Concern For #Colorado Reservoir Water Levels As #Drought Conditions Persist — CBS #Denver

From CBS Denver (Jamie Leary):

There are many ways to gauge the severity of a drought. This winter in Colorado, all you have to do is look around.

“The stream flows across the state have been really, really, really down throughout the whole fall season, so that is an indicator,” said Karl Wetlaufer.

Wetlaufer is a rafter, so he pays attention to stream flow. It’s also part of his job as a Hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey Program.

Karl Wetlaufer (NRCS), explaining the use of a Federal Snow Sampler, SnowEx, February 17, 2017.

Wetlaufer met CBS4 near Clear Creek in Golden on Thursday, to talk about the data collected over the last several months.

“We really are seeing it in the data. It really was as dry as everyone is saying,” he continued. “Our May precipitation in the mountains since May 15th, about half of our sites in the state had the second lowest or lowest on record, going back about 40 years.”

This type of data can be collected in several ways, but for Wetlaufer, one of the methods is through the SNOTEL Network.

“Which stands for snowpack telemetry, and those sites have been across the west for a little over 40 years now, in varying lengths,” said Wetlaufer. “We also have a network of manual stations called snow courses, and those actually go back to the mid 1930s so we use those for snowpack, precipitation, mountain temperatures. They also monitor soil moisture conditions, which is a really big challenge this year.”

SNOTEL Site via the Natural Resources Conservation Service

The challenge with the dry soil is just how dry it is. Not only for wildfire conditions but when it comes to spring runoff as well.

“We’re going into winter with such a severe drought, we’re anticipating once that snow starts to melt, those dry soils are going to soak up a lot of the water.”

Water soaked up by dry soil, can’t fill reservoirs, and while it doesn’t mean towns will run out of water, it’s not farfetched…

Overall, Denver Water says its reservoirs remain around 78 percent full, with the average for this date being 82 percent – slightly below typical.

Todd Hartman with Denver Water says Lake Dillon for instance, is lower than normal primarily because of the need to pull more water from the reservoir during the hot and dry fall, when demand was unusually high.

Hartman referenced the state drought monitor, which is covered in red. He says despite the current conditions, there was still time to make a dent in the deficit.

Colorado Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

Forever Chemicals Are Widespread in U.S. Drinking Water — Scientific America #PFAS

From Scientific American (Annie Sneed):

Experts hope that with the incoming Biden administration, the federal government will finally regulate a class of chemicals known as PFASs

Many Americans fill up a glass of water from their faucet without worrying whether it might be dangerous. But the crisis of lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., showed that safe, potable tap water is not a given in this country. Now a study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy organization, reveals a widespread problem: the drinking water of a majority of Americans likely contains “forever chemicals.” These compounds may take hundreds, or even thousands, of years to break down in the environment. They can also persist in the human body, potentially causing health problems

A handful of states have set about trying to address these contaminants, which are scientifically known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). But no federal limits have been set on the concentration of the chemicals in water, as they have for other pollutants such as benzene, uranium and arsenic. With a new presidential administration coming into office this week, experts say the federal government finally needs to remedy that oversight. “The PFAS pollution crisis is a public health emergency,” wrote Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, in a recent public statement.

Of the more than 9,000 known PFAS compounds, 600 are currently used in the U.S. in countless products, including firefighting foam, cookware, cosmetics, carpet treatments and even dental floss. Scientists call PFASs “forever chemicals” because their chemistry keeps them from breaking down under typical environmental conditions. “One of the unique features of PFAS compounds is the carbon-fluorine bond,” explains David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “That bond is incredibly strong.” Ultimately this means that if PFASs enter the environment, they build up. These chemicals can linger on geologic time scales, explains Chris Higgins, a civil and environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines…

Because of their widespread use, release and disposal over the decades, PFASs show up virtually everywhere: in soil, surface water, the atmosphere, the deep ocean—and even the human body. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site says that the agency has found PFASs in the blood of nearly everyone it has tested for them, “indicating widespread exposure to these PFAS in the U.S. population.” Scientists have found links between a number of the chemicals and many health concerns—including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, developmental toxicity, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced preeclampsia and hypertension, and immune dysfunction.

Concerned about PFASs’ persistence and potential harm, Andrews and his EWG colleague Olga Naidenko set out to assess Americans’ exposure to the chemicals via their drinking water. PFASs can get into this water in a variety of ways. For example, industrial sites might release the compounds into the water or air. Or they can leach from disposal sites. They can also percolate into groundwater from the firefighting foams used at airports and military bases. Andrews and Naidenko say there is a need for research into drinking-water levels because the federal government does not require testing water for PFASs. This leaves a gap in scientists’ understanding of overall exposure. Andrews and Naidenko focused their analysis on two types of these chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—because those compounds had the most available data. The two researchers pulled that information together from various sources, including state agencies, the federal government and the EWG’s own measurements.

The scientists estimated that more than 200 million people—the majority of Americans—have tap water contaminated with a mixture of PFOA and PFOS at concentrations of one part per trillion (ppt) or higher. Andrews and Naidenko say previous research shows that levels higher than one ppt can increase the risk of conditions such as testicular cancer, delayed mammary gland development, liver tumors, high cholesterol and effects on children’s immune response to vaccinations. “It’s a calculation of what would be a safe exposure level,” Andrews says. Even when the researchers shifted their analysis to a higher level of 10 ppt, they still found some 18 million to 80 million Americans to be exposed. Representatives of the chemical industry have disagreed with such concerns. “We believe there is no scientific basis for maximum contaminant levels lower than 70 ppt,” the American Chemistry Council said in statement to Scientific American…

Technologies to remove PFASs from drinking water exist on both household and municipal levels. Granular activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis are two options, but they are costly and high-maintenance—and the burden falls on taxpayers. “PFASs are produced by companies, for which they receive a profit,” DeWitt says. “And then residents end up paying to clean up the pollution.” On top of that, PFAS that is removed from drinking water may simply end up elsewhere, such as in a landfill or river.

Some states have instituted or proposed limits on PFASs in drinking water, but experts say federal action is needed to tackle such a widespread problem. President Joe Biden’s administration may finally address that need. His campaign’s environmental justice plan specifically called out forever chemicals. And the plan said that the president will “tackle PFAS pollution by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS.” The new administration could carry out all of these goals unilaterally through executive action, without Congress’s cooperation. Some experts appear optimistic about this prospect. “I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will reempower the EPA so that it can actually create regulations to protect public health,” DeWitt says. “That is the agency’s charge—that is its mission.”

More Coyote Gulch posts about PFASs here.

President Biden halts oil and gas leases, permits on US land and water, including #Colorado — The #Aurora Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

From The Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Aurora Sentinel:

The Biden administration announced Thursday a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters, as officials moved quickly to reverse Trump administration policies on energy and the environment.

The suspension, part of a broad review of programs at the Department of Interior, went into effect immediately under an order signed Wednesday by Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega. It follows Democratic President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new drilling on federal lands and end the leasing of publicly owned energy reserves as part of his plan to address climate change.

In Colorado, about 14 percent of federal land in the state is available for drilling, about 3.8 million acres. Currently, federal officials report around 5,000 oil and gas leases across the state.

The order did not ban new drilling outright. It includes an exception giving a small number of senior Interior officials — the secretary, deputy secretary, solicitor and several assistant secretaries — authority to approve actions that otherwise would be suspended.

The order also applies to coal leases and permits, and blocks the approval of new mining plans. Land sales and exchanges and the hiring of senior-level staff at the agency also were suspended…

On his first day in office Wednesday, Biden signed a series of executive orders that underscored his different approach — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, revoking approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada and telling agencies to immediately review dozens of Trump-era rules on science, the environment and public health.

The Interior Department order did not limit existing oil and gas operations under valid leases, meaning activity won’t come to a sudden halt on the millions of acres of lands in the West and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico where much drilling is concentrated. Its effect could be further blunted by companies that stockpiled enough drilling permits in Trump’s final months to allow them to keep pumping oil and gas for years…

But Biden’s move could be the first step in an eventual goal to ban all leases and permits to drill on federal land. Mineral leasing laws state that federal lands are for many uses, including extracting oil and gas, but the Democrat could set out to rewrite those laws, said Kevin Book, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners…

National Wildlife Federation Vice President Tracy Stone-Manning said she expected Biden to make good on his campaign promise to end leasing altogether, or at least impose a long-term moratorium on any new issuances.

“The Biden administration has made a commitment to driving down carbon emissions. It makes sense starting with the land that we all own,” she said. “We have 24 million acres already under lease. That should get us through.”

Oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for about a quarter of annual U.S. production. Extracting and burning those fuels generates the equivalent of almost 550 million tons (500 metric tons) of greenhouse gases annually, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a 2018 study.

#ColoradoRiver restoration project crawls forward as some environmental groups call for radical change — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

The dam that forms Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County. The River District board approved $1 million toward a project to build a connectivity channel aimed at improving deteriorated conditions caused by the dam and reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

The Colorado River Water Conservation District at a board meeting [January 19, 2021] voted to give $1 million of their taxpayer-raised funds to help construct the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, which will improve deteriorated conditions at the headwaters of the Colorado River.

“When I look at this, it has benefits that are assisting our communities in the damage caused by transmountain diversions,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said during the meeting.

The district’s vote is the first step in a final push to fund and build the long-awaited channel, which has been in the works since the early 2000s. The connectivity channel is the first project to which River District board members have allocated money as part of the organization’s new Project Partnership Funding Program.

Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

If built, the channel would mitigate much of the damage to the Colorado and Fraser rivers that has been caused by the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County. While the channel itself has broad support, its fate is tangled in that of a more controversial project that will draw additional water from the Colorado River system.

The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District constructed the original Windy Gap Project in the 1980s to divert water from the Colorado River to customers across the Continental Divide.

“It’s an unchanneled reservoir, meaning that it’s just plopped right in the middle of the Colorado River,” said Mely Whiting, the legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “It basically blocks the river all the way across, and that has serious consequences.”

The project cut off the river’s flow and led to large stretches of river that went dry. It caused sediment buildup and a documented decline in biodiversity below the reservoir, including a 38% loss of its aquatic insect species and declines in fish populations.

The connectivity channel, which is designed to undo some of this damage, would reconnect the Upper Colorado and Fraser rivers to the main stem of the Colorado by routing the river around the dam of the Windy Gap Reservoir, creating a path for fish, water and sediment to flow down the river.

Since the release of its original conceptual design in the early 2000s, the connectivity channel has seen its estimated costs grow from about $10 million to $23.5 million. The River District money would help close the remaining $7 million funding gap — but not completely. According to Mueller, the River District voted to give the money in hopes that it would entice other groups to do the same.

The project has been lauded as a rare example of collaboration in the world of water management. It carries support from an unusual coalition of environmental groups, local government and water-management groups on both sides of the Continental Divide. The River District is just one of 10 of the project’s financial backers, which include Northern Water, Grand County and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But the channel’s construction does come at a cost. Much of the funding for the project depends on the construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project — an expansion of the Windy Gap Project that would result in the construction of a 90,000-acre-foot reservoir in Larimer County.

To date, the Windy Gap’s junior water right has meant that the project’s managers have not been able to divert water in dry years and have not had a place to store water for their customers during wet years. The reservoir would give the project’s customers a consistent supply — or “firm yield,” as it’s called — of 30,000 acre-feet annually.

Drawing additional water from the beleaguered Colorado River was controversial, so to win support for their plan, Northern Water signed on with a battery of agreements with environmental groups and Western Slope municipalities and water managers.

Included in these agreements was $5 million for the connectivity channel, a guarantee to maintain a minimum streamflow below the dam, construction of water storage for Western Slope communities and a promise to open negotiations over other water rights that impact the Western Slope.

This graphic from Northern Water shows the lay out of the Windy Gap Firming Project. The River District has voted to spend $1 million on the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, an aspect of the project meant to mitigate impacts from the dam and reservoir.

Environmental mitigation

For many groups that traditionally oppose moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the benefits from the project were enough to win them over. Additional supporters and sponsors of the project include Trout Unlimited and the Grand Board of County Commissioners.

“We have to look at this in a realistic light,” Mueller said of the compromise. “This won’t fix the original sin of placing the Windy Gap Reservoir right in the middle of the Colorado River channel, but it does mitigate it.”

Trout Unlimited has used the funds from Northern Water as leverage for attracting other funding and grants for the connectivity channel and other projects to improve the habitat quality on the river. These include plans to protect the river from some of the effects of climate change by narrowing parts of the river channel to lower stream temperatures and adding fire protection.

“Everything that we’re doing is to make the river more resilient,” Whiting said. “It’s not going to be what it would be naturally in terms of size and volume and flows, but it will function naturally and it will function as good habitat in spite of all those limitations.”

But while many have heralded the Windy Gap Firming Project as the beginning of a new era of cooperation in water management, not everyone agrees that mitigating environmental damage to the river is enough.

“We are past the point where we can do work around the margins,” said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director for the environmental group WildEarth Guardians. “There is a climate crisis, there’s a water crisis. These things are real, and they are not going away by us mitigating them around the edges.”

WildEarth Guardians is one of six environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Save the Colorado, that filed a lawsuit against the Windy Gap Firming Project. The 2017 suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alleged that the agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act by approving the permits for the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern Water was not a defendant in the case.

In the lawsuit, the environmental groups argued that the agencies did not consider conserving water instead of building a diversion project as an alternative for providing water to Front Range communities.

The call for conservation came as a surprise to Northern Water, which used the state’s water-demand projections to justify the need for their project. Those projections already assume that municipalities will adopt a certain level of conservation measures.

“We’ve been pretty confident with our project that we addressed all the issues in our environmental work that they had questions about,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering. “And part of the reason they take so long is because the federal agencies are nervous about getting sued like this, and they want to make sure they check all their boxes and get things done.”

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in December. In his ruling, the judge did not analyze water conservation as an alternative. Instead, he noted that the agencies followed the procedural laid out in the law and that he was required to give deference to the agencies’ decisions.

While the plaintiffs weigh whether to appeal the case, Northern Water and the other supporters of the Windy Gap Firming Project have begun taking small steps toward constructing their projects. Barring another legal challenge, they will begin construction on the project’s reservoir as soon as this summer and on the connectivity channel in the fall.

For now, the supporters of the firming project are excited about what they see as a paradigm shift in water management: a move toward cooperation over competition for water resources. Those against the project also are hoping for an eventual shift, but their idea of what that looks like is something more dramatic.

“This just highlights for me that federal environmental laws aren’t really working anymore. When you have deference to the agency, it’s hard for someone else to come in and say that here are other ways that this can be done,” Pelz said. “I think one of the things that needs to happen, which is a radical thing, is that we need to actually live within the river means.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Its water desk is supported by Sam Walton via the Catena Foundation. AJ was supported by the Walton Family Foundation from 2016 to 2018, and the foundation has also supported Trout Unlimited. This story ran in the Jan. 20 editions of The Aspen Times and The Vail Daily.

#Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

In contrast to the prior week, most of the country had a relatively dry week, with the significant exception of the Pacific Northwest and northern Intermountain West. Amounts over 1.5 inches were common, with parts of the Cascades and the coastline recording 4 to as much as 8 inches of precipitation. Elsewhere, most of New England had moderate precipitation, with over 1.5 inches falling on southern Maine and adjacent New Hampshire. Areas from the upper Midwest eastward through the Great Lakes Region and lower Northeast recorded 0.25 to locally 1.0 inch, but the entire remainder of the nation received little or none. But given the time of year, the dry week did not lead to widespread deterioration. Most areas did not change, and significant improvement was limited to the Pacific Northwest…

High Plains

Similar to conditions in other regions, little or no precipitation was observed this week, outside parts of eastern North Dakota. Almost the entire region was unchanged compared to last week keeping most areas intact. Exceptions were found in eastern North Dakota, where light precipitation was sufficient to reduce the extent of D2 conditions. Farther west, small areas of deterioration were noted in north-central Wyoming (to D1) and the west-central Dakotas (deteriorating to D1-D2)…

West

In stark contrast to areas farther east and south, heavy precipitation was dropped on parts of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Intermountain West. Much of the Idaho Panhandle and adjacent parts of Montana reported heavy precipitation, with the highest elevations measuring up to 4 inches. Farther west, heavy precipitation also soaked the Cascades, and the Pacific Coast from Washington southward to northwestern California. Most of these areas – including lower elevations between the Cascades and the coastal areas – recorded at least 1.5 inches of precipitation while parts of the higher elevations were covered by 4 to locally 8 inches of precipitation. Patches of improvement were introduced as a result, with D3 removed entirely from central Washington, and spotty reductions in the D0 to D3 coverage across Oregon and northwesternmost California. With large sections of the central and southern parts of the West Region already in D3 to D4, not much more deterioration can be introduced, but a few small areas deteriorated enough to be reflected on the map, specifically north-central Utah (to D2), interior northeastern Utah (to D4), and southeasternmost New Mexico along the Mexican border (to D4)…

South

Little or no precipitation fell region-wide, leading to a few areas of deterioration in southern and western Texas. D2 to D4 conditions have become entrenched. Meanwhile, the dry weather led to the introduction of abnormal dryness through much of Tennessee and large sections of Mississippi. Smaller areas developed in Arkansas and Louisiana. Since mid-October 2020, between 4 and 8 inches less precipitation than normal in a swath from northeastern Louisiana through northwestern Mississippi and western Tennessee…

Looking Ahead

The most significant weather for the next 5 days (January 21-26, 2021) will be widespread heavy precipitation across the Southeast. Between 1.5 and 4.0 inches are forecast from eastern Texas through southern Alabama and northern Georgia. Light to moderate amounts should dampen the rest of the Southeast. Farther west, from the central and southern Rockies to the California Coast, significant precipitation will fall on the higher elevations. Most of the mountains are expecting 1 to 3 inches. The rest of the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest are expecting 0.5 to 2.5 inches. Elsewhere, light to moderate precipitation of up to 0.5 inch is forecast for the upper Midwest, and little none is expected over the Northeast, High Plains, and the remainder of the Midwest and Great Pains.

The 6-10 day CPC extended range outlook (January 27-31, 2021) favors surplus precipitation from the Rockies to the West Coast, most of the Midwest, and part of the interior Southeast. Much of Alaska is also expecting above-normal precipitation. Meanwhile, the odds favor subnormal precipitation across Florida, in the Northeast and Ohio Valley, southern Plains, and eastern Montana. Meanwhile, cooler than normal weather is anticipated in the Northeast, the middle Atlantic States, and a broad area from the Rockies to the West Coast. In contrast, enhanced chances for above-normal temperatures cover roughly the southeastern quarter of the country.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 19, 2021.

Tanya Trujillo named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

The Department of the Interior today announced key members of agency leadership who will advance the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda to build back better and address the four intersecting challenges of our time: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change.

“With today’s announcement, President Biden is delivering on his commitment to build teams that exude talent and experience, and look like America,” said Jennifer Van der Heide, incoming Chief of Staff. “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the Department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

Interior’s team reflects the Biden-Harris commitment to diversity, with more than 80% of First Day appointees identifying as people of color, women, or LGBTQ. Additional members of the Biden-Harris appointee team will be named in the days and weeks to come.

The incoming leadership team possesses a broad range of expertise and perspectives — representing decades of experience in federal, state, and tribal governments; academia; and non-profit and advocacy organizations. As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to the highest ethical standards, all appointees received an initial ethics training today following their swearing-in.

The leadership team is listed here in alphabetical order along with their new role:

  • Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
  • Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
  • Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
  • Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
  • Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management
  • Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
  • Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
  • Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
  • Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
  • Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
  • Shantha Ready Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
  • Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
  • Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
  • Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
  • Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management and Budget
  • Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
  • Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
  • Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
  • Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
  • Andrew Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
  • Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Biographies of the new team are listed below:

    Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
    Bob Anderson is a law professor with extensive experience in American Indian law, public land, and water law. He is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He taught at the University of Washington School of Law and directed its Native American Law Center for the past twenty years. For over a decade he has been an annual visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He served as the Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and Counselor to the Secretary under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. He began his career as a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.

    Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
    Travis Annatoyn joins the Department of the Interior from Democracy Forward Foundation, where he represented national and regional conservation organizations in novel challenges to the Trump administration’s environmental agenda. He began his litigation career as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Columbia University.

    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes most recently served as the Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as Interim Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. She was also Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program (ILP) at ASU. She received a B.A. from Wayne State College and a J.D. from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

    Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
    Tyler Cherry most recently served as Director of Rapid Response for the Biden-Harris Arizona coordinated campaign. Before joining the campaign, Tyler was Director of Public Affairs at the political consulting firm SKDK, where he crafted and executed strategic communications plans for dozens of political, advocacy, corporate, and legal clients. He also previously worked at Media Matters for America as a campaigns associate and researcher. Tyler is a Los Angeles native and graduated from UCLA with a political science degree. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner and two exuberant cats.

    Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Mineral
    Management

    Laura Daniel Davis has more than two decades of experience in the public and non-profit sectors. She served as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration. She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

    Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
    Shannon Estenoz most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of The Everglades Foundation. Previously, Shannon served as Interior’s Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives and Executive Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Shannon’s twenty four-year career in conservation includes roles with the World Wildlife Fund and the National Parks Conservation Association, and appointments by three Florida Governors including to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Shannon is a fifth generation native of Key West, Florida, and holds degrees in International Affairs and Civil Engineering from Florida State University.

    Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
    Morgan Gray has nearly two decades of experience in the Senate and House of Representatives working on climate, energy and environmental policy. Prior to joining the Department, he served as Legislative Director for Senator Edward J. Markey, where he oversaw the Senator’s policy agenda. Morgan previously served as Senator Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, directing his climate and energy policy, and before that as a senior staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee and on the staff of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Morgan graduated from Pomona College and is originally from Lincoln, Massachusetts.

    Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
    Before joining Interior, Ruchi Jain was the Pro Bono Counsel for the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Previously, Ruchi served as Special Assistant to President Obama, where she worked with other senior White House officials on federal agency management, Executive Branch nominations, and personnel matters. She held several other roles in the Obama-Biden White House and the Department of Justice. She began her career in private law practice. Ruchi has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from Rice University.

    Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
    Kate Kelly most recently was the Public Lands Director at the Center for American Progress. During the Obama administration, Kate served as senior advisor to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and also served as communications director on behalf of Secretary Jewell and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Prior to joining the Interior Department, Kate worked in the U.S. Senate. Kate received her bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and hails from Colorado.

    Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
    Marissa Knodel is a passionate advocate for climate and environmental justice through a just and equitable transition to a clean energy-based society, and resilient adaptation to a changing climate. As Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice, her area of expertise included federal onshore, offshore, and Arctic oil and gas leasing and regulations. Prior to joining Earthjustice, Marissa managed a campaign at Friends of the Earth to stop new fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters. Marissa holds a dual J.D. and Master of Environmental Management degree from Vermont Law School and the Yale School of the Environment.

    Shantha Ready-Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
    Shantha Ready-Alonso served as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, Community Mobilization Manager for NETWORK Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative. Shantha is listed among the 2018 “Grist 50 Fixers” and is the recipient of the 2020 National Council of Churches USA J. Irwin Miller Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership award. Shantha holds a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Pastoral Studies from Eden Theological Seminary. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame.

    Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
    Paniz Rezaeerod previously served on the staff of Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), where she was responsible for legislation to ban offshore drilling, protect irreplaceable natural resources, and secure full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund through the Great American Outdoors Act. Prior to Rep. Cunningham’s office, Paniz worked for the House Financial Services Committee and for CoBank. A first-generation American born in Iran and raised in South Carolina, Paniz is a graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South.

    Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
    Melissa Schwartz is a strategic communicator and adjunct professor with two decades of experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. She most recently served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Jill Biden. As Chief Operating Officer at The Bromwich Group for nine years, projects included coordinating communications strategy to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raise awareness of the rape kit backlog and gender-based violence, defend national monuments and the ocean, and facilitate a just transition for coal communities. Melissa is a former senior spokesperson for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, and Senator Barbara Mikulski.

    Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
    Janea A. Scott was most recently a Commissioner and Vice Chair of the California Energy Commission. Janea also served as the Vice Chair of the Western Interconnection Regional Advisory Body and is a member of the Western Interstate Energy Board and the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee. Janea previously worked at Interior as the Deputy Counselor for Renewable Energy and at Environmental Defense Fund as a senior attorney. She earned her J.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder Law School and her master’s of science and bachelor’s of science in earth systems from Stanford University.

    Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management, and Budget
    Rachael Taylor most recently served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for nearly 16 years. In her role as Democratic clerk of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, she negotiated a $38 billion annual appropriations bill and oversaw the budgets of Federal environmental, Tribal and cultural agencies. Rachael has also served in several other legislative and executive branch roles during her career, including in the Office of Vice President Al Gore. A West Virginia native, she received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master in Public Administration from American University.

    Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
    Maggie Thompson was most recently the North Carolina State Advisor and Chief of Staff for the Biden campaign and currently serves on the campaign’s Education Unity Task Force. Maggie was also the State Director for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. She is the former Executive Director of Generation Progress, the youth engagement arm of the Center for American Progress. Maggie also worked in the Obama administration at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and in the office of the Director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She graduated with a degree in economics and classical archaeology from Macalester College.

    Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
    Camille Calimlim Touton returns to Interior after serving as Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She was the staff lead on the resiliency provisions enacted as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. Camille’s congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for Interior’s authorization committees: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Camille also served as Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama administration. Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil), BA in Communication Studies, and a Master of Public Policy.

    Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
    Tanya Trujillo is a water lawyer with more than 20 years of experience working on complex natural resources management issues and interstate and transboundary water agreements. She most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. Before then, she served as the Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California. She has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at Interior. A native New Mexican, Tanya attended Stanford University and the University of Iowa College of Law.

    Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
    Jennifer Van der Heide has over 25 years of federal, state and local experience in legislative, legal and electoral sectors. She most recently served as Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Deb Haaland, and had been Chief of Staff and Political Director for Rep. Mike Honda. Jennifer previously served as the Washington Director and on-reservation Tribal Attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Tribal Attorney for California Indian Legal Services; and in private litigation practice in CA. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, with a focus on public interest law.

    Andrew (Drew) Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
    A native of Houston, Texas, Drew Wallace has worked in senior policy roles in both houses of Congress. Over the last twelve years, he has served in the office of former Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), finishing as Chief of Staff. Drew has a record of significant contributions to bipartisan legislative successes across a range of issues, in particular energy, the environment, and conservation. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Kenyon College in Ohio and a J.D. from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. Drew lives in Arlington, Va. with his wife and two sons.

    Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
    Martha has spent her career fostering a love of the outdoors. Growing up on a farm, she gained an appreciation for place and all that comprises it. This passion led her to the wild places of the West where she focused on public lands and wildlife – first as attorney for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, then as Deputy Solicitor Parks and Wildlife at the Department of the Interior, as a professor at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana, and most recently returning to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as its Director.

    Congratulations Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden

    Kamala Harris and Joe Biden November, 2020. Photo credit: JoeBiden.com

    From The New York Times (Megan Specia, Michael Crowley and Katie Glueck):

    On Wednesday, 232 years after John Adams became the nation’s first vice president, Kamala Harris became the first woman — and the first woman of color — sworn into the office. The history-making moment is a milestone for Americans who have fought tirelessly for generations to see faces that resemble their own in the government’s executive branch.

    But Ms. Harris’s role in the new administration will be much more than a symbolic one.

    With the Senate now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Ms. Harris may find herself casting the decisive vote in many crucial moments, as the vice president wields tiebreaking power. Ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters will be high on President Biden’s agenda, and her vote may prove critical. One of her first official acts in her new role will be to swear in three new Democratic senators.

    Many expect Mr. Biden will also rely on her prosecutorial chops and her personal energy as a crucial member of the administration. And given speculation that Mr. Biden, who is 78, may not seek a second term, Ms. Harris is sure to face intense scrutiny over her own political future.

    But for many, it’s the voice she will offer to women and people of color that was being reflected on as she took office.

    “That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and a longtime ally of Ms. Harris’s. “She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made.”

    Across the country, women are wearing pearls on Wednesday to mark the occasion, a nod to the signature pearls that Ms. Harris has worn throughout major milestones in her life, and is likely to wear again when she is sworn in for her history-making turn as the first female vice president. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who as the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court has broken barriers of her own, administered the oath.

    Hillary Clinton, the only woman ever to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, highlighted the barrier-breaking nature of Ms. Harris’s achievement in a tweet on Wednesday.

    “It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, “of course” to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up,” she wrote, posting a photo of Ms. Harris with the two little girls. “And they will be right.”

    With the inauguration of Ms. Harris as vice president, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, 56, had two firsts of his own: the first “second gentleman” and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. The details of what Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, might do with the platform are unclear, but he has discussed focusing on “access to justice.”

    #Colorado Ag Alliance February 2, 2021: Planning for #Drought

    From email from the Colorado Ag Alliance:

    Drought Advisors

    Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email droughtadvisors@colostate.edu to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.

    #EastTroublesomeFire could cause water-quality impacts for years — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

    For some ranchers in Troublesome Valley, the worst impacts of the wildfire that began near there in October might not arrive until summer — or even summers beyond.

    Experts say the greatest danger of sedimentation from the East Troublesome Fire will occur during and after a hard rain, especially of an inch or more. That is when the severe soil damage from the fire will cause sediment to wash into the east fork of Troublesome Creek and into a diversion ditch used to irrigate 10,000 acres of hay.

    “It’s a real concern for us,” said Kent Whitmer, one of seven ranch owners who get water from the ditch owned by the East Troublesome Mutual Irrigation Co.

    Whitmer said he most fears sediment filling the ditch so badly that it overflows.

    “That would be disastrous,” he said.

    Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the 193,812-acre fire.

    The East Troublesome Fire, which had been burning east of Colorado Highway 125, exploded on the afternoon of Oct. 21, driven by 70 mph winds. In all, the fire grew 100,000 acres in 24 hours, eventually becoming the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. The fire was formally designated as contained Nov. 30, although small plumes of smoke could be seen in the golf course area as recently as Christmas Day. All but about 5,000 acres of the fire burned in Grand County.

    Denver Water may offer lessons useful to water managers, who will be dealing with impacts from the East Troublesome Fire for years, perhaps decades. Denver Water has struggled with sediment and debris clogging its two major reservoirs in the foothills southwest of Denver. The fires that caused problems for those reservoirs — Buffalo Creek in 1996 and Hayman in 2002 — fried soils, removing their ability to absorb moisture. Sediment has been washed up to 11 miles into Strontia Springs and Cheesman reservoirs, pushed by water during summer cloudbursts.

    Denver Water has spent $28 million in reservoir dredging, facilities repair and landscape-restoration projects. It discovered that debris and sediment can travel downstream to cause problems in critical water infrastructure. At Strontia Springs, Denver Water dredged for sediment as recently as five years ago but may need to do so again this year.

    “Dredging is very costly,” Denver Water watershed scientist Christina Burri said during the recent post-fire water impacts webinar. Retrieving sediment and debris can be challenging, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the debris. “Do you pile it? Do you burn it? Where can you take it?” Burri said.

    The East Troublesome Fire might produce fewer problems. A fire assessment called burned-area emergency response was conducted by U.S. Forest Service land managers and shows mostly low to moderate soil burn severity, suggesting lesser impacts to water quality.

    But water managers still expect significant challenges come spring, when melting snow produces debris and sediment that can clog bridges, culverts and reservoirs.

    This house north of Windy Gap Reservoir was among the 589 private structures burned in the East Troublesome Creek Fire. Water managers worry soil damage by the fire will cause sediment to clog irrigation ditches and municipal water infrastructure alike. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Assessing the damage

    The fire came through in October “so quickly that it didn’t have a chance to do long-term scarring of the soil,” said Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “However, this is still a sobering assessment because it really lays out the challenge we have going forward.”

    Northern Water operates the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project, which employs Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs as well as Grand Lake to deliver water to more than a million people and 615,000 irrigated acres along the northern Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

    The district estimates the fire burned as much as 94% of the Willow Creek watershed, 90% of the area drained by Stillwater Creek, 29% of the Colorado River drainage above Shadow Mountain Reservoir and 42% of the North Inlet watershed. A more detailed assessment will be needed in the spring after snow has melted, Strahla said.

    “It’s not as bad as Hayman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Stahla said, referring to the 138,000-acre fire in 2002 that was the largest forest fire in Colorado’s recorded history until last year. In size, Hayman was eclipsed by the three Colorado fires in 2020: East Troublesome, Cameron Peak and Pine Gulch.

    In assessing the damages caused by the East Troublesome Fire, resource specialists estimated 5% of the soil suffered high severity, 48% of it moderate severity and 37% of it low severity burns. Within the fire perimeter, 10% of the land was unburned.

    The mapping for the 22,668 acres of the East Troublesome Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park has not yet been released.

    Soil in severely burned areas has lost its structure, as the fire burned the forest litter and duff, weakening the roots of trees and other material that hold soil together.

    Areas of severe damage include the basin drained by the east fork of Troublesome Creek, where the fire was first reported Oct. 14. There, the fire hunkered down, moving slowly but burning most everything. Other notable severe burn areas are near Willow Creek Pass, between Granby and Walden, and a gulch immediately north of Windy Gap Reservoir. Some areas near Grand Lake burned with surprising severity.

    Erosion in high or moderate soil burn areas depends on the specific characteristics, such as the slope and soil texture, of each area, according to the burn report.

    Little that was live remained standing in this area along Colorado Highway 25, north of Windy Gap Reservoir, after the East Troublesome Fire. Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the fire. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Watching the water

    Impacts to drinking water in Grand County will vary. Well owners generally should have no problems with the debris.

    “These folks will want to make sure that wellheads and components are not damaged, to test for coliform bacteria before drinking the water post-fire and to treat it if necessary,” said Katherine Morris, water-quality specialist for Grand County. “If a well is located in an area known to be down-gradient from an area where homes burned, it may be prudent to ensure that your water treatment is adequate.”

    At Grand Lake, the town draws water from 80-foot wells.

    “We have not seen anything yet,” said Dave Johnson, the water superintendent for Grand Lake. He said he doesn’t expect problems but that the water will continue to be monitored, as it has been.

    But Grand Lake’s microhydro plant could have problems. Located on Tonohutu Creek, the small plant constantly generates 5 kilowatts of electricity used in treating the town’s domestic water.

    “We can only filter out so much debris before we have to close the intake,” Johnson said.

    In that case, the water treatment plant will be operated solely by electricity from Mountain Parks Electric.

    Hot Sulphur Springs, which draws water from wells that tap the river aquifer, will be the only town in Grand County with municipal water supplies directly impacted by the fire. Kremmling also can tap the Colorado River, but it does so only in emergencies.

    Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Bob McVay said his town expects challenges when the snow melts this spring, producing ash-laden water and debris. The town already has set out to take precautions, but it’s not yet clear what will be required.

    Upgrading of the filters in the town’s water treatment plant, a project that began a year ago, probably will be completed in January, providing duplicate filtering systems. But that might not be enough. Secondary wells in the groundwater along the river remain an option.

    In Troublesome Valley, Whitmer hopes to consult the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service about how to mitigate effects of the fire on the irrigation ditch. He also wonders whether beaver dams in the East Fork will trap at least some sediment.

    For Northern Water, this was just one of several fires affecting its operations in 2020. It was impacted by fires on both sides of the Continental Divide, including the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest wildfire, which affected the Poudre River and other creeks and drainages.

    Stahla said managers attempt to prepare for wildfire and other contingencies, but they did not prepare for such a severe wildfire season.

    “If you had come to us with a scenario that there is wildfire burning above Grand Lake, above Estes Park and throughout the Poudre River Basin, we probably would have pushed back, thinking that’s a little too over the top,” he said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Our water desk is funded in part by the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Jan. 15 edition of Sky-Hi News.

    The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers: “Geology is geology…We can’t do anything about that” (Michelle Sneed) — Wired

    Types of ground subsidence. Graphic credit: By Mpetty1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14698311

    From Wired (Matt Simon):

    When humans over-exploit underground water supplies, the ground collapses like a huge empty water bottle. It’s called subsidence, and it could affect 1.6 billion people by 2040.

    AS CALIFORNIA’S ECONOMY skyrocketed during the 20th century, its land headed in the opposite direction. A booming agricultural industry in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with punishing droughts, led to the over-extraction of water from aquifers. Like huge, empty water bottles, the aquifers crumpled, a phenomenon geologists call subsidence. By 1970, the land had sunk as much as 28 feet in the valley, with less-than-ideal consequences for the humans and infrastructure above the aquifers.

    San Joaquin Valley Subsidence. Photo credit: USGS

    The San Joaquin Valley was geologically primed for collapse, but its plight is not unique. All over the world—from the Netherlands to Indonesia to Mexico City—geology is conspiring with climate change to sink the ground under humanity’s feet. More punishing droughts mean the increased draining of aquifers, and rising seas make sinking land all the more vulnerable to flooding. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, in the next two decades, 1.6 billion people could be affected by subsidence, with potential loses in the trillions of dollars.

    “Subsidence has been neglected in a lot of ways because it is slow moving. You don’t recognize it until you start seeing damage,” says Michelle Sneed, a land subsidence specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey and coauthor on the paper. “The land sinking itself is not a problem. But if you’re on the coast, it’s a big problem. If you have infrastructure that crosses long areas, it’s a big problem. If you have deep wells, they’re collapsing because of subsidence. That’s a problem.”

    For subsidence to become a problem, you need two things: The right kind of land, and an over-exploited aquifer. Aquifers hold water in between bits of sand, gravel, or clay. When the amount of clay in an aquifer is particularly high, the grains arrange themselves like plates thrown haphazardly in a sink—they’ve basically got random orientations, and the water fills in the spaces between the grains. But if you start extracting water from an aquifer, those spaces collapse and the grains draw closer together. “Those plates rearrange themselves into more like a stack of dinner plates that you put in your cupboard,” says Sneed. “It takes a lot less space, obviously, to stack the plates that way. And so that’s the compaction of the aquifer system that then results in land subsidence at the surface.”

    But wouldn’t pumping more water back into the aquifer force the clay plates back to their random, spacey orientations? Unfortunately, no. “It’ll press those grains apart a little bit—you’ll get a little bit of expansion in the aquifer system represented as uplift on the land surface. But it’s a tiny amount,” says Sneed. We’re talking maybe three quarters of an inch of movement. “They’re still stacked like the plates in your cupboard,” she continues.

    So at this point you’ve got a double-barreled problem: The land has sunk and it won’t reinflate, and the aquifers won’t hold as much water as they once did, because they’ve compressed. “And that’s an important point,” says Sneed. “As places around the world, including California, are starting to use aquifer systems as managed reservoirs, the compaction of them prior to now has reduced their ability to store water.”

    […]

    But scientists haven’t modeled global risks of subsidence—until now. To build their model, Sneed and her colleagues scoured the existing literature on land subsidence in 200 locations worldwide. They considered those geological factors (high clay content), as well as topology, as subsidence is more likely to happen on flat land. They factored in population and economic growth, data on water use, and climate variables.

    The researchers found that, planet-wide, subsidence could threaten 4.6 million square miles of land in the next two decades. While that’s just 8 percent of Earth’s land, humanity tends to build big cities in coastal areas, which are prone to subsidence. So they estimate that, in the end, 1.6 billion people could be affected. The modeling further found that worldwide, subsidence exposes assets totaling a gross domestic product of $8.19 trillion, or 12 percent of global GDP.

    True, gradual subsidence isn’t as destructive as a sudden earthquake or volcanic eruption. “But it will cause these indirect effects or impacts that, in the long term, can produce either damages to structures or infrastructure, or increase floodable areas in these river basins or coastal areas,” says geoscientist Gerardo Herrera-García of the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, lead author on the paper.

    Subsidence is uniquely sensitive to climate change—at least indirectly. On a warmer planet, droughts are longer and more intense. “This is very important,” says Herrera-García. “Because no matter the amount of annual rainfall you have, the most important issue is that you have a prolonged drought period.” Dry reservoirs will lead cities to pump even more water out of their aquifers, and once you collapse the structure of an aquifer by neatly stacking those plates of clay grains, there’s no going back. For the 1.6 billion people potentially affected by subsidence—and that’s just by the year 2040—the consequences could be dire, leading to both water shortages and the flooding of low-lying land…

    At the end of the day, subsiding cities are up against unstoppable physical forces. “Geology is geology,” says Sneed. “We can’t do anything about that.”

    Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo are suing the Larimer County Board of Commissioners to contest the board’s approval of the 1041 permit for the #NISP — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The lawsuit, filed in Larimer County District Court, contends that former commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly were biased in favor of the project and shouldn’t have voted on the 1041 permit. The suit also argues that commissioners’ 2-1 approval of the permit in September violated criteria of Larimer County’s land use code…

    The lawsuit argues that Johnson and Donnelly demonstrated bias in several ways, citing a photo of Donnelly speaking at a “Farmers for NISP” event and an online news release from NISP proponent Northern Water reading “Larimer County Commissioners support NISP.”

    The complaint also references August 2019 text messages from Donnelly to Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla that read, according to the lawsuit: “You guys are getting ready to blow this deal …” and “Northern has no idea what is in store for them if they let this slide into the next boards (sic) term.”

    Stahla told the Coloradoan that Donnelly “reached out to me … when we were in the middle of the (intergovernmental agreement) process.” The county and Northern Water had been drafting an intergovernmental agreement to cover the siting of Glade Reservoir and associated pipelines before they pivoted to the 1041 permitting process.

