Western climate news, thanks to the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the 7.9 million acres burned so far this year nationwide exceed the 2006-16 average by more than 50 percent. California, Oregon, and, especially Montana have the most wildfires, with Montana alone having 23 separate large wildfires. Abnormally dry and hot conditions in that state, documented by the September 5th Western regional Drought Monitor produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska, show why Montana is in this year’s bulls-eye.
Media coverage includes:
As most readers of this newsletter know, climate change has already led to an increase in western wildfires, with far greater increases predicted if we continue changing the climate. A 2014 joint report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization summarizes what we know.
Today, we couldn’t say it any better than the editors of the Billings Gazette did in Gazette opinion: Excuses (and the budget) go up in smoke, September 5, 2017:
“Forests and money aren’t the only things going up in smoke in Montana. So too are the excuses for many who would deny climate change as most of the West, especially Montana, is literally in flames.
“We need honest talk and quick action to help curb this problem. We’d bet the economic impact of decreasing coal production in Colstrip will pale in comparison to the cost of firefighting, loss, and rebuilding what the fires have taken. It’s not just about coal or Colstrip. Quite frankly, it’s about all of us here in Montana. It’s not just energy, it’s also tourism. It’s about being able to live in the Last Best Place.”
Highlights:

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A task force convened by the City and County of Denver releases its recommendations on how the city can reach its goal of 80 percent reductions in heat-trapping emissions by 2050, including reaching 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2030. Can Denver cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent? It will take 100 percent renewable energy, Denver Post, September 6, 2017.
In the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Energy Star Top Cities list, which shows which metro areas were home to the most ENERGY STAR certified buildings, the City and County of Denver ranks among the top 12 large cities and the City of Fort Collins ranks among the top 10 mid-size cities.

A key Public Utilities Commission hearing on the City of Boulder’s proposal to set up its own electricity utility kicks that can further down the road, Boulder says state regulators offered ‘clear path’ to city-owned utility and Regulators set “path forward” for Boulder, but will deny much of electric utility plan, both in the Boulder Daily Camera, August 30 and 31, 2017.

disruptionNews about Climate Disruption
Extreme Weather and Climate Events
Katrina. Sandy. Harvey. The debate over climate and hurricanes is getting louder and louder, Washington Post, August 30, 2017. Inevitably, the superstorms raise questions as to what extent climate change can be attributed to the development and intensity of extreme events such as hurricanes. The methodological fra mework of attribution science has advanced considerably since Katrina with new analytical approaches and more powerful supercomputers, yet there is not consensus among climate scientists. Most are willing to say that at the very least impacts such as extreme rainfall and storm surge are very likely worsened by human-caused climate disruption. See also Did climate change intensify Hurricane Harvey?, Atlantic, August 27, 2017. Then comes Hurricane Irma … Twin megastorms have scientists fearing this may be the new normal, the Guardian, September 6, 2017.drought

‘The worst drought we’ve ever had:’ Farmers, ranchers across Montana struggle with historic dry spell, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, September 3, 2017. Montana’s first-ever state climate assessment due for release in September is quite timely. As of late August, the eastern half of the state was considered under extreme or exceptional drought. See also Montana governor says ignoring climate change is ‘shortsighted and dangerous’, Montana Public Radio, August 16, 2017 and Sudden droughts and wildfires are a vision of Montana’s future, says state climatologist, Montana Public Radio, August 16 and 14, 2017.

 

Heatheat
Heat, smoke, and fire assault Western states: All-time record heat in California, Weather Underground, September 3, 2017. The most extreme statewide heat wave ever recorded in California hit over Labor Day weekend, with temperatures in San Francisco climbing to  106°F, breaking the previous record by three degrees. At least 15 cities in the West had their hottest summer on record in 2017.
International report confirms 2016 was warmest year on record for the globe, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news release, August 10, 2017. The annual State of the Climate report published by the American Meteorological Society summarizes global climate indicators, including that 2016 was the third consecutive hottest year on record and that levels of heat-trapping gases also were record-setting.

actionNews about Climate Action
Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies   

California’s goal: an electricity grid moving only clean energy, Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2017. Awaiting a vote in California’s Assembly is Senate Bill 100, which would require utilities and other electricity providers to obtain 60 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent “zero carbon” (including hydropower) by 2045.

