#Colorado #snowpack numbers continue to soar thanks to plentiful mountain snowfall — CBS Colorado (January 3, 2023)

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map January 3, 2023 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read the article on the CBS Colorado website (Ashton Altieri). Here’s an excerpt:

Snowpack is above normal across six of Colorado’s eight river basins including the Slate Platte basin which includes the metro area. The two basins that remain below normal are the Upper Rio Grande basin which includes the San Luis Valley as well as the Arkansas basin. This is largely because recent storms have mostly missed the Sangre de Cristo and Wet mountains near Cañon City, Walsenburg, and Trinidad. The Yampa and White River basin in northwest Colorado is in the best shape with snowpack nearly 50% above normal for the first week in January. That basin includes the Steamboat Ski Resort which had the snowiest December in a decade and has received over 200 inches so far this season.

$1 million fire mitigation project planned near #ColoradoSprings Utilities’ reservoir — The Colorado Springs Gazette

A 300-acre fire mitigation project scheduled for 2023 is shown on the map in light green. COLORADO STATE FOREST SERVICE

Click the link to read the article on The Colorado Springs Gazette website (Mary Shinn):

Contracted crews will remove trees across 300 acres to reduce the high risk of catastrophic wildfire near North Catamount Reservoir south of U.S. 24, said Luke Cherney, a forester with the State Forest Service. The area on U.S. Forest Service land was prioritized for fire mitigation because of the dense trees, damage from pests and proximity to drinking water infrastructure. The goal is to ensure when the forest burns, it will not be as extreme and hot as some of the state’s most destructive fires, such as the Waldo Canyon fire, that run through the crowns of trees, blackening the landscape and killing nearly all the vegetation. This type of fire can hurt the watershed and water infrastructure because without living plants the ash and sediment will wash into reservoirs and intake pipes, creating major problems for water managers. Areas hit by intense fire also can see major debris flows without any vegetation to hold back soils. Thinning trees will help create conditions where fires will burn at a lower intensity through the underbrush, leaving many trees alive…

View of Pikes Peak from the South Catamount Reservoir. Photo: Andy Schlosberg, CSFS

The parcel, adjacent to areas that Colorado Springs Utilities already has mitigated, never has been mitigated for fire risk, said Jeremy Taylor, Utilities’ forestry program manager, and the work will protect pipelines, electrical lines and the overall watershed. Runoff from a healthy watershed is also far cleaner and easier to treat.  

“We are restoring the landscape to a more historic and healthy condition that previously would have been achieved by wildfire,” he said in an email. 

The project will remove about half the trees in an area where western spruce budworm and Douglas-fir beetle have damaged the forest, Cherney said. The work will increase the space between trees and allow each tree more access to water and nutrients to improve their health, putting them in a better position to fend off pests, he said.

Bobcat® Compact Track Loader with Masticating Attachment. Photo credit: Wilderness Forestry, Inc.

The crews may use masticators to thin trees, Cherney said. The masticators, similar to front-end loaders, are equipped with large drums loaded with metal teeth to remove and mulch trees. In steep areas, crews may also need to use chain saws.

#Snowpack at 142% after week of storms in Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin — KLAS #COriver (January 3, 2023)

West SWE basin-filled map January 3, 2023 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read the article on the KLAS website (Greg Haas). Here’s an excerpt:

Dec. 27 measurements of 102% snowpack in the region — just above normal — had risen to 142% as of today (Jan. 3) in the Upper Colorado River Basin. That week-to-week change is good news but demonstrates the volatility of snowpack levels. Just as rainfall makes little to no impact on the level of Lake Mead, snowpack levels in early January shouldn’t be seen as a sign that a few snowstorms will erase years of drought, experts say…The “atmospheric river” conditions that are feeding moisture into the Colorado mountains are certainly helping. That pattern was expected to end sometime this week…

Currently, snowpack conditions throughout the basin are above normal. Mountains that feed the headwaters of the Colorado River are at 129% of normal. The highest levels are in Utah, where mountains that feed the Green River are at 180% of normal snowpack and the Lower San Juan region is at 175% of normal…

And climate change’s effects are now being quantified as more data becomes available.

“In effect, temperature is opening up a gap between precipitation and streamflow,” according to Jeff Lukas of the Western Water Assessment, a team of scientists from the University of Colorado, the University of Utah and the University of Wyoming…

“In the past 40 years, a warming trend of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit has discernably impacted basin hydrology. This regional warming, like that at broader scales, has been linked to human causes,” Lukas said in summarizing a study of hydrology in the Colorado River basin released in 2000.

