#Snowpack news: “Snow #droughts” are expected to increase #ActOnClimate

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 20, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

There’s a term for what’s going on right now in the Sierra Nevada and the mountains that feed the Colorado River. It’s called a “snow drought,” and Nevada climate scientists warn that Westerners had better get used to the phenomenon.

Periods of below-average snowpack have become increasingly common in some Western mountain ranges, and more frequent snow droughts are likely as global temperatures continue to rise, according to Benjamin Hatchett, a postdoctoral fellow in meteorology and climatology at the Desert Research Institute in Reno.

“We’re kind of seeing all these things coming together, and not just in California but all over the West,” he said.

Hatchett and fellow DRI climate researcher Daniel McEvoy are studying trends and changes to mountain snowpack and their impact on regional watersheds and the economies in places where winter recreation fuels tourism. They hope their research will help water managers and others plan for a future that is likely to involve longer dry spells, changes in runoff patterns and an increased risk of flooding.

A drought that’s wet
In a paper published recently in the journal Earth Interactions, they used hourly, daily and monthly data to analyze the progression of eight historic snow droughts that occurred in the northern Sierra Nevada between 1951 and 2017. What they found were two distinct types of snow drought: the familiar “dry” variety caused by low levels of precipitation and a “wet” drought that results when mountain areas usually blanketed with snow get rain instead.

Hatchett said the most recent drought in the Sierra was “pretty similiar” to previous dry spells in terms of precipitation, “but it was this increase in temperature that really exacerbated the severity.”

“As the climate grows warmer and more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, we are seeing that we can have an average or above-average precipitation year and still have a well-below-average snowpack,” said Hatchett, who has noticed the difference firsthand over a lifetime of backcountry skiing.

In November, he published research outlining a 1,200-foot rise in the average snow level — the elevation at which rain turns to snow — in the Northern Sierra over the past 10 years. Over that same period, the region was experiencing its warmest decade on record, he said.

Snowpack is crucial even in communities that rarely see any snow. The Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of its water supply from Lake Mead, and nearly all of that water comes from snowmelt in the mountains that feed the Colorado River.

Palisade: Colorado West Land Trust nears goal of protecting 1,000 acres

Palisade peach orchard

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Katie Langford):

As the Colorado West Land Trust nears a long-term goal of preserving 1,000 acres of farmland in Palisade, a new 22-acre conservation easement of peach and apricot orchards is moving the needle that much closer.

Rob and Clare Talbott of C&R Farms have previously conserved 59 acres of orchards through the land trust, and Director of Conservation Iliana Moir said she was happy to hear the Talbotts wanted to do it again.

The land trust has conserved approximately 800 acres of Palisade farmland through conservation easements since 2009. Conservation easements are an arrangement in which landowners agree not to subdivide their property and the land trust agrees to hold it in perpetuity. In Palisade, it means those 800 acres will only be used for farming.

“That area is the only area in the Grand Valley that consistently produces good fruit, so it’s really important,” Moir said. “The winds that come through De Beque Canyon in the spring keep the frost from settling on the peach buds, and the area around Palisade has prime, unique soil that’s excellent for growing fruit trees. They have excellent water rights, so they can invest in long-term crops.”

Colorado West Executive Director Rob Bleiberg said preserving Palisade’s agriculture industry is key for the future success of the Grand Valley.

“We have been focused on the fruitlands of Palisade since our founding in 1980, and for the simple reason that the orchards and vineyards are an incredible asset for our community and an economic driver,” Bleiberg said. “They define Palisade.”

The Talbotts started farming in 1979 and have long understood the need to preserve the farmlands of Palisade, said Rob Talbott.

“Our family believes it’s important to preserve farming for future generations,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on orchards to subdivide their land so homes can be built. Once these homes are built, the small orchard on the property can’t sustain the cost of the home, therefore putting the property out of reach of young farmers to purchase the property as an initial investment or an existing young farmer to expand. We want future generations who want to make farming their livelihood to have the ability to afford to do so.”

@NOAA: 50 trips around the Sun collecting CO2 samples on Niwot Ridge

From NOAA (Theo Stein):

A climate science milestone on Colorado’s Continental Divide

On January 16, 1968, in a bracing chill at 11,568 feet above sea level, a Colorado researcher collected an air sample at Niwot Ridge, on the doorstep of the Indian Peaks mountain range. The sample was carried down the mountain and then measured for carbon dioxide at a lab in Boulder, Colorado. The result: 322.4 parts per million.

NOAA was not officially established until 1970, but this air sample produced the first measurement for NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. In the 50 years since, more than 274,000 air samples have been collected at over 60 sites around the globe, including more than 9,000 at Niwot Ridge. All have been transported to what is now NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division labs in Boulder for measurements of carbon cycle gases, like carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and other gases.

From this inauspicious start, NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network has evolved into one of the international climate science community’s most valuable resources – a long, uninterrupted and highly accurate accounting of Earth’s changing atmosphere.

Air samples are collected on a weekly basis from locations spanning the Canadian Arctic to the South Pole – continental sites ranging from deserts to tropical forests to barren ice caps, on small islands, and on ships crossing the oceans, by scientists and technicians, as well as soldiers, ranchers, mariners, school teachers, lighthouse keepers, a monk, and a host of other volunteers. One dedicated group of volunteers in Mongolia sends a hearty soul on a 12-hour overnight train ride once a month to deliver air samples to a shipping destination.

Over the years measurements were refined and added, and now samples are analyzed for as many as 60 different trace gases, some at a resolution of parts per trillion. Collection and measurement methods have changed over the decades, but extraordinary steps taken to ensure accuracy mean that historical data are valid and continue to be used by researchers around the world to understand the carbon cycle.

