Gunnison County Electric Association EV charging. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Were there virtual high-5s among Colorado’s architects of decarbonization?

Surely there were in the wake of the announcement by General Motors that it was shifting its production and sales from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles in the next 15 years.

Ford Motors followed up late last week that it was doubling its investment in EVs by 2025. “We’re not going to cede the future to anyone,” Jim Farley, the chief executive of Ford, told CNBC.

This should make it far easier for Colorado to achieve its goal of 42% penetration of the automotive fleet by 2030. That goal, announced soon after Gov. Jared Polis took office in 2019, calls for 940,000 EVs by 2030.

Asked for comment after GM’s announcement, Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, agreed that it is “very good news for Colorado’s EV goals, and we look forward to working with GM and other automakers to transition to a fully electric fleet.” GM was, he noted, the first major automaker, beyond the EV-only companies like Tesla and Rivian, to announce EV plans that match the scale of changes needed to confront the climate crisis.

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com

The GM announcement was part of a broader somersault by the automotive sector since the November election of President Joe Biden.

The short story is that Trump lost, of course, and California won—and so did Colorado.

Some history: California by virtue of a ruling in the 1990s had the authority to set stricter emissions standards for vehicles than those imposed on automakers by the EPA.

The Obama administration adopted pollution rules that were modeled on those adopted by California. The California and Obama rules required auto companies to make and sell vehicles that reached an average fuel economy of about 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. It was, says the New York Times, the most salient effort by the Obama administration to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Arriving in the White House, Donald Trump set out to roll back those standards, the centerpiece of his deregulatory agenda. The Trump administration last year rolled the standard back to 40 miles per gallon by 2026.

Meanwhile, Colorado in 2019 joined the coalition of California and 12 other states requiring zero-emission vehicle regulations.

Within the automotive industry, some automakers—including General Motors and Toyota—sided with the Trump administration rollback. They filed suit against California. But five automakers—Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo, together with 30% of the market in California—had agreed last August to abide by California’s standards. The agreement required them to increase their average fuel economy from about 38 mpg to about 51 mph by 2026.

Last week, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and others who had banded together under the name of Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation dropped the lawsuit.

This comes after the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which includes 99% of automakers, offered principles for a national program of clean car standards and a long-term focus on electric vehicles.

The decision to drop the lawsuit was described by Travis Madsen, the transportation program director at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, as important for Colorado as the clean-car standards are a “central part of Colorado’s strategy to accelerate vehicle electrification and deliver on our climate goals, and it will be important to have all automakers moving in the same direction.”

Polis, in a statement, had much the same to say.

“We are also encouraged to see the auto industry come to the table with a willingness to support stronger year over year improvements to fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions than the rules adopted by the previous administration,” he said.

“Moving forward, we are focused on achieving large scale electrification, which is what is required to meet the climate crisis we face. With most of the real-world manufacturing decisions for the next few years already made, we encourage all parties to put the fighting of the past behind us and chart a new path to successfully electrify the light-duty fleet as soon as possible.”

Snow in the forecast for this weekend — The #PagosaSprings Sun #snowpack #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 13, 2021 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

The National Weather Service is forecasting for a chance of snow showers mixed with rain to start Friday morning and to continue on and off until next Tuesday, Feb. 16…

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 22.1 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Feb. 10.

That amount is 102 percent of the Feb. 10 median for this site.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins were at 79 percent of the Feb. 10 median in terms of snowpack.

Water report

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Manager Justin Ramsey outlined the current water levels in local lakes in a Feb. 8 press release…

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 45.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 61 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2015 at 128 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 26 cfs, recorded in 1990.

An instantaneous reading was unavailable for the USGS station for the Piedra River near Arboles.

It is noted on the USGS website for this station that the reading of the river flow rate is affected by ice at the station.

Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for Feb. 10 is 81 cfs.

The highest recorded rate was 200 cfs in 2017. The lowest recorded rate was 16.9 in 2003.