Weekend rains dropped up to half an inch of rain on parts of a parched Choice City, and more rain is on the forecast for this week. But with one week left of what’s historically our snowiest month of the year, forecasters are divided on whether we’ll see any measurable snow at all.
The Coloradoan’s official Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network rain gauge at 1300 Riverside Avenue recorded 0.16 of an inch of rain Sunday…
Meanwhile, our lack of snow is becoming downright strange.
Fort Collins receives an average of 12.6 inches of snow in March, according to 1981-2010 normals from the Colorado Climate Center. This March, we’ve received only a trace of snow. Fort Collins hasn’t seen measurable snow in about a month, since a late-February storm left us with about 3.4 inches and 0.1 inches fell on the last day of February.
We’re also way behind on precipitation this month, with 0.19 inches compared to a normal amount of 1.31 inches by March 26. Rains this week should inch us a bit closer to the monthly normal of 1.59 inches, but barring any big downpours, we’ll probably still fall short for March.
The lack of moisture matters because Fort Collins has been in a drought since August. Our drought classification was recently elevated to “severe,” the third of five levels of drought intensity. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicts we’ll remain in drought during the next three months.
If drought persists, residents can expect damage to crops and pastures, developing or imminent water shortages and a request for voluntary water-use restrictions. Snowpack in the South Platte River Basin mountains, which make up much of our regional water supply, has been steadily slipping during the last few weeks and now sits at 103 percent of the average for this time of year.
A snowless March is highly unusual but not unprecedented in Fort Collins. It’s happened about six times in recorded history, most recently in 2011 and 2012, when historic drought covered the state and Fort Collins received a trace of snow in March. The last March before that with no measurable snow was March 1966.
The county calls them the “most restrictive” of such regulations in Colorado. They are about 60 pages and require a much higher environmental and public health standard than the state. Boulder County began the new rule process following two state Supreme Court decisions in 2016 that invalidated hydraulic fracking bans or long term moratoriums.
“In light of those decisions, the board terminated our moratorium that was in effect until 2018, and established a new moratorium until May 1, 2017, for the purpose of allowing us [Boulder County planning department] to update the regulations that we had adopted in 2012 and prepare for their implementation,” said Kim Sanchez, chief planner for the county.
Now that the commissioners have adopted these regulations, here are three key takeaways:
These regulations are ‘the most restrictive’ in Colorado
Boulder County wants to push the envelope. For example, an oil or gas company that wants to drill in unincorporated Boulder County would have to give notice to surrounding landowners and residents, have multiple public meetings, and do soil and water testing, which could be a very long and probably more expensive process than anywhere else in Colorado. State officials told Boulder County it is overstepping their local authority, a position that Commissioner Elise Jones said they would defend.
“Our focus is on adopting regulations that we think are the strongest possible, for our citizens and the environment, and our understanding of the law as we see it,” she said. “If the state disagrees well, so be it, we’ll deal with that. If the state wants to pre-empt local governments, on oil and gas then they need to do their job and protect us from the impacts of oil and gas, and they are not doing that. And until they do that, local jurisdictions like Boulder County will continue to push to do that work themselves.”
What can the state regulate and what can local governments like Boulder County regulate?
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates location and construction of drill sites and associated equipment, for example what machinery is used. Local governments like Boulder County have substantial regulatory authority through their land use code, such as building permits for structures, traffic impact fees, and inspecting for compliance with local codes and standards related to water quality and wildlife impacts. Boulder County’s new regulations are the most stringent in terms of land use.
You could get paid to live by oil and gas drilling
One of Boulder County’s regulations could require a company to pay residents “disruption payments.” Not every company would have to do this; it’s an option for the county to require. Within a mile radius of the drill site, companies would need to pay residents enough money to move and pay rent somewhere else during some operations. The closer you are to the drill site, the more money you would get. The amount would be calculated based on federal data for the area. Every month residents would get a check. It would be up to them if they would want to move temporarily or just keep the money.
Commissioner Jones said they thought disruption payments were necessary to include.
“Industry has never been required to say ‘Yes, I’m impacting those people’s lives and I’m going to pay to help move them to a place so their quality of life isn’t diminished by my noise and my dust and my vibrations and my emissions,’ Jones said. “We think that it’s an important first step in industry taking ownership of the significant impacts that drilling has, particularly when you’re drilling near homes and schools and the like.”
The [Sunshine Fire] grew to 74 acres from the 62 acres reported on Sunday, but crews were able to reach 100 percent containment on the fire after 5 p.m., according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.
The OEM tweeted that firefighters would continue to work overnight on hot spots and flare-ups.
The high winds that fire crews were fearing overnight Sunday never materialized, and as a result firefighters were “comfortable” enough with where the fire was on Monday morning that they could lift the evacuations.
Boulder OEM also said limiting access to residents was lifted at 7 p.m. Monday after firefighters and their equipment was out of the area.
The fire prompted mandatory evacuations for 426 homes and pre-evacuation notices for another 836 homes. The cost of fighting the fire has been estimated at $500,000 so far, and there were 178 firefighters and 50 fire trucks on scene Monday.
Much of the air support from Sunday was not needed for a second day, as hand crews and a smaller helicopter capable of more accurate drops addressed hot spots within the fire.
Boulder hotshot firefighter Jason Morley arrived on scene shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday and spent the day fighting the fire in rough terrain.
“Our guys did a great job,” Morley said. “We’re there digging lines, attacking hot spots.”
Morley said conditions Sunday in the canyon were brutal for firefighters and highly unusual for this time of year.
“I’ve never seen it like this before,” Morley said. “There is no snow at all up there. If you picked up grass, it would just crumble in your hands.”
Wagner said firefighters reported the conditions were more like June than March.
Maybe. Click here to read the March 2017 Existing Conditions Report. Here’s an excerpt:
The Existing Conditions Report culminates the first phase of the 2017 Game Plan Update for Denver Parks and Recreation. Its purpose is to document the existing state of the system as a whole in order to uncover the key issues that the Game Plan will want to address.
Denver’s Park and Recreation system is incredibly diverse, spanning from the mountains to the prairie and encompassing more than 20,000 acres of parkland full of amenities and 27 recreation centers offering a wide range of programming. The analysis falls into three major categories: environment and climate, equity and access, and economic and organizational health. Key findings in each of the categories are summarized at right.
Understanding the current state of the system provides a launchpoint to envision the future of the Denver Parks and Recreation.
Here’s a report from Jon Murray writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
A new city report that’s part of a drive to set the course for Denver Parks and Recreation for the next 15 to 20 years says such adaptations must accelerate as the parks system contends with several emerging challenges. Chief among them are a rapidly growing population with changing expectations and health needs, climate changes that will impose new environmental stresses on the landscape, and limited budgets and resources that could strain all of those efforts.
Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.
The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.
For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.
The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.
“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.
The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”
The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.
Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.
The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.
The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.
James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”
He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.
*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.