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.

 
 

July 2015

Featured Item
Scientists Disagree on Whether Climate Change Played a Role in 2013 Colorado Flooding

A new scientific study, taking exception to an earlier study by other scientists, concludes that climate change was a factor in the extreme Colorado storms of September 2013 that caused widespread flooding and $3.9 billion in damage, making it the state’s most destructive natural disaster ever. Boulder scientist ties severity of Colorado's 2013 flood to climate change, Boulder Daily Camera, June 22, 2015. See also Most extreme weather has climate change link, study says, Inside Climate News, June 23, 2015. The new study, by Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and others, found that the Colorado storm was magnified by extremely high ocean temperatures and atmospheric water vapor content, both of which in turn were driven in part by today’s hotter climate. The effect could have been as much as a 10 percent increase in the intensity of the Colorado storm, Trenberth says.

The earlier study, by Martin Hoerling at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others, used a climate model to simulate the frequencies of extreme storms in northeastern Colorado in the most recent 30 years and in pre-industrial times, and found that today’s changed climatic conditions do not appear to have increased the likelihood of an event like in September 2013. Boulder researcher: 2013's flood-triggering rains not caused by climate change, Boulder Daily Camera, Sept. 20, 2014. The key difference between the two studies appears to be that the earlier study focused on the likelihood of an extreme storm occurring at all, and the new study focused on how strong such a storm may now be when it occurs. As Trenberth said a year ago about the earlier study, “This is not a study that asks the right questions, it does not perform the needed analysis and gets the wrong answers. . . . I think there is no doubt that those extremely high SSTs (sea surface temperatures) and record water vapor amounts likely would not have occurred without climate change."

Normally, RMCO does not report on dueling scientific views, instead focusing on areas of agreement among climate scientists. But the September 2013 flooding is so important in Colorado, and the coverage of the earlier study (including in our October 2014 newsletter) was so extensive, that we think both assessments deserve attention.

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO

As climate changes, Colorado preps for heat-wave deaths, Colorado Independent, June 4, 2015. In May, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper approved the state’s new “Resiliency Framework” compiled by the Colorado Resilience and Recovery Office. The framework acknowledges the risks of climate change, but RMCO president Stephen Saunders comments that the real test will be in future detailed actions: “We need the state government to take a lead in providing more information to themselves, to local government and to the citizenry about the Colorado-specific risks we face. We need more detailed assessments. We need much better dispensation of information. We need a central hub [at the state level] for climate-change information.”

News about RMCO Partners

Four Colorado mayors (Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell) join the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda and are among 27 signatories to a letter calling on President Obama “to act in the best interests of the American people and fight for the strongest possible climate agreement at the upcoming 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris, and for federal action to establish binding national greenhouse gas emissions reductions here at home.” Mayor Garcetti announces 27 cities have joined Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, press release, City of Los Angeles, June 18, 2015.

Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, lauds the City and County of Denver’s low-income housing rooftop solar and energy efficiency investments as a key example of public agencies engaging in the U.S. Department of Energy's "Better Buildings Challenge." Denver solar, energy-efficiency programs touted by federal officials, Denver Post, June 8, 2015.

Western Resource Advocates continues its push, along with Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and others, to keep Public Service of New Mexico from acquiring additional coal generation capacity from the San Juan Generating Station. PNM promises final San Juan agreements by Aug. 1, Albuquerque Journal, June 4, 2015.

News about Climate Disruption

Water

Lake Mead sinks to record low, Arizona Republic, June 24, 2015. Water levels in Lake Mead drop below 1,075 feet in elevation, the point that would trigger unprecedented lower basin curtailments by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) if still at that level at the beginning of next year. But water managers expect the lake's elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 curtailment to the lower basin under the 2007 directive from the Secretary of the Interior establishing guidelines for managing a water shortage. Thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring in the upper basin, BOR’s April to July 2015 water supply forecast issued on June 3 projects the most probable (median) Lake Powell inflow at 70 percent of the 1981-2000 average, a significant increase from the April forecast of 52 percent of average.

