Even the way snow is falling and melting is changing — Bloomberg

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map Janiuary 18, 2018 via the NRCS.

From Bloomberg (Daniel Rothberg):

“Water and climate change are joined at the hip,” said Brad Udall, a researcher at Colorado State University who published a paper earlier this year showing how climate change has reduced flows in the Colorado River. “One of the primary impacts of a warming atmosphere are changes to our water cycle.”

Snowpack is 50 percent lower than the average at this point in the winter at dozens of basins in the region. It’s a major concern in a region with a growing population where water supplies are often pushed to their limits, even in good years. In addition to fueling the West’s winter tourism industry, the snow provides a steady supply of water for the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people spread from Denver to Los Angeles.

The problem is not just a lack of snow, but changes in how it is falling and melting. Think of the snowpack as a natural reservoir. During the winter, it freezes in place. When temperatures rise in the spring, the water within is released gradually, filling reservoirs through the rest of the year. That pattern is fracturing around the world. A study released Wednesday by the University of Potsdam also found less available water from snowpack in High Mountain Asia from 1987 to 2009.

In the western U.S., the snow line is receding to higher elevations—typically above 8,000 feet. Below that line, rain is often falling instead of snow, meaning less precipitation is stored in the snowpack. A big storm might send water to reservoirs, but many pools weren’t built to hold a deluge of rain. As a result, they often have to release the water to avoid flooding.

Without predictable snowpack melts, “it reduces reliability on the supply side,” said Demetri Polyzos, a senior engineer for the Metropolitan Water District, the wholesale water agency for Southern California.

There have been bad starts to the snow season before, and climatologists say it’s too early to rule out the possibility that the Western snowpack will bounce back. But even if it does return to average—or above average—levels, researchers said it is unlikely that critical waterways like the Colorado River would get their normal runoff.

“As it warms, you get less runoff,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan who co-authored the Colorado River drought paper with Udall.

The short-term effects may be manageable. Because 2017 was a wet year, most reservoirs have enough stored water to satiate municipal and agricultural demand through even a dry, hot summer. But water managers still need to respond to the long-term threat.

Western snowpack could decrease by an average of 60 percent over the next 30 years due to anthropogenic warming and natural climate trends, according to an article published last year in Nature.

Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

2017 is the hottest year on record without an #ElNiño

Graphic credit: Climate Central

From BBC.com (Roger Harrabin):

The acting director of the UK Met Office, Prof Peter Stott, told BBC News: “It’s extraordinary that temperatures in 2017 have been so high when there’s no El Niño. In fact, we’ve been going into cooler La Niña conditions.

“Last year was substantially warmer than 1998 which had a very big El Niño.

“It shows clearly that the biggest natural influence on the climate is being dwarfed by human activities – predominantly CO₂ emissions.”

Figures were published on Thursday by the world’s three main agencies monitoring global temperatures: the UK Met Office and the two US organisations – the US space agency (Nasa) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

Their datasets are compiled from many thousands of temperature measurements taken across the globe, from all continents and all oceans.

Temperatures for 2017 and 2015 are virtually identical.

Nasa rates 2017 the second hottest year, and Noaa and the Met Office judge it to be the third hottest since records began in 1850.

The Met Office HadCRUT4 global temperature series shows that 2017 was 0.99C (±0.1C) above “pre-industrial” levels – that’s taken as the average over the period 1850-1900.

It was 0.38 (±0.1C) above the 1981-2010 average.

Graphic credit: Climate Central

From NOAA:

After three consecutive years of record-high temperatures for the globe, Earth was a slightly cooler planet in 2017. But not by much.

Earth’s globally averaged temperature for 2017 made it the third warmest year in NOAA’s 138-year climate record, behind 2016 (warmest) and 2015 (second warmest).

