Climate paradox: More snow, less water? — the Colorado Independent

September 17, 2014

Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

Juggling Colorado’s already stretched water resources is going to get even tougher in the decades ahead. Rising temperatures will cut river flows and increase demand from thirsty plants and towns, a new state report concludes, projecting that average temperatures across Colorado will climb by at least 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 35 years, and by much more than that if there are no cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, released last month by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, outlines clearly how global warming has already affected water resources in Colorado:

  • Warmer temperatures and other changes (dust on snow) mean that snowpack is melting earlier, on average, by one to four weeks compared with 30 years ago. This creates a strain for farmers and other users who draw water directly from rivers.
  • Colorado has seen no long-term increase or decrease in total precipitation or heavy rainfall events. Climate models are split about Colorado’s future precipitation, showing a range of possible outcomes from a 5 percent decrease in precipitation to an 8 percent increase by midcentury.
  • Climate models tend to show a shift toward higher midwinter precipitation across the state.
  • Hydrology models show a wide range of outcomes for annual streamflow in Colorado’s river basins, but an overall tendency towards lower streamflow by 2050, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
  • The part about more midwinter snow is not a typo. The best available information now suggests a slight boost in precipitation from December through February, but whether that comes as snow or rain depends very much on elevation, and how fast the overall climate warms, said the Western Water Assessment’s Jeff Lukas, the main author of the report.

    If some high country ski resorts see a bump in snowfall, you can still blame it on global warming. Warmer air holds more water vapor, and even in warmer climate, those clouds will give up some of that moisture as they’re forced up over the high peaks of Colorado.

    The models don’t suggest any other big changes in other parts of the climate system (for example the lifting mechanism that forces air to rise and condense moisture), said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

    “Unlike other parts of the country where temperature is the primary limiting factor for snow, we will still be plenty cold enough throughout the midwinter season,” Doesken said.

    Climate Nuance

    Teasing out a global warming signal in mountain ecosystems isn’t easy. There’s huge year-to-year variability, even without any changes forced by heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide and methane. Tree ring records spanning thousands of years show longer and drier droughts than anything we’ve seen, but scientists are convinced they’re starting to see a pattern.

    “There are so many nuances about this, but we’ve got a signal emerging from noise,” said Lukas. “The precipitation record is still noisy, but we can’t discount that we’re seeing a trend caused by anthropogenic global warming … The global models just don’t get it right for Colorado. It’s pretty difficult to jump from that broad scale to saying there will be more snow in Colorado,” he said.

    Regardless, even if there is a bump in winter snow and rain, the warmer temperatures will suck up the moisture and then some. The end result could be a parched Colorado, unless water managers seriously pursue the path of adaptation and mitigation.

    Report: Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk — Union of Concerned Scientists

    September 17, 2014


    Click here to read the report. Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Tens of millions of trees have died in the Rocky Mountains over the past 15 years, victims of a triple assault of tree-killing insects, wildfires, and stress from heat and drought.

    Global warming is the driving force behind these impacts, bringing hotter and drier conditions that amplify existing stresses, as well as cause their own effects.

    If climate change is allowed to continued unchecked, these impacts will significantly increase in the years ahead, dramatically reduce the ranges of iconic tree species, and fundamentally alter the Rocky Mountain forests as we know them.

    Salida: Council OKs water treatment plant improvements — The Mountain Mail

    September 17, 2014
    Salida Colorado early 1900s

    Salida Colorado early 1900s

    From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):

    Salida City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to increase the water treatment plant improvements Phase 2 project from the original project scope of 2 million gallons to 4 million gallons.

    Councilman Hal Brown voted no, and Councilman Mike Bowers was absent. The upgrade will cost the city an additional $20,000 from the capital fund reserves, plus $6,000 to replace the windows. Brown said he could not vote for the increase because it will use reserve funds.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    25th Headwaters Conference: The Working Wild, Sept. 19 and 20, 2014

    September 17, 2014

    Culebra Peak via Costilla County

    Culebra Peak via Costilla County

    Click here for all the inside skinny from Western State Colorado University. Here’s the pitch:

    Wildness rests upon willfulness – the willfulness of land, of people, of species, and of places. Environmental historians such as Roderick Frasier Nash, and environmental activists such as Dave Foreman, have long reminded us the Old English word wildeor-ness was based upon “Wil: willful, self-willed; Doer: beast, animal; Ness: place.” So what does it mean for a place to be “self-willed”? What kind of human and ecological work cultivates such willfulness, such autonomy and agency, such wildness? What is the human place in producing wildness? Is “the working wild” the path to Headwaters Elder Devon Pena’s challenge that we have and can become a “keystone species?”

    This year’s Headwaters Conference, our 25th program, will explore the intersection of wilderness, working landscapes and environmental-justice perspectives on self-willed lands, self-willed species and self-willed communities in the Headwaters. In this year, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we will go beyond the wilderness debate to discover how Headwaters communities are innovating upon the concept of wildness, while closing the political, philosophical and geographical gap between work and the wild.

    More education coverage here.

    Photo gallery from the CWC Summer Conference

    September 16, 2014

    Cross it off your fish list: First pikeminnow conquers river ladder — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    September 16, 2014
    Colorado Pike Minnow

    Colorado Pike Minnow

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    A Colorado pikeminnow has become the first of its species to make its way up the fish passage in the Colorado River to the Grand Valley Water Users Association roller dam, where it was collected and released to travel upstream, possibly to the top of the pikeminnow’s range near Rifle.

    The fish, which turned up Friday in the collection area of the roller dam, is significant for several reasons, said Dale Ryden, project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Colorado River Fishery Project.

    “Now we know that this particular species can negotiate this particular fish ladder” at the roller dam, Ryden said. “The efforts we have put in to provide passage for this species in the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction have not been in vain.”

    The fish passage was completed in 2004 and cost about $4.8 million to build.

    The fish, which was about 23 inches long and of indeterminate sex, was estimated to be 5 to 8 years old. It was untagged, meaning it is was wild.

    No other pikeminnow have negotiated the path to the roller dam and into the fish passage yet, though three other species — razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub — already have done so, Ryden said.

    The so-called 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley up to De Beque Canyon is already well-known as an important spawning and breeding area for the pikeminnow, the largest of the minnows and the top native predator of the Colorado River through its range.

    The pikeminnow’s travels into the waters above the diversion dam, which was completed in 1916, will give biologists a chance to learn more about how the fish might have lived in the upper reaches of the range before the diversion dam and the Price-Stubb dam below cut off their access upstream, Ryden said.

    It’s hoped that other pikeminnow will follow the example of this first one and find their way through the diversion dam and into the 40 to 60 miles of potential native range unseen by the species for nearly a century. Before the dams were built, only cooler water near Rifle limited the range of the fish.

    “Fish tend to find other fish, it’s the nature of the river,” Ryden said, adding that if the fish found on Friday remains above the roller dam, it might emit pheromones that would attract others of its species to higher reaches of the river.

    While this marks the first time a pikeminnow has negotiated the Grand Valley fish passage, pikeminnow long ago mastered the Redlands fish passage on the Gunnison River in Grand Junction.

    As many as 17 pikeminnow have passed through that collection facility so far this year, exceeding the previous annual high of 12.

    “We’re seeing a slug of young fish that are being collected for the first time,” Ryden said.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service also has noted more than 20 razorback suckers passing through the Grand Valley fish passage. The previous high in any year was two.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

    Residents want wild, scenic designation for Crystal River — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    September 16, 2014

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Some local residents think protection of the Crystal River south of Carbondale under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is the next logical step for sparing it from dams and diversions.

    The effort will likely face political challenges, as was evidenced Monday by the reservations expressed about it by Dave Merritt, a board member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. That district and the West Divide Water Conservancy District previously abandoned most water rights, including ones for large reservoirs, in the face of opposition including a legal challenge by Pitkin County.

    Nevertheless, “We see the Crystal River still as an important water supply for western Colorado,” Merritt said during a Garfield County commissioners meeting.

    He worries that a wild and scenic designation by Congress would permanently prevent not just further water development of the river but also other activities such as more home construction in the valley.

    But Crystal Valley resident Bill Jochems said a dam would be a far more permanent action than wild and scenic designation, which occurs through an act of Congress and Congress could later undo.

    “This act has great flexibility,” he said, adding that advocates have a “barebones” goal of preventing dam-building above where irrigation diversions already occur several miles south of Carbondale.

    Advocates say the designation wouldn’t affect state or local land-use regulations.

    In 2012, the Crystal made American Rivers’ annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers list. That was after the river district and the West Divide district had agreed to concessions that included giving up some conditional rights for two large reservoirs on the river while still envisioning smaller ones in the valley. The rights for the big reservoirs dated to 1958, and one would have required flooding the village of Redstone.

    The U.S. Forest Service has found the river eligible for wild and scenic designation, based on the river’s free-flowing status, valley historical attractions such as the Redstone Castle and the former coke ovens in Redstone, the stunning beauty of the valley especially during fall-color season, and other historical, recreational and aesthetic attributes. The Forest Service now is in what Kay Hopkins of the White River National Forest said is the long process of determining whether the river is suitable for such a designation.

    “It’s where all the hard questions are asked” about whether designation is best or there are some other ways to protect it, she said.

    “It really is an outstanding river and what we’re doing is try to preserve it as it is today for future generations, and that’s what the act is all about,” she said.

    More Crystal River coverage here and here.


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