California Drought

As with the past several newsletters, we continue to summarize this month’s extensive coverage of California’s record-breaking drought. First, the impacts:

California’s burning again as drought’s vicious cycle takes its toll, Washington Post, July 1, 2015. At what is usually the beginning of the fire season, fire crews have responded to 3,200 fires, totaling about 65,000 acres.
Drought conditions make bad air worse, aggravate health problems, Sacramento Bee, June 28, 2015.
Mono Lake's ecological crisis is a blow to wildlife, L.A. water supply, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2015.
Drought begins to kill redwoods and other iconic trees while state's forest fire risk rises
, ClimateWire, June 4, 2015.
Scientists see climate change in action in California wildflower fields
, Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2015.

Coverage of responses:

California residents cut water use by hefty 29% in May, officials say, Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2015, exceeding Governor Brown’s order of a 25 percent reduction.

Lawsuits over California water rights are a fight a century in the making, Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2015. During June, the State Water Resources Control Board sent curtailment notices to more than 100 districts and growers with rights dating to 1903 and to San Francisco curtailing rights that date to the mid-1800s. Senior water rights holders are suing on the grounds that because California didn't start administering water rights until 1914, the state has no jurisdiction over pre-1914 rights. The dispute is exposing flaws in the state’s data gathering and water rights enforcement methods.

Water-independent Riverside fights 28% reduction order, Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2015, because it relies on groundwater supplies.

Is California trying to take our water? Arizona Daily Star, June 27, 2015. Arizona elected officials are keeping wary eyes on a California drought-relief bill that is being drafted behind closed doors in the U.S. Senate.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to unveil plan to capture storm runoff, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2015.

Tribal Lands

Climate change makes parts of the Navajo Nation uninhabitable, KNPR Public Radio, June 22, 2015. Sand dunes now inundate one-third of tribal lands. Inescapable is the irony of the juxtaposition of the Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest power-generating facility, on the western edge of the tribal lands, where many Navajos work. See End of the miracle machines - inside the power plant fueling America’s drought, ProPublica, June 16, 2015.

Ecosystems

Yellowstone already feels a hotter, drier future, Jackson Hole News & Guide, June 24, 2015. This blog post profiles a special issue of Yellowstone Science titled “Ecological Implications of Climate Change on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” Dr. Bill Romme and Dr. Monica Turner revisit and update observations and projections they made for the first issue of Yellowstone Science in 1992. See also Report: Climate change likely to kill Yellowstone forests, WyoFile, June 9, 2015, describing a Charture Institute report (preface and main study). A joint report by RMCO and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Greater Yellowstone in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption (2011), provides a broader context.

Wildfire

While the National Interagency Fire Center reports that nationally, the 2.2 million acres burned so far this year is right about the 2005-14 average, large fires are burning in drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest where a snow drought this past winter set conditions up for a bad fire year.

California’s burning again as drought’s vicious cycle takes its toll, Washington Post, July 1, 2015. At what is usually the beginning of the fire season, fire crews have responded to 3,200 fires, totaling about 65,000 acres.

Fire crews report progress against damaging Washington wildfire; residents search ruined homes, Associated Press, July 1, 2015.

Missoula County fire danger moves to 'extreme' ahead of holiday, Missoulian, June 30, 2015. Western Montana fire officials say dry conditions are a month ahead of normal. Stage 1 fire restrictions are in place there and in northern Idaho.

Arizona settles cases with relatives of 19 who died fighting wildfire, New York Times, June 29, 2015. Relatives of some of the 19 firefighters killed in one of the nation’s deadliest wildfires at Yarnell in 2013, join state officials to announce settlements in two legal cases against the Arizona State Forestry Division, including $600,000 in compensation and a commitment to improve training for incident commanders and firefighters, test better tracking equipment, and to join a national effort to provide specific lessons about the effects of dry, warmer seasons on the wild lands.

Wildlife

State of native trout in Colorado is grim, according to report, Denver Post, June 23, 2015. The report, authored by Trout Unlimited senior scientist Jack Williams, examines threats facing cold-water fish, and the impact those threats are having on native trout populations. The report calls Colorado squarely in the bull's-eye, having already lost yellowfin cutthroat trout entirely, and with three other native cutthroat species at less than 10 percent of their historical habitat. "Habitat loss is clearly the No. 1 threat, but right behind it are the impacts of climate change and non-native species," TU president and CEO Chris Wood said.

