Working to keep the West special

RMCO's Monthly Newsletter

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.

March 2018

Featured Item
Dramatic Declines in Snowpack in the Western U.S.

The headline above is the apt title of a new study updating pioneering 2005 research that first documented a widespread loss of snowpack across the West and helped to usher in a new era in which it is clear that climate change is a present reality not just a troubling projection. Now with 14  additional  years of data, the researchers have found that over 90 percent of snow  monitoring  sites with long records across the western United States now show declines, compared to 75 percent in their earlier work. Declines are now documented across all states, but continue to be greatest in the Pacific states and in locations with mild winter climate.

The researchers compared measured snowpack levels with results from the widely-used VIC hydrologic model with no warming trends plugged in, and confirmed that the snowpack declines are predominantly driven by rising temperatures.

The authors calculate that since 1915, overall western snowpack has declined by 21 percent, an amount greater than the volume of water stored in the West's largest reservoir, Lake Mead. They conclude that the magnitude of these changes means that " . . new reservoirs cannot be built fast enough to offset the loss of snow storage, so solutions will have to lie primarily in the linked arenas of water policy (including reservoir operating policies) and demand management."

"It is a bigger decline than we had expected," said Philip Mote, the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and lead author of the new study, as he was for the original one. Snowpack levels show dramatic decline in western states, U.S., Science Daily, March 2, 2018. See also Snowpack drops sharply across West over 60-year period, Associated Press, and Snowpack has drastically declined in the West this century, Oregon Public Broadcasting, both March 2, 2018.  

News about Climate Action

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

Carbon tax, Inslee's climate centerpiece, dies in legislature, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 1, 2018 and In a gamble to make climate change a political win, a governor pursues a carbon tax, New York Times, March 1, 2018. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's carbon tax proposal was withdrawn prior to a doomed state Senate vote, but proponents are pressing ahead to collect signatures for a second statewide vote trying to enact a carbon tax. See Washington State groups push carbon-pricing ballot measure, Associated Press, March 2, 2018. 

Water Resources

Cloud seeding may make it snow, but will it reduce droughts in the West?, Denver Post, February 26, 2018. Given mounting evidence of climate-change-driven declines in snowpack in the West (see lead item above), it's s mall wonder that millions of dollars are going into winter cloud seeding operations. In Colorado alone, more than 100 cloud seeding machines are set up. Some studies have found positive results (a 5 - 15 percent increase in Wyoming snowfall and up to 10 percent in Nevada), but up until a study (abstract only) by University of Washington researchers was published in January, there had been little direct scientific evidence that cloud seeding actually works. Using radar and aircraft-mounted cloud physics probes in Idaho, they produced the first real-world observations of silver iodide forming ice crystals inside clouds and falling out as snow. Even still, the right conditions have to exist. As Colorado's program manager observes about the current winter, "We have not been able to run our cloud seeding machines because there's been no storms coming through."

Climate Communications

Idaho Senate committee keeps all references to climate change in new science standards, Boise State Public Radio, February 22, 2018. After the Idaho House votes to strip content on climate change from K-12 standards two years in the making, a Senate committee restores them, setting up a potential legislative stand-off, in which case the standards would be adopted as proposed.

Clean Energy

Winds of change: What will power the Northwest's future?, Seattle Times, March 5, 2018. A Montana renewable energy developer is moving forward with gaining permits for a $1 billion pumped storage project to complement wind and solar energy sources, but it is unclear if power companies will sign on.  

Billionaire Trump foe behind solar energy measures in Arizona, other states, Phoenix New Times, February 13, 2018. Bankrolled by Tom Steyer, NextGen America launches 2018 ballot initiative campaigns to substantially raise renewable energy standards in Arizona and Nevada (50 percent renewables by 2030), and also Michigan (30 percent by 2030). 

Fossil Fuels

How America's clean coal dream unraveled, Guardian, March 2, 2018. In Mississippi, construction of what was touted to be the world's largest coal carbon capture plant incurred multi-billion dollar cost over-runs, and then was abandoned, saddling ratepayers and dealing a significant setback to "clean coal" proponents. 

