@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through April 24, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

#Snowpack/#runoff news: Yampa Valley providers will institute watering restrictions this season

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 26, 2017 via the NRCS.

From the City of Steamboat Springs:

Water Providers Announce Mandatory Water Restrictions

With minimal precipitation, above average temperatures and runoff steadily increasing, coupled with a very dry February and March, the four districts which provide water to the Steamboat Springs area – Mt. Werner Water, City of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat II Metro District and Tree Haus Metro District – will institute mandatory stage 2 water restrictions starting May 1, 2017.

“Even with our recent moisture, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” said Frank Alfone, Mt. Werner Water District General Manager. “With lower than normal precipitation so far this year and a still fluctuating summer forecast, the early adoption of stage 2 restrictions and a conservative approach made sense for the conditions we’re seeing at this point.”

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center is still predicting average precipitation this summer with a good chance (40%) for above average temperatures. Steamboat depends upon a combination of natural flows and reservoir releases from the Fish Creek watershed to carry it through the summer, fall and winter.

“It’s good to see the return of rain and snow this week,” said Jon Snyder, Public Works Director for the City of Steamboat Springs. “However, we’ll need consistent and steady precipitation for the foreseeable future to move away from restrictions and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation over the coming months.”

Early implementation of Stage 2 watering schedule will also allow lawns, shrubs and trees to adapt early in the growing season and enables automatic systems to be set by landscapers, businesses and homeowners to the Stage 2 schedule right from the start of the season.

Through these restrictions and continued efforts by water users to reduce water demands, the community is able to strike a balance between conserving water supplies in the reservoirs and maintaining the riparian health of Fish Creek and the Yampa River.

Stage 2 water restrictions are in accordance with the Steamboat Springs Water Conservation Plan adopted in 2011 by the Steamboat Springs City Council and Board of Directors of Mt. Werner Water District. Stage 2 mandatory restrictions were most recently enacted in 2015, 2013 and 2012.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

According to the Tower weather monitoring station at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, 12 inches of snow had fallen by Tuesday morning.

The weather station on Rabbit Ears Pass at 9,400 measured 8 inches of new snow.

The town of Yampa had 5 inches of snow while Clark had 2 inches.

Ski areas still operating benefited with Winter Park receiving 7 inches of snow. Loveland Ski Area saw 5 inches.

The current snow depth on Buffalo Pass is 105 inches. That’s the equivalent of 41.8 inches of water.

On average for April 25, there is 49.3 inches of snow equivalent water at the Buffalo Pass monitoring station, meaning snowpack is 85 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Historically, snowpack on Buffalo Pass peaks on May 9.

Snow depth on Rabbit Ears is 43 inches with the equivalent of 16.7 inches of water. The snowpack for Rabbit Ears is 65 percent of average.

The snowpack for the entire Yampa and White river basins was at 78 percent of average as of Tuesday.

Strategies for sustainable water management in the western U.S.

From Earth & Space Science News (Scott Tyler, Sudeep Chandra, and Gordon Grant):

Much of the landscape of the American West is under federal and state management, and the [20th Annual Lake Tahoe Summit] identified five key initiatives that the research community, in partnership with management agencies, could implement to improve water management:

  • Implement a new cross-agency/cross-disciplinary audit of monitoring networks. An examination of our existing research networks, including critical zone observatories, long-term ecological research sites, and other experimental forest and range sites, would help determine their sustainability and value in assessing how extreme climate events influence hydrology and ecology.
  • Integrate research programs to design resilient forests. Research should focus on reducing water stress, quantifying the water storage potential in snow and the subsurface, and incorporating emerging science on ecophysiology and mortality, climate variation, and climate change.
  • Implement a major program to advance hydrologic monitoring in the mountains of the western United States. Measurements should focus on precipitation, snowpack, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and groundwater across the West.
  • Couple atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine observatory networks to improve prediction. Linking offshore measurements to the land at both regional and river basin scales would improve predictions of atmospheric rivers, drought, El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and other episodic events ranging from days to decades.
  • Target field campaigns using novel technologies. Novel technologies (i.e., new sensors, drones, and airborne platforms) can help assess and fill data gaps that currently limit the accurate understanding of water availability at all geographic scales.
  • The workshop concluded that it is time for a western-focused, integrated center to develop science- and social science–based solutions for addressing water scarcity and resilience to change in the West. Such a center would bring state-of-the-art scientific, engineering, and socioeconomic findings to bear on critical water issues in the context of public policy, planning, and socioeconomic trends. And now given the swing to flood conditions as we enter the spring of 2017, the need for resilience is even more pronounced.