#SouthPlatteRiver #Water & #Drought Symposium: February 1, 2023 — #Colorado Ag Water Alliance

8:50 – Welcome, Phil Brink Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK

9:00 – Proven Drought Mitigation Strategies Joel Schneeklolth, CSU Water Resources Specialist, Great Plains Research Station

9:40 – Colorado Water Plan Update – Ag Focus Nora Flynn, Senior Agricultural Specialst, Colorado Water Conservation Board

10:10 – Break

10:20 – Lower South Platte River Update Joe Frank, GM, Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District 

11:00 – Funding for Irrigation Projects Greg Peterson, Exec. Director, Colorado Ag Water Alliance

11:30 – Update on USDA-NRCS Programs David Colburn, Resource Team Lead – DC 1

1:50 Lunch — grab and go or stay and chat (Lunch sponsored by Centennial Conservation District)
Please RSVP: Amber Beeson, centennialcd1@gmail.com (970) 571-5296 or Madeline Hagan, morganconservationdistrict@gmail.com (970) 427-3362

Suncor has shut down #Colorado’s only refinery. That’s raising concerns about air quality and higher gas prices — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Sam Brasch). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado’s only oil and gas refinery is offline and might not resume full operations until March, raising concerns about gas prices and local air quality after a series of recent incidents.  In a press release issued yesterday, Suncor Energy announced it closed its Commerce City refinery last Saturday — Christmas Eve — due to “extreme and record-setting weather.” The statement did not mention a pair of recent fires, one of which injured two workers on Christmas Eve.  It did acknowledge extensive damage at the facility. 

“The inspection and repair of the damaged equipment [are] ongoing. Based on our current assessment, we anticipate a progressive restart of the facility with a return to full operations expected to be completed by late Q1 2023,” the company wrote. 

The shutdown will disrupt local gas and diesel resources. Grier Bailey, the executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said Suncor supplies between 35 to 40 percent of all gasoline sold in Colorado. A company website notes the facility is also a primary source of asphalt and produces about a third of the jet fuel for Denver International Airport.

“I think you’ll see drastic wholesale price increases in the next few weeks. And then depending on how other suppliers in the market can compensate, you’re going to see abnormally high gasoline and diesel prices,” Bailey said. 

Bailey added many gas stations could close pumps to conserve supplies for fire departments, hospitals and other essential services.

Water “Bank Account” running low in #Nevada — USGS

Click the link to read the release on the USGS website:

In a new report published today, U.S. Geological Survey scientists determined that groundwater in the Smith and Mason Valleys, a key agricultural region in Nevada, is being used up by humans at rates faster than it can be replenished.

The report documents water-level changes between 1970 and 2020, estimating groundwater storage-volume declines of 287,600 acre-feet in Smith Valley and 269,000 acre-feet in Mason Valley. The study also demonstrates that even during wet years, the Walker River is not able to adequately recharge the groundwater supply.

Sources/Usage: Public Domain. Line-graph plot showing the magnitude of water-level decline in a well in Smith Valley, 1970-2020.

“Looking at groundwater, streamflow, and climate data from over half a century, it is clear that we are running into a water deficit,” said Gwendolyn Davies, USGS hydrologist and lead author of the report. “Groundwater is like a bank account, and when you take more out than you are putting in, at some point the account runs dry.”

Sources/Usage: Public Domain. Visit Media to see details. Low stream flows at USGS Wabuska stream gage (10301500) on the Walker River in Nevada, near the end of the 2011-2016 drought. Link to streamgage data.

In the report, valley-wide water-level change was calculated by comparing water-table maps for the periods 1970-1995, 1996-2006, and 2007-2020; as well as the overall change from 1970-2020. Trends in water-level change corresponded with patterns in groundwater pumping and stream efficiency.

The introduction of supplemental groundwater pumpage in the 1950’s was initially intended to offset surface water deficits only during dry years, but pumpage continues even in years when average or above average stream flows meet surface water demands. Reliance on supplemental groundwater pumpage has resulted in widespread groundwater storage decline and decreased stream efficiency. With each successive drought cycle, the ability of Walker River to sustain stream flows and convey water downstream has diminished.

“This report will provide essential information to communicate recent status and trends in water resources in Smith Valley and Mason Valley, and to help the local water users move forward on developing a long-term plan for sustainable water use.” said Adam Sullivan, the State Engineer with the Nevada Division of Water Resources.  

