NRDC: Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States #COwx

December 6, 2012

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Click here to download a copy of the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Here’s the release:

The winter sports industry is deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall, but climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons. The estimated $12.2 billion U.S. ski and snowmobile winter sports industry has already felt the direct impact of decreased winter snowpack and rising average winter temperatures.

And climate change will spell more trouble, according to research done for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Protect Our Winters (POW), for all businesses dependent on winter weather from snowmobiling, snowboarding, and ice fishing to snowshoeing and skiing — as well as the other related sectors that depend on winter sports tourists, such as restaurants, lodging, gas stations, grocery stores, and bars.

This study aims to help policy makers understand both the ski and snowmobile industry’s current economic scale and the potential economic impacts that climate change may cause. Study details include how historical changes in the winter season have already impacted the ski tourism industry with a focus on the most recent decade’s skiing statistics and a review of historical winter climate observations. It also considers what is at risk from the impact of future winter climate projections.

We know that across the United States, winter temperatures have already warmed 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1895 and the rate of warming has more than tripled to 0.55 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1970. The strongest winter warming trends have occurred in the northern half of the United States, where snow plays an important role in their winter season.

Without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall, and shorter snow season. Snow depths could decline in the west by 25 to 100 percent. The length of the snow season in the northeast will be cut in half.

All of this translates into less snow and fewer people on the slopes.

In an American winter landscape where more than three-quarters of states benefit economically from winter sports and where our study finds that nationwide there are 211,900 jobs either directly or indirectly supported by the ski and snowmobile industry, changing snowfall patterns will have a significant economic effect. In order to protect winter — and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season — we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

With the state’s major ski resorts struggling to open just minimal amounts of terrain in time for the busy Christmas holiday season, two University of New Hampshire researchers estimate that the $12.2 billion industry has already suffered a $1 billion loss and dropped up to 27,000 jobs due to diminished snow fall patterns and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans.

More than 23 million people participated in winter sports during the winter 0f 2009-2010. Snow-related economic activity resulted in $1.4 billion in state and local taxes and $1.7 billion in federal taxes.

The economic study was prepared for the nonprofit groups Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The two organizations have partnered the past few years to raise awareness of climate-change impacts to snow-dependent mountain communities and snow sports industries.

“In the many U.S. states that rely on winter tourism climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons,” said UNH researcher Elizabeth Burakowski. “This spells significant economic uncertainty for a winter sports industry deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall.”

The study compared and contrasted differences in skier visits and economic activity between good and bad snow years and used climate models to project the impacts in coming decades.

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

The analysis — authored by a pair of doctoral students from the University of New Hampshire — concludes that the 2.2-degree rise in winter temperatures since 1970 is threatening winter tourism in 38 states. The report said the difference between a good snow year and bad snow year from 1999 to 2010 cost the industry between $810 million and $1.9 billion, 13,000 to 27,000 jobs and 15 million fewer skier visits.

Looking forward, the researchers estimate snow depth could decline to zero at lower elevations in the West and the ski season in the East could shrink by as much as half in the coming decades. In a conference call on Thursday — a day after many towns in Colorado saw record high temperatures for December — the groups urged immediate action on climate change, with government policies that reduce carbon pollution.

Auden Schendler, the environmental affairs chief at Aspen Skiing Co., said the report puts financial metrics behind what everyone in the ski industry has known for years: climate change hurts.

“This data suggests there is monetized risk and the solution should be for the ski industry leaders and trade group leaders to get off their (fannies) and move as if there was an existential threat to the business,” Schendler said. “I’m hoping this report will drive radical change. Skiers are optimists. Here’s an opportunity to do what we do, which is get in there and be active and solve problems in the world.”

The report, however, misses the mark in its analysis of Colorado, home to the most skiing in the country, with 12 million skier visits and 37,000 employees earning $1.2 billion and stirring $2.2 billion in economic activity.

The state did endure declines in skier visits between its snowiest and least snowy seasons in the years of the study — 11.13 million in the relatively dry 2001-02 and 12.54 million in very snowy 2007-08. But the researchers’ conclusion that the state’s resorts and resort communities lost $154 million in revenue and 1,867 jobs is not supported by statistics gathered locally in Colorado.