Clean Energyxcelren 
Coal’s future as a power source in Colorado flickering and Xcel Energy plans to retire two coal-fired plants in Pueblo, increase renewables, Denver Post, September 3 and August 29, 2017. Xcel Energy announces its filing of a stipulation with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission seeking approval of a process that could lead to $2.5 billion in clean energy investments and the early retirement of two coal generation units in southern Colorado.  
Shift to wind energy could alter fortunes on Wyoming’s map, Wyofile, September 5, 2017. Even in coal-rich Wyoming, market forces are driving companies like PacifiCorp to shift their energy portfolios from coal plants to renewables.
Wind and solar power are saving Americans an astounding amount of money, Vox, August 18, 2017. Described is a new study compiled by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers that uses a suite of air-quality and health impact models and social cost of carbon estimates to monetize the nationwide clean air and climate benefits of the deployment of wind and solar power.

Utilities grapple with rooftop solar and the new energy landscape, Yale Environment 360, August 31, 2017. This overview about integrating distributed energy resources into power supplies makes the case that the most innovative utilities and state regulators are moving beyond contentious rooftop solar net metering policies.

Meanwhile, action on net metering continues:
Fossil Fuels
Judge blocks 176-million ton coal mine expansion in Montana, Associated Press, August 16, 2017. U.S. District Court of Montana Judge Molloy issues an order barring Signal Peak Energy’s proposal on the basis that the state must evaluate the impacts of the associated release of heat-trapping pollutants.
Water Preparedness
Why some Western water agencies are writing 100-year water plans, Water Deeply, July 25, 2017. New Mexico’s Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority adopts Water: 2120, driven by the recognition that climate disruption requires long-term strategies to address its threats to water procurement, protection, and uses.
Ecosystems
NPS chief scraps climate-focused order, Greenwire, August 31, 2017. Acting National Park Service Director Michael Reynolds rescinds outgoing Director Jonathan Jarvis’s December 2016 Director’s Order No. 100: Resource Stewardship for the 21st Century, which found that “Climate change is creating and will continue to drive dynamic environmental shifts that affect natural and cultural resources, facilities, visitation patterns, and visitor experiences.” Under Jarvis, the National Park Service had embraced a message first articulated by RMCO in a series of reports on climate change threats to national parks: Climate change is the greatest risk our national parks have ever faced.
 
National Climate Policiestrumper
‘Face to face’ showdown over Obama-era tailpipe rule, Climatewire, September 6, 2017. On September 6, the Environmental Protection Agency heard testimony on whether its previously finalized midterm evaluation of light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2022-2025 (and also for model year 2021) remains appropriate under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The public comment period ends October 5 and EPA has until April 2018 to decide on a new final determination.
Trump order undermines rebuilding better for future floods, Associated Press, August 30, 2017, and After rolling back flood standards last month, Trump administration has change of heart, Think Progress, September 2, 2017. The Trump administration looks to be reconsidering its action, just days before Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast, to roll back Obama-era rules that raised elevation standards for new federally funded projects to better withstand flooding.
Trump administration dismisses climate change advisory panel, CNN, August 21, 2017. The 15-member panel was charged with making recommendations to government agencies and the private sector based on the findings of the fourth National Climate Assessment, due for release in 2018. Related, see Scientists fear Trump will dismiss blunt climate report, New York Times, August 7, 2017, pointing out that the assessment in its current draft form includes statements such as, “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.”

Scrapping climate protections would erase $300 billion in benefits, study finds, Inside Climate News, August 7, 2017. Columbia University researchers find that the Trump administration’s justification for dismantling the nation’s climate change regulations – the high cost of compliance – has no factual basis. They found that keeping those rules would actually save nearly $300 billion a year by 2030.

Montana Governor Says Ignoring Climate Change Is ‘Shortsighted And Dangerous’

  AUG 16, 2017
Originally published on August 16, 2017 4:24 pm
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“This has been a difficult year,” Democratic Governor Steve Bullock says. “By some estimates our fire seasons are now about 78 days longer than they were two decades ago.”
CREDIT NATE HEGYI / YPR

State climatologist Kelsey Jencso says what folks are seeing this summer — extreme fires, sudden droughts, snowpacks melting quickly — may be a vision of Montana’s future.

“There’s growing evidence that these events are associated with increased warming and climate change,” he says.

And if this is what climate change looks like, it’s expensive.

The eastern half of the state is gripped by the most severe drought in the nation. Farmers there lost nearly $400 million dollars worth of crops last month, when compared to the previous July. That’s according to figures from the U.S. Forest Service. And the state’s wildfire season is costing Montanans more than a million dollars a day.

“This has been a difficult year,” Democratic Governor Steve Bullock says. “And by some estimates our fire seasons are now about 78 days longer than they were two decades ago.”

He says he hopes this isn’t the new normal, but if it is, the state needs to face reality.

“To not acknowledge or deal with our changing climate in a responsible way is shortsighted and dangerous,” Bullock says.

He says the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is currently updating the state’s drought management plan. The last update was back in 1995. Bullock says coal-fired power plants will either play a smaller role in Montana’s energy future, or they’ll find a way to make it less greenhouse gas intensive through carbon sequestration.

