Aspen Journalism is compiling a data dashboard highlighting metrics of local public interest, updated weekly.
Snowpack at McClure Pass roughly 150% of average
Snowpack in the Roaring Fork basin reached 126% of average for Jan. 8 with 9.7 inches of snow-water equivalent, according to NOAA. Recent snowfall has increased the basin snowpack by 43% in the past two weeks.
SNOTEL sites that monitor snowfall throughout the winter measured the snowpack at Independence Pass at 94.9% of average on Jan. 8, with a “snow water equivalent” (SWE) of 7.4 inches, up from 6.81 inches on Jan. 8. Last year on Jan. 8, the SNOTEL station up the pass (located at elevation 10,600 feet) recorded an SWE of 8.58 inches, or 110% of average.
The monitoring station at McClure Pass located at elevation 9,500 feet recorded a SWE of 11.18 inches on Jan. 8, or 149.1% of average. That’s up from a SWE of 9.09 inches on Jan. 1. Last year, on Jan. 8, the station also measured a snowpack holding 8.39 inches of water.
On the northeast side of the Roaring Fork Basin, snowpack at Ivanhoe, which sits at an elevation of 10,400 feet, reached 8.5 inches on Jan. 8, or 123.2% of average.
Snowpack at Schofield Pass reached 18.11 inches on Jan. 8, which represents 123.2% of average. Schofield Pass sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet between Marble and Crested Butte.
Snow water equivalent — the metric used to track snowpack — is the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which will become our future water supply running in local rivers and streams.
Click the link to access the paper on the Brigham Young University website (Benjamin W. Abbott, Bonnie K. Baxter, Karoline Busche, Lynn de Freitas, Rebecca Frei, Teresa Gomez, Mary Anne Karren, Rachel L. Buck, Joseph Price, Sara Frutos, Robert B. Sowby, Janice Brahney, Bryan G. Hopkins, Matthew F. Bekker, Jeremy S. Bekker, Russell Rader, Brian Brown, Mary Proteau, Gregory T. Carling, Lafe Conner, Paul Alan Cox, Ethan McQuhae, Christopher Oscarson, Daren T. Nelson, R. Jeffrey Davis, Daniel Horns, Heather Dove, Tara Bishop, Adam Johnson, Kaye Nelson, John Bennion, Patrick Belmont). Here’s the executive summary:
- Great Salt Lake is a keystone ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. The lake and its wetlands provide minerals for Utah’s industries, thousands of local jobs, and habitat for 10 million migratory birds1–4. Fertilizer and brine shrimp from the lake feed millions of people worldwide5,6. The lake provides $2.5 billion in direct economic activity yearly7–10, as well as increasing precipitation, suppressing toxic dust, and supporting 80% of Utah’s wetlands11–17.
- Excessive water use is destroying Great Salt Lake. At 19 feet below its average natural level since 1850, the lake is in uncharted territory18–22. It has lost 73% of its water and 60% of its surface area23–26. Our unsustainable water use is desiccating habitat, exposing toxic dust, and driving salinity to levels incompatible with the lake’s food webs1,24,27–29. The lake’s drop has accelerated since 2020, with an average deficit of 1.2 million acre-feet per year. If this loss rate continues, the lake as we know it is on track to disappear in five years.
- We are underestimating the consequences of losing the lake. Despite encouraging growth in legislative action and public awareness, most Utahns do not realize the urgency of this crisis. Examples from around the world show that saline lake loss triggers a long-term cycle of environmental, health, and economic suffering30–35. Without a coordinated rescue, we can expect widespread air and water pollution, numerous Endangered Species Act listings, and declines in agriculture, industry, and overall quality of life1–4,36.
- The lake needs an additional million acre-feet per year to reverse its decline. This would increase average streamflow to ~2.5 million acre-feet per year, beginning a gradual refilling. Depending on future weather conditions, achieving this level of flow will require cutting consumptive water use in the Great Salt Lake watershed by a third to a half. Recent efforts have returned less than 0.1 million acre-feet per year to the lake37, with most conserved water held in reservoirs or delivered to other users rather than released to the lake.