    “… at that point, we were having open discussions with commissioners regarding this project, so we had not yet moved into” the 1041 part of the project, Stahla said on Tuesday…

    Stahla, the Northern Water spokesperson, said the NISP 1041 permit application was robust and addressed all the county’s criteria…

    He also noted that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in December rejected Save the Poudre’s appeal of the state water quality certification. That certification addresses NISP’s anticipated impacts on Poudre River water quality and includes 30 conditions.

    He added that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the new class of commissioners to reconsider NISP’s 1041 permit.

    “If you file a permit application and county staff recommends approval, the county planning commission recommends approval, and then you get approved by the county commissioners — well then, how far down the road can you have all of those votes changed at a long future date?” Stahla said. “We felt that we met the criteria, and the commissioners, acting in their role properly, approved the application for a 1041 permit, and so we feel we have our permit.”

    […]

    Karen Wagner of lawsuit co-plaintiff No Pipe Dream told the Coloradoan that the group had hoped the commissioners would apply their 1041 criteria as thoroughly as they did in their ruling on the proposed Thornton pipeline permit — which commissioners rejected after heavy opposition from No Pipe Dream…

    While the county 1041 permit is an integral milestone for the project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a final record of decision on NISP. That decision is expected in the first quarter of 2021 after years of delays, Stahla said. The Army Corps’ decision could also be contested in court.

    White supremacists who stormed US Capitol are only the most visible product of #racism — The Conversation


    Known white supremacists have been identified among the Trump supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
    Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Ursula Moffitt, Northwestern University

    Among the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were members of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

    The increasing violence and visibility of these groups have turned them into symbols of white supremacy and racism. They were involved in the deadly Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and street clashes with racial justice protesters in Portland, Oregon, last year. At a Trump rally in Washington, D.C., in December, Black Lives Matter banners were torn from two historically Black churches and destroyed. The Proud Boys’ leader has been criminally charged in those acts.

    Many Proud Boys reject the label “white supremacist”, arguing their aim is to “save America” and to defend “Western values.”

    White supremacy was itself a longstanding Western value. And white people don’t have to be white supremacists to benefit from the ways it still shapes American society.

    White supremacy, then and now

    As an ideology, white supremacy is the belief that white people are inherently superior to people of color. It relies on the notion that distinct races of people exist, and ranks those categorized as “white” at the top of the racial hierarchy.

    For hundreds of years, American leaders overtly embraced white supremacy. It was used to rationalize the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and their descendants from the Colonial period to the 19th century. In an 1858 debate, President Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”

    Known for abolishing slavery, Lincoln’s position may come as a surprise. But many U.S. abolitionists wanted white people to maintain power in government and everyday life, including after Black people were freed from bondage.

    After abolition in 1865, white supremacy continued in official and unofficial ways. It drove the legal racial segregation of Jim Crow and the banking practice of redlining, which robbed Black families of the loans necessary to buy homes in certain neighborhoods. White supremacy also underlay the forced assimilation and killing of Native Americans.

    Black-and-white image of Native students in Victorian dresses holding violins
    Boarding schools for Native American youths, like Montana’s Fort Shaw, cut students off from their culture and taught them that white values, practices and dress were American culture.
    Montana Historical Society Photo Archives, CC BY

    Outright racist policies were banned after the civil rights era of the 1960s. But systemic racism remained. Today’s well-documented inequalities between Black and white Americans in savings, longevity, home ownership and health are directly related to the white supremacist hierarchy created centuries ago.

    Hidden white supremacy

    White people need not endorse white supremacy to benefit from this hierarchy. As psychologist Beverly Tatum has explained, the privileges afforded to whiteness are so much a part of the structure of U.S. society that many white people don’t even notice them.

    Woman wearing a mask holds a sign likening COVID-19 to racism – 'assume you have it'
    Decrying the insidiousness of white supremacy at a protest march.
    Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

    For example, a white man is unlikely to be stopped and frisked by police. A white high school student probably won’t be asked if she’s in the right room on the first day of an honors class. And it likely won’t occur to either to reflect on these privileges.

    A white person is similarly unlikely to wonder why no one ever asks “but where are you really from?” after introducing themselves. And a white child likely won’t notice that nearly everyone in their textbooks looks like them.

    All of these affronts, both minor and major, are experiences many people of color face throughout their lives.

    Not noticing one’s racial privilege does not make a white person a white supremacist. That racial privilege affects countless aspects of daily life does, however, mean that U.S. society is still shaped by white supremacy.

    All people have a racial identity

    Research shows that white people must recognize and understand how they benefit from white supremacy to combat it. Doing so necessitates an awareness of one’s own racial identity – which is something I study as a developmental psychologist.

    In general, white people easily identify as white on official forms or in research settings. But when asked about their racial identity – that is, the way they understand themselves in terms of race and their experiences as a member of their racial group – they often have trouble answering.

    For example, in ongoing interview-based research with white teenagers, my colleagues and I ask questions like, “How important is being white?” and “What does it mean to be white?” The teens generally claim their race “doesn’t really matter.”

    This response reflects a tendency to think of whiteness as normal and invisible, and race as something “other” people have.

    Yet many of these same white teenagers also told us stories of witnessing racism in their schools and within their friend groups. They can see and name obvious racism, but most do not recognize their own white privilege as a part of the same system.

    For that reason, although racism is often seen only as prejudiced beliefs and behaviors – as embodied by the Proud Boys and other such groups – it is better defined as a system of advantage based on race. Most teenagers in our study do not endorse racism, but they are all growing up in, and benefiting from, a society shaped by it.

    If and how white people acknowledge that fact informs their own identities – and affects the society they forge. Research shows people who recognize the history of racism are more likely to identify racism today, in both overt forms like the violence at the Capitol and in more covert daily forms.

    Extremists like the Proud Boys are putting American white supremacy in the headlines today, just as the Ku Klux Klan did 50 years ago. But they are merely its most visible product.The Conversation

    Ursula Moffitt, Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology, Northwestern University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Say hello to the new Drought.gov website #drought

    Click here to go to the website.

    From the website:

    NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) has launched the redesigned U.S. Drought Portal (http://www.drought.gov) to better serve stakeholders, decision makers, the media, and the public.

    The new website features updated content and new interactive architecture designed to provide actionable, shareable information and easy-to-understand graphics describing current drought conditions and forecasts by city, county, state, zip code, and at watershed to global scales. The Drought Portal also aggregates and presents drought impact data for economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, water utilities, and recreation using interactive maps and data that don’t exist anywhere else.

    “The new state of the art U.S. Drought Portal provides numerous decision support resources to enable communities and economies across the United States in efforts to strengthen their resilience to drought,” said Veva Deheza, Executive Director of NIDIS. “Whether you are looking for current drought conditions in your county or needing to make water management decisions during a drought, the new U.S. Drought Portal is designed to be a one-stop shop for data, decision-support products, resources and information on drought.”

    Need to find the latest drought status? Head over to the Data and Maps section, where you can get the latest drought conditions, impacts, and outlooks and as well as drought-related maps for temperature and precipitation, wildfire updates, and soil moisture conditions, and more.

    The Portal also has the following four major new features:

  • Drought conditions down to the city and county level where you can see current conditions, key indicators of drought, outlooks and forecasts, and historical drought conditions.
  • Historical data and maps, including U.S. Drought Monitor data going back 20 years, standardized precipitation index (SPI) data going back 125 years, and paleoclimate data (e.g., from tree-ring analysis) going back 2,000 years.
  • By Sector section, which shows drought impacts on different economic sectors, such as agriculture, energy, water utilities, and tourism and recreation.
  • Research and Learn section where you can “go back to the basics” on drought with definitions, overviews of different types of drought such as flash drought and snow drought, and learn about initiatives like the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network.
  • Watch this demonstration video to learn more about the new Drought.gov.

    Provide your feedback on how the new Drought.gov is serving you, how you use drought-related information in decision making, and/or what other resources you would like to see available by taking this survey.

    For technical or other questions about the new http://Drought.gov website, please email drought.portal@noaa.gov.

    The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    There are a lot of warm colors on the maps on the Colorado Basin River Forecasting Center’s Upper Colorado Situational Awareness page, indicating lower to much lower than average moisture conditions. The Center’s forecasted inflow into Lake Powell, as of January 1, is 53% of average. Closer to home, monitoring sites on Grand Mesa are showing a water content in the snowpack of 43% (Mesa Lakes) to 54% (Park Reservoir) of the median for this time of year.

    Upper Colorado, Great, Virgin River Basins: Jan 2021 April-July forecast volumes as a percent of 1981-2010 average (50% exceedance probability forecast).

    Vail-area #snowpack is lagging behind averages — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

    The latest data from snow measurement sites on Vail Mountain, Copper Mountain — the nearest measurement site to Vail Pass — and Fremont Pass — the closest site to the headwaters of the Eagle River — shows snowpack is far below the 30-year averages.

    The Vail Mountain site is at just 69% of the average “snow water equivalent” snowpack. Copper Mountain Mountain and Fremont Pass are better, but not by much.

    Upper Colorado River River Basin High/Low graph January 14, 2021 via the NRCS.

    Johnson noted that the snowpack at this point in the season was worse in 2012, 2013 and 2018. But, she added, this year so far makes four significant low-snow years since 2010. There have been several other drought years since 2000.

    “This comes back to the aridification of Colorado and the Colorado River Basin,” Johnson said.

    What that means is that the district — which serves the upper valley west to Edwards — has to continue to work to change customers’ behavior. That means being more efficient about outdoor watering and ultimately using less water for that purpose.

    “We’re always reminding folks of where we live,” Johnson said, adding that this part of Colorado always has been a semi-arid zone…

    “We need water in local streams, to take care of the community and to take care of those streams,” Johnson said. “The water in the streams is so important… we know already it’s going to be tough.”

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 19, 2021 via the NRCS.

    No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre challenge Larimer County’s #NISP decision in court — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

    U.S. Highway 287 runs through the future site of Glade Reservoir. The Larimer county Board of County Commissioners approved the 1041 Land Use Permit for NISP in September, 2020. Photo credit: Northern Water

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre filed a lawsuit in 8th Judicial District Court last week against the county commissioners, naming former commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson specifically, as well as the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.

    The lawsuit asks the judge to reverse the decision to grant a 1041 permit for the project, throw it out or send it back to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners for a new hearing.

    It targets Johnson and Donnelly, the two yes votes in a split decision, saying that both Republican commissioners, who have since left office, should not have voted on the permit because of a “decade-long” record of advocacy and support for the proposed reservoir project.

    And the suit also offers 44 examples of why the organizations believe the permit exceeded the county’s jurisdiction or abused its discretion, ranging from decisions around streamflow to pipeline routes to the number of alternatives considered.

    The suit claims that the commissioners did not adequately look at the overall picture of how the project would affect residents, the environment, wildlife and the Cache la Poudre River…

    Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, pointed out that county staff members and the nonpartisan appointed Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit based on the county’s regulations and the specific criteria that county officials were required to consider.

    “We’re confident that the strength of the entire permitting process, local, state and federal, will prevail,” said Stahla…

    “Basically the lawsuit is total crap,” Johnson responded in a text message. “Tom (Donnelly) and I were no more biased in favor of the project than John (Kefalas) was biased against the project. But as we said in the hearing, we put aside all of our opinions of the project and commented completely and exclusively on the criteria in the land use code.

    “I am confident the county will have no problem defending the propriety of our actions,” he said.

    Stahla pointed out that Save the Poudre also appealed the state water quality certification that was granted for the project, and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division rejected that challenge.

    He added, “We look at this as another attempt to delay an important project for the long-term water supply in Northern Colorado.”

    Early season snow doesn’t erase severe statewide #drought – News on TAP #snowpack

    The lingering effects of months of hot, dry weather in 2020 have water planners preparing for wet and dry scenarios this year.

    Source: Early season snow doesn’t erase severe statewide drought – News on TAP

    Meet the gun-toting ‘Tenacious Unicorns’ in rural #Colorado — @HighCountryNews

    Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent, and courtesy of Dark Skies Inc of the Wet Mountain Valley.

    From The High Country News (Eric Siegel) [January 14, 2021, be sure to click through for the photos]:

    A year ago, transgender rancher Penny Logue found the dome. Fed up with a hostile landlord in the city and fearful for their safety amid record-high deaths in the transgender community nationwide, Logue and her business partner, Bonnie Nelson, sought refuge in the rural, open rangelands.

    The geodesic dome perched on sprawling acreage in the remote Wet Mountain Valley on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, near the rural ranching hamlet of Westcliffe, Colorado. They were intrigued. “Domes are funky and cool and a bit against the status quo — and they help the planet,” Logue told me. So they bought it.

    “They are weird but useful,” she said, “which is the essence of queer.”

    If the dome caught their attention, the dramatic Wet Mountain Valley convinced them to stay. “We fell in love,” said Logue. “You emerge out of the mountains into the valley and the Sangre de Cristo range just breaks in front of you.” She and Nelson were unexpectedly taken with Westcliffe too — its quaint storefronts and theater, the wide sidewalks, signs for “Shakespeare in the Park.”

    They bought the dome, and by March, with the pandemic raging and a divisive presidential election roiling, relocated to the valley and created the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, a community of gun-loving, transgender, anti-fascist alpaca ranchers. While they already knew the financial, physical, and emotional challenges of operating a successful ranch, they had no idea that the Wet Mountain Valley had become a cauldron of right-wing conservatism — home to militias, vigilantes, Three Percenters — anathema to the ranch’s gender-inclusive, anti-racist, ecological politics.

    Penny Logue reclines on a pile of hay as she coaxes the friendliest members of the ranch’s alpaca herd closer to her. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    But rather than retreat, the unique LGBTQ+ community, around a dozen strong, asserted its right to exist. They armed up and began speaking out, quickly developing a local reputation that galvanized other local rural progressives. In the process, they’ve showed how queer communities can flourish. “We belong here,” Logue told me this past November. “Queers are reclaiming country spaces.”

    CUSTER COUNTY, COLORADO, where the newly formed Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is located, is named after George Armstrong Custer. It was founded in March 1877 — nine months after Custer’s defeat at The Battle of Little Bighorn — and its overwhelmingly white, rural and conservative population hovers at around 5,000. While Colorado as a whole has shifted left in recent years, Custer County has tacked right: In every presidential election since 2008, when John McCain carried the county by 63%, the percentage of Republican votes has steadily increased; Trump won with nearly 70% in 2020.

    But the county defies easy categorization. Locals describe Westcliffe, the county seat, as politically “purple.” The town is a mecca of sorts, a gateway to thousands of acres of protected wilderness, and its pristine dark skies attract photographers and stargazers from around the world. (It is a certified International Dark Sky Community, one of only a handful worldwide.) A number of countercultural communities have found a foothold there over the years—from Mission: Wolf, an off-the-grid wolf sanctuary founded in the 1980s, to the Mountain Publishing Company, the conservative media organization that publishes the weekly Sangre de Cristo Sentinel (“The Voice of Conservative Colorado!”). The Sentinel’s articles and columns — one called “Patriot Alert!” — editorialize on gun culture, patriotism and the history of “the Old West.”

    When I visited the ranch around Thanksgiving, the late-afternoon light was reverberant, volleying off the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristos, casting a luminous glow across the landscape. J, a Texan who moved to the ranch in June — after losing her job and housing in the pandemic — waved to me from a long stairwell outside the dome’s entrance. Dressed in all-black denim, she was masked and distanced in a black cowboy hat and stylish black boots, armed with her favorite firearm, a Ruger-57. Ten enthusiastic dogs — five Great Pyrenees and Australian shepherd puppies, all named after Star Trek characters (Worf, Seven of Nine, Geordi, Lore and Data) — howled, tails wagging like windshield wipers. Nearly a hundred hissing alpaca trundled across the pasture.

    The ranch exists at a philosophical intersection that is immediately evident inside the dome, where a wall displays prized firearms — Bonnie’s sniper, a Springfield AR-15, two 12-gauge shotguns and a 22-rifle — and flags for The Iron Front, the anti-Nazi symbol used by 1930s paramilitary groups, which now symbolizes anti-fascism and intersectional Pride. Pride flags with colorful stripes — pink, rose, yellow, green, pewter, black, white — bedeck the wall, celebrating asexuality, agender identity, lesbianism and nonbinary gender identities.

    Since Logue founded the ranch in 2018, its frontier libertarian ethos has attracted social justice activists and gun-rights advocates, all seeking sanctuary. “We’re a haven. We offer work, we offer shelter, we offer peace,” says Logue, gesturing toward the expansive open space surrounding us. “There are a lot of people who visit for upwards of a week and just enjoy their time away from society,” Nelson added.

    “And cry,” Logue said. “When that ranch gate shuts behind you, the cis world stays out there.”

    On that November afternoon at the barn, Justine — a 21-year-old who moved to the ranch in July — filled water basins for the alpaca and sheep and fed the ducks and chickens. “I started the watering because it was needed, but then I realized I was doing it because it got me out of bed,” she said. “As long as the alpaca are healthy and fed, we can keep growing and help more people.”

    Logue and her cohort seek to challenge the patriotic myths — about Manifest Destiny, liberty and freedom — that their Wet Mountain Valley neighbors double-down on in The Sentinel. “The American frontier or ‘the American West’ wasn’t conquered with rugged individualism,” she said. “It was conquered by communities sticking together. … Nobody did that by themselves.” Their social mission — akin to that of mutual-aid networks and similar to anti-fascist groups like The Redneck Revolt as well as leftist pro-gun groups like the John Brown Gun Club or the Socialist Rifle Association — stems from their political commitments. “It isn’t through harsh words and violence that you defeat fascism,” Logue told me. “It’s through building community, but only if you can stay alive long enough to do it. That means you have to be armed — because fascists are armed, always.”

    This is something they’ve learned firsthand. “There are militias in the Wet Mountain Valley,” Logue said. “They’ve showed up armed and threatening.” That spurred the ranchers to arm up. “Moving here demanded gun ownership,” she continued. The ranchers watched from their front porch with a high-powered scope and sniper rifle — the Springfield AR-15 on the living room wall — staking out visitors loitering at the end of their driveway. The visits ceased. It’s rumored locally that militias unofficially “patrol” their surroundings to establish dominance. “In order to be treated as a human, you have to show you can defend yourself more than they can hurt you,” Logue said. “Then you can reach equality.”

    But achieving that has been elusive. This past summer, with COVID-19 cases rising, residents disagreed about local officials’ handling of the pandemic. The town’s political conflicts erupted on July Fourth, when armed demonstrators — led by The Custer Citizens for Liberty, a right-wing patriot group that The Sentinel frequently endorsed — paraded through downtown Westcliffe, protesting the Custer County Board of Health’s decision to cancel the annual Independence Day Parade. The ranchers had planned to avoid the protest downtown but got caught in the crowds during morning errands. “We saw them flying the Three Percenter flags front and center and everybody was armed. It was a fascist parade,” Logue told me. “So, we came back and started antifa accounts on Instagram. We called them out on being Nazis by tweeting about them, then on Facebook.”

    What happened next surprised them. “There was a real upsurge from the leftist community in the Valley,” said Logue. The outcry created an unexpected opening, as they unknowingly tapped into long-simmering sentiments. Meanwhile, they found another niche: Many residents began employing them in local handiwork and physical labor. The ranchers also provide recycling services at the county landfill. That has exponentially increased their visibility: “It’s really hard for people to paint you as ‘weird’ or whatever, if you’re just helping people,” Logue said.

    If the political headwinds they faced seem daunting, they’ve also made them adapt. “We’re queer. We get second-guessed all the time,” Logue said. “We’re always having to innovate and think ahead.” When they couldn’t get certain Department of Agriculture livestock loans, for example — alpacas are technically classified as pets — they acquired a few sheep. “There’s something inherently queer about how many alpaca we have. People don’t know what to do with us,” said Kathryn, one of Logue’s partners, who goes by her first name only. “Sure, we’ll bring out some sheep, I guess that makes us ‘normal’ or whatever, but that’s the closest we’ll get to assimilation.”

    This underscores a larger point: Exceeding established categories, and reinventing something better in their wake, is a hallmark of “Camp culture” — what critic Susan Sontag famously described in her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” as the “love of the exaggerated, the ‘off’ … the spirit of extravagance.” The perceived surplus or frivolity is the point. Hence the large number of alpaca (nearly 200, as of January): It’s a sensibility, a vision — a distinctly ecological one. “We deliberately chose alpaca because their poop is particularly good for establishing deep soil,” Logue said. “We do natural farming and ranching, so we don’t rob the land of its inherent goodness. We make it better.” The Tenacious Unicorns and their brand of Camp culture are leading the way, seeding a blueprint, reinventing what rural America can be.

    “What we lose by thinking of rural America as a white stronghold. …” Logue drifted off. “You know, there’s plenty of space in those communities for queer voices.”

    Eric Siegel is an editorial intern for High Country News. Email him at eric.siegel@hcn.org.

    A “forever” drought takes shape in the West — Axios.com

    West Drought Monitor January 5, 2021 showing Extreme to Exceptional Drought covering an extensive area of the Colorado River and Great Basins.