Above average wet periods have a marginal and short-lived effect on rebounding the groundwater levels outside of the river corridor.

The Walker River originates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and flows nearly 160 miles to its terminus at Walker Lake in west-central Nevada. The river provides a source of irrigation water for tens of thousands of acres of agricultural lands in California and Nevada and is the principal source of inflow to Walker Lake.

Sources/Usage: Public Domain. The extent of water-level declines in Smith and Mason Valleys, Nevada, 1970-2020. Large water-level declines are signified by warmer colors.

Influence in the Polis years: CRES history Part 6 — @BigPivots

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed HB21-1238 into law in a ceremony at the Denver Botanic Gardens in June 2021. From left, State Sen. Chris Hansen, CRES member Laurent Meillon, State Rep. Tracey Bernett, Gov. Jared Polis, Becky Long, and Howard Geller of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Photo credit: Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

CRES has been busy in recent years trying to advance Colorado’s clean energy agenda. The most compelling evidence of success is a law that tilts the table on natural gas. It’s wonky stuff but terribly important if Colorado is to attain its carbon reduction goals.

About the time that CRES hit a speed bump when it hired a full-time executive director, Colorado also slowed its pace in energy innovation. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had spoken at the CRES 2010 annual meeting in Montrose, was popular but was seen by many in the environmental community as sluggish. Too, the Legislature was divided politically during his years in the governor’s mansion. Always, bipartisan legislation is best. In important cases it’s useful to have majorities.

Those majorities arrived in the 2018 election along with the election of Jared Polis as governor. Wealthy from shrewd investments and with sharp political instincts, Polis had announced his gubernatorial campaign in Pueblo at Solar Roast Coffee. If elected governor, he said in his Main Street announcement, he would push Colorado to 100% renewables by 2040. He breezed to victory. Renewables had gone mainstream.

A month later, Xcel Energy officials staged a public announcement in the sunshine-splashed atrium of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They proclaimed their intent to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from electrical generation by 2030 and expand that to emission-free electricity by 2050. A week later, directors of Platte River Power Authority, the utility serving four northern Colorado cities, announced an even more ambitious target: 100% renewable energy by 2030. Holy Cross in 2020 adopted the same goal for its service territory in the Vail-Aspen-Rifle area but without conditions.

In the early months of 2019, Colorado legislators adopted a deluge of bills built around the idea of pivoting rapidly to renewables. Amid solar panels in Arvada, Polis signed a law that formally created the framework for building what Ritter had long before described as a New Energy Economy.

CRES has tried to flex more muscle in this friendly atmosphere. Singularly important has been the CRES policy committee. The 12 to 15 members meet by conference call or video about an hour weekly during the legislative session and bi-weekly during other months. The policy committee has a diversity of voices and opinions but tends to consist of the wizened elders. For example, while 10 out of 12 people participating in the MCRES chapter are under age 40, the inverse holds true for the policy committee.

Policy members take on responsibility for researching individual topics, helping decide whether CRES wants to get engaged and how. In some cases, this involves meeting with legislators, other times in giving testimony to legislative committees. CRES has also had a more robust presence in proceedings of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Rebecca Cantwell has been a member of this committee. She has worked policy from several sides. She had worked for Tim Wirth when he was a U.S. representative from Boulder and adjoining areas, then became a Denver journalist for 16 years. While at the Rocky Mountain News, she covered the evolution of communications technology, a task that gave her a deep understanding of how the PUC operates. From 2002 to 2005, while supervising political coverage for The Denver Post, she noticed the vigor of the grassroots movement in support of an energy transition.

“I remember actually advocating internally at The Denver Post of the importance of this effort,” she says. “Clearly the passage of Amendment 37 in 2004 set Colorado on a renewable energy future more than any other single event.”

By then, she was chafing in her capacity as an observer. “I wanted to stop telling about what other people were doing and actually work on progress,” she says.

That motivation put her on a winding path that included editing a magazine published by Smart Energy Living Alliance, a stint at the Colorado Energy Office, and then beginning in 2012 several years as director of what is now the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, or COSSA.

Cantwell had become familiar with CRES after meeting Larson at a wind energy conference in 2005. While at the solar trade group, she worked to implement a solar thermal roadmap developed in conjunction with CRES that laid out steps needed to make solar thermal a larger presence in Colorado. The roadmap had value at the Legislature and elsewhere, she says, even if it failed to produce much public policy for quite a while.