However, unlike the past two years, Earth’s average temperature in 2017 was not influenced by the warming effect of an El Nino, say scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

A color-coded map of the globe showing areas of percentiles of cool and warmth — ranging from record warm to record cool — for the calendar year 2017. (NOAA NCEI)

The average temperature across the globe in 2017 was 1.51 degrees F above the 20th century average of 57 degrees F. 2017 marks the 41st consecutive year (since 1977) with global land and ocean temperatures at least nominally above the 20th-century average. The six warmest years on record for the planet have all occurred since 2010.

The state of sea ice
Sea ice extent (coverage) at the poles remained low throughout last year. Antarctica had a record-low extent in 2017, while the Arctic had its second-lowest ice coverage on record.

2017, as ranked by other scientific organizations
In a separate analysis of global temperature data released at the same time, NASA scientists ranked 2017 as the second warmest year on record. The minor difference in rankings is due to the different methods used by the two agencies to analyze global temperatures; though over the long term, the agencies’ records remain in strong agreement. Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010.

Analyses from the United Kingdom Met Office and the World Meteorological Organizationoffsite link also ranked 2017 among the top three warmest years on record.

A map of the globe of that indicates noteworthy climate and weather events that occurred around the world in 2017. (NOAA NCEI)

Additional findings from our 2017 report

  • The month of December: Despite the cooling influence of a weak La Nina in the latter part of the year, December ended up as the fourth warmest December on record for the globe, with an average temperature 1.44 degrees F above the 20th century average.
  • The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the third highest on record, 1.21 degrees F above average.
  • The globally averaged land surface temperature was the third highest on record, 2.36 degrees F above average.
  • Continental warmth: South America had its second warmest year on record; Asia, its third; Africa, its fourth; Europe, its fifth; and North America and Oceania, their sixth.
  • The average Arctic sea ice extent for the year was 4.01 million square miles, the second smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.
  • The average Antarctic sea ice extent for the year was 4.11 million square miles, the smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.
  • #Drought news: D2 (Severe Drought) expanded in S.E. #Colorado

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

    Summary

    A significant weather system impacted the lower Mississippi Valley and pushed northeast into the Ohio River Valley and the Northeast. The active pattern over the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains continued, bringing much-needed rain and snow to these regions. Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the Plains region and the South, with areas of the northern Plains 15-20 degrees below normal. Warmer than normal conditions dominated the West, with areas of the Great Basin 10-15 degrees warmer than normal…

    High Plains

    Much of the region did record precipitation in the form of both snow and rain during the last week, but amounts were generally less than half an inch. Some areas of east central Kansas did record close to an inch of precipitation. The most significant changes this week were due to a reanalysis of the data over the short term. From this analysis, the extreme drought over western South Dakota was improved to severe drought status. The impact designation also was changed from a combination of short- and long-term impacts to only long-term impacts. Dryness in southern Kansas and eastern Colorado continued with an expansion of the severe drought conditions to the west, incorporating all of southwestern Kansas and extreme southeastern Colorado. Extreme drought conditions were also pushed more to the west in southern Kansas…

    West

    The coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest as well as the northern Rocky Mountains again had the most precipitation. Areas of southern Nevada and the desert regions of southern California and western Arizona finally recorded some precipitation. Areas of southern California that had experienced fires late last year were impacted by mudslides from the heavy rains that inundated the region. Even with the precipitation in Oregon, the water year continues to be well below normal for precipitation, which allowed for the expansion of abnormally dry conditions in Oregon, western Idaho, and southern Washington. A new area of moderate drought was introduced from central Oregon to western Idaho. In Utah, the low snow and snow water equivalency values caused an expansion of severe drought in central Utah and moderate drought in northeastern Utah. Abnormally dry conditions were pushed to include all of northern Utah and extreme southwestern Wyoming. In eastern New Mexico, severe drought conditions were expanded over the region…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the next 5-7 days, the active pattern over the Pacific Northwest is anticipated to continue, with heavy rains along the coastal areas from northern California up to Seattle. Farther inland, precipitation should be widespread from Washington and Oregon into Idaho and western Montana, with the greatest amounts over the panhandle of Idaho. Precipitation from the central Rocky Mountains will pass through the central Plains and into the upper Midwest and Great Lakes. Much of the eastern half of the United States is projected to receive precipitation. During this period, temperatures are anticipated to be 3 to 6 degrees below normal west of the Continental Divide and 6 to 9 degrees above normal to the east. This should help bring the snow levels down over the western United States, allowing for snow accumulation to take place.