    From Axios (Jennifer A. Kingson):

    The Southwest U.S. is mired in an ever-worsening drought, one that has left deer starving in Hawaii, turned parts of the Rio Grande into a wading pool, and set a record in Colorado for the most days of “exceptional drought.”

    Why it matters: These conditions may be the new normal rather than an exception, water experts say, as climate change runs its course. And worsening drought will intensify political and legal battles over water — with dire consequences for poor communities.

    Where it stands: The U.S. Drought Monitor — the nation’s official tally — shows Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico mired in “exceptional drought.” This type of drought is only supposed to happen every 50 years, but it’s now a regular occurrence.

  • Even if rain and snow arrive this January, February and March, parched soil and vegetation will slurp it up, leaving less for riverbeds.
  • An ongoing “snow drought” is delivering fewer flakes, which means there’ll be less snowpack to melt into Western watersheds this spring.
  • Officials are bracing for what could be an unusually devastating wildfire season — the second in a row — and farmers are scrambling to ensure they can irrigate their crops.
  • “The word ‘drought’ can be a little misleading if we use it to imply we’re here temporarily,” John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, tells Axios. “We’ve been here ‘temporarily’ for 20 years now, with a preponderance of dry years and only a few wet years sprinkled in.”

    How it works: Conditions were dry heading into last summer, when the annual Southwest monsoon — which runs from June to September — was supposed to bring much-needed rains.

  • But the 2020 monsoon failed to materialize — some called it a “non-soon.”
  • And fall and early winter have seen less-than-average precipitation.
  • La Niña conditions — which suppress rainfall — strengthened in October and are expected to continue.
  • […]

    “Even when the rains return, the temperatures are not going to go back to what they used to be,” Daniel Swain, a U.C.L.A. climate scientist, tells Axios. “The overall scarcity problem, especially in the West, is not going away.”

  • That will lead to ever-larger battles among states and localities over water rights and access, which have been a hallmark of Western politics for centuries.
  • It will also mean that low-income communities like Porterville, Calif. — which famously ran out of running water in 2014 — will suffer disproportionately.
  • Article: Insect decline in the Anthropocene — Death by a thousand cuts — PNAS

    Click here to read the article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (David L. Wagner, Eliza M. Grames, Matthew L. Forister, May R. Berenbaum, and David Stopak):

    Nature is under siege. In the last 10,000 y the human population has grown from 1 million to 7.8 billion. Much of Earth’s arable lands are already in agriculture, millions of acres of tropical forest are cleared each year, atmospheric CO2 levels are at their highest concentrations in more than 3 million y, and climates are erratically and steadily changing from pole to pole, triggering unprecedented droughts, fires, and floods across continents. Indeed, most biologists agree that the world has entered its sixth mass extinction event, the first since the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million y ago, when more than 80% of all species, including the nonavian dinosaurs, perished.

    Ongoing losses have been clearly demonstrated for better-studied groups of organisms. Terrestrial vertebrate population sizes and ranges have contracted by one-third, and many mammals have experienced range declines of at least 80% over the last century. A 2019 assessment suggests that half of all amphibians are imperiled (2.5% of which have recently gone extinct) (6). Bird numbers across North America have fallen by 2.9 billion since 1970. Prospects for the world’s coral reefs, beyond the middle of this century, could scarcely be more dire. A 2020 United Nations report estimated that more than a million species are in danger of extinction over the next few decades…

    Although a flurry of reports has drawn attention to declines in insect abundance, biomass, species richness, and range sizes, whether the rates of declines for insects are on par with or exceed those for other groups remains unknown. There are still too little data to know how the steep insect declines reported for western Europe and California’s Central Valley—areas of high human density and activity—compare to population trends in sparsely populated regions and wildlands. Long-term species-level demographic data are meager from the tropics, where considerably more than half of the world’s insect species occur. To consider the state of knowledge about the global status of insects, the Entomological Society of America hosted a symposium at their Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, in November 2019. The Society was motivated to do so by the many inquiries about the validity of claims of rapid insect decline that had been received in the months preceding the annual meeting and by the many discussions taking place among members. The entomological community was in need of a thorough review and the annual meeting provided a timely opportunity for sharing information.

    Death by a thousand cuts: Global threats to insect diversity. Stressors from 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock anchor to climate change. Featured insects: Regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) (Center), rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) (Center Right), and Puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela puritana) (Bottom). Each is an imperiled insect that represents a larger lineage that includes many International Union for Conservation of Nature “red list” species (i.e., globally extinct, endangered, and threatened species). Illustration: Virginia R. Wagner (artist).

    This scientist destroyed #climatechange deniers in a single viral post — indy100 #ActOnClimate

    From indy100 (Alex Barrett):

    Our burning of fossil fuels, among other factors, is slowly warming the planet to dangerous levels.

    An often cited figure is that 97.1 per cent of scientific studies support the view that climate change is real, and caused by humans.

    A 2015 study however, looked at the 2.9 per cent of studies that deny climate change is man made, and found a series of worrying flaws.

    Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote a damning Facebook post about said study:

    Hayhoe wrote particularly critically of those who imply that dissenting voices are suppressed – arguing that they’re not, they’re simply contradicted with evidence.

    Wise Use Echoes: The rhetoric and ideology of today’s right-wing extremism mirrors that of a lesser-known anti-public lands movement of the 1990s — The Land Desk

    Photo credit: The Land Desk

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

    Like millions of people from around the globe, I watched the images of coup-pawns invading the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with shock, rage, and sadness. But, like many others, I wasn’t surprised. After all, almost exactly five years earlier we had been transfixed and alarmed by another violent attack on an American institution, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Sagebrush Insurgents. The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, aptly called Malheur a “dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol.”

    Malheur, meanwhile, was the culmination of what my colleagues and I at High Country News coined the Sagebrush Insurgency, a more violent remake of the seventies-era Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement focused on transferring public lands to state and private hands, that rose up largely in reaction to tightening environmental regulations on public lands.

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    So it makes sense that observers are now tracing the roots of the Capitol attack to Malheur and then back to the Sagebrush Rebellion. But to find the true antecedent to the recent insurgency, which was initially sparked by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, one needn’t go back so far. In the late 1980s, another anti-environmental regulation movement known as Wise Use arose from the Sagebrush Rebellion’s ashes. Wise Use would turn out to be more radical, insidious, and ultimately more influential than its more glamorously named predecessor. And today’s right-wing extremist movements reverberate with echoes from Wise Use and its concurrent cousins the Patriot and Militia movements.

    In the late 1980s, as President Ronald Reagan finished his second term and the Cold War neared its end, a right-wing, nationalist furor fulminated in the Heartland. Billboards sprouted along rural roadsides warning of black United Nations helicopters imposing a New World Order on the nation. And in Reno, Nevada, timber lobbyist and co-founder of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Ron Arnold, held the inaugural Wise Use conference featuring sponsors such as Exxon, the National Rifle Association, Boise Cascade Corporation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and several cattlemen’s and motorized-recreation organizations.

    While the Sagebrush Rebellion had been a direct reaction to the tightening of regulations on public lands and the relatively green ethos of President Jimmy Carter, Wise Use had no clear catalyst. Reagan, after all, had opened up the lands to exploitation once again, and his vice-president, not exactly a liberal, took over from him. Instead, it appears that the movement was sparked by a myriad of causes, one of which was Reaganism, although they would never admit to it. Reagan’s mission was to dismantle the framework created by the New Deal, a framework that protected workers’ rights, staved off extreme wealth-inequality with progressive taxation, and built up a strong middle-class. Reagan took the shame out of unbridled greed and let corporations run rampant with the promise that all that wealth would trickle down to the working classes. It did not, and the very farmers, miners, ranchers, and roughnecks who had sought salvation in Reagan’s laissez faire public lands policies instead were dealt damnation from his free-marketeer ways.

    During Reagan’s two terms: Carter-era subsidies for oil shale production ended, triggering a deep recession in the Interior West. The oil boom spurred by energy crises busted, ending—for the time being—Denver’s Dynasty period. Metal mining went global, depressing prices in the U.S. and forcing the closure of numerous Western mines. The uranium mining industry in the West was diminished by Three Mile Island’s then Chernobyl’s impact on the nuclear power industry, followed by the end of the arms race. And the Farm Crisis ravaged agricultural communities everywhere. The middle class was hollowed out while a guy named Donald Trump became a celebrity simply by flaunting his wealth. Reagan’s policies aren’t responsible for all of this, but they did weaken the safety nets that should have caught these people when they were in trouble. Instead, the nets failed, and widespread economic malaise among the working class oozed across the land, spurring resentment that the Wise Use, Patriot, and Militia leaders seized upon to fuel their cause.

    Colorado Governor Richard Lamm once called the Sagebrush Rebellion a “murky fusion of idealism and greed” and a “movement of confusion and hysteria.” Wise Use had the fusion of idealism and greed part down, but it was anything but confused, and was more focused, more radical, more sinister, and ultimately more influential than its predecessor. Like Sagebrush Rebels, Wise Users were looking to get out from the yoke of environmental regulations on public lands. But the adherents of the latter campaign also saw themselves as soldiers in a culture war, and their credo carried more than a whiff of evangelical Christianity. The federal government and environmentalists weren’t just a threat to their profits and occupations, but to their “heritage” and “civilization.” Arnold summed up his crusade’s Western civilization-centric ideology in a 1993 speech:

    I see environmentalism as the destroyer of the economy, as the destroyer of material well being—as the destroyer of industrial civilization—as the destroyer of individual liberties and civil rights. For those reasons, I fight against environmentalism as a matter of principle, as a matter of ethics, as a matter of survival. The same reasons for which I see environmentalists fighting against industrial civilization.

    Wise Use put a nifty little twist on the land-transfer ethos of the Sagebrush Rebels: Instead of focusing on transferring public lands into private hands, they would extend private property rights—for livestock operators, corporations, and counties—to the public lands. It was a brilliant idea, really, because it essentially privatized public land without the need for politically untenable land transfers. One of the leading practitioners of this notion was Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based attorney and alumna of both the Mountain States Legal Foundation and James Watt’s Interior Department, who argued that public land grazing leases bestowed private property rights on the lessee.

    Budd-Falen was instrumental in crafting a slew of ordinances and a land-use plan for Catron County, New Mexico, declaring county authority over federally managed lands and, specifically, grazing allotments. The ordinances were “… about the legal authority of county governments and the legal rights of local citizens as regards the use of federal and state lands.” They were intended to preserve the “customs and culture” of the rural West—by which they apparently meant only the predominantly white, conservative, Euro-American settler-colonial culture and customs, with a big dose of corporate influence thrown into the mix. And the Catron County commissioners were ready to turn to violence and even civil war to stop, in the words of the ordinance, “federal and state agents {who} threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County … and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child.” The Utah-based National Federal Lands Conference, launched in the late 1980s by Sagebrush Rebel and military-surplus-peddler Bert Smith, boiler-plated the ordinances and tried to sell them to other counties around the rural West.

    Rising up alongside Wise Use was the Patriot/Militia movement. Whereas Wise Use was worried about the BLM coming after “their” lands, the Patriots were more concerned about the IRS or the ATF or the United Nations coming for their money and their guns (in black helicopters, of course). While the details of their crusades may have differed, the two movements shared followers, philosophies, and ideological roots.

    One of those shared beliefs was the creed of county supremacy over the states and feds and that the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority. A prominent teacher of this philosophy was W. Cleon Skousen, an extreme right-wing author, Mormon theologian, and founder of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, née the Freeman Institute, known for its best-selling pocket-size versions of the U.S. Constitution. Skousen’s influence—indeed, his exact words—can be found in the Catron County ordinances, and Skousen and Bert Smith were contemporaries and collaborators. Skousen was also friends and ideological twins with Ezra Taft Benson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who played a leading role in steering the Church from its collectivist roots onto a right-wing course.

    Skousen, a former FBI agent and Salt Lake City police chief, gave talks to Rotary Clubs and other groups and taught classes to police officers. One of his students was a man named Richard Mack. Mack grew up in southern Arizona in a conservative Mormon family, graduated from Brigham Young University, then joined the Provo, Utah, police force in the 1980s. While he was a police officer, Mack attended one of Skousen’s classes in which he melded constitutional law with Mormon doctrine. Mack became a Skousen-convert and soon went back to Arizona to practice his new creed and where he was elected sheriff of Graham County in 1988 and was re-elected in 1992.

    The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, followed by Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency and his appointments of Janet Reno as Attorney General and Bruce Babbitt as Interior Secretary, was akin to throwing gasoline on the Patriot-Wise Use fire. The reactionary conflagration was further inflamed by the 1993 Waco fiasco and the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring people purchasing firearms to get background checks. Among other things, the Act charged local law enforcement with conducting the checks until a federal system was set up. That provided an opening into which then-sheriff Mack could step and propel himself into the glow of the inferno that was whipping across America.

    When the Brady Bill was passed, Mack, with backing from the National Rifle Association, joined up with other county sheriffs to sue the federal government over the background-check provision, and ultimately won a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court. Mack’s willingness to stand up to the federal government made him an instant folk hero among the anti-government factions (though he lost re-election in 1996) and he was soon headlining Patriot gatherings, railing at Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, and he co-wrote a book with Randy Weaver, the man at the center of the Ruby Ridge shootout.

    Meanwhile, prominent Wise Use leaders took pains to distance themselves from the Patriot movement’s more violent elements, while at the same time espousing identical ideologies. The National Federal Lands Conference’s Federal Land Update, edited for a time by Wayne Hage, the rancher who became famous for doing battle with the federal government, regularly ran rants against the New World Order and gun control legislation. In 1994 the Update ran a long article touting the “need for the Militia in America.” That same year, Helen Chenoweth—a staunch Republican, Sagebrush Rebel (she held “endangered salmon bakes” to piss off the greens), and an early Wise User—was elected to represent Idaho in Congress. Chenoweth, who would go on to marry Hage, claimed that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers were utilizing black helicopters to enforce the Endangered Species Act and that white, Anglo-Saxon males were the real endangered species. Even after a militia-follower named Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 167 people, Chenoweth told a newspaper reporter that she would not condemn militias and that “public policies may be pushing people too far,” and therefore were partially responsible for the bloodshed.

    After George W. Bush was elected president he assembled an Interior Department staff that resembled the attendance roster for a petroleum association or Wise Use conference. It was led by Gale Norton, a disciple of James Watt’s and alumna of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the litigating arm of the Sagebrush Rebels and then the Wise Users. Also on staff were J. Steven Griles, a lobbyist for energy companies; Rejane Burton, the former vice-president of an oil and gas exploration company; and David Bernhardt, a lobbyist for the extractive industry.

    Naturally, that played out on the public lands. During Norton’s years in Interior, the BLM issued drilling permits at a record pace. Norton favored drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, voided critical habitat on millions of acres, increased the number of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, and so on. Meanwhile, the Interior Department and its assorted agencies fell into a veritable orgy of ethical lapses, federal coffers were deprived of oil and gas royalties, fragile species denied protection, and industry was given yet more power to wreck public land in the name of greed.

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    With so many Wise Users in the government, the reactionary movement had nothing to push back against, and therefore lost a lot of steam. The same went for the Patriot movement. Mack’s pulpit dissolved as well and he became a used car salesman. But the movements were not dead, they were simply dormant, awaiting a new force against which to react and awaken them from their slumber. And that force arrived in the form of the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

    “What if the elitists in power also used their paid political hacks to manipulate the voting process? We do know that ANY electronic voting machine can be rigged to make sure that only the elitist chosen candidates will win. That’s when it’s time for an alert and vigilant militia to be on guard. Don’t those in power, the elitists, realize that if they continue in their ways there could be some dire consequences?”

    That may sound like a rant from some Proud Boy’s Parler post, or—if it had more grammatical errors—President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, in the days leading up to the 2020 election. In fact, these words were published in a 1994 article in the Federal Land Update, the Wise Use movement’s rag. The stolen-election trope that Trump and his followers have been spewing for months is just one of many current-day echoes of the Wise Use era. They are reverberating everywhere, whether it’s among the Tea Party or the Oath Keepers or the III-percenters or the Sagebrush Insurgency. Some examples:

    W. Cleon Skousen: Skousen died in 2006, but his legacy lives on. Following Obama’s election, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck began touting Skousen’s 1981 tome, The Five Thousand Year Leap. A re-issued version sold hundreds of thousands of copies and came to be known as the Tea Party’s “bible.” Meanwhile, the Bundys are often seen carrying the pocket-sized constitutions published by Skousen’s NCCS in, well, their pockets. At the 2014 ATV-protest down Recapture Canyon in southeast Utah, led by Neo-Sagebrush Rebel and Wise User Phil Lyman, Ryan Bundy himself handed me one of these booklets, peppered with Scripture. Also at the event were a number of self-proclaimed militia-men.

    “Sheriff” Richard Mack: Skousen-acolyte Mack was so distraught by Obama’s election that he wrote a book. The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope, published in 2009, argues that the sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority and thus the “last line of defense” shielding individual liberties from out-of-control federal bureaucrats. Mack then launched the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association. The organization’s 2012 conference attendance roster included Bert Smith, the Wise Use leader. Smith, who became wealthy from his giant military surplus business in Ogden, Utah, had provided seed money for the CSPOA and for the American Lands Council, created that year by Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory to push for transferring public lands to the states, counties, and private entities. Also speaking was Tom DeWeese, president of the American Policy Center, known for spreading fears that the United Nations, under Agenda 21, is taking over the world via bike paths and public transit, and Joe Arpaio, the notorious sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, whom Mack praised for launching an investigation into the validity of Obama’s birth certificate. Ivory gave a rousing speech at the September gathering about the “revolution of ideologies” in which he and the sheriffs were engaged. Mack would go on to lend support to Cliven Bundy during the Bunkerville standoff in 2014 and was a part of the 2016 protest against the prosecution of Wise Use rancher Dwight Hammond, a protest that would culminate in the Malheur takeover.

    Bert Smith: Until his death in 2016, Smith remained active in the new iterations of the Sagebrush Rebellion/Wise Use. After the Bunkerville fiasco, Smith penned a piece on the Bundy Ranch blog in which he called Cliven Bundy a “hero of the range livestock operator on public land,” who had “a sacred God-given right of unalienable rights, private property rights” to graze his cows on the American public’s land.

    Karen Budd-Falen: Falen emerged from Wise Use as a leading private property rights attorney, often fighting against the federal government, and gained new prominence in the latest Sagebrush Insurgency. She once represented Cliven Bundy. In 2011, she told a gathering of county sheriffs in Northern California that “the foundation for every single right in this country, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote, our freedom to petition, is all based on the right of ownership of private property.” Trump appointed her to be deputy Interior solicitor for wildlife and parks, an obscure but powerful position, in 2018.

    William Perry Pendley: Pendley worked under Sagebrush Rebel James Watt in Reagan’s Interior Department then became president of Mountain States Legal Foundation—the legal arm of Wise Use—just as the Wise Use movement was getting going. He stayed with the organization until just months before he went to work for the Trump administration. In 2019 he was named acting director of the BLM; in 2020 a judge found that he had been serving unlawfully.

    Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage: Chenoweth-Hage died in 2006, but her firebrand, gun-loving, lib-hating, militia-sympathizing, conspiracy-theory-flinging spirit lives on in the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was recently elected to represent Colorado’s third congressional district. Boebert, who tweeted incendiary messages as the Capitol was being invaded, seems to be emerging as the leader of what I call the #ObnoxiousCaucus, which also includes Westerners such as Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, from Arizona.

    Fake Victimhood: Both Wise Use and the current right-wing movements have portrayed themselves and their culture, customs, and heritage, as the victims of persecution and even genocide by the “elitists,” the environmentalists, cancel culture, liberals, the deep state, black helicopters, Hugo Chavez, and rigged voting machines. By falsely portraying themselves as the little guys getting beaten up by bullies—despite the fact that they are almost invariably members of the dominant power structure and backed by corporations and wealthy benefactors—they can justify responding with violence.

    Now the question is whether these echoes will be amplified in reaction to a Biden-Harris administration, or whether widespread anger and alarm in response to the Capitol invasion will silence them. Will a Biden administration rollback of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments spark a new backlash? Or will the reactionaries finally learn that these protections aren’t an existential threat to their “way of life?”

    It’s worth noting that Western politicians who have adhered to the Wise Use/Sagebrush Rebel philosophies in the past are now emerging as some of the few Republicans willing to stand up to Trump, including: Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming.

    It’s not a lot, and it may be too little too late, but it does provide a small glimmer of hope.

    #Snowpack levels decrease across #Colorado (January 17, 2021) — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basin High/Low graph January 14, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    All basins in the state continue to decrease in snowpack totals, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins sit at 68 percent of median this week, compared to 72 percent of median last week.

    A 5.94 percent decrease was reported for the Wolf Creek summit, with totals going from 101 percent of median to 95 percent of median this week.