- Water conservation is the way. While water augmentation is often discussed (pipelines, cloud seeding, new reservoirs, and groundwater extraction, etc.), conservation is the only way to provide adequate water in time to save Great Salt Lake33,38–41. Conservation is also the most cost effective and resilient response42,43, and there are successful examples throughout the region44–48. Ensuring financial, legislative, and technical support for conservation will pay huge dividends during this crisis and for decades to come1,38,46,49.
- We need to increase trust and coordination. New legislation allows users to return water to the lake while retaining rights50. However, lack of trust and cooperation between farmers, cities, managers, and policymakers is hobbling our response33,38. Users often have financial disincentives to conserve, and farmers often lack legal counsel to navigate policy changes.
- We call on the governor’s office to implement a watershed-wide emergency rescue. We recommend setting an emergency streamflow requirement of at least 2.5 million acre-feet per year until the lake reaches its minimum healthy elevation of 4,198 feet51. Executive leadership is needed for water leasing, farmer compensation, water donations, and conveyance52. Every major water user needs to be educated, empowered, and assured that their conserved water will be shepherded to Great Salt Lake. We need clear thresholds that trigger binding emergency conservation measures to stop the lake’s collapse.
- We call on the legislature to fund and facilitate the rescue. Recent bills have laid the groundwork, and a surge of funding is now needed to lease or purchase water and support farmers and cities to dramatically reduce consumption. Likewise, legislation is needed to put in place the policies, accounting, and monitoring for water shepherding to the lake and long- term sustainable water use52.
- We call on every water user and manager to conserve water and support state efforts. We are in an all-hands-on-deck emergency, and we need farmers, counties, cities, businesses, churches, universities, and other organizations to do everything in their power to reduce outdoor water use. We believe that our community is uniquely suited to face this challenge, but only if we implement a unified and pioneering rescue. By taking a “lake first” approach to water use, we can leave a legacy of wise stewardship for generations to come.
by Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico
January 11, 2023
A proposed agreement between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado was unsealed Monday, months after the states announced a deal to end nearly a decade-old Supreme Court case over Rio Grande water.
The deal would amend the 83-year old legal basis for how the three states split water from the river under the Rio Grande Compact. If allowed by the Supreme Court, the decree would end the lawsuit that’s called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado. The case has stretched over nine years and cost New Mexico and Texas taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Map showing new point to deliver Rio Grande water between Texas and New Mexico, at an existing stream gage in East El Paso. (Courtesy of Margaret “Peggy” Barroll in the joint motion)
Among the changes, Texas’ share of Rio Grande water would be measured at a point on the state line at an El Paso Gage instead of NM’s current requirement to deliver Texas’ water 100-plus miles upstream at the Elephant Butte Reservoir.
The agreement offers a new set of calculations to determine what water is owed to southern New Mexico farmers and far west Texans, and incorporates groundwater pumping in the formulas.
Finally, it also offers conditions for New Mexico and Texas to handle disputes about over- or under-deliveries of Rio Grande water.
To provide water for those deliveries, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer could shut down wells, or use other limits such as paying farmers to retire land from farming to save irrigation water, court documents show.
In sworn statements attached to the proposed agreement, top water officials from New Mexico and Texas urged the Supreme Court to accept the proposal.
Bobby Skov, the Rio Grande compact commissioner for Texas, called the deal “fair” and “consistent with the compact.”
State Engineer Mike Hamman, who is also New Mexico’s compact commissioner, said the agreement resolves the long-standing issues between the two states and offers clear directions for how to stay in compliance with the agreements.
“I anticipate the consent decree will help the states avoid future conflicts,” Hamman wrote.
A key change to the document includes transfers of water between New Mexico and Texas irrigation districts to balance out years when New Mexico pumping or diversions cause not enough Rio Grande water to reach the state line. Courtesy photo showing the both Elephant Butte Reservoir, where Texas’ Rio Grande water is currently stored to new location to measure New Mexico’s compliance with delivering water at the existing El Paso Gage, just over 100 miles downstream. (Courtesy of Willian Hutchison declaration).