    The 6-10 day outlooks show that temperatures are anticipated to remain cooler than normal over the western and north central United States, with the greatest probability of below-normal temperatures over Montana and Wyoming. Warmer than normal temperatures are projected over much of the eastern third of the country, with the greatest chances of above-normal temperatures along the eastern seaboard from Florida north into New England. The probability of above-normal precipitation is great over much of the United States outside of the desert Southwest. The highest chances of above-normal precipitation are over the Great Basin and lower Mississippi Valley.

    The Eagle Mine Superfund Site is on the @EPA list for cleanup and redevelopment

    Eagle Mine

    From RealVail:

    Today (Wednesday, Jan. 17), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the Eagle Mine Superfund site in Eagle County, Colo. as among 31 current and former National Superfund Priorities List (NPL) sites with the greatest expected redevelopment and commercial potential.

    “EPA is more than a collaborative partner to remediate the nation’s most contaminated sites, we’re also working to successfully integrate Superfund sites back into communities across the country,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Today’s redevelopment list incorporates Superfund sites ready to become catalysts for economic growth and revitalization.”

    EPA’s redevelopment focus list includes a portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund site that has been identified for potential residential development. EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are currently working with a development company, Battle North, LLC, to complete environmental investigation and cleanup actions necessary to allow for future residential use. In 2017, EPA selected a remedy for this area to achieve the additional cleanup of surface soils to levels that would allow for future residential development. These actions will include the excavation, containment and disposal of soils at a solid waste facility, the installation of a soil exposure barrier, and the implementation of institutional controls.

    The 235-acre Eagle Mine Superfund site is located one mile from the town of Minturn and 75 miles west of Denver and is bordered by the White River National Forest. The Eagle River runs through the site. Gold, silver, copper and zinc mining and production took place on the site at various times between the 1880s and 1984 leaving high levels of metals in soils, surface water and groundwater. EPA placed the site on the NPL in 1986. To date, cleanup has included the removal of contaminated soils and sediments, containment of mine seepage and runoff, monitoring of surface water, groundwater, pool water and stream water, and land use controls. These actions have achieved significant water quality improvements in the Eagle River, an important recreational asset and a now-thriving trout fishery.

    “The Eagle Mine site offers a great example of how EPA is working with local interests to secure the productive reuse of Superfund sites,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “Over the past decades, cleanup actions taken at the Eagle Mine site have addressed soil, groundwater, and mine waste contamination and significantly improved water quality in the Eagle River. Our recent efforts with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Battle North build upon that progress with new remedies for soil contamination that will make portions of the Eagle Mine site ready for residential use.”

    Superfund redevelopment has helped countless communities reclaim and reuse thousands of acres of formerly contaminated land. Superfund sites on the list have significant redevelopment potential based on previous outside interest, access to transportation corridors, land values, and other critical development drivers.

    2018 #COleg: HB 18-1008 (The Mussel-free #Colorado Act) introduced

    Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    The Colorado legislature will consider a bill that would provide stable funding for Colorado Parks and Wildlife efforts to keep zebra and quagga mussels out of state waters.

    The Mussel-Free Colorado Act (HB 18-1008) was introduced Jan. 10 in the legislature.

    If passed, this bill will provide a funding source of $2.4 million for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Program in 2019 and beyond by requiring motorboats and sailboats to purchase an ANS stamp.

    Colorado residents will be charged $25 and non-residents will be charged $50.

    The bill also would continue Tier 2 Severance Tax appropriations, when available, to cover the remainder of the $4.5-$5 million annual cost of ANS program implementation, increase fines for violations and allow CPW to charge for labor and costs incurred to store and decontaminate intercepted vessels.