    #Snowpack/#runoff news: “Melting in the sun, sun” — Electric Light Orchestra

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS. Since the melt-out has started focus on percent of peak instead of percent of normal.

    Here’s the westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for April 25, 2017 from the NRCS.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 25, 2017 via the NRCS.

    @EPA plans rewrite of the #WOTUS rule

    Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From Capital Thinking (Sarah Vilms and Mallory Richardson):

    Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated its plans to solicit comments by June 19 as to how the agency should rewrite the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule following President Trump’s February 28 executive order (EO) directing the agency to revise the contentious Obama Administration rule. Following the EO, EPA specified its plans to revise the rule through a formal notice-and-comment rulemaking process. While this is typically a lengthy procedure, the Trump Administration has expressed its interest in replacing the rule by the end of the year.

    This follows a meeting last week that was held between the EPA and a number of groups representing state and local officials, including the National Governors’ Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties and the Environmental Council of the states, where participants discussed the Trump Administration’s rewrite of rule.

    Losing their religion — The Colorado Independent @COindependent #MarchForScience

    From The Colorado Independent (Susan Greene):

    Science, they say, is a left-brained endeavor. But, in light of Saturday’s March on Science, The Colorado Independent sought out some decidedly right-brained conversations with three Coloradans working in various capacities around federally funded climate change research. Here’s what they had to say about proposed Trump administration budget cuts, the role of scientists in a purportedly “post-truth” era, and how they’re coping as national faith in their work takes some big blows.

    The catcher in the rye

    Josh Tewksbury came to his job the long way.

    The former University of Washington ecologist spent 10 years researching why chilies are hot. His many trips through the forests of central Bolivia gave him a poignant look at organisms and ecosystems withering from climate change. For him, questions about the heat of the peppers came to seem far less burning than those about the heat of the planet.

    Tewksbury – 47 and now director of Future Earth’s U.S. hub at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University – shifted his focus to global sustainability out of a sense of weary responsibility he likens to that of Holden Caulfield, the teenage narrator of “Catcher in the Rye.” He cites the title passage in which Caulfield imagines standing in a rye field surrounded by younger children.

    “Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

    In Tewksbury’s version of the rye field, the kids are peppers, plants, critters and ecosystems strained by changing climate patterns. The cliff is the point on the climate trajectory beyond which they won’t survive. As he tells it, “Scores of scientists are alone out there in the ryegrass trying to save this species or that incredibly complex ecosystem that they’ve spent their lives understanding, and at this point they’re at a loss about why all this understanding is not enough to allow these things to last another generation.”

    There’s something manic about Tewksbury – his rush of speech and urgency of tone, his impatience, it seems, with the knowledge that, as you’re asking questions and as he’s answering, some species is in its last gasp because, despite ample evidence, scientists couldn’t convince a policy-maker to save it.

    It’s lonely, he says, to research a problem, identify its cause, and prove it with sound evidence, only to realize that isn’t enough to prompt political action. His job, and the mission of Future Earth, is to harness that loneliness and organize some 50,000 scientists around the world to combine their efforts so that when science is produced, policymakers heed it, regardless of whether the truth revealed is inconvenient.

    In case Tewksbury isn’t getting his point across, he cites a study showing that 51 percent of Americans don’t know there’s a scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-caused. What he calls “very crafty opposition messaging” by corporate and political interests still manages to convince a slight majority – including his own mother-in-law – that climate change is theory rather than fact.

    This hurts Tewksbury’s head.

    “When people you love are making decisions that have a direct impact on your children, it’s demoralizing and antithetical to a democracy and actually very hard to counter because as long as people believe there’s no scientific consensus, there will be no mandate to act.

    “So if I’m honest, really honest about how this impacts me, it’s a deep disappointment in our country and in our inability to recognize facts when we see them and distinguish them from statements that are politically expedient. It makes me mad, very mad because the consequences of this one are so broad.”

    Tewksbury is at his best channeling his inner-Holden Caulfield. In his anger, his breathless indignation, the hot pepper researcher has found his calling in the slow burn of the global sustainability movement to which he’s marshaling scientists who have nothing to lose but their loneliness.