The report does not include analysis of the 2010-11 ski season — one of the snowiest in decades — and the 2011-12 season, the least snowiest in several decades. The state saw more than 1 million fewer skier visits between those ski seasons, yet most of those visits were in-state visitors who spend less. Dramatic declines in revenues and jobs did not happen between the decade’s highest and lowest snow seasons.

More Climate Change coverage here and here.


Drought news: 2012 — Colorado’s second-warmest year on record #CODrought

December 6, 2012

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From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

Normally you would need a paddle to get to the middle of Horestooth Reservoir just west of Fort Collins. Right now you can almost walk there; the reservoir is only 40 percent full.

Horsetooth isn’t alone. Reservoir levels are dwindling around the state and Colorado’s water managers are hoping for good to average snowfall this season to replenish them. Forecast models are still unclear as to how much snow may fall. With drought conditions likely to last into early 2013, water managers in Northern Colorado remain cautiously optimistic…

Early data released November 4th shows reservoirs statewide at 43 percent capacity. Normally they should be at 61 percent. Despite the seemingly dire levels at Horsetooth, Northern Colorado’s supply going into next year remains in better shape than during 2002’s massive drought…

The forecast models aren’t looking that good to state climatologist Nolen Doesken. “In terms of what these next few months will hold, the weather patterns haven’t shed their clues very well.”

Doesken says an average winter would go a long way in bringing reservoir levels back to normal in Northern Colorado. There’s a bit of a caveat as you would imagine.

“What happens in the spring has such a bearing on our situation. And this past spring, 2012, we saw that in action when the springs storms fail to materialize. Because its spring storms at lower elevations that replenish soil moisture and get the vegetation off to a good start which will reduce the need for spring irrigation. And it won’t put that pressure on the reservoirs.”[...]

There are thousands of reservoirs around the state and all need mountain snow and the subsequent spring runoff to be replenished. Northern Water is confident they can deliver to their roughly 850,000 customers in 2013, partly due to contingency plans and its massive infrastructure for obtaining water.

“Roughly a quarter to a third of the total water supply in northeastern Colorado comes from the west slope through the Colorado Big Thompson Project system. And again, that water is coming from 150, 200 miles away to get into a tap in a school in Greeley or in Loveland or Longmont or Boulder or pick any one of the other 33 cities that get water from the project.”[...]

And that has water managers, not only dreaming of a white Christmas – but of a white January, February and March too.

From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):

“The jet stream is supposed to be changing. That’s going to produce some snow. Sunday or Monday we may see a change. It can’t keep going north all winter long,” [Dillon Marina, manager Bob Evans] said. Dillon Reservoir has seen worse. In 2003, it was 55 feet down and was still filled thanks to heavy spring snow storms.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Dennis Darrow):

Long-range weather forecasts leave Greg Ralph hopeful that Colorado will not endure a second straight winter of dry skiing conditions. Still, the state’s ski resort operators are nervous, he says. “It’s almost like this year picked up where last year. It’s awful,” said Ralph, the veteran marketing director at Monarch Mountain ski resort near Salida.

If a repeat of last year’s season-long dry spell took place, “you would see some resorts in financial straits,” Ralph says. Also, some rental shops and ski industry suppliers could be in trouble, he said.

Monarch now hopes to open by Dec. 14, its latest start date in at least the past 15 years, Ralph said. Over the past eight years since he’s been with the resort, the latest opening date was Dec. 8. In three of those years, the resort was able to open as early as Thanksgiving weekend, he said.

In an encouraging sign, forecasts show that the dry conditions may “loosen up” by mid-December and the area’s weather will exhibit a more normal winter pattern through January and February, he said. Still, it’s a difficult time for Colorado resorts. Even though it’s still early in the season, resorts likely are losing bookings for the critical Christmas break period, he said.

“In our business, snow trumps all. I can try every marketing trick in the world but it’s really snow that gets people here,” Ralph said.