    “Zebra and quagga mussels pose a serious threat to our state’s water infrastructure, natural resources and recreation,” said Bob Broscheid, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in a press release. “As a headwater state with no adult mussel infestations, the only way zebra or quagga mussels can get into Colorado is overland by hitchhiking on watercraft.”

    The numbers of motorboats and sailboats found by inspectors each year infested with zebra and quagga mussels continues to rise, according to the release.

    In 2017, Colorado inspectors intercepted a record 26 boats infested with adult mussels coming in from out of state. They have intercepted 144 boats infested with adult mussels since the ANS Program began.

    Zebra and quagga mussels are not native to the nation’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Adult infestations harm aquatic ecosystems and fisheries by disrupting the food web and out-competing native species, according to CPW, as well as problems for water infrastructure used for municipal, agriculture and industrial purposes by attaching to, clogging and impairing water storage, treatment and distribution systems.

    “While the problem is getting worse in neighboring states, Colorado’s prevention program is working to keep mussels out of our waters,” Reid DeWalt, assistant director of wildlife and natural resources for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said.

    ‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise — @HighCountryNews

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    From The High Country News (Josh Zaffos):

    IIn March 2015, Joe MacLaren, a state oil and gas inspector in Colorado, drove out to the Taylor 3 oil well near the tiny town of Hesperus, in the southwestern corner of the state. He found an entire checklist of violations. Atom Petroleum, a Texas-based company, had bought out more than 50 oil and gas wells after the company that drilled them went bankrupt. Now, Atom was pumping oil from those wells, but Taylor 3 was leaking crude, and it was missing required signage as well as screens on infrastructure to keep birds away from toxic gunk. Worse, the company had not performed safety tests to ensure the well wasn’t leaking fluids underground.

    Over the following months, the state slapped Atom with fines, performed follow-up inspections, and demanded a $360,000 bond to cover the cost of shutting down the wells, just in case Atom — hardly proving itself to operate in a trustworthy manner — didn’t clean up its act.

    Indeed, the list of violations MacLaren and others discovered kept growing, yet Atom kept on pumping oil and gas, and did not pay fines or put up the $360,000 bond. So in 2016, the state took a rare step: It revoked the company’s drilling permit. Atom’s business, it said, was no longer welcome in Colorado.

    Atom didn’t bother to follow through on one last important obligation either. When companies cease production, they are supposed to plug wells with cement to reduce the risk of leaks, and to restore vegetation and wildlife habitat aboveground. They recoup their bonds if they do so, whereas if they don’t, the state cashes them. In this case, Atom flouted its responsibility to plug and reclaim its wells, leaving the state to clean up its mess. Colorado did claim a $60,000 bond Atom posted when it first started operating, but the cleanup could cost taxpayers 10 times that.

    The 50 or so wells Atom left behind comprise Colorado’s largest-ever “orphaned well” case, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. But it’s not an isolated problem. Companies that go out of business, become bankrupt, or, like Atom, simply ignore the rules, tend to skip out on cleanup and land restoration. And since bond amounts set by states and the federal government rarely if ever cover real-world cleanup costs, it can be cheaper for a company to forfeit a bond than to follow reclamation rules.

    Orphaned wells are more likely than properly plugged “abandoned” wells to leak pollutants, including methane gas, which can contaminate groundwater and even trigger explosions. So it’s troubling that the number of such wells in the West has soared. A downturn in energy prices starting back in 2008 has led energy companies to orphan thousands of wells across Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. States are struggling even to tally them, let alone remediate them. Officially, Colorado has 244 orphaned wells on its books, but state officials estimate another 400 have yet to be located. And with a new drilling boom tapping deep shale formations along Colorado’s urban Front Range, some worry that the next bust will saddle the public with thousands more.

    On state and private land, major energy corporations typically explore and drill for oil and gas across large fields and then sell parcels to smaller operators when production dips. The little guys can still turn profits, just not at the margins big corporations need to satisfy shareholders.