    The marcher who didn’t march

    Judging from his credentials, you’d figure Peter Backlund would have rallied for science this weekend as he has for decades within federal labs, agencies and even the White House.

    But Backlund stayed home in Boulder nursing a cold and licking his wounds, convinced that waving signs on a spring Saturday won’t heal what’s ailing the planet and his profession.

    “Marching is not a solution. It is a symbolic act. I feel like it’s a bit too easy,” he said between coughs and sneezes.

    Backlund, 56, has built a career on the right-brained practice of explaining why the fruits of left-brained inquiry matter. He was a senior advisor in the Clinton White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, worked at NASA and spent twelve years helping run the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder before joining Colorado State University’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability as associate director. He has fought his whole career for scientific research, especially on climate change, and for its use informing public policy.

    Scientists are nothing if not pragmatic. And from a practical standpoint, Backlund suspects that Saturday’s March for Science in Denver and cities throughout the U.S. gave participants a false sense that, by attending a rally, they’ve done what they could to help preserve federally funded research and defend the values behind it. He winces at the thought of Saturday’s marchers shrugging off their activism like an old pussy hat.

    “It won’t amount to anything if they don’t get more deeply involved and stay involved.”

    Involved, as he sees it, entails sustained engagement working to elect candidates whose policy decisions pivot on evidence and facts, and working to elect more scientists in particular. It means attending city council and county commission meetings, bending the ears of state lawmakers, showing up at the Rotary Club, the Elks Club, building trust as citizen scientists who do research for reasons beyond just that it’s interesting. He urged his students to march Saturday if they were inspired, but also to work well beyond one rally spreading awareness about how their research – or any solid research – promotes understanding and progress.

    For Backlund, the Trump administration’s climate change scepticism isn’t just an attack on research and global sustainability, but also a denunciation of intellectualism, expertise, and evidence-based policy-making. He says the cuts Trump has threatened on environmental and medical research stem less from underestimating the value of those inquiries than from a perceived threat posed by “an elite profession with elite knowledge.”

    “There has always been a segment of the population that is hostile to science, universities, and ‘experts.’ Many politicians have pandered to this segment. But this administration feels like it is taking anti-intellectual sentiment to a new level. This scares me as much as budget cuts,” he said.

    And so Backlund worries.

    He worries that the spectacle of scientists marching Saturday will backfire, spurring even more misperceptions that scientists are driving a globalist conspiracy to take away people’s cars, jobs and profits.

    He worries that, in crying out against budget cuts, scientists will seem like an elite group merely trying to preserve their elite status at tax-funded research universities and federal labs.

    He worries about Donald Trump making things up, especially about climate change. During Backlund’s years advising Bill Clinton’s administration on science policy, he said, “The one thing we did more than anything was to make sure the President always had the correct information.”

    “We would have felt physical pain if the President said something wrong,” he added. “How can you have an administration in which being correct, factually correct, isn’t valued?”

    He also worries about his own credibility. Although he backed Hillary Clinton – and was part of the team helping craft her climate change policies – he took a measured view of 2016’s election in his professional life, assuring CSU students, colleagues and visiting researchers that science policy pendulums long have swung back and forth and that “Republicans have done a lot of great things for the environment.” Five months later, he cringes at the memory of his optimism.

    “Now I’m pretty sure those people are thinking ‘Wow, that guy is really an idiot’,” he said. “I now feel more worried about the political situation in the United States than I’ve felt in my entire life.”

    Backlund struggles with this dark view, his inability to offer young researchers a sunnier forecast about their careers. He’s tempted to “shake people” about threats of Trump’s apparent science agenda, and to shout, “This is just the beginning, this is just getting started.” But nobody wants to be the one squawking that the sky is falling.

    He’s well aware that, just when a pro-science megaphone is perhaps most needed, he’s hesitant to use it. Why is it, he was asked, that he has marched for women’s rights, against wars, and even as a young boy behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Albuquerque, but sat out Saturday?
    He paused before answering.

    “It’s weird, I know. I know it’s weird,” he said. “I guess I’m more comfortable marching for other people’s causes than for my own.”

    The risk taker

    Things are stressful these days at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, and not just because of its ever-mounting evidence that the planet is overheating.

    Scientists throughout NCAR’s campus are on edge anticipating Trump-era budget cuts that may slash their research and many of their jobs.