    A reported 15.9 inches of snow water equivalent was posted at Wolf Creek Summit as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

    The Upper Rio Grande Basin has a snowpack total of 95 percent of median this week. Last week it was 102 percent of median.

    At the Arkansas River Basin, totals were 100 percent of median last week and are 93 percent of median this week.

    At the Yampa and White River basins, snowpack totals went from 82 percent of median this time last week to 72 percent of median this week.

    The Laramie and North Platte River basins were 82 percent of median last week, whereas they are 71 percent of median this week.

    The South Platte River Basin’s snowpack total is 77 percent of median this week. Last week, it was 82 percent of median.

    Snowpack totals at the Upper Colorado River Basin were 76 percent of median this time last week. This week they are 70 percent of median.

    The Gunnison River Basin was 73 percent of median last week. This week, it is 67 percent of median…

    River report
    As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 37.9 cfs, which falls below the 57 cfs average for Jan. 13, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The highest reported flow total for Jan. 13, based on 85 water years of record, came in 1987, when the San Juan had a reported flow of 114 cfs. The lowest flow total came in 1946, when the San Juan River had a flow of 26 cfs.

    Westwide SNOTEL basinf-filled map January 17, 2021 via the NRCS

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District adopts budget, certifies mill levies — The Pagosa Sun

    Pagosa Hot Springs

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

    The board began by voting to certify its mill levies. A mill levy of 11.778 was certified for District 1 that will lead to $1,514,389 in revenue. For District 2, the board voted to certify a levy of 5.098 mills that will produce $565,839 in revenue.

    PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns gave a summary of changes made since the draft budget was presented.

    PAWSD had $1,111,059 in total revenue for its general fund for 2019, had $1,094,782 in total 2020 revenue, and proposed $1,143,197 for 2021 total revenue.

    As far as expenditures, in 2019 PAWSD had $1,088,605 in total expenditures, $1,115,160 in 2020, and $1,243,667 for the 2021 proposed budget.

    Its beginning balance for 2020 was $983,500 and the end-of-year balance was $963,122.

    The budget projects that the end-of-year balance for 2021 will be $862,652.

    In terms of its water enterprise funds, PAWSD planned to spend $1,246,368 in 2020 on total water treatment and actually spent $1,201,778. The budget projects that in 2021 it will spend $1,212,748.

    For total water distribution, PAWSD planned to spend $1,354,525 for 2020. It actually spent $946,928 in 2020 and plans to spend $1,178,166 in 2021.

    The total water enterprise expenditures were expected to be $5,725,406 for 2020 and by the end of the year were actually $5,033,192.

    The water enterprise budgetary fund balance for the beginning of 2020 was $6,285,577 and the budgetary fund balance for the end of 2020 was $7,497,054.

    In regard to its wastewater enterprise fund, PAWSD budgeted for $918,856 in total wastewater collection in 2020, but ended up receiving $694,034 by the end of 2020. It projects to make $839,393 in wastewater collection for 2021.

    It budgeted $802,080 in total wastewater treatment for 2020, but actually spent $763,109 for the year. In 2021, PAWSD expects to spend $953,140 in this area.

    Total wastewater enterprise expenditures for 2020 were expected to be $2,636,374, but ended up being $2,324,183. It projects that expenditures for the waste- water enterprise in 2021 will be $2,874,099.

    The budgetary fund balance for PAWSD’s wastewater enterprise at the beginning of 2020 was $3,110,691 and by the end of 2020 it was $3,461,858.

    Rio Blanco secures water right for dam-and-reservoir project — @AspenJournlism #WhiteRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    One option for the White River storage project would be an off-channel dam and reservoir at this location. Water would have to be pumped from the White River into the reservoir site. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Six years after the application was filed, a judge has granted a water conservancy district in northwest Colorado a water right for a new dam-and-reservoir project that top state engineers had opposed.

    Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District now has a 66,720 acre-foot conditional water right to build a dam and reservoir between Rangely and Meeker, known as the White River storage project or the Wolf Creek project. The conservancy district is proposing an off-channel reservoir with a dam 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long, with water that will be pumped from the White River.

    But the decree, while granting Rangely-based Rio Blanco the amount of storage it was seeking, doesn’t allow the district all the water uses that it initially wanted. The decree grants Rio Blanco a water right for municipal use for the town of Rangely; augmentation within its boundaries; mitigation of environmental impacts; hydroelectric power; and in-reservoir use for recreation, piscatorial and wildlife habitat. The conservancy district will not be able to use the water for irrigation, endangered fish or augmentation in the event of a compact call.

    For more than five years, state engineers had argued that the project was speculative and that Rio Blanco couldn’t prove a need for the water. Engineers had asked the court to dismiss Rio Blanco’s entire application in what’s known as a motion for summary judgment. Division 6 Water Judge Michael O’Hara III agreed in part with state engineers and dismissed some of Rio Blanco’s requested water uses in an order filed Dec. 23. That left the fate of just three water uses to be determined at trial: Colorado River Compact augmentation, endangered fish and hydroelectric power.

    After seeing his order, the parties asked O’Hara if they could postpone the trial, which was scheduled for Jan. 4, while they hammered out a settlement agreement. The final decree and a stipulation, filed Thursday night, cancel and replace O’Hara’s Dec. 23 order and let the parties avoid a trial.

    “When you come to agreements, you are much more likely to live with those than having the judge force you to do things you didn’t really want to do,” O’Hara told the parties in a Dec. 31 conference call.

    Both sides said they are happy with the terms of the decree. Conservancy district Manager Alden Vanden Brink said that after six years of working out issues, the decree brought a sense of elation and a sigh of relief to the community of Rangely. The district is very pleased with the final result, he said.

    “Folks kept holding their breath,” Vanden Brink said. “And now we’ve got a step forward for drought resiliency.”

    This map shows the potential locations of the proposed White River storage project, also known as the Wolf Creek project, on the White River between Rangely and Meeker. Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District on Jan. 7 secured a conditional water storage right for 66,720 acre-feet. Credit: Colorado Division of Water Resources via Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Settlement and stipulation

    The main issue for state engineers, who were the sole remaining opposer in this case, was whether Rio Blanco could prove it needed the water. According to Colorado water law, new conditional water rights cannot be granted without a specific plan and intent to put the water to beneficial use. State engineers maintained that the conservancy district had not proven that water rights it already owned wouldn’t meet its demands.

    But Rio Blanco said its existing water rights in their current locations were insufficient and that it needed a new reservoir on Wolf Creek to meet current and future needs. And district officials said they were wary of seeking to transfer these rights and uses to a new reservoir because that requires a water-court process whose outcome is not guaranteed; therefore they needed the new conditional storage right. Even if a water court approved the changes, Rio Blanco still said there was not enough storage in the White River basin to meet demands during a drought or for future uses.

    State engineers and Rio Blanco disagreed about how much, if any, water Rio Blanco needed for Rangely, irrigation, endangered fish and other uses. Rio Blanco agreed to give up two of the three water uses left to be determined at trial: Colorado River Compact augmentation and endangered fish.

    According to the decree, if Rio Blanco in the future is successful at moving any of their existing water rights to the Wolf Creek project, the same portion of water granted by the decree will be canceled, eliminating duplicate water rights in the reservoir.

    A stipulation agreed to by both parties lays out further restrictions on the water use.

    According to the stipulation, annual releases from the reservoir will be limited to 7,000 acre-feet for municipal and in-basin augmentation uses. Up to 20,720 acre-feet of water can be used for mitigation of the environmental impacts of building the project. But once the exact amount of water needed for future mitigation is determined, the difference between that amount and the 20,720 acre-feet will be canceled, reducing the total amount of water decreed.

    A view of the White River between Meeker and Rangely. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District on Jan. 7 secured a conditional water storage right for 66,720 acre-feet for the Wolf Creek Reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Garndner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Compact compliance

    State Engineer Kevin Rein said the final decree is a good outcome, reached in the spirit of cooperation. Even so, state engineers were never willing to compromise on giving Rio Blanco water for Colorado River Compact compliance.

    “That’s something that we would have held fast on in trial and we held fast on discussing it with them,” Rein said. “It’s more a matter of something that does not legally occur right now with the state of Colorado water law.”

    Rio Blanco had proposed that 11,887 acre-feet per year be stored as “augmentation,” or insurance, in case of a compact call. Releasing this replacement water stored in the reservoir to meet downstream compact obligations would allow other water uses in the district to continue and avoid the mandatory cutbacks in the event of a compact call.

    Many water users in the White River basin, including the towns of Rangely and Meeker, have water rights that are junior to the 1922 interstate compact, meaning these users could bear the brunt of involuntary cutbacks. Augmentation water would protect them from that.

    State engineers said augmentation use in a compact-call scenario is not a beneficial use under Colorado water law and is inherently speculative. This doesn’t seem to be a settled legal issue, and O’Hara said in his motion that he would not rule on whether compact augmentation was speculative.

    “We believe the augmentation for compact compliance was very difficult to allow just due to the complexities of the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River compact, and it’s gratifying that Rio Blanco listened to us and we were able to get a final decree that didn’t include that component,” Rein said.

    The water-right decree represents just the first step toward constructing the project, which will need approvals from federal agencies. Every six years, in what’s known as a diligence filing, Rio Blanco must show the water court that it is moving forward with the dam and reservoir in order to keep its water right. Fort Collins-based environmental group Save the Colorado has already said it will oppose the project.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Jan. 9 edition of The Aspen Times.

    State of Colorado Files Lawsuit Against U.S. BLM to Invalidate Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan

    Uncompahgre Plateau

    Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office (Chris Arend):

    The State of Colorado, through the Department of Natural Resources, filed a complaint today in Colorado federal court challenging the approval of the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Uncompahgre Field Office. The Uncompahgre RMP, finalized in April 2020, governs mineral extraction and other land use activities on federal lands spanning five counties in southwestern Colorado. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) protested the proposed RMP in July 2019, and Governor Polis also submitted inconsistencies between the RMP and state policies, but those concerns were dismissed by the BLM in the final plan.

    The State’s complaint details how William Perry Pendley, a BLM deputy director, violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) when he improperly exercised the authority to resolve DNR’s protest while unlawfully occupying the role of the agency’s acting director. Resolving such protests is a responsibility reserved exclusively to the Secretary of Interior, a U.S. Senate-approved BLM Director, or a legitimate acting director nominated by the President.

    Mr. Pendley’s appointment by Secretary David Bernhardt was never reviewed by the U.S. Senate and had extended beyond the legal 90-day limit for temporary officials at the time when the plan was finalized. Colorado’s lawsuit follows a recent ruling in a federal lawsuit in Montana that invalidated two RMPs and an RMP amendment that were approved based on a similar unlawful protest resolution by Mr. Pendley.

    “The unfortunate fact is that if the Trump Administration had followed the law in appointing a Senate-confirmed nominee to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado and other western states would not be in this predicament,” said Governor Jared Polis. “It is now Colorado communities and the State of Colorado who face unnecessary uncertainty and potential impacts to local recreation and outdoor industry jobs.”

    “The Department of Natural Resources raised legitimate concerns in its protest that the final Uncompahgre RMP runs counter to Colorado’s goals to protect sensitive habitat for big game species and other wildlife, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The complaint provides facts demonstrating that these concerns were not addressed appropriately, and the approval of the plan by Pendley’s BLM was invalid. We are hopeful that the uncertainty caused by the questionable appointment can be clarified by the court so that Western Slope and Southwest Colorado communities can reliably plan for the future.”

    Attorney General Phil Weiser said: “In Colorado, our public lands are critical to our quality of life and economy. Over the years, the Bureau of Land Management has taken a series of illegal actions in developing the resource management plan that harms and conflicts with our state’s policies. We are bringing this lawsuit to address those harms and safeguard public lands and wildlife in Colorado.”

    A copy of the filed complaint can be found here.

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    The state’s argument that Pendley, the BLM’s “acting director,” did not have the authority to approve anything mirrors a federal case in Montana that overturned three resource-management plans.

    Gov. Jared Polis didn’t like the Bureau of Land Management’s long-range management plan for the Uncompahgre Plateau, saying the expansion of oil drilling in the region did not jibe with state laws and regulations protecting water, air, wildlife and recreation.

    And because the agency did not resolve those issues in its Resource Management Plan, Polis on Friday sued the BLM, as well as agency bureaucrat William Perry Pendley and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, asking a federal judge to overturn the Resource Management Plan (or RMP) for nearly 680,000 acres of federal land in western Colorado.

    The state is following the lead of Montana, arguing not just that the management plan conflicts with state laws, but that Pendley, who was never formally approved by the U.S. Senate as director of the BLM, did not have the authority to approve the RMP in April.

    “The unfortunate fact is that if the Trump Administration had followed the law in appointing a Senate-confirmed nominee to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado and other western states would not be in this predicament,” said Polis in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “It is now Colorado communities and the state of Colorado who face unnecessary uncertainty and potential impacts to local recreation and outdoor industry jobs.”

    The final plan approved by Pendley was the first resource management plan approved under the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” agenda to bolster domestic oil, gas and coal industries. It did not limit drilling in the North Fork Valley and expanded energy development across 675,800 acres of land and 971,200 acres of mineral estate in Montrose, Gunnison, Ouray, Mesa, Delta and San Miguel counties. And it did not weigh the state’s concerns about energy projects potentially injuring wildlife, habitat and air quality.

    The preferred plan that was on track in the fall of 2019 — crafted after many years of BLM meetings and work with local communities — was replaced by a new Trump Administration alternative in the spring of 2020 that identified energy and mineral development as key planning issues alongside reducing regulatory burdens for extractive industries and economic development. The BLM said the plan would contribute $2.5 billion in economic activity to the region and support 950 jobs a year for the next two decades.

    Earlier this month the BLM approved two oil and gas drilling projects in the North Fork Valley that allow up to 226 wells.

    Colorado’s lawsuit, being handled by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, says the plan’s conflicts with state laws were never resolved, so the approval should be overturned.

    #Colorado’s top #energy stories in 2020 — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #JustTransition

    Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    In 2020, the raft of bills passed by Colorado legislators in 2019 began altering the state’s energy story. Too, there was covid. There was also the continued movement of forces unleashed in years and even decades past, the eclipsing of coal, in particular, with renewables. Some Colorado highlights:

    1) Identifying the path for Colorado’s decarbonization

    Colorado in 2019 adopted a goal of decarbonizing its economy 50% by 2030 (and 90% by 2050).

    The decarbonization targets align with cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that climate scientists warn must occur to reduce risk of the most dangerous climatic disruptions.

    In September 2020, the Colorado Air Quality Control Division released its draft roadmap of what Colorado must do to achieve its targets. The key strategy going forward is to switch electrical production from coal and gas to renewables, then switch other sectors that currently rely on fossil fuels to electricity produced by renew able generation. But within that broad strategy there are dozens of sub-strategies that touch on virtually every sector of Colorado’s economy.

    A core structure to the strategy is to persuade operators of coal-fired power plants to shut down the plants by 2030, which nearly all have agreed to do. It’s an easy argument to make, given the shifted economics. The harder work is to shift electrical use into current sectors where fossil fuels dominate, especially transportation and buildings.

    It’s a lot—but enough? By February, environmental groups were fretting that the Polis administration was moving too slowly. During summer months, several members of the Air Quality Control Commission, the key agency given authority and responsibility to make this decarbonization happen, probed both the pace and agenda of the Polis administration.

    This is from the Jan. 5, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at bigpivots.com

    ohn Putnam, the environmental programs director in the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, and the team assembled to create the roadmap have defended the pacing and the structural soundness, given funding limitations.

    Days before Christmas, the Environmental Defense Fund filed a petition with the Air Quality Control Commission. The 85-page document calls for sector-specific and legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s called a backstop. The proposal calls for a cap-and-trade system of governance, similar to what California created to rein in emissions. New England states also have used cap-and-trade to govern emissions from electrical generation. In this case, though, the emission limits would apply to all sectors. EDF’s submittal builds on an earlier proposal from Western Resource Advocates.

    “The state is still far from having a policy framework in place capable of cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the pace and scale required—and Colorado’s first emissions target is right around the corner in 2025,” said one EDF blog post.

    This proposal from EDF is bold. Whether it is politically practical even in a state that strongly embraces climate goals is the big question, along with whether it is needed. All this will likely get aired out at the Air Quality Control Commission meeting on Feb. 18-19.

    Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    2) Coal on its last legs as more utilities announce closures

    It was a tough year for coal—and it’s unlikely to get better. Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Colorado Springs Utilities both announced they’d close their last coal plants by 2030. Xcel Energy and Platte River Power Authority had announced plans in 2018.

    That will leave just a handful of coal plants operated by Xcel Energy puffing, but who knows what state regulators will rule or what Xcel will announce in 2021. It has a March 31 deadline to submit its next 4-year electric resource plan.

    Meanwhile, Peabody, operator of the Twentymile Mine near Steamboat Springs, furloughed half its employees in May, partly because of covid, and in November announced it was considering filing for bankruptcy. If so, it will be the second time in five years.

    It was an image from Arizona, though, that was iconic. The image published in December by the Arizona Republic, a newspaper, showed three 750-foot stacks at the Navajo Generating Station at Paige beginning to topple.

    3) How and how fast the phase-out of natural gas?

    Cities in California and elsewhere have adopted bans on new natural gas infrastructure in most buildings. Several states have adopted bans against local bans. Colorado in 2020 got a truce until 2022.

    But the discussion has begun with a go-slow position paper by Xcel Energy and heated arguments from environmental hard-hitter Rocky Mountain Institute. It’s insane to build 40,000 new homes a year in Colorado with expensive natural gas infrastructure even as Colorado attempts to decarbonize its economy, Eric Blank, appointed by Polis in December to chair the PUC, told Big Pivots last summer. The PUC held an information hearing in November on natural gas.

    State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, sponsored a bill that would have created a renewable natural gas standard, to provide incentives to dairies and others to harness their methane emissions. The bill got shelved in the covid-abbreviated legislative session. Expect to see it in 2021.

    But even without the incentive, Boulder in July completed a biogas conversion project at its sewage treatment plant. It was the fourth such project in Colorado in the last several years.

    Rich Meisinger Jr., business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, explains an aspect of the coal economy to Gov. Jared Polis in March. Photo credit: Allen Best

    4) Colorado begins effort to define a Just Transition

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis spent the first Friday in March in Craig and Hayden, two coal towns in northwest Colorado. Legislators in 2019 created an Office of Just Transition. The goal is to help communities and workers in the coal sector affected by the need to pivot to cleaner fuels create a glide path to a new future. No other state has the same legislative level of ambition.

    There are many places in Colorado where the impacts of this transition will be felt, but perhaps no place quite as dramatically as in the Yampa River Valley of northwest Colorado.

    Polis and members of the Just Transition team created by legislators spent the afternoon in the Hayden Town Hall, hearing from disgruntled coal miners, union representatives, and local elected and economic development officials. That very afternoon, the first covid case in Colorado was reported.

    Legislators funded only an office and one employee. That remains the case. Some money will have to be delivered in coming years to assist workers and, to a lesser degree, the impacted communities. As required by law, a final report to legislators was posted in late December.

    Legislators will have to decide whether the task force got it right and, if so, where the money will come from to assist workers and communities in coming years.

    Meanwhile, in Craig, and elsewhere, the thinking has begun in earnest about the possibilities for diversification and reinvention. But it will be tough, tough, tough to replace the property tax revenues of coal plants in the Hayden, Craig, and Brush school districts.

    For more depth, see the first and second stories I published on this (via Energy News Network) in August.

    The question driving the upcoming investigation is whether Xcel customers, who represent 53% of electrical demand in Colorado, would be better served by shuttering this coal plant well ahead of its originally scheduled 2060-2070 closing.

    Work got underway in October 2020 for a massive solar farm that will satisfy nearly all the power requirements of the Evraz steel mill. Photo credit: Allen Best

    6) Work begins on giant solar farm that will power steel mill

    In October, site preparation work began on the periphery of Pueblo on 1,500 acres of land owned by Evraz, the steel mill, for a giant 240-megawatt solar farm. Keep in mind that nearby Comanche 3 has a generating capacity of 750 megawatts. Commercial operations will begin at the end of 2021.

    Evraz worked with Xcel Energy and Lightsource BP to make the giant solar installation happen. The company expects the solar power to provide nearly all of its needs. See artist depiction on page 15. See August story.

    7) A new framework for oil and gas and operations

    Colorado’s revamped oversight of oil and gas drilling and processing continued with a new legislatively-delegated mission for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: protecting public safety, health, welfare, and the environment. The old mission: fostering development.

    Guiding this is a new 5-member commission, only one of whom can be from the industry. The 2019 law also specified shared authority over oil and gas regulation with water and other commissions to also have say-so. And local governments can adopt more restrictive regulations.