    But small companies tend to have shakier financing and are therefore more vulnerable to market swings. When gas prices plunged starting in 2008, it bankrupted many small companies producing marginal amounts of methane from coal seams, and thousands of coalbed methane wells were orphaned.

    In Wyoming, the problem reached epidemic proportions. In 2014, under Republican Gov. Matt Mead, the state implemented an aggressive strategy to identify and plug orphan wells. To hedge against future busts, the state also significantly hiked the bonds companies must put up before drilling. It based those increases partly on well depth, since the deeper shale oil and gas wells now being targeted are much more expensive to reclaim than conventional shallow wells. Wyoming has since reclaimed 1,700 sites on state and private lands, using taxes and royalties paid by industry to chip away at the backlog caused by the spike in orphaned wells and insufficient bond funds. But it has also identified nearly 4,600 more orphaned wells — and that’s just on state and private lands.

    “Wyoming is more ahead of the game than other states,” says Jill Morrison, director of the Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council. Even so, the state “can’t keep up,” she says, and the higher bond rates still don’t fully cover reclamation costs when a company orphans its wells. Reclamation on federal lands in Wyoming, where there are thousands of additional orphaned wells, has been even slower.

    In Colorado, the state currently uses bonds and revenue from fines to cover cleanup costs for orphans. But that generates less than $850,000 a year, so the state has only plugged and reclaimed 52 orphaned wells since 2013, at an average cost of $82,500 each. According to a recent state analysis, dealing with all 244 of its known orphans will cost an estimated $5.3 million annually over the next five years.

    This August, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed several tougher rules for monitoring and reclaiming both orphaned and properly plugged wells. The announcement followed a deadly house explosion in a north Denver suburb last April, which elevated concern about abandoned wells of all kinds since it was caused by a severed methane gas flow line from a properly plugged and sealed well. Hickenlooper’s reforms included creating a fund that would be used to eliminate the state’s orphaned-well backlog within a decade. It would be bankrolled by energy companies, possibly through a property-tax increase, and could also pay for services like in-home methane monitors for neighborhoods that are next to or even on top of old wells.

    Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, acknowledges the need to “get ahead of a potential problem,” but questions whether new taxes are the solution. Instead, she says, the state could direct existing tax revenues to the issue, or create a voluntary program for companies to help plug and reclaim wells. In Oklahoma, for instance, companies can choose to divert 1 cent for every $100 of oil and gas they produce to a program that restores orphaned wells. The state claims that 95 percent of operators participate and the program has restored 16,000 well sites since 1994.

    State Rep. Mike Foote, a Boulder County Democrat, says he would like to see higher bond rates in Colorado, but he doesn’t expect much cooperation from state Republicans. In a letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, two state GOP leaders expressed concern over Hickenlooper’s proposal for an orphan-well fund and disagreed with his portrayal of the issue as a “vast” problem. But without more money and regulatory muscle, Foote says, the state is not just ducking the current problem; it’s inviting future calamity.

    Since the deadly Denver house explosion last spring, watchdogs have documented an alarming number of poorly monitored abandoned wells and flow lines beneath Front Range communities. Some of this potentially perilous infrastructure lies directly beneath neighborhoods. With several small companies, some already cited for violations, currently drilling and applying to drill for oil and gas in Boulder and neighboring counties, Foote and others fear the next price crash could create a hazardous landscape rife with orphaned wells. And dealing with those wells could be even more complicated than before, because industry is now tapping deep shale formations, where wells are much more difficult and expensive to plug, reclaim, and inspect.

    According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, there are currently 63 financially “distressed” operators in the state, who collectively own almost 4,000 wells. These companies have either missed required safety tests or aren’t producing much, signs that they may be running out of money and therefore more likely to abandon their sites. If even a fraction of those companies become deadbeats, the state’s problems will quickly multiply. Without broad action, says Foote, “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

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

    Colorado River Basin December 2017 precipitation as a percent of normal.

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