“The world is waiting for us to lead [on Climate Change]” — Bill Becker

August 31, 2014
Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Bill Becker was equal parts worried and cheerful when he spoke to the Jefferson County chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society chapter in Golden on Aug. 29.

He’s the project manager for the Powering Forward Plan being produced by the Center for the New Energy Economy, the Colorado State University-based think tank led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. He confided that he’s in the process of writing a book, and shared elements of what will be the book.

Too little is getting done to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, and Washington D.C., the nexus for the nation and the world, is dysfunctional

“The world is waiting for us to lead, and the rest of the world won’t do anything if we don’t,” he said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Right now, he and others are looking at the international meeting on climate change scheduled for December 2014 in Paris.

But he sees climate change returning as an issue of public concern in the United States after several years in which people’s attention was diverted by the economy.

One piece of evidence for his optimism is a poll conducted earlier this year by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which all tax revenue would be returned to the public as a rebate check, got 56 percent support. But even higher support, 60 percent, was found for a carbon tax in which revenues are used to fund research and development for renewable energy programs.

Just 38 percent of respondents supported a carbon tax if the money was used to reduce the federal budget deficit. There was also strong opposition to a carbon tax if the revenue is left unspecified.

“We need to press for a carbon tax,” said Becker, describing it as the single most impactful policy mechanism.

The political alignments Becker described see moderate Republicans now shifting to favor stronger action. He cited the support of both Henry Paulson and George Shultz. Paulson served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush, while Shultz worked for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Becker sees people crossing party lines to support clean energy –with the exception of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.

He also said that people committed to change must differentiate between those in what he calls the “denial industry” and those who are skeptics. They have various fears: of change, of conflict, of the Untied States becoming a socialistic state.

“We need to understand where they are coming from and speak to them in the place where they’re coming from,” he said.

People tend to operate in tribes, and they hew to the tribal knowledge, he said. It’s important to understand those tribal values and assumptions.

He also talked about the importance of state and local governments in producing change. Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPSs, have been powerful in helping push renewable energy and retiring coal-fired power plants. Building codes, land-use zoning and public utility commissions, all at the state or local level, are also important in ratcheting down greenhouse gas emissions.

But ways to finance home and other building energy efficiencies must be stepped up, he said. “We need to get banks to do loans for energy efficiency,” he said.

He ended his talk on an upbeat note. In this time of political dissidence, is there common ground? Look for it, he advises, and he thinks it can be found.

Study: Southwest may face ‘megadrought’ within century

August 31, 2014


From the Cornell Chronicle (Blaine Friedlander):

Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decadelong drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.

The study by Cornell, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey researchers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

As of Aug. 12, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas loiter in a substantially less severe D1 moderate drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but “with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future,” he said.

While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said.

In computer models, while the southern portions of the western United States (California, Arizona, New Mexico) will likely face drought, the researchers show the chances for drought in the northwestern states (Washington, Montana, Idaho) may decrease.

Prolonged droughts around the world have occurred throughout history. Ault points to the recent “Big Dry” in Australia and modern-era drought in sub-Saharan Africa. As evidenced by tree-ring studies, a megadrought occurred during the 1150s along the Colorado River. In natural history, they occur every 400 to 600 years. But by adding the influence of growing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the drought models – and their underlying statistics – are now in a state of flux.

Beyond the United States, southern Africa, Australia and the Amazon basin are also vulnerable to the possibility of a megadrought. With increases in temperatures, drought severity likely will worsen, “implying that our results should be viewed as conservative,” the study reports.

The study, “Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data,” was also co-authored by Julia E. Cole, David M. Meko and Jonathan T. Overpeck of University of Arizona; and Gregory T. Pederson of the U.S. Geological Survey. The National Science Foundation, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the research.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Las Vegas: Twitter is the main outlet for news from the #businessofwater conference, so far #ColoradoRiver

August 30, 2014
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

Newspaper coverage of the conference is pretty light so far. Click here to view the Twitter stream (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23businessofwater&src=tyah) from the conference. Crowd-sourced citizen journalism at its best.

Here’s some video from KTNV:

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Aug. 27, CBT Project was at its highest level in history for that date — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

August 29, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

On Aug. 27, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was at its highest level in history for that date, said Brian Werner with Northern Water. Lake Granby was at its second highest level for Aug. 27, only beaten by Aug. 27, 1984.

“I tell people ‘you cant give away water this year,’” Werner said.

Looking at rainfall in Grand County, this year’s precipitation is somewhat deceiving. Precipitation is still below that for a normal year to date for Grand County, according to Accessweather Inc. Historically, the county has had around 7.78 inches of precipitation by this time in a normal year, though this year it has only seen about 5.58 inches.

So what’s keeping Lake Granby so full? For the answer, one needs to look across the Continental Divide.

Lake Granby, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is actually a reservoir for Front Range water users. Water is pumped through Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, where it flows through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to Estes Park.

This year, an unusually wet summer on the east side of the Divide has kept Front Range reservoirs full, leaving little recourse for water in Lake Granby. Couple that with increased snowpack on the West Slope and a clarity study that has kept flows through Alva B. Adams tunnel minimal, and what’s left is a swollen lake Granby, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We’ve run the East Slope of the Colorado Big Thomson Project largely on East Slope water most of the year,” Lamb said.

Lamb said she wasn’t sure, but she didn’t believe the Alva B. Adams Tunnel had been run at its full capacity of 550 cubic feet per second at all this year.

Gasner said the last year he could remember Lake Granby being at a comparable level at this time was 2011, but Lamb confirmed that there’s more water in the reservoir this year.

“Even though we were spilling in 2011 at this time, the volume of water is actually higher in this year than it was in 2011,” Lamb said.

Because of the way the spill gates at Lake Granby are situated, the lake can spill even at lower water levels.

Strong monsoon season

Earlier this summer, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder believed a strong El Niño was in the works, meaning a wetter summer and drier winter for the Grand County area.

Surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that are sustained above average, commonly referred to as an El Niño event, can have strong effects on weather patterns in Colorado.

Though climate models have changed and a strong El Niño is less certain, climate forecasters still saw an above average monsoon season across the Front Range, said Todd Dankers, a forecaster with NOAA in Boulder.

“We’ve had one of these better monsoon type seasons here for the summer,” Danker said. “We’ve been picking up good amounts of rain, and you can’t really pin that on El Niño.”

Dankers said surface temperatures in the Pacific haven’t been following through the model of a strong El Niño that climate models predicted at the beginning of the summer.

Rather, they’ve been dropping toward normal in recent months.

“We were thinking this pattern we’re in now, it’s been able to tap into a little bit of Hurricane Maria,” Dankers said. “That is contributing some moisture to the showers that we’re going to see.”

Some of the monsoon moisture coming into Colorado has also come from the subtropical Pacific, he said.

“It’s kind of the best monsoon pattern that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said.

Winter outlook

Though forecasters have been able to pin recent moisture to events in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, looking farther out, the view becomes much less clear.

A strong El Niño is still possible, Dankers said, which could mean a drier winter in the mountains.

Though right now, the outlook for the mountains is “unsettled,” with the possibility of drier weather moving into the Front Range.

“These long-term ridges and troughs shift every six or eight weeks,” Dankers said. “In the next week or two, we may see a big shift to a drier, warmer pattern that could persist for another five or six weeks.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

NIDIS: Want to see your county’s or state’s history of drought?

August 29, 2014

Below is the Colorado time-series for the last year.


[You can’t find out others’ motivations] “by talking to yourself!” — Pat Mulroy

August 29, 2014
Colorado River Basin

Colorado River Basin

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Last Friday, the former head of the water authority serving Las Vegas, Nev., electrified a crowd of Colorado water managers with her passionate and eloquent call for strategic collaboration amongst all who rely upon the Colorado River.

Pat Mulroy, now with the “Brookings West” think tank based at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, told participants in the Colorado Water Congress summer meeting in Snowmass, Colo., that it is time to expand our notion of citizenship beyond our towns and states to the entire Colorado River Basin.

Mulroy’s definition of the basin extends from Cheyenne to Denver and Tucson to Los Angeles, encompassing not only the river’s natural drainage, but the cities and farms outside the basin that draw on its waters through tunnels and canals. She pointed out that what happens in any part of this vast network affects every other part. And given that Los Angeles gets 50 percent of its water from the Colorado River and 50 percent from rivers and pipelines to the north, she argued that keeping Colorado Basin communities whole would ultimately require solving seemingly intractable water disputes in the drought-ridden state of California.

Noting the raft of news stories that appeared this summer, when Lake Mead dropped to levels not seen since it filled 80 years ago, she took issue with the much-repeated statement that Las Vegas is most at risk as lake levels fall. She pointed out that once the city’s new intake is finished next year, at an elevation of 860 feet, Las Vegas will still be able to pull water from the reservoir even when water levels drop below 900 feet — at which point no water will be able to flow beyond Hoover Dam to California, Arizona or Mexico. Repeating the notion that the Lake Mead problem is primarily a Las Vegas problem could lull the public in California and Las Vegas into thinking they don’t have to do their part to reduce consumption in order to boost lake levels.

Citing successful negotiations among the seven states that share the Colorado River Basin and Mexico on how to share surpluses (wouldn’t that be nice!), shortages, and return water to the delta in Mexico, Mulroy sounded optimistic that it will be possible to enact the conservation and management measures necessary to keep Lake Powell and Lake Mead high enough to forestall crisis. The stakes are high. Besides the millions of faucets and millions of acres of farmland on the line, the federal government might step in if the states are unable to keep the system working. Congress might even step in …

Having raised the specter of the Congressional bogeyman, Mulroy called for working diligently in good faith to preserve our communities in a way that makes sense while respecting the motivations of others working to do the same for their communities. In my favorite quote of the talk, she pointed out that you can’t find out others’ motivations “by talking to yourself!”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

#ColoradoRiver ties Denver’s water to downstream states — Denver Business Journal

August 29, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“Literally everything that happens from Mexico all the way up to Denver is interconnected and affects us,” Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water, told the Las Vegas Sun during an interview with the Nevada paper this week.

Lochhead was in Las Vegas to attend the Business of Water Summit 2.0, which runs Thursday and Friday.

Lochhead joined other water leaders from across the Southwest, such as the senior officials from water utilities for Southern Nevada and Southern California, as well as business executives who depend on water, such as Coca-Cola.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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