Thanks to that 1968 Niwot Ridge sample, NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network database is the third-longest continuous carbon dioxide record in the world, behind the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and Antarctic records. NOAA maintains independent sampling stations at Mauna Loa and the South Pole as well.

On January 15, 2018, almost 50 years to to the day since the first sample was collected, a researcher sampled the air at Niwot Ridge. This time, instruments measured 410.24 ppm of carbon dioxide, an increase of 27 percent over that first sample.

For more information on NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, contact Theo Stein: theo.stein@noaa.gov.

Talking about integration of renewables with a smile — The Mountain Town News

Xcel Energy’s Greater Sandhill Solar Farm north of Alamosa, Colo. Colorado’s San Luis Valley has some of the nation’s best solar resource. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

What’s needed to integrate renewables at scale in the U.S. electrical grids

For all the worries about budget cuts as Donald Trump ascended to the presidency a year ago, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at Golden, Colo., has remained intact and, in at least one division, is expanding.

That particular division, the Strategic Energy Analysis Center, will add 40 analysts by the end of the year to the existing 150, reported David Mooney, the director.

That division has several major studies to wrap up and others soon to get start, said Mooney in Fort Collins Tuesday evening at an event sponsored by the local chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society.

In March, a study will be released that examines the costs and benefits of breaking down the electrical fences in the United States. The West, the East, and Texas are all on different grids, interconnected but not integrated. Think of three people holding hands, three heartbeats, but not quite with the same timing.

A seamlessly-connected grid would cost trillions of dollars to create but would yield so many benefits that the cost would be reimbursed within 15 years if the work were started in 2024.

Another study, due in October 2019, examines renewable energy integration across North America, not just the United States.

Then there’s the study—expected to be due in 2020, although Mooney said the contract has not been finalized—that will examine what the options would be for the Los Angeles Basin, home to 13 million people, to achieve 100 percent electrification based on renewable energy. “That is real exciting,” he said.

The tone of the evening was a smile. Renewable energy is happening—even more rapidly than many people expected. Mooney related the prices of solar energy when he was a grad student in the 1980s, the most optimistic predictions of the time—and now the reality that is far, far below those most optimistic projections.

Just how low can these prices for renewable go? In Colorado, proposals by independent power developers to Xcel Energy announced in late December were “some crazy good prices,” said Mooney. Wind, as expected, came in at the very lowest, but solar prices, too, were very low.

In fact, Colorado has pretty good solar resources, especially in the San Luis Valley. Mooney related how, after Colorado voters in 2004 ordered Xcel and the state’s other investor-owned utility, Black Hills Energy, to begin investing in renewables, he was at a meeting with representatives of Xcel. He informed them that some of the nation’s best solar capacity was to be found in the San Luis Valley. Three weeks later Xcel was buying land, and the valley now has 26 megawatts of solar generating capacity.

It’s about as good as the Mojave Desert because not only is it nearly as cloudless, but it’s also high, about 8,000 feet, meaning there are no extremely hot days. That results in better electrical production.

But wind is where Colorado really excels, at least in terms of raw generating capacity. It ranks 10th nationally, with about three gigawatts in capacity. Wind now provides about 17 percent of the total electricity consumed by customers of Xcel on an annual basis. Xcel is the state’s largest utility, with more than 60 percent of the state’s customers, including those in Summit County. Xcel is also a wholesale provider for several electrical co-operatives in mountain valleys, including Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley and the Vail and Aspen areas.

What stands out is how rapidly this has all come about. Mooney said when he was a grad student in the late 1980s, the world had a total of 50 megawatts of wind, solar and other renewable generation. Now, the United States alone has 1,180 gigawatts and the world has 6,000 gigawatts. One gigawatt has 1,000 megawatts.

If the United States has exploded with renewable generating capacity, and Germany with solar collectors, China has blown past everybody.

Now comes energy storage. Again, it’s not new, but from 2010 to 2017, prices of lithium-ion battery storage have dropped 81 percent.

This plummeting cost of storage is now causing energy analysts like Mooney to begin shifting their thinking. They are no longer asking at what penetration level is storage necessary. Instead, they’re starting to wonder what happens if storage become ubiquitous.

If deep, broad penetration of renewables in the electrical and—more broadly—energy supplies is the goal, then what helps achieve that?

To maximize renewables, he said, the electrical grid needs to be flexible, able to respond rapidly to changes in demand but also changes in supply. Storage, he said, is the ultimate source of flexibility. He also emphasized strengths achieved through the interconnections of effective transmission. The final component is geo-spatial diversity of resources.

“For a robust, well-interconnected transmission system, geo-spatial diversity in assets is really key,” he said.

About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

Westminster hopes to bring on a new water treatment plant by 2025


From the Nortglenn-Thornton Sentinel (Scott Taylor):

Westminster looking for spot for Semper successor

City officials will begin looking around Westminster for a good place to put a new water treatment plant with the aim of having it ready for service by 2025.

“This is the first phase of longer program and we’re calling this first phase Water 2025,”said Stephen Grooters said. “That’s designed to give us the quantity, quality and reliability goals we need to meet today’s population.

“And as the city grows and as our other treatment facilities age, the city can gauge the cost and efficacy of adding a second phase plant — when to add it and how big to make it.”

The new plant would provide backup service to the city’s two existing treatment plants, the Northwest plant and the Semper, and give the city time to consider options for replacing Semper some time in 2040.

City Councilors voted Jan. 8 to set aside $609,749 to begin the multi-year Water 2025 process. That would pay for engineering and a city-wide site selection process. The potential sites should be at a lower elevation from Standley Lake but higher than most city storage tanks.

Grooters said he hopes the city can find as many as 12 potential sites for a water treatment facility…

The budget includes $150,000 for a public engagement process to get public opinion about the facility.