Forecast news: Things are looking up for mountain snow #CODrought #COwx

December 6, 2012

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From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Steamboat Springs was expected to pick up 6 inches of snow from a fast-moving Pacific storm Wednesday night and Thursday morning, as snow finally returned to the Colorado forecast. Lighter amounts were expected in Aspen, Grand and Summit counties. A mix of rain and snow moved into the northern mountains Wednesday evening. Sporadic precipitation could linger into the weekend before a more powerful storm moves in Saturday night, forecasters said…

Snowpack statewide is 41 percent of the state’s 30-year average, but just 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in the ski-rich Colorado River basin and the shared basin of the Yampa and White rivers.


Missouri River Reuse Project from Reclamation would water the Front Range and help the Ogallala aquifer

December 6, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pipeline from the Missouri River to Colorado’s Front Range has the potential to bring water to two states — and into the Arkansas River basin — but has not been on the table in Colorado water discussions.

The Missouri River reuse option is being considered as one of about 100 proposals that would relieve pressure on diversion of water from the Colorado River basin. The Bureau of Reclamation began the study in 2009 to assess future supply and demand along the Colorado River and a final report should be coming out this month. Pueblo and other Front Range communities import water from the Colorado River basin each year, so new supplies could reduce that demand. The reuse would provide water to depleted aquifers across Kansas through diversion of up to 600,000 acre­feet annually from the Missouri River near Leavenworth, Kan. A description of the project on file with Reclamation indicates some of the water could reach the Arkansas River basin, north of Colorado Springs. It’s unclear from the documents available if the proposal has a sponsor.

The project would cost billions of dollars and likely face political hurdles. Although water would have to be pumped 600 miles and 5,000 feet uphill from Leavenworth in order to reach Denver, Reclamation rates the project as “technically feasible.”

Although specific plans to move water from Flaming Gorge and the Mississippi River, as well as more general options from the Missouri River, have been debated, the Kansas­Colorado plan has eluded discussion within Colorado.

“No, we have not talked about it,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Barber also represents the roundtable on the Flaming Gorge Task Force, which has not reviewed the idea.

“We’ve gotten monthly reports on the Colorado River basin study,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There has not been any discussion of this particular proposal.”

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Bureau of Reclamation officials on Tuesday said the “Missouri River Reuse Project” will be evaluated for feasibility following the release in coming weeks of a federal government study on water supply for the West.
“The state of Colorado has not taken a formal position on the pipeline or any of the options,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said…

The Missouri diversion described in Bureau of Reclamation documents would require a pipeline across Kansas, with water used to fill surface reservoirs and recharge depleted aquifers along the way to metro Denver.
It would convey 600,000 acre-feet of water a year depending on Midwestern needs. An acre-foot has been regarded as enough water to sustain two families of four for a year.

“Water would likely be stored in Front Range reservoirs such as Rueter-Hess, Carter, Barr and Chatfield,” a project summary said. “Colorado may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project.”

Some water could also be directed to the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin through pipelines and tunnels when there is great need to relieve drought in the basin, the summary continued…

The options for importing water reflect widening worries about future shortages. The Colorado River Basin, which spans Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, is the source of water for 30 million people. The government’s three-year Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study has found that within 50 years, the annual water deficit will reach 3.5 million acre-feet.

Bureau of Reclamation officials said their primary purpose was to define current and future imbalances in water supply and demand. They asked stakeholders and agencies across the seven basin states to submit ideas to prevent shortages. States have agreed to consider a Missouri River diversion. Other ideas are destined for an appendix.

Here’s the pitch from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:

The Missouri River Reuse option is a diversion of up to 600,000 AFY of water from the Missouri River for reuse within the Missouri River Basin of Kansas and Colorado. Water would be diverted from the Missouri River only when flows to support navigation and municipal water diversions along the river from Leavenworth, Kansas to Saint Louis, Missouri, are not impaired.

