Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, sent by email, by sending a request to admin@rockymountainclimate.org.

 
 

February 2018

Featured Item

Climate Change in the Headwaters: Water and Snow Impacts

The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization released this week a report documenting how climate change may affect the water and snow resources in the headwaters region of the Colorado River.

Climate Change in the Headwaters: Water and Snow Impacts, prepared by RMCO for NWCCOG, summarizes existing information on how climate change puts at risk water and snow resources and the many economic and social values that depend on them in six Colorado counties -- Eagle, Grand, Gunnison, Pitkin, Routt, and Summit counties.

Rachel Richards, Pitkin County commissioner and chair of the NWCCOG Water Quality/Quantity Committee, said, "The headwaters of the Colorado River has some of the most important water and snow resources not just in Colorado but across the entire nation, and it's essential that we understand how climate change puts these resources at risk, along with our local economies, recreation opportunities, and the quality of life here."     

Stephen Saunders, the RMCO president and the lead author of the report, said, "Future climate change will be determined by future levels of heat-trapping emissions. If emissions keep increasing unchecked, the science says there will be major disruptions of the snow and water resources of this headwaters region." 

The report details the impacts of climate change that have already happened, and those that could happen, including:

  • Precipitation. To offset the impacts of higher temperatures on snow and water resources, there would need to be large increases in total precipitation and snowfall. But only the wettest 10 percent of climate projections suggest that Colorado precipitation amounts could increase by even six to nine percent.
  • Water and snow resources. Across the West, less winter precipitation is falling as snow and more as rain, snowpacks are declining, and snowmelt is occurring earlier. Colorado River flows have now been reduced by the evaporative effects of higher temperatures, as now heat, not just low precipitation, now creates drought conditions.
  • Impacts on winter recreation and tourism, including skiing, snowboarding, and other snow-dependent activities. This could have consequences throughout the state, as the skiing/snowboarding industry alone contributes about $5 billion to the state's economy and supports 46,000 jobs.
  • Impacts on warm-season recreation and tourism, including fishing, boating, rafting, and other water-dependent outdoor recreation that could be adversely affected by hot temperatures, low water levels, and other manifestations of climate change. Colorado's outdoor recreation across all four seasons generates $28 billion in consumer spending and supports 229,000 direct jobs.
  • Impacts on water quality. Higher temperatures can cause violations of water quality standards that specify maximum stream temperatures to protect fish and other resources, and more wildfires can increase flooding and sediment flows from burned areas.  

News About RMCO and Partners

The City of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks system is undertaking a master plan to guide future acquisitions and management practices, including consideration of future heat extremes driven by climate change, as identified in RMCO's Future Climate Extremes in Boulder County report. As land acquisition era slows, what's the future of Boulder's open space program?, Boulder Daily Camera, February 3, 2018.

News About Climate Action

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

Governor Hickenlooper updates state's climate plan as Colorado communities come together for climate symposium, news release, January 31, 2018. The Colorado governor at a climate and clean energy symposium of local governments releases an updated plan that wraps in emissions reductions targets and other actions contained in a July 2017 executive order. It also incorporates a new statewide Electric Vehicle Plan  to build out key charging corridors and to support new technology and planning process considerations to reduce emissions by improving traffic operations.  Colorado governor releases state's electric vehicle plans, saying "we know that we can have a cleaner option", Denver Post, January 24.

Washington state $10-a-ton carbon-tax proposal takes key step in legislature, Seattle Times, February 2, 2018. The passage in its first committee of reference marks the first time one of Gov. Inslee's major carbon proposals got any kind of vote by lawmakers.

Public Opinion

Colorado College releases its 2018 Conservation in the West Poll, its eighth annual survey of voters in eight western states, including state-by-state results. While largely focused on public lands issues, the poll also includes several clean energy and climate questions, and again indicates strong preferences for renewable energy over fossil fuels and also strong recognition that climate change plays a role in natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, and extreme storms. 

Climate Communications

Troubled by Trump's climate denial, scientists aim to set the record straight, Inside Climate News, February 5, 2018. The American Meteorological Society's executive director makes an attempt to get the facts in front of the President.

In a February 6 release, researchers with George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication announce their new paper, "Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors." In it, they describe how critical thinking techniques can be used to inoculate against the most common denialist claims about climate change.

Clean Energy

Xcel Energy receives shockingly low bids for Colorado electricity from renewable sources, Denver Post, January 18, 2016. Attracting nationwide attention are bids received by Xcel Energy for renewable energy as part of its  Colorado Energy Plan that would retire early two coal generating units. Over 350 bids from r enewable-energy developers included some of the  lowest prices  ever quoted in the U.S., including solar and wind options with energy storage priced below what coal-generated power in the state costs. See also Xcel solicitation returns 'incredible' renewable energy, storage bids , Utility Dive, January 8, 2018, and Why a big utility is embracing wind and solar, New York Times, February 6, 2018.