    The specifics of this came into sharp focus in November with 574 pages of new rules adopted after 10 months of proceedings, including what both industry and environmental groups called cooperative and collaborative discussions.

    The new rules simplify the bureaucratic process for drilling operators, require that drilling operations stay at least four blocks (i.e. 2,000 feet) from homes; old regulations required only a block. The new rules also end the routine venting of natural gas.

    The new rules likely won’t end all objections but the level of friction may drop because of the rules about where, when, and how.

    Both idle fleet pickup trucks and drilling rigs were abundant in Weld County in June, 2020. Photo credit: Allen Best

    8) Covid clobbers the drilling rigs and idles the pickups

    Oil prices dove from near $60 a barrel in January to $15.71 in May. All but 7 drilling rigs in Colorado’s Wattenberg Field had folded by then, compared to 31 working a year before. Covid-dampened travel had slackened demand, and supply was glutted by the production war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

    Unemployment claims from March to November grew to 8,425, compared to 30,000 direct jobs in 2019. The full impact may have been 230,000 jobs in Colorado, given the jobs multiplier. Dan Haley, chief executive of Colorado Oil and Gas Association, at year’s end reported cautious optimism for 2021 as prices escalated and vaccines began to be administered.

    Covid slowed the renewable sector, too, causing Vestas to announce in November it would lay off 185 from its blade factory in Brighton.

    9) Utilities mostly hold onto empires—for now

    Xcel Energy got a big win in November when Boulder voters approved a new franchise after a decade-long lapse while the city investigated creating its own utility. Black Hills Energy crushed a proposed municipal break in Pueblo. And Tri-State Generation & Transition stalled exit attempts by two of its three largest member cooperatives, Brighton-based United Power and Durango-based La Plata Energy, through an attempt to get jurisdiction in Washington D.C.

    But there was much turbulence. Xcel lost its wholesale supplier contract to Fountain, a municipality. Canon City voters declined to renew the franchise with Black Hills. And Tri-State lost Delta-Montrose, which is now being supplied by Denver-based Guzman Energy, a relatively new wholesale supplier created to take advantage of the flux in the utility sector. Low-priced renewables have shaken up the utility sector – and the shaking will most certainly continue as the relationship between consumers and suppliers gets redefined.

    10) Two utilities take lead in the race toward 100% renewables

    Xcel Energy in December 2018 famously announced its intent to reduce carbon emissions from its electrical generation 80% by 2030 (as compared to 2005 levels), a pledge put into law in 2019. In 2020, nearly all of Colorado’s electrical generators mostly quietly agreed to the same commitment.

    Meanwhile, several utilities began publicly plotting how to get to 100%. Most notable were Platte River Power Authority and its four member cities in northern Colorado. Holy Cross Energy, the electrical cooperative serving the Vail-Aspen, Rifle areas, announced its embrace of the goal in December. CEO Bryan Hannegan said the utility sees multiple pathways to this summit.

    A fast-charger for electric vehicles can now be found near the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. Photo credit: Allen Best

    11) Gearing up for transportation electrification

    You can now get a fast-charge on your electric car in Dinosaur, Montrose, and a handful of other locations along major highways in Colorado, but in 2021 that list will grow to 34 locations.

    Colorado is gearing up for electric cars and trying to create the infrastructure and programs that will accelerate EV adoption, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, now the No. 1 source, while delivering hard-to-explain-briefly benefits to a modernized grid.

    Also coming will be new programs in Xcel Energy’s $110 million transportation electrification program approved by the PUC just before Christmas. It creates the template going forward.

    Now comes attention to medium- and heavy-duty transportation fleets. Easy enough to imagine an electrified Amazon van. How about electric garbage trucks?

    Colorado and 14 other states attempted to send a market signal to manufacturers with a July agreement of a common goal of having medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold within their borders be fully electric by mid-century. Of note: Other than Vermont, Colorado was the only state among the 14 lacking an ocean front.

    Many await arrival of the first Rivian pickup trucks in 2021, while Ford is working on an electric version of its F-series pickup.

    12) Disproportionately impacted communities

    The phrase “disproportionately impacted communities” joined the energy conversation in Colorado in 2020.

    In embracing the greenhouse gas reduction goals, in 2019, state legislators told the Air Quality Control Commission to identify “disproportionately impacted communities,” situations where “multiple factors, including both environmental and socio-economic stressors, may act cumulatively to affect health and the environment and contribute to persistent environmental health disparities.”

    The law goes on to describe the “importance of striving to equitably distribute the benefits of compliance, opportunities to incentivize renewable energy resources and pollution abatement opportunities in disproportionately impacted communities.”

    Specific portions of Air Quality Control Commission meetings were devoted to this. What this will mean in practice, though, is not at all clear.

    A version of this was previously published by Empower Colorado. IT was published in the Jan. 5, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.

    #CameronPeakFire’s threat to #PoudreRiver a concern for #FortCollins water supply — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

    Mesmerized by miles of mountainsides of blackened trees and seared soil that hugs the banks of the upper Poudre River, it’s difficult not to reflect on the 2012 High Park Fire and 2013 flood.

    You can’t help but wonder, given the steepness of the slopes and the severity of the riverside scar left by the Cameron Peak Fire, if Northern Colorado is poised for a repeat of history regarding the Poudre River.

    Come spring, snowmelt, rainfall and potential flash floods are almost certain to wash large amounts of ash from Colorado’s largest wildfire, soil and even entire trees into the river that serves as a source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people in Fort Collins and the surrounding area…

    A recent Burned Area Emergency Response assessment for the Cameron Peak Fire indicated a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by ash- and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.

    And that’s only the half of it.

    Fort Collins receives half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from Horsetooth Reservoir, whose water quality could be impacted by the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.

    An assessment for the East Troublesome Fire estimated 53% of the burn area suffered moderate (48%) or high (5%) soil burn severity compared to 36% — 30% moderate and 6% high — for the Cameron Peak Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire assessment also showed more than half the soil tested to be repellent to water absorption…

    By the time the 112-day Cameron Peak Fire’s flames were finally extinguished on Dec. 2, a watershed recovery collaboration of area municipalities, Larimer County, federal and state agencies, water providers and organizations such as the coalition, was already meeting to start planning efforts to address the fire’s impact.

    This isn’t the first fire for many of those stakeholders, and lessons learned from the High Park Fire are helping the group quickly prepare for this spring’s impacts.

    That being said, the Cameron Peak Fire was more than twice the size of the High Park Fire and paired with the 193,812-acre East Troublesome Fire — the second-largest wildfire in state history — delivered a massive one-two punch to several watersheds, making recovery even more daunting…

    Mark Kempton, the city of Fort Collins’ interim deputy director of Water Resources and Treatment, said the city has implemented steps since the High Park Fire to better equip it to handle the after-effects of a major fire.

    He said the city has installed warning systems along the Poudre River that alert it several hours ahead of water turbidity issues so workers can turn off the water supply. When the city turns off the Poudre River supply, it can draw on Horsetooth Reservoir water. That was the case for 100 days during the High Park Fire.

    The High Park Fire taught recovery leaders to include the use of shredded tree mulch instead of straw mulch to better prevent the mulch from blowing away for soil and slope stabilization. Strategically increasing culvert size also reduced damage to roads.

    Kempton said another key component will be workers removing sediment by flushing the water treatment system more often and removing sediment from the river intake system and catch basins.

    Nine Former #Michigan Officials, Including Ex-Gov. Rick Snyder, Charged in #Flint Water Crisis — Frontline

    Flint River in Flint Michigan.

    From Frontline (Sarah Childress and Abby Ellis):

    The sweeping criminal cases announced Thursday include Rick Snyder, the former Republican governor; Snyder’s top aide and his chief of staff; as well as both the state’s top doctor and health official during the crisis, who face the most severe charges: nine counts of involuntary manslaughter each, as well as official misconduct and neglect of duty for “grossly negligent performance.”

    “The impact of the Flint water crisis cases and what happened in Flint will span generations and probably well beyond,” said Kym Worthy, one of the special prosecutors appointed to investigate the crisis. “This case has nothing whatsoever to do with partisanship. It has to do with human decency … and finally, finally holding people accountable for their alleged, unspeakable atrocities that occurred in Flint all these years ago. Pure and simple, this case is about justice, truth, accountability, poisoned children, lost lives, shattered families that are still not whole and simply giving a damn about all of humanity.”

    Snyder, whose term as governor ended in 2018, had apologized to residents for letting them down. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty and entered a not guilty plea…

    The former governor’s closest aide, Rich Baird, was charged with four felonies: misconduct in office, perjury, obstruction of justice for attempting to influence the legal proceedings around the crisis, and extortion for “threatening” a state-appointed research team investigating the Flint water crisis — an incident that was first documented by FRONTLINE in Flint’s Deadly Water.

    Baird also pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Randall Levine, told the Detroit Free Press that Baird is “innocent of any wrongdoing and is being unfairly prosecuted by the state’s Democratic attorney general.”

    Overall, the indictments paint a grim portrait of a cast of officials not only failing to act to protect people’s health but concealing information, lying about the extent of the problems and threatening those trying to get the word out.

    Among the others indicted on Thursday were Snyder’s chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, for perjury; Nancy Peeler, a state children’s health official accused of concealing, and later misrepresenting, data on blood-lead levels in Flint’s children; Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, both state-appointed emergency managers in Flint charged with misconduct in office; and Howard Croft, Flint’s director of public works at the time, who faces misdemeanors for failing to protect the safety and quality of the water supply. He was the lone city official indicted in the case.

    All nine officials indicted on Thursday entered not guilty pleas.

    The two officials at the center of the prosecution, Nick Lyon, the former head of the state health department, and Dr. Eden Wells, the former state chief medical executive, could face 15-year prison sentences for each of nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both were also charged with willful neglect of duty. Wells faces an additional felony count of misconduct in office for attempting to prevent the distribution of information about Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County…

    While much of the focus on Flint centered around lead contamination, many of the charges stemmed from a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ that occurred during the crisis. Officially, 90 people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, and 12 died, according to state data. But a FRONTLINE investigation strongly suggests the actual death toll was much higher, as doctors unaware of the threat failed to properly diagnose and treat sickened patients. FRONTLINE also found many victims who succumbed to Legionnaires’ in the months and years following the outbreak, long after the state stopped counting the dead…

    As Legionnaires’ cases began ticking upward in 2014, state officials, including Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose, exchanged emails speculating that Flint’s new water supply might be to blame. Some worried that word might get out. By the end of 2014, there were 40 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’, and three people had died.

    By March 2015, emails show that at least three of Snyder’s aides and two cabinet members had been told about the outbreak, including Lyon.

    At a press conference in January 2016, Snyder finally announced the Legionnaires’ outbreak — 18 months after it began. He was joined by Wells and by Lyon, who made a point of noting the outbreak couldn’t be linked to the water switch.

    The governor also hastily convened a task force of prominent scientists to investigate the source of the outbreak. The scientists got to work but quickly began clashing with the administration over their findings, when they identified the presence of Legionella, the bacteria that causes the deadly disease, in the water filters of people’s homes.

    #Drought causing issues for #Durango’s fish hatchery — The #Cortez Journal

    Durango Fish Hatchery. Photo credit: Trip Advisor

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

    Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for CPW, said the Durango Fish Hatchery, along the banks of the Animas River near Main Avenue and 16th Street, receives its water from three natural springs near the Durango High School.

    Typically, at this time of year, about 1,000 gallons of water per minute flows into the hatchery. Currently, however, because of a long-term drought that has gripped the region, only 700 gallons of water per minute is flowing…

    Winter is the time when the hatchery holds the most fish in anticipation of stocking in spring and summer. Currently, there are about one million fish on site, mostly fingerlings two to three inches in size…

    But because there is less water coming into the hatchery, CPW was forced last week to stock an estimated 28,000 mature rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado to make room at the hatchery.

    For example, CPW went through the ice to stock nearly 5,000 9-inch rainbow trout into Summit Reservoir and another 1,400 or so into Joe Moore Reservoir, both north of Mancos.

    In 2021, CPW expects to stock an estimated 100,000 catchable rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado…

    As a result of the risks posed to the hatchery because of drought conditions, CPW intends to drill a test well to determine if another water source in the area is available.

    “The test-drilling will be done this year,” Lewandowski said.

    #Colorado #snowpack trending wrong way to counter #drought — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Statewide snowpack was at 74% of median Thursday, with percentages even lower in area basins, at 68% for the Gunnison River Basin and 70% for the Upper Colorado River Basin, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service data.

    Local conditions are worse, with measurements ranging from 46 to 57% at NRCS Grand Mesa snowpack-measuring sites, and at 66% for the Plateau Creek drainage.

    While conditions can change, the NRCS said in a Jan. 1 water supply outlook report for Colorado that current streamflow forecasts during the snowpack runoff season “for April through July range from a high of 98% of average for the Cucharas River near La Veta, to a low of 42% of average for Surface Creek at Cedaredge.”

    It said streamflow volumes for the combined Yampa, White, the Upper Colorado, the Gunnison, and the combined San Migue, Dolores, Animas, San Juan river basins “are all forecasted to be within 64 to 68% of average, with some variability within each basin.”

    Colorado Drought Monitor January 12, 2021.

    The lagging snowpack accumulations so far in Colorado come as the entire state currently is in a drought. Most of western Colorado is in either exceptional drought, the worst category, or extreme drought, the second-worst category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Much of Mesa County is in exceptional drought, with the northwest part of the county in extreme drought.

    According to an NRCS news release, Colorado precipitation in August and September combined totaled the lowest in a 36-year period of record at its measurement sites, and October precipitation was less than half of average.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week reported that combined average annual precipitation last year in Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico was the second-lowest on record and the lowest since 1956. It said dry conditions are expected to continue for the Southwest…

    NRCS said in its news release that near-normal snowpack and reservoir storage leading into last spring helped Colorado stave off significant runoff shortages last year. But current reservoir storage is below normal for this time of year across the state, at 82% of average as of the start of the new year…

    Reservoir storage in the Gunnison River Basin is currently at 77% of average, compared to 104% average for Jan. 1 at the same time last year. Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest reservoir, is currently less than half full.

    Storage in the Upper Colorado River Basin is much higher than the statewide average, at 102% of normal for this time of year. Currently the Rio Grande Basin, which in recent years has been quite dry, is doing the best across the state in terms of snowpack, at 95% of median. The Arkansas River Basin ranks second-highest, at 93%.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 15, 2021 via the NRCS.

    January 2021 #LaNiña update: remote destinations — @NOAA #ENSO

    From NOAA (Emily Becker):

    There’s a 95% chance that La Niña will continue through the winter and a 55% chance the tropical Pacific will transition to neutral conditions by the spring. After that, the picture is less clear. Certainly less clear than the waters of the tropical Pacific…

    Tahiti
    Speaking of, let’s take the temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean. The December 2020 average sea surface temperature in our primary monitoring region, Niño 3.4, was 1.2° Celsius (2.16˚ Fahrenheit) cooler than the long-term (1986-2015) average, according to the ERSSTv5 dataset. This is comfortably within the La Niña boundary of more than 0.5°C cooler than average.

    The cooler-than-average wedge of La Niña is clear in the tropical Pacific, amidst the sea of warmer-than-average we’ve come to expect as the globe warms. However, this La Niña is a bit asymmetric, with more blue to the south of the equator and less to the north than other La Niña events of similar magnitude, such as 2007 or 2010.

    December 2020 sea surface temperature departure from the 1981-2010 average. The cool waters of La Niña are noticeable at the equator in the Pacific. Image from Data Snapshots on Climate.gov.

    Also according to ERSSTv5, the three-month average anomaly (the Oceanic Niño Index) was -1.3°C in October–December. Most computer models predict that the Niño 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly has reached its lowest value in our current La Niña event and will move back toward neutral from here. Forecasters estimate the most likely scenario for the end of this La Niña is a transition to neutral—a Niño 3.4 anomaly between -0.5° and 0.5°C—during the April–June period.

    Fiji
    Our frequent readers will be familiar with the idea that atmosphere-ocean coupling is the hallmark of El Niño and La Niña. The atmosphere over the tropical Pacific responds to the changes in ocean surface temperature, creating a critical feedback that reinforces the oceanic changes…

    In a nutshell, during La Niña we expect a stronger Walker circulation. That is, the cooler-than-average east-central tropical Pacific leads to reduced convection (rising air and cloud formation) in that region, while convection over Indonesia becomes even stronger than average. The trade winds, which blow east to west at the surface, become stronger than average, allowing cooler deep water to upwell to the surface.

    La Niña feedbacks between the ocean and atmosphere. Climate.gov schematic by Emily Eng and inspired by NOAA PMEL.

    This winter, both the convection pattern and the near-surface winds have been performing as expected. We can definitely place a stamp on the “strengthened Walker circulation” page of our ENSO passport.

    Tuvalu
    Speaking of expectations, what about La Niña impacts on global temperature and precipitation patterns? It’s mostly still too early to tell, as the dominant impacts occur during northern hemisphere winter, December–March, and we only have one month on record so far. However, we can take a peek at December’s averages to see how things are shaping up.

    The global precipitation map from December shows that the tropical Pacific was indeed drier than average, with more rain over much of Indonesia. These direct impacts from the stronger Walker circulation are very reliable during La Niña. Remote impacts, or teleconnections, via La Niña’s effects on global atmospheric circulation, are more variable. (Revisit the second half of this post for details on the probability of rain and snow impacts.) So far, southeastern Africa has had more rain than average, and the southern tier of the United States has been a bit drier. Also consistent with La Niña is the pattern of below-average precipitation over eastern Brazil and northern Argentina.

    December’s surface temperature map reveals the northern half of North America was warmer than average during December, with Florida the only cooler-than-average region in North America. This is opposite of the expected pattern during La Niña. The temperature map also indicates a large swath of the planet was above average, which is a telltale sign of climate change. However, winter is yet young, and we will see if La Niña may have more of an imprint later on. Revisit Mike Halpert’s recent post on the 2020–21 winter outlook to read more about expectations, and see maps of the U.S. winter temperature and precipitation during the strongest 20 La Niña events since 1950.

    Palau
    One expected La Niña impact—an active Atlantic hurricane season—certainly happened in 2020. As no one is eager for a repeat of that particular teleconnection, many are asking if we could have a second-year La Niña, neutral conditions, or even an El Niño in the fall of 2021. Overall, the answer is “it’s too soon to tell.” ENSO usually changes phase in the spring, as it’s predicted to do this spring, going from La Niña to neutral. This seasonal phase-change contributes to the spring predictability barrier, a time of year when climate models have a particularly difficult time making successful forecasts many seasons in advance.

    That said, currently forecasters estimate similar probabilities of either La Niña or neutral for late summer and fall (around 40-45% chance) and much lower odds of El Niño. These lower odds are consistent with history. If we look at a graph of the eventual fate of every first-year La Niña (meaning, the previous winter did not feature La Niña), we see how rare El Niño is the next winter.

    Monthly sea surface temperature in the Niño 3.4 region of the tropical Pacific for 2020 (purple line) and all other years starting from first-year La Niña winters since 1950. Climate.gov graph based on ERSSTv5 temperature data.

    In our 1950-present record, a La Niña winter is more often followed by either neutral or weak La Niña conditions during the summer, with a re-development of La Niña the subsequent winter.

    Of the 12 first-year La Niña events, 8 were followed by La Niña the next winter, 2 by neutral, and 2 by El Niño. We’ll probably have to get through the spring predictability barrier before we can make a more confident prediction about next fall. In the meantime, you can be sure we’ll be closely monitoring the tropical Pacific, while dreaming about swimming in it.

    @JoeBiden plans to fight climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before — The Conversation #ActOnClimate


    Managing climate change requires a systems approach, with strategic coordination across all sectors.
    Elenabs via Getty Images

    Bill Ritter Jr., Colorado State University

    Joe Biden is preparing to deal with climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before – by mobilizing his entire administration to take on the challenge from every angle in a strategic, integrated way.

    The strategy is evident in the people Biden has chosen for his Cabinet and senior leadership roles: Most have track records for incorporating climate change concerns into a wide range of policies, and they have experience partnering across agencies and levels of government.

    Those skills are crucial, because slowing climate change will require a comprehensive and coordinated “all hands on deck” approach.

    We did that with energy when I was governor of Colorado, and I can tell you it isn’t simple. Energy policy isn’t just about electricity. It’s about how homes are built, how they generate power and feed it into the grid and how the transportation, industrial and agriculture sectors evolve. It’s about regulations, trade rules, government purchases and funding for research for innovation. Coordination and collaboration among agencies and different levels of government is crucial.

    Gina McCarthy at the event where Biden introduced his climate policy leaders.
    The task of coordinating climate actions across the government falls to Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator who will be Biden’s national climate advisor.
    Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

    A coordinated approach also helps ensure that vulnerable populations aren’t overlooked. Biden has committed to help disadvantaged communities that have too often borne the brunt of fossil fuel industry pollution, as well as those that have been losing fossil fuel jobs.