Vince Calvano shepherds the CRES advocacy work, tracking legislation and PUC matters in spreadsheets, no small undertaking any time of year but especially when the General Assembly is in session. He had studied earth sciences at Penn State. There, he had an advisor, William Easterling, who had helped write one of the International Panel on Climate Change reports. “I learned how much of an issue global warming was, and I wanted to be part of the solution,” says Calvano.

He then worked as a geophysical technician for a year and a half before returning to Colorado—which he had visited while as an undergrad – to attend law school in Boulder, graduating in 2008. Now he believes he is part of the solution through his pro bono work for CRES.

Like all others interviewed for this history, Calvano sees CRES having an importance primarily on the margins. One important edge is how CRES can influence the position of other environmental groups or even the Colorado Energy Office. Other parties in negotiations “can be more concerned with the give and take with Xcel and holding back,” he says. The extra voice provided by CRES, through its persistence, can push them to take stronger stands.

Social cost of methane

The most compelling recent evidence of CRES influence can be found in HB21-1238. It effectively requires state regulators to consider the costs of pollution using a different set of metrics. It did this by revising the methodology used by the PUC to determine the cost-effectiveness of demand-side management programs of public utilities selling natural gas. Like many big ideas, it had a long gestation period.

Laurent Meillon, a member of the CRES policy committee, began pushing the principles behind the bill nearly a decade ago. Frank, the CRES executive director, had introduced him to then-State Sen. Gail Schwartz. She understood the inadequacy of the metrics used by state regulators in evaluating effectiveness of demand-side management programs, says Meillon. She understood that heating of buildings needed to “change a lot, away from cheaply priced fracked gas and toward clean solutions with no hidden costs.”

Schwartz accomplished much during her time in the Colorado Senate but could not get the bill she fashioned with Meillon’s assistance approved before she was term-limited.

Next, Senators Mike Foote and Chris Kennedy took up the legislation, but they also could not get it passed. In 2020, the legislative majority was there for Foote, a Democrat, then something got in the way. “It was literally on the Senate president’s desk to be introduced in March of 2020 when we went into covid lockdown,” he says. Foote, after being term-limited, passed along the idea to Rep. Tracey Bernett, then a new representative from Boulder County. In addition to her engineering background, Bernett has a master’s in business administration from Harvard.

State Sen. Chris Hansen co-sponsored the bill. It passed without great difficulty.

Meillon cites literally dozens of organizations and individuals. He credits the Colorado Solar and Storage Association (then called COSEIA) with breaking the intellectual ground two years before he seized the issue.

“I know I can sound like stereotypical PR messaging when I say that it was a team effort, yet I really mean it,” says Meillon. “Sure I drove this with my persistence, yet nothing would have happened without all these people helping and pushing as best they could.

Among those in CRES who urged him, he says, were Cantwell, Becky English, and Leslie Glustrom. He also singles out Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office in the Polis administration.

Lehr also had a role in Meillon’s account, as he “had been talking publicly about the ‘pernicious role of the discount rate against clean energy’ for 10 years before we even got started and first made me aware of it.”

Foote, who now provides pro bono expertise as an attorney representing CRES in PUC matters, describes Meillon’s case as exceptional for CRES.

“To have a sustained presence at the PUC and/or the Legislature takes funding and paying people, but their funding is light and they don’t pay people,” says Foote of CRES. “It all depends on who is volunteering and what they have the time and passion to do.”

In this case, Meillon was able to bring the expertise and advocacy of CRES and its members. “I know it would not have been a bill had he not kept the idea alive,” says Foote.

Other installments in this series:

Part 1: A coming together of minds in Colorado.

Part 2: Why note wind?

Part 3: Why note wind?

Part 4: The path to the governor’s mansion

And also: How Bill Ritter rode wind

Part 5: Growth, a stumble, then new chapters

Or download the whole series in one e-magazine of Big Pivots 64.

#Snowpack skyrockets above to-date norm in #Colorado (January 3, 2023) — OutThereColorado.com

Click the link to read the article on the OutThereColoado.com website (Spencer McKee). Here’s an excerpt:

With heavy snow falling across much of Colorado over the past week, snowpack has skyrocketed, with much of the state now above the typical to-date 30-year snowpack median. The state was roughly even with the 30-year snowpack norm through the morning of December 28. As of January 3, the state of Colorado is at 125 percent of the to-date norm, according to the USDA. It’s the farthest ahead in the Yampa and White river basin, found in the northwest corner of the state. There, it’s at 148 percent of the to-date median. Snowpack is above the to-date norm everywhere else, with the exception of the Upper Rio Grande River basin and the Arkansas River basin. That being said, the snowpack situation has improved in those places in recent days, as well.

2022 full year precipitation ranking from the Prism Group grids. Very few areas ended with their wettest (green) or driest (red) year — Brian Brettschneider @Climatologist49

Reeling in the last of last year’s news: Dying coal; parking vs. people; housing silliness; snow, snow, snow — @Land_Desk #snowpack (January 3, 2023)

Click the link to read the newsletter on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson). Here’s an excerpt:

Aridification Watch

Okay, “aridification” may be the wrong header this time, since the West is getting battered by atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones and power grid-wrecking snows and winds and rains. It’s record-breaking craziness — at least it seems that way, since we haven’t had much like it in a bit. But is it really all that unusual? Here’s a mini-Data Dump on early winter snowpack levels to help us figure it out: 

19: Number of monthly precipitation records broken during the first 28 days of December 2022 in the Western climate region (the final three days aren’t yet recorded in the system). 

8.2: Inches of precipitation recorded during a 24-hour period at Sierraville Ranger Station in California on Dec. 2, 2022, shattering the previous all-time record set in 1913. 

27: Inches of new snow that fell in the Tahoe City, California, area on Jan. 1, 2023. It contained about 3.33 inches of water. On Dec. 11 the area received 31 inches of snow in one day. 

210,000: Approximate number of utility customers who lost power along the West Coast as a result of the late December storms. 

30,000: Number of utility customers who lost power in the Northwest after vandals attacked four electrical substations in Washington state on Christmas day. 

3: Number of people killed by avalanches so far this season, including two skiers/snowboarders in Colorado and a snowmobiler in Montana. 

Further inland, the moisture is giving a needed boost to the giant snowpack “reservoir” that feeds the beleaguered Colorado River system. After tracking close to median levels for the first three months of the 2023 water year, this year’s Upper Colorado Basin snowpack shot up to 142% of the Jan. 3 “normal.” It may be a little too early to get excited, though — last year’s snows followed the same early season abundant pattern before dropping off in January.

Zooming in on the San Juan Mountains and Southwest Colorado we see a similar but slightly less wet pattern. Levels are above the median, but still below last year and 2020.

And zooming in even further to our three go-to SNOTEL stations, all located in Southwest Colorado, we find that snowpack levels are about at the average for each station’s period of record (which varies from station to station), but are still tracking ahead of 2019, which turned out to be a BIG snow year.

All of which is to say, it’s too early to really know what winter will bring us. So be sure to enjoy the snow while it’s here!

Feds set deadline (February 13, 2023) for West Fork Dam comments — @WyoFile #LitteSnakeRiver #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water developers want to construct a 264-foot high dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek south of Rawlins. This artist’s conception shows in a Google Earth rendition what the reservoir would look like. (Wyoming Water Development Office)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

Federal authorities have set a Feb. 13 deadline for comments on a proposal to build a 264-foot-high concrete dam in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Carbon County.

The proposed West Fork Dam and reservoir would impound 6,500 acre-feet of irrigation storage in the Little Snake River Valley and parts of Colorado. Another 1,500 acre-feet would maintain a “minimum bypass flow” into Battle Creek and the Little Snake, Yampa, Green and Colorado Rivers downstream.

Officials announced the deadline in the Federal Register on Dec. 28 where they said they would accept written comments for 45 days. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has scheduled three public meetings Jan. 10-12 in communities in the impacted region.

The meetings are not designed as forums at which officials will accept public comment, Aaron Voos, a spokesman for the Medicine Bow said. Officials will use them to explain plans for construction of the proposed West Fork Dam and reservoir and the parallel Forest Service examination of a land exchange that would enable the project. 

Why it matters

The dam would cost some $80 million, according to a 2017 estimate, and the state would pay $73.6 million of that, original plans state. The dam and reservoir would generate an estimated $73.3 million in public benefits such as recreation and fishing, according to developers. Those benefits allow the state to reduce the amount irrigators would have to contribute, according to documents outlining the plan.

The proposal to impound more water in the Colorado River Basin and extract it from waterways for “increased pasture and hay production” comes at a time when seven Western states and Mexico are at odds over who can use what water in the overtaxed system. Even though officials are struggling to maintain water levels in Lake Powell, Wyoming believes it has the right to construct the reservoir and use flows from the basin’s network of waterways.

 Who said what:

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will prepare an environmental impact statement analyzing six alternatives, including no-action and an option that would use “alternate means such as … water conservation projects and habitat improvement projects” to achieve watershed-plan goals.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.