    One of them, Sociologist Paty Romero Lankao has worked nearly 11 years at NCAR studying the human dimensions of energy and water consumption, urban development and climate change. Like her colleagues, she long ago understood the climate trajectory as the factual baseline and primary challenge of her work. It motivates rather than rattles her.

    What’s alarming, she says, is that years of quantifiably verified evidence apparently aren’t enough to affect policy in a country to which she immigrated because of the value it once put on research. What hurts is realizing her work isn’t making enough impact.

    It’s tempting to suck it up and keep quiet, as some of her colleagues have advised. And on a few mornings, “there has been the urge to leave, or just give up.” But most days she has a stronger impulse to speak up and fight.

    “I can understand if people say they don’t care about science. But I can’t understand anyone saying they don’t care about science and nobody else should, either,” she said.

    “About that, I can’t stay quiet.”

    And so, in her rain boots, poncho and “Forget princess. I want to be a scientist” T-shirt, Romero Lankao set out with her husband and daughter for Denver on Saturday to make some noise. She was buoyed by the crowds and humbled by so many non-scientists marching in support of research like hers and the principles behind it – ideas she realizes “aren’t so sexy” that they typically inspire action.

    She delighted in demonstrators’ energy and creativity. “The signs. Oh, I love the signs,” she said, noting with a loud and glorious belly laugh one particular that read, “Earth is not flat. Neither is Uranus.”

    She was especially fond of a sign reading, “Climate Change is Real. Denial is Deadly,” for which she complimented the woman carrying it. The woman handed it to her. The 54-year-old researcher waved it with pride and incredulity. She’d never expected to be marching for facts.

    Romero Lankao realizes there are risks to speaking out against the administration that signs her paychecks. She has taken such risks before, both as a graduate student and as a professor in Mexico where she spoke against corruption in her academies. She lost the grad school job. As for the professorship, she quit and left Mexico in search of a place to research with integrity.

    In her work at NCAR, she studies the ways people in different urban areas live, sleep, eat, get around and play, and which practices are more sustainable in terms of climate change than others. She suspects her research wouldn’t be much appreciated by a president who built his brand on luxury developments, a gilded airplane, and well-watered golf courses.

    “It’s not desirable under this administration. In this political climate, it’s not welcome. I know how they look at me. I know I represent someone who threatens to take away their freedoms,” she said of a collective “they” who, sooner or later, she understands may try to silence her.

    She figures at some point the risk of losing your job is outweighed by the risk of keeping quiet. If she has learned anything as a researcher, it’s that facts don’t change by ignoring them.

    “It’s like journalists, you’re also being attacked on those grounds – that facts, uncomfortable ones, aren’t tolerated. What do you do? Would you let this happen? Stay silent? No. You’d feel the need to speak out about the problems we see in front of us. We are not only scientists. We are citizens, people. We feel. We dream.

    “And we live here, like everyone else.”

    Top photo by Kelsey Ray. Others courtesy of Josh Tewksbury, Peter Backlund and Paty Romero Lankao.

    Pueblo County Planning and Development Board okays gravel pit near Bessemer Ditch

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    [A] contentious battle over a proposed gravel pit at Badger Hills between Avondale Boulevard and 40th Lane came to an end with a granted permit from the Pueblo County Planning and Development Board.

    If appealed, the decision would go to the Pueblo County commissioners.

    The company has been granted a special-use permit for a 1,500-acre mineral and natural resource extraction and mining operation.

    Those in opposition of the proposal have complained about the amount of truckloads that would travel along 36th Lane to U.S. 50 in front of Vineland Elementary School and Vineland Middle School.

    The opponents said they do intend to appeal the decision. They have 10 days to do so.

    Earlier, there even was contention on the vote. The permit passed 5-1. Donald Thorne voted no. Then he resigned from the commission. He said he was not happy with some of the decisions the planning commission has made recently.

    Fremont Paving has an existing gravel pit on 36th Lane. If the commissioners allow the permit, a private road would connect the existing gravel pit to the new operation. The haul route from there would continue on 36th Lane.

    John Paul Ary, of Fremont Paving, said his company is limited to 70 trucks a day from the new site to the existing one. Those in opposition said there would be 200 plus trucks a day when added to the truckloads already coming from the older operation.

    Those in opposition also have said the operation would cause environmental concerns in the area and thick dust.