    The Biden-Harris team’s depth of experience will be vital as they take over from a Trump administration that has been stripping government agencies of their expertise and eliminating environmental protections. With Democrats gaining control of both the House and Senate, the Biden administration may also have a better chance of overhauling laws, funding and tax incentives in ways that could fundamentally transform the U.S. approach to climate change.

    Here are some of the biggest challenges ahead and what “all hands on deck” might mean.

    Dealing with all those climate policy rollbacks

    From its first days, the Trump administration began trying to nullify or weaken U.S. environmental regulations. It had rolled back 84 environmental rules by November 2020, including major climate policies, and more rollbacks were being pursued, according to a New York Times analysis of research from Harvard and Columbia law schools.

    Many of these rules had been designed to reduce climate-warming pollution from power plants, cars and trucks. Several reduced emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas production. The Trump administration also moved to open more land to more drilling, mining and pipelines.

    Some rollbacks have been challenged in court and the rules then reinstated. Others are still being litigated. Many will require going through government rule-making processes that take years to reverse.

    Michael Regan during Biden's announcement
    Michael Regan will contend with many of the Trump administration’s rollbacks as Biden’s choice to head the EPA.
    Alex Edelman/Getty Images

    Pressuring other countries to take action

    Biden can quickly bring the U.S. back into the international Paris climate agreement, through which countries worldwide agreed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming. But reestablishing the nation’s leadership role with the international climate community is a much longer haul.

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry will lead this effort as special envoy for climate change, a new Cabinet-level position with a seat on the National Security Council. Other parts of the government can also pressure countries to take action. International development funding can encourage climate-friendly actions, and trade agreements and tariffs can establish rules of conduct.

    Kerry, Stern and Deese walking.
    Then-Secretary of State John Kerry (right), with climate envoy Todd Stern and Brian Deese while negotiating the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Deese (left) is Biden’s choice to head the National Economic Council.
    Mandel Ngan, Pool photo via AP

    Cleaning up the power sector

    The Biden-Harris climate plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to net zero by 2035.

    While 62 major utilities in the U.S. have set their own emission reduction goals, most leaders in that sector would argue that requiring net zero emissions by 2035 is too much too fast.

    One problem is that states are often more involved in regulating the power sector than the federal government. And, when federal regulations are passed, they are often challenged in court, meaning they can take years to implement.

    Reducing greenhouse gases also requires modernizing the electricity transmission grid. The federal government can streamline the permitting process to allow more clean energy, like wind and solar power, onto the grid. Without that intervention, it could take a decade or more to permit a single transmission line.

    What to do about vehicles, buildings and ag

    The power sector may be the easiest sector to “decarbonize.” The transportation sector is another story.

    Transportation is now the nation’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide. Decarbonizing it will require a transition away from the internal combustion engine in a relatively short amount of time.

    Again, this is a challenge that requires many parts and levels of government working toward the same goal. It will require expanding carbon-free transportation, including more electric vehicles, charging stations, better battery technology and clean energy. That involves regulations and funding for research and development from multiple departments, as well as trade agreements, tax incentives for electric vehicles and a shift in how government agencies buy vehicles. The EPA can facilitate these efforts or hamstring them, as happened when the Trump EPA revoked California’s ability to set higher emissions standards – something the Biden administration is likely to quickly restore.

    The other “hard to decarbonize” sectors – buildings, industry and agriculture – will require sophistication and collaboration among all federal departments and agencies unlike any previous efforts across government.

    A new comprehensive climate bill

    The best way to tackle these sectors would be a comprehensive climate bill that uses some mechanism, like a clean energy standard, that sets a cap, or limit, on emissions and tightens it over time. Here, the problem lies more in the politics of the moment than anything else. Biden and his team will have to convince lawmakers from fossil fuel-producing states to work on these efforts.

    Democratic control of the Senate raises the chances that Congress could pass comprehensive climate legislation, but that isn’t a given. Until that happens, Biden will have to rely on agencies issuing new rules, which are vulnerable to being revoked by future administrations. It’s a little like playing chess without a queen or rooks.

    Years of delays have allowed global warming to progress so far that many of its impacts may soon become irreversible. To meet its ambitious goals, the administration will need everyone, progressives and conservatives, state and local leaders, and the private sector, to work with them.

    The Conversation

    Bill Ritter Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    #Drought news (January 14, 2021): Improvements were made in S.E. #Colorado, where widespread precipitation, which was near to above-average for the entire month

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Storms continued to take aim at the Pacific Northwest this week, bringing multiple rounds of heavy rain along the coast and lower elevations, and snow to the mountains. Many locations along the coast have measured rain nearly every day this year. While the heaviest rains fell outside of most of the region’s current drought areas, parts of western Oregon have received 125% to 300% of normal precipitation since the beginning of the year, helping to chip away at long-term drought conditions. A winter storm brought snow to Rockies and eastern New Mexico before moving eastward. Several locations from far southeastern New Mexico into western, central and eastern Texas, northern Louisiana and Mississippi were blanketed by at least 6 inches of snow. Dryness continued to deteriorate conditions in locations such as Southern California, south-central Oregon, north-central Kansas, and south Texas. In all, the percent area of the Lower 48 experiencing moderate drought or worse stands at 44.85%, down from 45.76% last week…

    High Plains

    Like the upper Midwest, much of the High Plains experienced relatively warm, dry conditions. Temperatures ranged from 4 degrees above normal in north-central Kansas to more 20 degrees above normal in north-central Minnesota. These conditions led to expansions of moderate drought (D1) in northeast Wyoming and western North Dakota and in north-central Kansas as precipitation deficits continued to build and soil moisture decreased. The only improvements were made in southeast Colorado, where widespread precipitation, which was near to above-average for the entire month, lessened precipitation deficits and replenished soil moisture…

    West

    While the Pacific Northwest saw continued wet weather, the Southwest remained dry. One-category improvements were made in west Oregon, where 125% to 300% of normal precipitation has fallen since the beginning of the year. This has led to improvements in streamflow and groundwater. East of the Cascades, water year-to-date precipitation is well below normal, resulting in extremely low streamflows and degradations to exceptional (D3) drought in south-central Oregon. In the Southwest, moderate (D2) and extreme (D3) drought expanded in central California where water year-to-date precipitation is less than 25% of normal. With the exception of an expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) in northern Montana, the rest of the West remained unchanged. Once again, many state drought teams noted that in areas where rain and snow fell, it wasn’t enough to increase moisture availability. In areas where it didn’t, such as the Southwest, the conditions either didn’t yet warrant additional degradations or, because they were already in exceptional drought (D4), could not be degraded further. Snowpack and snow-water equivalent are well below normal and soils are dry. Ranchers have noted that natural forage is insufficient or depleted…

    South

    The South was hit with another winter storm this week, spreading rain and snow from Texas to Mississippi. Widespread snow fell across much of East Texas and northern Louisiana, with totals generally ranging from 2 to 5 inches, with isolated higher amounts near 6 inches across portions of deep East Texas and west-central Louisiana. As a result, one-category improvements were made across much of the state. The rain and snow even helped chip away at the extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) areas inthe western part of the state as soil moisture and groundwater began to improve. Drought conditions deteriorated in far South Texas, which has experienced warmer than normal temperatures, combined with rainfall less than 25% of normal over the last 90 days. To the east, rain and snow helped improve parts of the abnormally dry areas in southwest Arkansas and central Mississippi…

    Looking Ahead

    The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast for the remainder of the week calls for snow across the Upper Midwest. Widespread precipitation is also forecast in New England this weekend, which is likely to fall as rain along the coast and snow through the interior. Areas of ongoing drought in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are forecast to remain dry into the middle of next week. Looking farther ahead to Jan. 19-23, the Climate Prediction Center Outlooks favor colder than normal temperatures in the western Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, as well as other parts of the West. Warmer than normal temperatures are expected in roughly the eastern half of the Lower 48. The greatest chances for above-normal precipitation are in eastern Montana, northeast Wyoming, and adjacent western North Dakota and South Dakota, and from southeast Texas through northwest Georgia. The Pacific Coast, as well as much of inland central and northern California, Oregon, and Washington, are favored to receive below-normal precipitation, as are south Florida and northern New England.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 12, 2021.

    Report: Ex-#Michigan governor Rick Snyder to face criminal charges in #Flint water crisis — The Washington Post

    From The Washington Post (Kim Bellware and Brady Dennis):

    Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (R) and several former officials are expected to be indicted in connection with the 2014 Flint water crisis that led to at least 12 deaths and dozens of illnesses in the predominantly Black city, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

    Snyder, his former health department director Nick Lyon and former adviser Rich Baird were among those notified by the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) of the pending indictments and advised to expect imminent court dates, the AP reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the prosecution.

    The nature of the criminal charges were not immediately clear.

    Randall L. Levine, an attorney representing Baird, confirmed in a statement to the Post Tuesday that authorities notified him this week about indictments. He said Baird “will be facing charges stemming from his work helping to restore safe drinking water for all residents and faith in the community where he grew up.” But he added that Baird had not yet “been made aware of what the charges are, or how they are related to his position with former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.”

    […]

    Nessel’s office dropped all criminal charges in the case in 2019, shortly after she took office, effectively restarting the probe.

    Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose research in 2015 first documented dangerously high lead levels in children’s blood, welcomed news of the reported charges.

    “As a pediatrician privileged to care for our Flint children, I have increasingly come to understand that accountability and justice are critical to health and recovery,” Hanna-Attisha told The Post in a text message Tuesday. “Without justice, it’s impossible to heal the scars of the crisis.”

    Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at the Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, warned that while the news was a salve for the many families whose lives had been affected by the poisoned water, criminal charges are only part of the story…

    “Residents of Flint were repeatedly told they were crazy. They were belittled. They were harmed by the water physically, emotionally,” Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve always said that I think criminal charges are important, because I think it’s criminal what happened to my town.”

    Ananich emphasized that he doesn’t know the extent of the charges expected later this week, but he does hope they send a clear message: “No person, no politician, no one is above the law.”
    For Flint families who continue to live with the irreversible effects of the tainted water, Tuesday’s news symbolized a level of vindication.

    “I can’t believe it,” Gina Luster, a Flint community activist, told The Post in a message. “Finally, after 7 years of fighting for justice.”

    #NavajoNation, #NewMexico reach settlements over #GoldKingMine spill — The #Colorado Sun

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Sun:

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million

    The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it has settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in rivers in three western states being fouled with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million…

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    The tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles (322 kilometers) of river on Navajo lands…

    The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit…

    The state of New Mexico also confirmed Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with the mining companies. Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources…

    The settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, but Sunnyside agreed to it “as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” Myers said in an email…

    In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was initially seeking in damages.

    In that case, the EPA agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund cleanup district. The agency still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.

    From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):

    Whether the company [Kinross] is at all culpable for the spill is a question the courts have yet to answer. But there is definitely a connection, both hydrological and historical.

    Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:

  • The Gold King Mine workings are on one side of Bonita Peak (in the Cement Creek drainage) and the Sunnyside Mine workings are on the other side of Bonita Peak (in the Eureka Creek drainage). If you look at the two mines in a cross-section of the peak, they sit side-by-side, separated by a lot of rock.
  • In the early 1900s the owners of the Gold King started drilling the American Tunnel straight into Bonita Peak below the Gold King. The plan was then to link up with the Gold King in order to provide easier access. More than one mile of tunnel was dug, but the link was never completed, prior to the Gold King’s shutdown in the 1920s.
  • Photographic and other evidence suggests that prior to the construction of the American Tunnel, water drained from the Gold King Mine. However, after the tunnel’s construction the mine was said to be dry, suggesting that the tunnel hijacked the hydrology of the Gold King.
  • In 1959 Standard Metals continued drilling the American Tunnel through the mountain in order to provide a better access (from the Cement Creek side) to the then-defunct Sunnyside Mine.
  • After the Sunnyside shut down, the parent company at the time (Echo Bay), reached an agreement with the state to plug the American Tunnel with huge bulkheads to stop or slow acid mine drainage. They placed three bulkheads, one at the edge of the workings of the Sunnyside Mine (1996), one just inside the opening of the American Tunnel (2003), and another in between (2001).
  • Shortly after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King ceased being a “dry” mine, and drainage resumed, eventually flowing at more than 250 gallons per minute. After the ceiling of the adit collapsed, water began backing up behind it until it was finally released in one catastrophic swoop in August 2015.
  • It seems pretty clear that one or more of the bulkheads caused water to back up inside the mountain and enter the Gold King Mine workings, eventually leading to the blowout. At this point, however, no one knows which bulkhead is the culprit, so no one knows whether the water is coming from the Sunnyside mine pool, or whether it is actually coming from the part of the American Tunnel that is still on Gold King property. Until that is determined, the root cause of the Gold King blowout will remain a mystery.

    For the longer explanation of the Gold King saga, read my book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. And for more maps showing the relationship between the Sunnyside and the Gold King, check out my River of Lost Souls reading guide.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Dry Conditions Persist — NRCS #Colorado Snow Survey

    Click here to read the release (Brian Domonkos):

    The 2021 water year is off to a slow start. As of January 1st, 2021, Colorado year-to-date mountain snowpack and precipitation was 83% and 70% of normal respectively. For comparison, the at this time last year snowpack and precipitation were 119% and 92% of normal, respectively. “Persistent dry conditions maintain a firm hold on Colorado, not only in the new water year, but extending back into 2020”, states Brian Domonkos, Snow Survey Supervisor for the USDA NRCS Colorado Snow Survey Program. The 2020 water year, ending on September 30th, 2020, finished on a record dry note. According to the SNOTEL network across the state of Colorado, August and September 2020 combined precipitation totaled the lowest in the 36-year period of record. Adding to the drought, October precipitation across Colorado was 47% of average. Domonkos goes on to say, “These dry fall and late summer conditions will impact spring 2021 runoff in similar ways that dry conditions at the end of 2019 impacted water supplies in 2020.”

    Near normal snowpack and reservoir storage leading into the spring of 2020 helped Colorado stave off significant runoff shortages. However, this year’s snowpack is below normal, as is reservoir storage across the state which sets up a potentially drier situation than last year. Due to below normal precipitation late this past summer streamflow currently remain low and subsequently reservoirs will see little recharge this winter. Currently statewide reservoir storage is at 82% of average.

    There is a bright spot in the state. Over the last few years, the Rio Grande has been quite dry, but this year boasts the best snowpack in the state. The basin currently has 114% of median snowpack, driving streamflow forecasts to indicate a considerable chance of near normal streamflow runoff this spring and summer. These same near normal snowpack conditions also extend into portions of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains draining to Southern Arkansas and Upper San Juan River Basins which currently have a better chance of near normal streamflow come spring.

    Currently, water supplies this spring and summer are projected to range from just above normal in parts of the Rio Grande, to around half the normal runoff in the Gunnison as well as in the combined Yampa- White-North Platte basins. These water supply projections assume near normal future precipitation. Domonkos remains optimistic, “With slightly more than half of the snowpack accumulation season remaining there is potential for snowpack to improve.”

    For more detailed information about January 1 mountain snowpack refer to the January 1, 2021 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report. For the most up to date information about Colorado snowpack and water supply related information, refer to the Colorado Snow Survey website.

    Say hello to The Land Desk newsletter from Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace

    From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

    With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.

    This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.

    The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”

    https://landdesk.substack.com

    I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.

    I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.

    That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support.

    For the low price of $6/month ($60/year), subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:

    • 1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
    • 1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
    • 1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
    • Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed.
    • Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.

    Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out. Or maybe you’ve got some extra change jangling around in your pocket and are really hungry for this sort of journalism? Then become a Founding Member and, in addition to feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll receive some extra swag.

    I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content! Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.

    Please subscribe to The Land Desk. Click here to read some of Thompson’s work that has shown up on Coyote Gulch over the years.

    10 things to know about the 2021 #Colorado legislative session — The #Denver Post #COleg

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Saja Hindi and Alex Burgess):

    A new legislative session is kicking off this week in Colorado, but it won’t really get going until February.

    A batch of new Colorado state lawmakers will be sworn in Wednesday, and the legislature plans to pass about seven mostly minor bills this week. When they return Feb. 16, there will be backlogs of popular bills that were sidelined in the pandemic-shortened 2020 session, plus many new priorities.

    Democrats are still in control, now with an expanded Senate majority. That means until at least 2022, the GOP will have its say but rarely its way…

    Short, distanced start

    Lawmakers will work quickly this week to pass time-sensitive bills and meet constitutional requirements before their break…

    COVID relief

    Ask nearly any lawmaker what they’re plotting for 2021, and they’ll tell you they want to do everything possible to address the coronavirus’ ripple effects.

    But the public should temper its expectations, budget officials say, because there’s a limited pot of money for grants, direct payments and new programs…

    Restricted ambitions

    It is often the case that bills die — or never get introduced in the first place — not because of their merits but because lawmakers are nervous about how much they cost.

    We’ll likely be seeing a lot of that in 2021, given the budget outlook. Take, for example, the bipartisan and generally popular proposal to eliminate the wait list for state-funded in-home care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year was supposed to be the year they committed more than $160 million over seven years to the program, but pandemic hits, plan scrapped…

    Is the momentum for social justice still there?

    The legislature last year repealed the death penalty and passed a police reform package inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Lawmakers vowed then that they would not relent on matters of criminal justice and law enforcement.

    There’s plenty on the table for 2021, including banning no-knock warrants and restricting the use of ketamine against people detained by police. The latter is particularly close to home: First responders injected Elijah McClain with ketamine after he was violently detained by Aurora police in 2019…

    Public participation

    Members of the public will have the opportunity to testify on bills in person, remotely or submit written testimony as they were able to do during the special legislative session, but it will likely be limited. People interested in testifying will need to sign up ahead of time at http://leg.colorado.gov.

    They can also contact their lawmakers directly. To find out who your legislator is, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator. To contact lawmakers by phone or email, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/legislators…

    Transportation funding, finally?

    Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle have sought and failed to obtain a funding boost for Colorado’s chronically underfunded transportation system. This year, there’s real optimism for a breakthrough.

    The latest plan involves raising certain fees — remember, Colorado lawmakers can’t raise taxes, but they can raise closely related fees — on things like gas and electric vehicle usage in order to generate money for transportation projects…

    Can House Republicans get along?

    Democrats have a strong 20-15 advantage in the Senate and in the House, it’s not even close — 41 of the 65 seats.

    Having hemorrhaged power and influence in the House in recent years, GOP state representatives turned on last year’s minority leader, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, and replaced him with Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland…

    Public option, take two

    Last year, sponsors shelved an effort to implement a hybrid public health insurance option that would have provided Coloradans who buy insurance on the individual market another option.

    Its return in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic will likely bring more conflict between supporters and hospital groups. But one of its sponsors, Avon Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts said the bill will look very different, because it takes into account the changes to health care due to COVID…

    A renewed push for gun legislation

    Colorado House Rep. Tom Sullivan was beyond disappointed last year that proposed gun reforms were shelved when COVID arrived. The Centennial Democrat pledged last year to bring gun legislation to the forefront of the 2021 session, and he plans to make good on that promise…

    Climate response

    After a year of raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat, Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers are planning to address climate and environmental policies.

    “Unfortunately, it’s been a big issues for years and I think we’re sort of behind in where we need to be,” Fenberg said. “We basically don’t have the luxury of being able to take a year off of thinking critically about getting our emissions under control.”

    Topics on deck include air-quality issues, improving the electric transmission grid in Colorado, addressing issues of methane leaks, a greenhouse road map and increasing the use of energy storage equipment in Colorado.

    Westminster Democratic Sen. Faith Winter said climate mitigation is also important for communities of color and others who are disproportionately affected by pollution. She’s working on a bill to better define environmental justice and impacted communities, and also intends to address issues of environment in transportation funding bills.

    “Climate change is a huge threat to our state,” she said. “It’s a threat to individual people’s health,” she said. “It’s a threat to our economy.”

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Because of the ongoing pandemic, lawmakers will only meet for three days this week, and then it will go into a recess until mid-February.

    “Clearly, there’s going to be a change to how the 73rd General Assembly is going to get started,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Everything is going to look a lot different than it has in the past. We’re still in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, and the bulk of our work won’t start in earnest until Feb. 16 when we all come back from our temporary adjournment.”

    Under the Colorado Constitution, the Legislature can only meet for 120 days. But after the pandemic hit at the start of last year’s session, Democratic leaders decided to recess for an extended period because of it, after Gov. Jared Polis issued his first COVID-19 executive order calling for a state of emergency…

    So as a result of this built-in recess, which could be extended or ended early depending on what happens with coronavirus infection rates, lawmakers don’t plan to do much in these first three days…

    Beyond typical beginning-of-session matters, including provisions to allow for lawmakers to participate in floor debates and committee hearings remotely, lawmakers have only a handful of bills they expect to address by Friday, one of which is to fix a problem with a bill approved during last month’s special session.