If the state fails to meet new delivery requirements for three consecutive years, then the agreement requires the state to send additional water from the New Mexico irrigation district to the Texas irrigation district.
In order to provide water to make up for any shortfalls, Hamman offered seven bullet points in his letter supporting the agreement.
Hamman said the N.M. Office of the State Engineer could curb groundwater pumping; monitor groundwater pumping, buy water rights to retire groundwater wells; fallow farmland temporarily; increase conservation in both municipal and agricultural use; or attempt to import water to the Lower Rio Grande.
Hamman warned the state office will enforce well shutdowns if voluntary or compensated measures aren’t working.
New Mexico is still embroiled in the lengthy court process that started in 1996 to determine the legal order of water rights between Caballo Reservoir and the state line for farmers, municipalities, businesses and the federal government.
As for next steps, a hearing on the proposed decree is tentatively scheduled for February 2023.
HOW WE GOT HERE
The Supreme Court case was sparked by decades of litigation over the Lower Rio Grande — the region between Caballo Reservoir and where the river often evaporates above Fort Quitman, about 90 miles along the Texas-Mexico border.
In 2014, Texas filed a complaint in the Supreme Court alleging New Mexico groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte illegally captured Rio Grande water promised to Texas.
The proposed agreement is the product of monthslong confidential negotiations between the parties in the case — New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and the federal government. The discussions included input from impacted organizations such as farming associations, the two regional irrigation districts, the cities of Las Cruces and El Paso, New Mexico State University, and water utilities in Albuquerque and El Paso.
In earlier filings, the federal government and El Paso’s major irrigation district asked the special master overseeing the case to throw out the proposed decree because it was the result of an incomplete settlement and makes concessions the states cannot enforce, according to legal filings.
Last week, Judge Michael Melloy overruled the federal government’s arguments that the proposed agreement must be kept secret, ordering most of the documents to be made public.
The United State’s objections to the proposed decree remain filed under seal, and are not public at this time.
Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: email@example.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.
Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:
“It is refreshing to see these basins in dark blue,” the color denoting triple-digit percentages of how much water, or snow, has hit the ground, rather than “red conditions,” which have been the norm of parched basins for what seems like forever, said Jordan Clayton, supervisor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey…
In fact, all the state’s basins are sitting at 150% of normal, and right now, the amount of snowpack statewide is 176% of normal…There are 80 days left in the water year that ends in April, with more potential for storms, and already, Clayton said, the state is at 80% of its goal of reaching normal peak runoff conditions.
“This is the fifth best start in our year for water supply in the period we’ve had records,” Clayton said, pointing to ample water (and flood) years like 1997, 2005 and 2011…Glen Merrill, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said soil moisture content in the basins is above average, which bodes for a good runoff with additional storms forecast to add to those conditions.
Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Haley Smith). Here’s an excerpt:
At the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in Donner Pass on Wednesday, snow was piled so high that lead scientist Andrew Schwartz no longer needed stairs to exit the second floor.
“We just walk directly out onto the snow!” Schwartz said. The nearly 11 feet of snow surrounding the lab was the deepest he’d seen so far this year.
The piles of powder are the result of a series of powerful atmospheric river stormsthat have pummeled California over the last two weeks. The storms have claimed at least 19 lives as they topple trees, overtop levees and send people scrambling for higher ground.
But while the storms have delivered chaos, they have also helped to make a dent in drought conditions. The state’s snow water equivalent — or the amount of water contained in the snow — was 226% of normal on Wednesday, marking a high for the date not seen in at least two decades. The last time snowpack neared such a high on Jan. 11 was in 2005, when it was 206% of normal, according to state data. Even more promising, the Sierra snowpack on Wednesday measured 102% of its April 1 average, referring to the end-of-season date when snowpack in California is usually at its deepest. This is the first time that’s happened on Jan. 11 in at least 20 years…
DWR water operations manager Molly White said reservoirs were also seeing boosts from the storms, with some smaller reservoirs recovering fully from drought-driven deficits. But the state’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, remain far from full, topping out at 42% and 47% of capacity, respectively, on Wednesday…
[John] Abatzoglou said Wednesday’s snowpack levels were impressive, and noted that the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor update saw the worst category, “exceptional drought,” erased from California’s map altogether. Only a week before that update, more than 7% of the state was in that category.
Click the link to access the paper on the Science Direct website (Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes). Here’s the summary:
- ExxonMobil’s public climate change messaging mimics tobacco industry propaganda
- Rhetoric of climate ‘‘risk’’ downplays the reality and seriousness of climate change
- Rhetoric of consumer ‘‘demand’’ (versus fossil fuel supply) individualizes responsibility
- Fossil Fuel Savior frame uses ‘‘risk’’ and ‘‘demand’’ to justify fossil fuels, blame customers
SCIENCE FOR SOCIETY A dominant public narrative about climate change is that ‘‘we are all to blame.’’ Another is that society must inevitably rely on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. How did these become conventional wisdom? We show that one source of these arguments is fossil fuel industry propaganda. ExxonMobil advertisements worked to shift responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry and onto consumers. They also said that climate change was a ‘‘risk,’’ rather than a reality, that renewable energy is unreliable, and that the fossil fuel industry offered meaningful leadership on climate change. We show that much of this rhetoric is similar to that used by the tobacco industry. Our research suggests warning signs that the fossil fuel industry is using the subtle micro-politics of language to downplay its role in the climate crisis and to continue to undermine climate litigation, regulation, and activism.
696 One Earth 4, 696–719, May 21, 2021 ª 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
This paper investigates how ExxonMobil uses rhetoric and framing to shape public discourse on climate change. We present an algorithmic corpus comparison and machine-learning topic model of 180 ExxonMobil climate change communications, including peer-reviewed publications, internal company documents, and advertorials in The New York Times. We also investigate advertorials using inductive frame analysis. We find that the company has publicly overemphasized some terms and topics while avoiding others. Most notably, they have used rhetoric of climate ‘‘risk’’ and consumer energy ‘‘demand’’ to construct a ‘‘Fossil Fuel Savior’’ (FFS) frame that downplays the reality and seriousness of climate change, normalizes fossil fuel lock-in, and individualizes responsibility. These patterns mimic the tobacco industry’s documented strategy of shifting responsibility away from corporations—which knowingly sold a deadly product while denying its harms—and onto consumers. This historical parallel foreshadows the fossil fuel industry’s use of demand-as-blame arguments to oppose litigation, regulation, and activism.
Click the link to read the post on the Substack website (Bill McKibben):
An important new study that came out a few minutes ago makes painfully clear precisely how much (and precisely how precisely) Exxon understood climate change, back in the days when it could have made a huge difference if they’d simply been honest. [ed. emphasis mine]
It’s not, of course, as if we didn’t know a lot of this story already, and in some depth. In 2015, the Pulitzer Prize-winning website Inside Climate News published a landmark series of reports drawing on archives and whistleblowers to demonstrate that Exxon had set its scientists to work studying what we then called the greenhouse effect back in the 1970s, and that those scientists had reached the same conclusion as researchers working at NASA and elsewhere: the carbon dioxide coming from the fossil fuel industry was about to heat the earth in dramatic fashion. That was huge news—and it explains the picture above, when I staged a one-man sit-in at an Exxon station near me till the police took me away in handcuffs. I was desperate that this story not go away—and it didn’t. It helped fuel the massive fossil fuel divestment campaign, as well as a score of lawsuits aimed at making Exxon pay up.
But this new study—from Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran, and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research—actually looks at the specific results that Exxon’s scientists predicted back in those years, and sees how well they panned out. Remarkably well: their temperature projections had an average “skill score” of roughly 75%, which is higher than many government researchers.
“‘These findings corroborate and and add quantitative precision to assertions by scholars, journalists, lawyers, politicians and others that ExxonMobil accurately foresaw the threat of human-caused global warming, both prior to and parallel to orchestrating lobbying and propaganda campaigns to delay climate action action,’ the authors write.”
As lead author Geoffery Supran (who has just taken up a new post at the University of Miami) put it,
“‘This is the nail-in-the-coffin of Exxon Mobil’s claims that it has been fasely accused of climate malfeasance. Our analysis shows that ExxonMobil’s own data contradicted its public statements, which included exaggerating uncertainties, critizing climate models, mythologizing global cooling, and feigning ignorance about when—or if—human-caused global would be measurable.'”
What Supran is referring to is the decades-long effort, organized by Exxon and others, to minimize and obfuscate the reality of climate change; its high point may have come when then CEO Lee Raymond went to the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, just weeks before the Kyoto climate talks, and insisted that the world was cooling, and that even if it wasn’t it would make no difference if people delayed action for a few decades. We now know in greater detail just how precisely Exxon’s scientists had been saying the opposite.
It makes me think, once more, of what may be the greatest climate counterfactual of all. What if, on the night in 1988 that NASA’s Jim Hansen had told Congress about global warming, Exxon’s CEO had gone on the nightly news (which was still a thing then) and said: “That’s what our scientists have been telling us too. It’s a real problem.” That seems the minimum any religious or ethical system would require, and it would have had enormous impact—no one was going to accuse Exxon of climate alarmism. We could have gotten down to work as a society.
They chose another course instead, and in certain ways it worked for them: in some of the years that followed, Exxon set the record for highest annual corporate profit. But that’s not what history is going to remember about them.
“The data from 2022 is stark, however you look at it. Whether you view the raw figures, or look at the data as another red line added to the climate stripes, the message is clear. Excess heat is building up across the planet at a rate unprecedented in the history of humanity.”
“The latest stripe added is the second-darkest red, but is very close to being in the darkest red category. This is remarkable, given that La Nina has helped to hold temperatures down. When we see a return of a warming phase of El Nino, the darkest red stripes will return.”
“This should be a cause for alarm, but not alarmism. If you think how hot 2022 was, and then realise that those 12 months will likely be one of the coolest years of the rest of our lives, I think we will regret not having acted sooner on these warnings.”
Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Seth Borenstein and Cathy Bussewitz). Here’s an excerpt:
Exxon Mobil’s scientists were remarkably accurate in their predictions about global warming, even as the company made public statements that contradicted its own scientists’ conclusions, a new study says. The study in the journal Science Thursday looked at research that Exxon funded that didn’t just confirm what climate scientists were saying, but used more than a dozen different computer models that forecast the coming warming with precision equal to or better than government and academic scientists. This was during the same time that the oil giant publicly doubted that warming was real and dismissed climate models’ accuracy. Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
Scientists, governments, activists and news sites, including Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, several years ago reported that “Exxon knew” about the science of climate change since about 1977 all while publicly casting doubt. What the new study does is detail how accurate Exxon funded research was. From 63% to 83% of those projections fit strict standards for accuracy and generally predicted correctly that the globe would warm about .36 degrees (.2 degrees Celsius) a decade…
Study lead author Geoffrey Supran, who started the work at Harvard and now is a environmental science professor at the University of Miami, said this is different than what was previously found in documents about the oil company.
“We’ve dug into not just to the language, the rhetoric in these documents, but also the data. And I’d say in that sense, our analysis really seals the deal on ‘Exxon knew’,” Supran said. It “gives us airtight evidence that Exxon Mobil accurately predicted global warming years before, then turned around and attacked the science underlying it.”
The paper quoted then-Exxon CEO Lee Raymond in 1999 as saying future climate “projections are based on completely unproven climate models, or more often, sheer speculation,” while his successor in 2013 called models “not competent.”
Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, has been the target of numerous lawsuits that claim the company knew about the damage its oil and gas would cause to the climate, but misled the public by sowing doubt about climate change. In the latest such lawsuit, New Jersey accused five oil and gas companies including Exxon of deceiving the public for decades while knowing about the harmful toll fossil fuels take on the climate. Similar lawsuits from New York to California have claimed that Exxon and other oil and gas companies launched public relations campaigns to stir doubts about climate change. In one, then-Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Exxon’s public relations efforts were “ reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s long denial campaign about the dangerous effects of cigarettes.”