When State Climatologist Russ Schumacher presented a preview of the Climate Change in Colorado assessment update to a conference audience in late-August in Steamboat Springs, he said the statewide annual temperature has warmed by 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895 and could warm by 5.5 degrees total by 2050.
“Observations in the past decade have only affirmed the long-term trends as described in the 2014 report, more warming everywhere, in all seasons,” Schumacher presented in his take-home messages.
“The observed warming alone is already imposing reductions on snowpack, soil moisture and stream flows,” Schumacher said. “Some climate extremes and hazards have already become more frequent and intense due to warming: heat waves, drought, wildfires. Heat waves, droughts and wildfire will worsen with the additional warming. Heavy and extreme precipitation and flooding are likely to worsen as well.”
Precipitation trends and future precipitation change are less clear and certain, but the early 21st century will be drier than late 20th century, the state climatologist noted. Snow, soil moisture and streamflows are “very likely to decline further,” reported Schumacher, the director of the Colorado Climate Center and professor in the Colorado State University atmospheric science department.
Schumacher’s presentation was part of the annual summer Colorado Water Congress hosted in Steamboat. He told the audience of water professionals and guests that scientists have a “very high confidence in change” that evaporative demand in Colorado will continue to be higher and a “high confidence in change” that summer soil moisture will continue to lower and runoff timing will be earlier. Scientists have a “medium confidence in change” that annual stream flow and spring snowpack will continue to lower in the future.
Two Colorado Democrats on Thursday joined local governments and environmental groups in urging the federal Bureau of Land Management to undertake a full review of the proposed expansion of an oil-train terminal in eastern Utah.
The operator of the Wildcat Loadout Facility, located along existing rail lines near Price, Utah, has petitioned the BLM to expedite approval of an expansion that would more than triple its current capacity. The terminal is currently used to export limited amounts of crude oil from Utah’s Uinta Basin, which must be trucked out of the region and then loaded into tank cars to transported by rail to refineries along the Gulf Coast — a route that runs directly through Colorado.
The terminal’s expansion from a capacity of 30,000 barrels to 100,000 barrels per day is viewed by environmental groups as a possible interim or backup measure in relation to the Uinta Basin Railway, the multibillion-dollar public-private partnership that aims to build a new 88-mile railroad to connect the basin to the national rail network. The railway project is on hold after a federal appeals court last month ordered regulators to better analyze the “downline” risks the increased oil-train traffic would pose to Colorado.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette, who have also spoken out against the Uinta Basin Railway, cited similar concerns about the proposed Wildcat Loadout expansion in a letter to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. Though more limited in scope than the projected 350,000-barrel-per-day capacity of the proposed railway, the facility’s expansion is expected to result in a substantial increase in oil-train traffic through western and central Colorado.
“A train derailment that spills oil in the Colorado River’s headwaters would be disastrous to our state’s water supplies, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation assets, and the broader Colorado River Basin,” Bennet and Neguse wrote. “In addition, an accident on the train line further increases wildfire risk at a time when the West already faces historically dry conditions.”
Following a permit application submitted earlier this year by the Wildcat facility’s operator, the BLM has initiated proceedings for an “environmental assessment” of the proposed expansion under the National Environmental Policy Act. Such analyses are much more abbreviated than environmental impact statements for large projects, which can involve years of study and public feedback.
Echoing calls from Colorado’s Eagle County and more than a dozen environmental groups, Bennet and Neguse urged the BLM to conduct a full EIS process instead.
A full review is especially necessary, they argued, in the wake of last month’s halting of the Uinta Basin Railway by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the federal Surface Transportation Board had violated NEPA requirements by failing to adequately analyze the railway’s environmental risks. Eagle County and five environmental groups had sued the agency to overturn the STB’s December 2021 approval of the project.
“In light of the court’s decision, the BLM should not repeat the STB’s mistakes, and instead conduct a robust environmental review,” wrote Bennet and Neguse. “The BLM cannot adequately account for potential harm from increased oil shipments through Colorado with an EA, given its lower requirements for public involvement and environmental analysis.”
“We urge BLM to prepare a full EIS that accounts for the full risks of the Wildcat Loadout expansion to Colorado’s communities, water supplies, and environment,” the letter concludes.