Huge wind farm could reduce Fort Collins electricity rates, triple wind power, [Fort Collins] Coloradoan, January 8, 2018. The Platte River Power Authority, jointly owned by four northern Colorado cities, considers a contract that would increase its power sources to about 50 percent renewables.

Uncooperative - Tri-State policies are limiting Colorado communities from developing local renewable energy projects, January 2018. This new report profiles the barriers to pursuing local renewable energy sources that Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association puts in the way of the 18 Colorado rural electric cooperatives it serves. See also A time of inflection for rural America's energy paradigms, Mountain Town News, January 31, 2018, which recounts the circumstances that make it such a challenge to break Tri-State's embrace of coal power.

Preparedness

Federal resiliency efforts pay off six times their investment, Yale Environment 360, January 22, 2018.  According to a new report  by the National Institute of Buildi ng Sciences, for every $1 that the U.S. government spends on resiliency projects, such as elevating buildings in flood zones and improving water management systems, society saves $6 on the future costs of natural disasters.

Wildlife

U.S. says snow-loving lynx, reintroduced in Colorado in 1999, no longer need special protection, Denver Post, January 11, 2018. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will draft a rule to revoke the Canada lynx's threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act across the entire northern United States, on the ground that the agency (supposedly) cannot rely on long-term climate models that predict loss of habitat due to diminished snowpack. Wildlife advocates say they will challenge the move in court.

News About Climate Disruption

Extreme Weather

Earth was hit by 29 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2017, Weather Underground, January 24, 2018. Earth had its costliest year on record for weather-related natural disasters, according to insurance broker Aon Benfield in their  Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2017 Annual Report . And the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says the same of 16 U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters, which tied 2011 for the most on record in a single year. See Extreme hurricanes and wildfires made 2017 the most costly U.S. disaster year on record, Washington Post, January 8, 2018.

Mudslides, wildfires, and drought-California's deadly weather explained, National Geographic, January 10, 2018. Described are the ways climate disruption contributes to the California's latest natural disasters. 

Water

A February 1 USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center map  shows only northern Colorado and Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Washington trending above normal snowpack (expressed as snow water equivalent) in western states, with many sites in the Colorado River Basin at 50 percent or less.

Despite burst of January snow, Colorado mountain snowpack stays grim - with record low levels at some sites , Denver Post, February 7, 2018. The state's northern mountains are inching closer to the long-term average, but the southern part of the state has alarmingly low readings. The statewide average is 64 percent of normal.

Is California's drought returning? Snowpack nears 2015's historic lows, Inside Climate News, February 1, 2018.  Snowpack in the Sierras-which provides roughly a third of the state's water supply-is at 27 percent of normal.

Climate change and snowmelt-turn up the heat, but what about humidity?, phys.org, January 22, 2018. A study by researchers from University of Utah and University of Nevada, Reno, of sites throughout the West finds that in areas where climate change drives up humidity, such as in the Northwest, snowmelt rates increase.

Wildlife

Warming signs: How diminished snow cover puts species in peril, Yale Environment 360, January 16, 2018. Dwindling snowpack is having a profound effect on ecosystems, disrupting the adaptive advantages of such northern species as lynx, wolverines, and snowshoe hares.

Recreation and Tourism

'This is the weather and climate we fear': Climate change and Colorado's ski slopes, Coloradoan, January 26, 2018. Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for the Aspen Snowmass ski company, is quoted as saying this past December, "The whole state is having its worst opening in 20 years. This is the weather and climate we fear. It's already here." See also Lack of snow slows Vail Resorts' revenue stream, January 12, 2018, and At New Mexico's snow-challenged ski resorts, mountains of anxiety, Santa Fe New Mexican, January 7, 2018. 

Heat 

Warming set to breach Paris accord's toughest limit by mid century: draft, Reuters, January 11, 2018. In a draft report, scientists from the United Nations I ntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say, "There is very high risk" that global temperature increases will exceed the international community's goals, based on the current pace of rising temperatures and the current (inadequate) plans of nations to limit their heat-trapping emissions.

2017 was one of the hottest years on record. And that was without El Niño., New York Times, January 18, 2018. Scientists at NASA ranked last year as the second-warmest year since reliable record-keeping began in 1880, trailing only 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analysis, which uses a different analytical method, ranked it third, behind 2016 and 2015. 

Resource of the Month

NorWeST summer stream temperature model and scenarios
U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

The NorWeST webpage  hosts stream temperature data and climate scenarios in a variety of user-friendly digital formats for streams and rivers across the western U.S. The temperature database was compiled from hundreds of biologists and hydrologists working for more than 100 resource agencies and contains hourly temperature recordings at more than 20,000 unique stream sites. Those temperature data were used with spatial statistical network models to develop 36 historical and future climate scenarios at one-kilometer resolution. See a Water Resources Research  paper  for a full description.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org