Preparedness

Urban heat: Can white roofs help cool world's warming cities? Yale Environment 360, March 7, 2018. A growing body of research finds that the systematic replacement of dark surfaces with white ones in urban areas could lower heat wave maximum temperatures by 3.6°F or more. Similar adaptive solutions can work, too, such as lighter-colored farmland crops.

Tourism and Recreation

Why a posh Montana ski town may use treated wastewater for snowmaking, Water Deeply, February 5, 2018. The Big Sky ski resort is running up against limits on its groundwater sources for snowmaking and is proposing to shift to treated wastewater, which would avoid wastewater discharges into the revered Gallatin River fishery.  

Ecosystems

Inside Colorado's quest to tackle dangerously unhealthy forests, Coloradoan, March 3, 2018. Two recent reports, Principles and practices for the restoration of ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forests of the Colorado Front Range authored by a team of government agency and non-profit organization researchers, and the 2017 Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests by the Colorado State Forest Service, look at options to mitigate the risks caused by insect infestations and other forest stresses. It is estimated that there are about 834 million standing dead trees in the state, or about one in 15 of all standing trees.

Wildfire

The next wildfire season starts soon. The government wants to use drones to fight it. Washington Post, March 5, 2018. So far, the federal government just uses small drones to surveil fires and aid firefighters on the ground, but ways to use drones to actually extinguish fires are being actively explored.

National Climate Policies

Climate change skeptics run the Trump administration, Politico, March 7, 2018.  Yes, it's as bad as, or maybe even worse than, you think it is.

These Republicans claim climate caucus credentials, but their votes tell another story, Inside Climate News, February 27, 2018. The intentionally bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus is called out for greenwashing, as some members use it to burnish their reputations even as they vote against meaningful action. Three caucus members from the Interior West, for example, are ranked by the League of Conservation Voters with very low pro-environment voting percentages: Rep. Mike Coffman (CO), 6%; Rep. Mia Love (UT), 4%; and Rep. Mark Amodei, NV, 6%. 

News about Climate Disruption

Ecosystems

Climate change in the Rockies could make this Colorado wildflower vanish forever, Denver Post, February 21, 2018. University of California scientists suspend heaters across a meadow at a Colorado high elevation site over 25 years to simulate a 3 degrees temperature increase, enough to cause what would be a local extinction of the northern rock jasmine.

Tourism and Recreation

Skimpy snowpack drags down the winter economy in the West and changing climate could make it worse, report says, Denver Post, February 23, 2018. The advocacy organization Protect our Winters releases The Economic Contributions of Winter Sports in a Changing Climate , documenting winter sports' economic value and that low-snow years lead to an average 10 percent decline in skier visits.

Heat-Trapping Emissions

Stunning new research finds fracking a major source of carbon pollution in Pennsylvania, Think Progress, February 21, 2018. An Environmental Defense Fund report finds uncontrolled releases of methane from that state's oil and gas industry are equivalent to the heat-trapping emissions of 11 coal-fired power plants, similar to its findings in a November 2017 report that methane releases from oil and gas operations in New Mexico are equivalent to the climate impact of 12 coal-fired power plants.  

Heat

Leaked U.N. draft report sees 'very high risk' the planet will warm beyond key limit , Washington Post, February 14, 2018. A draft International Panel on Climate Change science report (available here) that was intended for review by scientists prior to a late 2018 target publication date contains the assessment of a "very high risk" that global temperature increases since pre-industrial times will likely cross the key marker of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), in the 2040s, and that this will be exceedingly difficult to avoid.  

Resources of the Month

The Role of Energy Efficiency in a Distributed Energy Future
American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

This paper takes a look at what states and utilities are doing to incorporate increasingly important and cost-competitive distributed energy into overall power resource planning, and at the need to integrate energy efficiency into distributed energy planning. Included is evaluation of, and examples from, 31 electric utilities nationwide.

Reimagining the Utility
Rocky Mountain Institute

This new report describes how electric utilities can adopt new business models to respond to the capability of their customers to make and manage their own power using   distributed energy resources (DER). This can range from monopolistic utilities partnering with DER providers to utilities serving as a platform and host for competition among third party providers while the utility itself owns no generation and only does distribution system planning and operations.

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