    That was on a $57 million Small Business Relief Program, which is intended to provide grants and fee waivers to businesses most impacted by the downturned economy, particularly to restaurants and night clubs.

    The bill also sets aside money for hard-hit minority-owned businesses, a provision that currently is facing a lawsuit filed by the white owner of a Colorado Springs barbershop…

    Starting on Thursday, counties across the state are accepting applications for that money, and will do so until early February.

    Businesses that qualify will then get their share, but how much will depend on how many apply and how much each county is allocated.

    Under the bill, money is to go to very small businesses, primarily those hardest hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries, caterers, movie theaters, fitness centers and other recreational facilities, but only those with annual revenues of less that $2.5 million and only if they are following local public health orders.

    Because of the monthlong recess, individual lawmakers were given more time to introduce their first three bills — under the law, they are allowed up to five — until the Legislature reconvenes in February.

    Meanwhile, the four leaders in the House and Senate from both parties have approved committee assignments for legislators.

    Locally, that means that Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, will serve on the Senate Transportation & Energy and Finance committees, while Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, will be on the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources and transportation committees.

    Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, will serve as chairwoman of the agriculture committee. She also will serve on the transportation panel, and is the newly chosen Senate pro temp, the second highest-ranking position.

    In the House, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, will be on the House Transportation & Local Government, Appropriations and Finance committees, while Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will be on the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee with Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose.

    Will also will serve on the transportation committee, while Catlin also will be on the House Energy & Environment Committee.

    Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, was taken off the House Judiciary Committee where he served during his first term in office. Instead, he will be on the House Health & Insurance Committee and the energy panel.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, will continue to be on the Joint Budget Committee. The two local lawmakers also will serve on the appropriations committees in their respective chambers.

    From The Colorado Sun (John Frank):

    Here’s a look at the bills lawmakers will debate this week before taking a break

    Legislative leaders said not to expect a robust policy agenda at the start of the session, but rather “minor things we need to get done that are time sensitive,” Garnett said.

    So far, nine bill drafts are on the table. One of the first would allow lawmakers to participate remotely in legislative meetings and conduct certain committee hearings even while the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned. Democratic leaders said they plan to conduct oversight hearings — known as SMART Act reviews — for state departments and agencies before returning in February. The public would be allowed to participate remotely.

    In addition, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet behind closed doors with the public not permitted to attend but allowed to listen online.

    The other legislation being considered in the first days would:

  • Change the requirements for a small business relief fund approved in December’s special session to apply to more than just minority-owned businesses, a move designed to nullify a lawsuit stating that the new law was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
  • Extend the deadlines to continue to allow for electronic wills and further suspend debt collection due to the pandemic.
  • Recreate regulations and licensing benchmarks on occupational therapists after lawmakers inadvertently repealed the requirements.
  • Who Calls the Shots on the #ColoradoRiver? — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

    From Writers on the Range (Dave Marston):

    If there’s a dominant force in the Colorado River Basin these days, it’s the Walton Family Foundation, flush with close to $5 billion to give away.

    Run by the heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton, the foundation donates $25 million a year to nonprofits concerned about the Colorado River. It’s clear the foundation cares deeply about the River in this time of excruciating drought, and some of its money goes to river restoration or more efficient irrigation.

    Yet its main interest is promoting “demand management,” the water marketing scheme that seeks to add 500,000 acre-feet of water to declining Lake Powell by paying rural farmers to temporarily stop irrigating.

    In November 2020, that focused involvement paid off. The Colorado Conservation Water Board boosted demand management into a “step two work plan,” moving the concept closer toward policy in the state, which leads the Upper Basin states of New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah in drought-management planning.

    But is this approach, which verges on turning water into a commodity, good for the Colorado River? And was the public debate sufficient for policy about a water source that’s vital to 40 million people?

    Without doubt, the foundation has supported the region’s nonprofits. During the last four years, over 60 Colorado River philanthropic organizations received between $5,000 and $2.9 million each, with seven organizations including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), The Nature Conservancy, and Western Resource Advocates each receiving $1 million or more in 2019 alone. A good share of the Walton Foundation’s $25 million in annual donations also went toward testing demand management on numerous creeks and tributaries in the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

    The Walton Foundation also paid EDF millions to carry out crucial aspects of a $29 million pilot program for demand management in the Lower Basin states of Nevada, California and Arizona.

    Then, there’s the Walton Foundation funding media to do stories about the Colorado River. What’s troubling is that some of the stories produced omit the Walton Foundation’s role in advocating for demand management.

    Because the foundation’s reach is so extensive, few of its critics are willing to speak publicly. They charge that the Walton Family Foundation doesn’t just have a seat at the table, it sets the table’s agenda. Lately, though, some “water buffaloes” seem skittish about a policy that leads to water speculation, which raises the question: Are the critics of demand management gaining traction?

    Dan Beard, former chief of the Bureau of Reclamation under President Clinton, hopes so.

    “They (Walton Family Foundation) think they’ve found the solution,” he said “The way they’ve done that is to get all the nonprofits on their side. I think that’s a horrible result, especially for the environmental community. We need to sow the seeds of intellectual curiosity. If you’ve come to a conclusion and you don’t deviate from that, you’re nothing more than an intellectual dictator.”

    Then, there’s the impact of Walton Foundation money on media nonprofits.

    Brent Gardner-Smith runs Aspen Journalism, a nonprofit statewide news organization that has received $100,000 annually for six years from the Walton Foundation. Public radio station KUNC has received three years of similar funding for its “water desk.”

    In May 2020, the two nonprofits collaborated in a story exploring the investment group Water Asset Management (WAM), speculating that it sought to “buy and dry” agricultural water, leaving behind barren dust bowls. What was not reported, that only municipalities can “buy and dry” under Colorado’s already tough water anti-speculation laws. The big omission was that a Walton-funded nonprofit, the Nature Conservancy – had an ongoing demand management study – exactly where WAM was buying land.

    Colorado College journalism instructor Corey Hutchins said he was surprised to hear the size of some of the funding KUNC and Aspen Journalism each receiving $100,000 apiece for several years: “That sounds like a big Colorado water story in itself,” he said. “You might also worry about self-censorship.”

    A story by Politico, a for-profit news conglomerate, is illustrative. In 2018, Politico received a $200,000 grant from the Walton Foundation for special projects. In December, Politico ran a feature on the drought-stricken Colorado River that quoted the Walton foundation’s head of Colorado River philanthropy, Ted Kowalski. Yet the foundation’s involvement in river policy wasn’t mentioned; nor was Politico’s previous funding from the Walton foundation noted.

    Even odder, the recent New York Times article on water speculation in the Colorado River Basin omitted the Walton influence.

    Joel Dyer, former editor for Boulder Weekly, who wrote a critical Walton piece, sees the issue of transparency this way: “They’ve (the Walton Family Foundation) spread their money so much they’ve diluted anyone who could push back. The big stories, the big ideas, who’s going to look into that?”

    Proposed #PlatteRiver #water transfer could have far reaching ripple effect — #Nebraska TV

    Platte River. Photo credit: Cody Wagner/Audubon

    From Nebraska TV (Danielle Shenk):

    More than 65,000 gallons of water per minute is being proposed for an interbasin transfer from the Platte River to the Republican River, but Audubon Nebraska is taking legal action to stop it.

    Audubon works to protect wildlife like birds and their habitats.

    As part of an agreement between Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas, this water transfer would help meet the state’s delivery obligations within the Republican River Compact.

    But over the years, water from the Platte River has heavily been used by municipalities and agriculture.

    This has led to the compact being short on water deliveries for quite some time.

    The state also has an agreement with other neighboring states to balance this overused water supply through the Endangered Species Act, which began about 30 years after the river compact, and through the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program that aims to add water back to the river…

    A diversion of the already short water supply to the Republican could create a ripple effect.

    “Overall, taking water from one basin that is already water short and transferring it to another basin that’s water short.. that doesn’t really give us a long term solution. It doesn’t provide certainty for water users and it potentially has ecological impacts for both river basins,” said Mosier.

    Taddicken said almost 70% of the water from the Platte River is gone before it even makes it to Nebraska and an interbasin transfer would heavily impact the its supply.

    “This water removed from the Platte actually leaves the basin which is a real problem. Moving water around irrigation canals and things like that, eventually a lot of that water seeps back into the groundwater and back to the Platte River. This kind of a transfer takes it out completely,” said Taddicken.

    He said farmers in the Platte River Valley should be really concerned if the transfer goes through…

    Streamflow also helps to create multiple channels and varying depths which attract many wildlife species, especially birds.

    Sandhill Cranes in flight via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    “Sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, piping plovers and other birds.. they use those sand bars for protection. That’s where they like to nest and roost, so that’s really important. Stream flow makes that happen,” stated Mosier, “there’s also an important connection between streams on the Platte River and wetlands. Those wetlands are where a lot of birds and other wildlife find their protein sources.”

    Taddicken said we’ve made a lot of compromises for wildlife already as the width of the Platte River has slowly declined and vegetation has taken over where the waters don’t extend.

    The impact then extends its reach to the economy, with less sandhill cranes coming to the area that could impact tourists traveling to Central Nebraska.

    Invasive species making their way into Kansas is also a concern.

    Back in 2018, former Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer wrote a letter objecting to the transfer due to the risk of invasive species.

    #Drought-stricken #ColoradoRiver Basin could see additional 20% drop in #water flow by 2050 — Yale Climate Connections #COriver #aridification

    The white bathtub ring along Lake Mead reflects the effects of years of drought in the Colorado River Basin. Source: Water Education Foundation

    From Yale Climate Connections (Jan Ellen Spiegel):

    The region is transitioning to a more arid climate, challenging longstanding practices of water-sharing in the basin.

    Colorado is no stranger to drought. The current one is closing in on 20 years, and a rainy or snowy season here and there won’t change the trajectory.

    This is what climate change has brought.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    “Aridification” is what Bradley Udall formally calls the situation in the western U.S. But perhaps more accurately, he calls it hot drought – heat-induced lack of water due to climate change. That was the core of research released in 2017 by Udall, a senior climate and water scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center, and Jonathan Overpeck at the University of Michigan.

    Their revelation was that the heat from climate change was propelling drought. “Previous comparable droughts were caused by a lack of precipitation, not high temperatures,” the study said. And all the factors at play were having compounding effects on each other that made the situation even worse. Those impacts were being felt most acutely on the biggest water system in the West – the Colorado River Basin.

    Without a dramatic and fast reversal in greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change, Udall and Overpeck said, the additional loss of flow in the basin could be more than 20% by mid-century and 35% at the century’s end – worse than currently assumed.

    “I always say climate change is water change,” says Udall, whose father was Arizona congressman Morris (Mo) Udall, an iconic environmental activist. “It means too much water, not enough water, water at the wrong time. It means reduced water quality. You get all of these things together as the earth warms up.”

    In Colorado it’s all pretty much coming true. The drought is the second worst 20-year period in the past 1,200 years, according to Udall. This summer/fall alone had some of the hottest spells on record and the worst wildfire season ever. On the other hand, 2013 brought catastrophic floods to the Front Range. “I got 17 inches of water in my house here in four days. It’s all part of the same change,” Udall says.

    It’s forced Colorado to start facing the reality that its perpetual struggle for water can no longer be written off as cyclical weather that will all balance-out over short periods of time. It’s climate change at work, and it requires long-term planning and likely fundamental changes to the paradigm of how the state gets, uses, and preserves its water.

    The state and individual municipalities are beginning to address their new reality with policies that range from the obvious – conservation, just using less water, to the more innovative – considering using beaver dams to restore mountain wetlands and generally remediating the landscape to better handle water.

    But all those actions and more must face the political reality of the longstanding way water-sharing is handled in the basin. It pits state against state, rural against urban, agriculture against, well, everyone.

    In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.

    The Colorado River Compact

    The Colorado River Basin provides water to a massive swath of the Rocky Mountain and western states. The Compact that rules it dates to 1922, with California, Nevada and Arizona – the lower basin states – essentially getting first dibs on water that flows from upper basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah – with secondary access to the water, so they generally absorb the brunt of water losses.

    Colorado is a headwaters state – where the river flows down from the continental divide. It relies on whatever falls out of the sky: It does not have the luxury of access to whatever water may flow in farther downstream.

    A process to re-evaluate aspects of the Compact is underway with a 2026 deadline. No one expects the basic structure to change, though other contingencies are likely to be layered on, as has happened a number of times in the intervening years.

    River levels are off some 20% since the Compact was initiated, compounding the water crunch while the region’s population has grown dramatically, especially in Colorado. That combination of factors have many water experts and administrators convinced any new strategy has to do more than divvy-up the water differently.

    That’s because it’s climate change and not cyclical weather causing the problems, Udall says emphatically: “Yup. Yup. Yup.” He notes that scientists already see impacts they hadn’t expected to see until 2050.

    “I think some of the predictions about reduced flows in the Colorado River based on global warming are so dire it’s difficult to wrap your brain around them. We have no operating rules for that kind of reduction in supply,” says Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources at the University of Colorado. “Even with these discussions that will be taking place over the next five years for the Colorado River system, I’m not sure that they will be able to get to an agreement about what would happen if flow is reduced by 50%.”

    The critical climate change impacts seem to act in a loop: heat causes more evaporation of surface water. The resulting lower water level means water will warm more easily, and in turn evaporates more readily.

    Global warming is also changing the dynamics of snowpacks. They melt faster and earlier and don’t regularly continue to slowly dissipate, creating a gradual runoff that is more beneficial and sustaining to the water supply. Udall notes that on April 1, 2020, there was 100% of normal snowpack above Lake Powell, which with Lake Mead are the two enormous reservoirs in the system. In a normal year that would provide 90-110% of runoff. But it provided only 52% in 2020 as a result of dry warm weather through fall.

    Sustainable water supplies are also threatened as weather events occur more often as extremes: major rains in a short period of time sandwiched by extended dry periods. Torrential rains that follow a long drought may help the soil, but runoff may never make it to the water supply.

    Wildfires, in recent years larger and longer, complicate matters by dumping ash and crud into water bodies, which results in less water and contamination that can render unusable what water there is. And if difficult climate conditions keep trees from growing back after fires, the resulting ecosystem changes could further damage water supplies.

    Big ideas in place

    “This is not your average variability,” says Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which covers most of the water used by the state. “Cooperative management of water resources can really help in these hot dry summers,” he says.

    Mueller says the district tried releasing additional water from a reservoir that also creates hydropower. The extra water helps cool the river it flows into – slowing evaporation and allowing fishing and other activities often stopped when the water gets too warm and low to resume. That same water was also used for other hydropower plants downstream. Some then continued to other river areas. And some was diverted for crop irrigation, important given that farming and ranching are the biggest consumers of water in the state.

    Basic conservation – just using less water – is always the first step, but even Colorado Water Conservation Board senior climate specialist Megan Holcomb admits: “We’re definitely beyond that conversation.”

    The Board is considering systems that employ the technique of demand management: finding ways to use minimal water to allow for storage for dry years. So far, the thinking involves a voluntary program.

    Already in place is an online tool called the Future Avoided Cost Explorer or FACE: Hazards. It helps quantify impacts of drought and wildfires on sectors of the Colorado economy.

    “We know these hazards are going to continue to impact our economy, but we have no numbers to even say how much we should invest now so that we don’t have financial impacts in the future,” Holcomb says.

    Castle talks about ideas such as consideration of water footprints on new developments and re-developments; integrating land use planning with water planning including things such as landscaping codes; and use of technology at various levels of water monitoring.

    Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

    In search of more equitable sharing of water

    She notes also a drought contingency plan adopted in 2019 by the Compact states calling for reductions in deliveries to the lower basin. It’s pointed in the right direction, she says. “At the same time pretty much everyone involved in those discussions and that agreement also agreed that it was not sufficient,” Castle says.

    Many experts have called for more equitable sharing of water reductions. But ideas on what is fair differ from state-to-state and also among different groups within a region where some interests are pitted against agriculture, which accounts for 80% of the water usage in the basin.

    “I think people look at that huge volume of water being used in irrigated agriculture as a place where there’s flexibility. And when you get to the politics of working through that in an equitable way, it gets really complicated,” says Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director for the National Audubon Society.

    The suggestions have included crop switching or alternative transfer mechanisms that call on farmers to periodically grow less water-intensive crops, or pay them not to grow, as a way to make water available for municipal use or storage.

    “From a pure economic perspective, it may seem like you pay them and they’re whole,” Udall says. “There are actually a lot of things where they don’t get whole. They potentially lose a market that they’ve established over years and a great relationship with a buyer. And if that goes away for a year, that buyer may not come back.”

    In the end, experts say people in the Southwest should definitely not count on more precipitation arriving to bail them out. “I would disabuse people of the idea that you’re going to get more water,” Udall says. “I think it’s pretty clear you’re going to have less water.” So for folks who think building more reservoirs is a solution, Udall says: “It’s not at all clear to me that that works.”

    But less conventional strategies just might.

    A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Beaver dams to the rescue?

    Beaver dams are a water management technique that has worked in nature for eons – at least for beavers. Sometimes for people? Not so much.

    But the thinking is they could help slow water loss from high-elevation wetlands. That includes the real deals built by beavers or human-constructed beaver dam alternatives.

    “We think there’s a possible synergy there that helps to improve water supply for water users and helps to improve habitat conditions for species – birds in particular – that depend on that kind of wetlands being around,” Pitt says.

    The goal would be to protect remaining ones, help establish new ones, and do the same for high-elevation meadows.

    A lot of research is still needed, Pitt says. “There’s all kinds of instrumentation that has to go into place to understand the groundwater, the surface water, evaporation, the water balance, what it does to your river downstream,” she says. There are water law considerations. And then the inevitable pilot projects.

    Overall, she says, this type of holistic approach to water through natural ecosystem restoration could become a component of water-sharing agreements as have already been done with Mexico. In exchange for getting river areas restored to better flow, Mexico agreed to a sharing agreement it might not otherwise have.

    Johnny Appleseed. By Unknown author – http://fortamanda1812.blogspot.com/search?q=Johnny+Appleseed+, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94733925

    More people, less water, and a touch of Johnny Appleseed

    More people and less water has forced Denver Water to work with uncertainties not previously considered. “Variability is the name of the game in Colorado,” says lead climate scientist Laurna Kaatz. “And that variability’s going to increase over time. That makes it incredibly challenging to continuously provide high-quality drinking water when you’re not sure what’s coming around the corner.”

    The situation calls for adaptive capacity, she says, to provide technical and legal flexibility to adjust for changing circumstances.

    Kaatz pointed to the One Water project that pairs water with usage. For instance, treated wastewater could be used to water a golf course, saving the purest water for drinking.

    Another project is called From Forests to Faucets, which works on watersheds as natural infrastructure to optimize water flow. It has already proved successful at keeping a wildfire in 2018 from encroaching on a reservoir. In April, Denver Water plans to expand its Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses technology developed by NASA to track snow availability, but now it can be deployed above an altitude of 8,000 feet.

    Together the efforts seem to be working – since the 2002 drought, Denver Water has maintained a 22% per-person reduction in water usage from pre-drought levels.

    Steamboat Springs is opting for tree-planting. The idea is that trees will help cool down the Yampa River, which is part of the Colorado River Basin. Hot, dry seasons had been pushing stream temperatures so high that part of the river wound up on EPA’s impaired waterbody list.

    “That was a call to action,” says Kelly Romero-Heaney, Steamboat Springs’ water resources manager.

    The timing also dovetailed with the 2015 release of a Colorado Water Plan that included goals for stream management. Steamboat Springs did a streamflow management plan – released in 2018. In it was the idea of shading the Yampa.

    “What we learned was that flow alone cannot overcome the thermal load for the solar radiation, as strength of that radiation increases over time,” she says. “The more that we can prepare the river for that, the better it will buffer against the impacts of climate change.”

    They joined forces with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s ReTree program that began in 2010 as a reforestation effort to counteract trees killed by pine beetle infestations. It morphed into a three-year Yampa River restoration.

    “That work also increases resilience to future changes,” says Michelle Stewart, the council’s executive director. “We’re really learning the important role soil moisture plays in resilience.”

    ReTree planted 200 narrow leaf cottonwoods in 2019 and another 350 this past October. This coming October, its plans are for 450 cottonwoods and 150 mountain alders. All were raised at the Colorado State Forest Nursery from Yampa Valley clippings. “We’re using local trees that are already kind of adapting to big swings in temperature and probably have a little bit more of that hardiness that we need and drought readiness,” she says.

    It’s too early to know how the shading is working but there are plans for citizen help to monitor that and to implement a soil moisture monitoring network in the Yampa Basin.

    “This is a Johnny Appleseed project,” says Romero-Heaney. “We plant today and hopefully my children will get to enjoy it.”

    Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

    The January 1, 2021 #Colorado Basin Outlook Report is now available from the Colorado NRCS #snowpack #runoff

    Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt: