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, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

May 2015

Featured Item
Colorado Local Resilience Project Report

In April, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization on behalf of the Colorado Climate Network (CCN) released the report of the Colorado Local Resilience Project, jointly convened by CCN and the Colorado Municipal League to develop an agenda to help make Colorado communities more resilient to possible climate change impacts. In the project, 78 representatives of 30 local governments in Colorado and six other governmental and nonprofit entities active at the local level (such as local health departments and school districts) reached consensus on six conclusions and 36 recommendations on what local governments can do, on their own and acting with others, to prepare for and address climate change impacts, and what they need from the state and federal governments and other sources to do so.

Links: a high-resolution version (8.5 MB) of the report, a low-resolution version, (1.2 MB), a four-page summary, and the news release announcing it.

The report is a call for action for local governments and the state government to work collaboratively to assess and address climate-change-related risks, including more wildfires, more heat waves that cause illnesses and death, more extreme weather of all kinds including storms and floods, and more adverse effects on our forests and other ecosystems. The report recommends 20 actions to be taken by local governments, including preparing local climate preparedness plans and setting up regional collaborative efforts to address climate-related risks. The report also recommends (with some overlap) 27 state government actions to provide a statewide framework for improving local resilience to climate risks, including working with local governments and others on a state climate preparedness plan and providing information and technical assistance to local governments.

The project is also designed to take advantage of the new federal interest in cooperating with and assisting state and local governments in meeting climate resilience challenges - an interest manifested by, among other actions, the appointment of and work of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which in November submitted its recommendations to the President.

A second phase of the project will focus on implementation of the recommendations in the project report.

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO Partners

Western Resource Advocates, the City of Fort Collins, and the City of Boulder are all in the news regarding successful efforts to wean from coal two large wholesale power providers not directly covered by Colorado’s renewable energy standards, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Platte River Power Authority. Colorado's big coal-burning utilities take a turn to renewable energy, Denver Post, April 12, 2015.

News about Climate Disruption

California Drought

With no relief in sight for California’s record-breaking drought, both the impacts and the actions the state is taking to stretch shrinking water supplies are appropriately drawing considerable media attention.

Coverage of impacts includes:

California drought killed 12 million forest trees since last year, KBPS Public Media, May 4, 2015.

Every day is fire season in drought-era California, experts say, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2015.

California faces 'Dust Bowl'-like conditions amid drought, says climate tracker, Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2015.

California’s water woes primed to get worse as groundwater is drained, Washington Post, April 2, 2015.

Coverage of actions:

California needs to turn down the tap, state OKs historic cuts, San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2015. The state Water Resources Control Board passes regulations that take effect June 1, implementing Gov. Brown’s executive order for a statewide 25 percent cut in urban water consumption. Voluntary reductions are falling far short of the mark, and water suppliers are scrambling to comply, including strategies that would reduce their state-mandated targets, which range from 4–36 percent reductions from 2013 levels.

Giant tunnels planned for delta 'must move forward,' Brown says, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2015.

Gov. Jerry Brown seeks fines of up to $10,000 a day for water wasters, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2015.

For drinking water in drought, California looks warily to sea, New York Times, April 11, 2015.

Energy Commission approves water appliance standards to save more than 100 billion gallons per year, California Energy Commission news release, April 8, 2015.

Water

Lake Mead water level falls to a landmark low, and is likely to get worse, Los Angeles Times and Drought-parched Lake Mead could leave seven states high and dry, Inside Climate News, April 29, 2015. For the second year in a row, Lake Mead water levels fall to a historic low. With reservoir surface elevation at just below 1,080 feet and projected to drop to 1,073 feet this summer, water managers are keeping anxious eyes on the January 2016 forecasts. If the elevation is below 1,075 feet then, mandatory rationing kicks in: Southern Nevada would lose 13,000 acre-feet per year and Arizona would lose 320,000 acre-feet. California's portion would not be affected. Much depends on inflow to Lake Powell, projected on April 2 by the Bureau of Reclamation to be just 52 percent of average; already an operations plan is in effect to increase upstream releases from Lake Powell, intended to help keep Lake Mead levels above the critical 1,075 foot elevation.

Western drought steals clean energy along with fresh water at power plants, Washington Post, April 26, 2015. Low reservoir levels also mean reduced hydropower production. Lake Mead’s Hoover Dam production is down 25 percent since 2000, and systemwide, Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs are producing 10 percent less power than a few years ago.

Mighty Rio Grande now a trickle under siege, New York Times, April 12, 2015. The prolonged Southwest drought is stressing New Mexico water supplies. Runoff projections are also at about half of average this year. Albuquerque has already cut consumption by 25 percent since 1995. A pending Supreme Court decision on a Texas challenge on river compact compliance could make matters worse. A 2013 BOR projection that the Upper Rio Grande could lose roughly a third of its water by this century’s end is looking well-grounded.

A crystal ball for the Pacific Northwest’s climate, High Country News, April 27, 2015. “This year is a dress rehearsal for climate change,” says Amy Snover of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, with near normal amounts of precipitation falling as rain instead of snow in the Northwest this past winter, and April 1 snowpacks well below normal throughout the West.

Wildfire

According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s North American Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook, this fire season looks like it could be very different for coastal and interior states of the West. For May-August, above normal potentials are forecast for West Coast states. In the interior West, Arizona has above normal potentials during May-June, returning to normal by August; the southern Rockies have a normal potential; and the northern Rockies have a below normal potential.

Wildlife

Wild animals in drought-stricken Western states are dying for a drink, Washington Post, May 6, 2015. The Southwest’s drought is stressing wildlife populations big and small, often with domino effects. In California grasslands turning into desert, kangaroo rats that are an essential part of the food chain are dying of starvation and emaciation. Overheated waters are driving large fish kills in several states and salmon eggs are nonexistent in some California streams. Migrating birds are crowding into wetlands, risking the spread of fatal diseases. Herbivores such as deer and rabbits searching for a meal in Reno urban gardens are pursued by hawks, bobcats, and mountain lions. In Arizona, rattlesnakes have come to Flagstaff, joining bears and other animals in search of food that no longer exists in their habitat.

News about Climate Action 

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies

California's greenhouse gas emission targets are getting tougher, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2015. By executive order, Gov. Brown establishes an interim target of reducing heat-trapping pollutants 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030, intended to pave the way towards reaching the 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050 target established by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Washington governor puts focus on climate goals, and less on debate, New York Times, April 5, 2015. Gov. Jay Inslee wants to use proceeds from his proposed new carbon cap to fund education and transportation projects.

Colorado House kills Senate bill to rollback renewable energy standard, Denver Post, March 3, 2015. The partisan divide on clean energy policy is on display in Colorado as the majority party in the House turns back a bill passed by the majority party in the Senate to roll back the state renewable energy standard from 30 percent to 15 percent for investor-owned utilities and from 20 percent to 15 percent for rural electricity associations.

Governor signs bill allowing debate on science standards for Wyoming students, Casper Star-Tribune, March 3, 2015. The state legislature reverses course on whether the State Board of Education can spend state funds to consider the adoption of national Next Generation Science Standards, which include reference to human-caused climate disruption, as well as other K-12 science standards.

Clean Energy

Huge transmission project to export Wyoming wind power to California clears regulatory hurdle, Casper Star-Tribune, May 3, 2015. The 730-mile line would carry 3,000 megawatts to serve one of the biggest wind farms in the U.S. planned for south-central Wyoming.

Colorado wind-industry jobs rise on turbine orders, Denver Post, April 15, 2015. Colorado led the nation in the number of wind energy jobs in 2014, spurred by four times as much new wind-generated power added to the national grid than in 2013.

Rural utility bucks against its power supplier, High Country News, April 2, 2015. The Delta-Montrose Electric Association, stymied by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s contract restrictions preventing development of low-cost hydropower generated in irrigation canals, appeals to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Fossil Fuels

Western towns hard-hit by climate change unite, target coal for funds, Denver Post, May 4, 2015. A coalition of ten Western mountain towns feeling the effects of climate change are launching a campaign that targets what they consider underpayments of royalties from federal coal leases, a portion of which goes to local governments.

Coal faces a day of reckoning in New Mexico, Inside Climate News, April 24, 2015. The state Public Regulation Commission must decide whether to accept Public Service Company’s plans for the notoriously polluting four-unit San Juan Generating Station – a combination of expensive pollution controls on two units, importing nuclear power from Arizona, and a new natural gas plant. Renewable energy advocates are pushing for what they say is a much cheaper combination of new gas plants and renewables.

Scientists seek source of giant methane mass over Southwest, Associated Press, April 9, 2015. Following up on a NASA/University of Michigan report that during 2003-09 a hotspot of methane hovered over the Four Corners region, where coalbed methane and oil and gas production proliferate, university and NOAA researchers are taking samples from aircraft to guide ground-based crews trying to pinpoint the sources.

Transportation

Urban sprawl, cars hamper cities’ best efforts on CO2, Climate Central, April 6, 2015. Boston University researchers create the first nationally consistent map of fine-scale vehicle CO2 emissions over an extended period of time (a 1-kilometer scale for 33 years between 1980 and 2012), and confirm that reductions in per capita emissions are much harder to achieve in less dense cities like Denver and Salt Lake City.

Water Preparedness

Colorado begins $3.4 million effort to save ag water, use it to make power, Denver Post, May 5, 2015. State agencies are teaming with federal agencies, power producers, farmers and ranchers, and nonprofits to use a grant from the new federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program to pilot a Pressurized Small Hydropower Project that uses pressurized irrigation systems to reduce water use and produce small-scale hydropower.

Wildfire

In Colorado, the Story Group has produced Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change, a short documentary film that follows firefighters struggling to deal with record-breaking wildfires and that highlights game-changing climate change impacts on fire regimes and behavior.

Resource of the Month
Yale Climate Opinion Maps
Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

As part of their ongoing Climate Change in the American Mind project, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication have observed that public opinion about climate change varies widely depending on where people live. So they developed a geographic and statistical model to downscale national public opinion results to the county, congressional district, and state levels, which are displayed by way of a set of maps. The estimates were generated from a statistical model that incorporates survey responses from a dataset of more than 13,000 individuals since 2008. The survey responses were combined with demographic data from the U.S. Census to estimate opinions based on information such as gender, race and ethnicity, and educational attainment; they also take into account changes in public opinion over time.

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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
Bob Berwyn, RMCO director of communications: berwyn@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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