News about Climate Action 

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies

Governors tackle drought at Lake Tahoe forum, Las Vegas Review Journal, June 24, 2015. A drought forum at the Western Governors’ Association annual meeting features a new 22-page report that outlines seven areas critical to drought management, from better data on snowpack and soil moisture to expanding uses of recycled water, conservation, and changing public behavior. Earlier in the month, many of the governors met via video with President Obama and top cabinet officials to discuss $110 million in new federal efforts to help agriculture and rural communities in the West deal with drought and the accompanying wildfires. Obama meets with Western governors on drought, The Hill, June 12, 2015.

Climate Communications

The Weather Channel releases The Climate 25, video interviews with 25 influential speakers representing perspectives from business, media, military, science, and sociological standpoints.

Visiting a national park? Be prepared to learn about climate change, Daily Climate, June 9, 2015. A survey of Denali National Park visitors finds nearly 80 percent approve of the National Park Service’s efforts to educate visitors about climate change and nearly half returned home wanting to do more to reduce climate change impacts.

Clean Energy

Feds grant local electric co-ops more control, Durango Herald, June 22, 2015. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues a decision with far-reaching implications for the ability of rural electric cooperatives to acquire renewable energy sources. FERC agreed with Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) that small local electrical co-ops have a federal obligation to purchase power from certain small electricity sources, regardless of other contracts such as the one DMEA has with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which limits co-ops to purchases of no more than 5 percent of their power from an outside source.

CEOs grapple with an elephant in the room -- the future of electricity, EnergyWire, June 22, 2015. A revealing look at how utility executives are grappling with distributed energy and renewables in general.

Fossil Fuels

Judge blocks onset of new fracking rules on federal public land, Denver Post, June 23, 2015. A U.S. District Court in Wyoming temporarily delays new Bureau of Land Management rules requiring companies to provide data on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and to take steps to prevent leakage from oil and gas wells on federally owned land.

New study quantifies natural gas loss from production on U.S. public and tribal lands, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) press release, June 26, 2015. An ICF International report commissioned by EDF finds that oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands are losing $360 million worth of natural gas each year through leaks and intentional venting and flaring; the methane emissions are about 12 percent of the national total.

Which oil and gas companies are leaking the most methane? ClimateWire, June 26, 2015. The 40 companies with the largest assets in 2013 are rated on a “leakiness” scale. The top 10 include some of the largest companies – ConocoPhilips is the second leakiest, due to its large presence in New Mexico‘s San Juan Basin, the nation’s biggest hotspot for methane escape, and Exxon Mobil is tenth.

EPA sends methane leak rule for final review, The Hill, June 24, 2015. The Obama administration starts the final review stage for proposed regulations to minimize methane leaks from the oil and natural gas sector. Taken together, the administration’s regulations and voluntary efforts are meant to cut methane emissions by between 40 and 45 percent.

National Climate Policies

Texas, Colorado set model for increased renewables integration under Clean Power Plan, Utility Dive, June 19, 2015. A new study examines the successes of Xcel Energy in Colorado and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in integrating variable renewable energy at penetration levels of 10% to 20% on average, and at times above 50 percent, into power supplies, refuting claims that the Clean Power Plan requirements threaten supply reliability.

Resource of the Month
Predicting Climate Change Impacts on Aquatic Ecosystems across the Pacific Northwest
U.S. Geological Survey Northern Rocky Mountain Service Center
University of Montana, Flathead Lake Biological Station

This new post on the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) website is a video presentation of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center seminar featuring the work of Clint Muhlfeld, research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center. This project used modeling techniques to study how climate change might affect freshwater habitats of key trout and salmon species throughout the Pacific Northwest, whose populations have already dramatically declined due to habitat degradation and fragmentation and introductions of invasive species. The goal of the study was to develop and provide novel tools that will help managers predict and respond to potential climate change induced impacts on habitats, populations, and economies.

Support RMCO and this Newsletter!

Help keep the RMCO newsletter coming to your in-box. Please make a contribution to RMCO, in whatever amount you can afford, to help us continue to research, write, and deliver our monthly newsletter. Your contribution will also help with our other programs so we can continue working to keep the West special by reducing climate disruption and its effects here. And your contribution is tax-deductible, too. Use the "donate" button at the top of this page to make a contribution through PayPal. Thank you!

Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

<Previous