  • 1. Within Kansas, the water would be used to fill surface reservoirs and recharge depleted aquifers in the upper and lower Republican River Basins, Solomon River Basin, and Smoky-Hill/Saline River Basin as determined from assessment of need and feasibility by the Kansas State Water Office in cooperation with the Kansas Division of Water Resources, Army Corps of Engineers, and the States of Colorado and Nebraska. In particular, the water would be used for irrigation and municipal, commercial, and industrial use and to recharge the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas. Each of these basins (including the Ogallala aquifer in northwest Kansas) is tributary to the Missouri River. The Ogallala aquifer discharges into the Republican River in northeast Colorado and northwest Kansas. Kansas may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project.
  • 2. Along the Front Range of Colorado, the water (totaling 500 cfs or more as Colorado determines)
    would be used for municipal, commercial, and industrial use with return flows allocated for agricultural irrigation use within the South Platte River Basin (a tributary of the Missouri River). Some water could be used to recharge the bedrock aquifers of the Denver Basin. In eastern Colorado, some water could be used for irrigation and municipal use and to recharge the Ogallala aquifer. Water would likely be stored in Front Range reservoir such as Rueter-Hess, Carter, Barr, and Chatfield and in designated alluvial storage along the South Platte River. Colorado may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project.

  • 3. Some water may be available for use outside the Missouri River Basin, particularly that portion of the water in the Missouri River which is non-native (originating as transmountain diversions from the
    Colorado and Arkansas Rivers in Colorado and nontributary Denver Basin ground-water withdrawals). Some of this water could be directed to the Arkansas River in western and central Kansas and in eastern Colorado beginning near Colorado Springs. Some water could also be directed to the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin through pipelines and tunnels when there is great need to relieve drought in the basin provided the navigation and municipal supply flows in the Missouri River are plentiful and other water needs of western Kansas and eastern Colorado are being reasonably satisfied.
  • The location of the Missouri River diversion point is in Leavenworth County, Kansas near the City of Leavenworth. The water would be treated and disinfected at a large treatment plant to be designed and constructed, as necessary, for subsequent conveyance and use. End-user treatment, such as water softening for municipal, commercial, and industrial use, is anticipated.

    Conveyance of water across Kansas and eastern Colorado would be through single or parallel largediameter pipelines located more or less adjacent to I-70. Infrastructure would include a series of highcapacity pumping stations (to be located, sized, and designed). The water conveyance infrastructure (pipeline and pumping stations) would be owned and operated by the Kansas Water Office in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Kansas Division of Water Resources, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and various public and private stakeholders. The diversion rights would owned by a Kansas entity

    The Missouri River Reuse Project is technically feasible as evidenced by other large diversion projects in the western United States including, but not limited to: (a) the numerous transmountain diversion projects in Colorado that bring tens of thousands of acre-feet of Colorado River and Arkansas River water to the Front Range through numerous tunnels; (b) the Colorado River Aqueduct that brings water from the Colorado River at Parker Dam to Southern California; (c) the Los Angeles Aqueduct that brings water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles; (d) the Central Arizona (canal) Project that brings Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, and (e) the State Water Project of California that provides irrigation water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, and is a major source of supply for cities in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties and other parts of southern California. Many of these projects involve the Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers, and numerous state water resources agencies.

    A similar serious project has been proposed that would divert surface water from the Mississippi River and pump it west into the Colorado River Basin. Another large project has been proposed that would divert about 300,000 of acre-feet of surface water from the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwest Wyoming, pump the water across southern Wyoming along I-80 to Cheyenne and then south into the Denver Basin. Moreover, private energy and pipeline companies have constructed thousands of miles of interstate pipelines that pump vast quantities of natural gas and petroleum products across the United States.

    Legal, engineering and construction costs need to be determined for numerous possible options. Construction costs will likely be in the billions of dollars and would be borne by the various end users — water providers and irrigators in Kansas and Colorado with some participation by the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. Operating costs must be affordable for irrigators and municipal users for the project to be feasible. In exporting water out-of-state to Colorado, Kansas could charge and collect a reasonable severance tax, as well as the State Water Plan fee.

    The historic 2007 multi-state agreement among the seven Colorado River Basin States governing the future management of the Colorado River provides for the introduction and recovery of non-Colorado River system water and non-Colorado River system water exchanges. The Front Range of Colorado uses about 345,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water each year and releases that water into the South Platte River Basin, which is tributary to the Missouri River. According to the 2004 Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) report, the South Platte River Basin will need an additional 409,700 acre-feet of water by 2030 due largely to forecasted population increase. Bringing Missouri River reuse water to the Front Range provides an opportunity for Colorado to exchange all or a portion of this water for other water in the Colorado River Basin originating in the State of Colorado (such as from the Yampa, White, and Green Rivers) to the Lower Basin states. This exchange of water would engage the States of California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in helping to pay for the project. The federal government would also have a financial interest in the project because of the Colorado River treaty with Mexico.

    The Missouri River Reuse Project could have major interstate impacts on regional and local water supply. Congressional and state legislative approvals will likely be needed with an accompanying environmental impact statement under NEPA. A 404 permit will be needed from the Corps of Engineers including numerous state approvals. Water rights for the diversion will have to be obtained from the Kansas Department of Water Resources and will be held by a Kansas entity.

    Even though the water will be used in Kansas and Colorado, the reuse project will likely have profound and unprecedented positive impacts on the Colorado, Republican, and South Platte River compacts affecting Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and the Colorado River treaty with Mexico. The reuse project could also positively impact the North Platte and Arkansas River compacts involving Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The State of Missouri will need solid assurance that the flows in the Missouri River will always be sufficient to support navigation and municipal water diversions in the state. A benefit to the states of Missouri and Kansas and Kansas City area water providers is the possible reduced risk of damage from flooding and river degradation.

    The project has numerous options that can be considered in terms of design, construction, operations, and costs. Each of these options needs to be fully explored, which will take time and money. The possible source(s) of funding need to be determined and evaluated. The project is large and will need to engage the cooperation (buy-in) and participation by numerous states and their respective water resources agencies and water providers, the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and various Missouri River stakeholders. Other federal agency cooperation will be needed from the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Department of Commerce, US Energy Department, US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Considerable risk and uncertainty exists when seeking approval and consensus from such a cadre of stakeholders.

    Historic flows in the Missouri River demonstrate that the river it a reliable source of supply for navigation, irrigation, and municipal supply. Flows vary annually and seasonally. The main stem of the Missouri River is managed by the Corps of Engineers pursuant to an annual operating plan that is focused on flood control, navigation, municipal water supply, recreation, and habitat for fish and wildlife. The historic Missouri River flood of 2011 caused significant river-bottom degradation from Atchison, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri, breached numerous federal and private levees, and considerable damage to public and private property. A large diversion from the Missouri River would provide another means for the Corps of Engineers to control flooding of the Missouri River in the Kansas City reach. During periods of low flow, projected river diversions would be reduced or suspended. Subsequent water stored in reservoirs west of the diversion point could be released as needed to ensure adequate supplies of water for municipal use, such as along the Kansas River.

    The amount of electrical energy required for operations would be substantial and needs to be determined based on consideration of reasonable design alternatives. Power supply to the pumping stations would be provided by a combination of existing and expanded coal-fired power plants and wind energy as determined most appropriate and feasible by objective engineering and economic analyses.

    Additional water for Kansas and Colorado reservoirs will positively support reservoir recreation activities. The reuse project would likely have a positive affect on the riparian habitat of the lower South Platte River basin, particularly for whooping cranes and other waterfowl in northeast Colorado and southwest Nebraska. Potential impacts on endangered and protected fish and waterfowl along the Missouri River would need to be determined.

    Project alternative studies, engineering, design, construction, legal support, and operations would be a significant economic benefit to the States of Kansas and Colorado in terms of employment and population growth. A large diversion works, treatment plant, and pumping station would likely employ hundreds of skilled workers and engineers in Leavenworth County, Kansas. Pipeline and booster pumping stations would likewise employ hundreds of skilled workers across Kansas and eastern Colorado. Severance tax revenue for state of Kansas from the export of water to Colorado would also be significant. The economic benefit could be similar to the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to the United States or nearly any of the aqueduct projects in California. The project could also yield substantial volumes of new water to the Lower Colorado River Basin states under the Colorado River Compact.

    More Missouri River Reuse Project coverage here.


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