“There’s no way you’re going to flip a switch tomorrow, or five years, and all of a sudden quit using coal or other fossil fuels for energy production,” he says. “There’s no way you’re going to be able to do that in 15 or 20 years.”

At this point, capturing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants adds significant costs to running them. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts funding for research into carbon sequestration.

Montana’s first-ever climate assessment is slated for release next month.

Copyright 2017 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans

Climate change is causing water managers to think long term about their resources. Several western agencies are planning a century in advance, but that’s not without its headaches.

WRITTEN BYJerry Redfern PUBLISHED ON  READ TIMEApprox. 4 minutes
Drought water plans
Water flows through one of the irrigation canals in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, March 31, 2017. A few water agencies across the West, including the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, have begun writing 100-year water plans.AP/Susan Montoya Bryan

IN FEBRUARY OF this year, the largest water district in a state with little water enacted a plan that attempts to manage that increasingly fickle resource for 100 years.

The plan, Water: 2120, is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) in New Mexico’s blueprint to direct water procurement, protection and use for the next century.

“This really came out of eight to 10 of us sitting around in a room every Wednesday morning and talking this through,” said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager at ABCWUA and one of the lead planners on the project.

It’s common for water agencies to develop plans looking 20 to 40 years ahead, or in some cases 50 to 60 years. And ABCWUA, of course, has had planning documents in the past, the last one looking 60 years out. But “this is the first one to take into account climate change,” Yuhas said, and “it’s the first one to look out 100 years.” Plus, it covers everything from watersheds to infrastructure to household use.

Other Western water groups are also working on long-range plans. Santa Fe is looking closely at Water: 2120. Next year, Austin Water plans to unveil Water Forward, which it calls, “a water plan for the next century.” And in Arizona, the Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply Program at the Department of Water Resources requires new developments in certain metropolitan areas to show they have physical and legal access to water for 100 years.

Last year, the United States Environmental Protection Agency published “What Climate Change Means for New Mexico,” with a blunt assessment: “The changing climate is likely to increase the need for water but reduce the supply.” The future is predicted to be hotter, drier and subject to “extreme precipitation events.” Plus, population is growing. The ABCWUAserves more than 700,000 people today and before 2060 that number is expected to top 1 million.

Climate-change predictions were the prompt for the extensive plan, Yuhas said. “One hundred years seemed like about as far out as we could push.”

The plan calls for increased water conservation through groundwater management (including recharging the aquifer beneath Albuquerque), surface-water management (including protecting current water rights and buying more in the future), watershed restoration, water recycling and reuse programs and stormwater capture and storage.

Kimery Wiltshire, chief executive of Carpe Diem West, a nonprofit group that works on water issues in the Western U.S., said the plan is “a very smart thing for them to do” because it’s “really taking into account that climate change is going to be with us for a very long time.”

But it’s tough to plan that far into the future. Wiltshire noted, “There’s no standard for writing a water plan under climate change. There is no checklist.”

Tony Pulokas, a developer and senior engineer with HydroLogics, a firm that develops large-scale water resource models for government groups around the globe, sounds a note of caution about plans that contain multiple threads of uncertainty – namely: climate, water supplies, population and government itself.

“In general I think it’s wise to be looking well ahead in the future,” he said. “It’s also true that there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what the demand for water will be in 100 years, what the effects of climate change might be, and really, what sort of changes there might be to the whole legal framework as for how water is managed.”

The New Mexico plan sounds “more ambitious than usual,” Pulokas said.

“We feel very confident about what we’re going to see over the next 10 years,” Yuhas said. “We feel far less confident about what we’re going to see 90 years out. But the goal of this plan is to update it every 10 years. So as we get better and better information … we will be updating the plan.”

A trickle of water left in the Rio Grande is pushed downstream by the wind near the chili-growing community of Hatch, N.M., in March 2013. Concerned about the impact of climate change on water resources, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has written a 100-year blueprint for managing its water. (AP/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

Sterling Grogan is a watershed ecologist who spent eight years at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District as a biologist and planner, and 10 years before that as a graduate fellow at the University of New Mexico in biology. He sees the plan’s long-term strength in its trees. “The way that the plan deals with watersheds I think is very important,” he said. That’s because the plan connects the dots between customers’ taps and the upstream forests that naturally gather and store the water. Protecting those forests is a key part of the plan for securing water for future generations.

Grogan calls it progressive, “in terms of connecting watersheds with their water customers. And that’s the big connection – the big important connection that is going to allow these utilities to be resilient in the face of the inevitable effects of climate change.”

Some scientists say New Mexico’s plan could be a global model. “Other regions of the world can look to New Mexico’s growing leadership on planning for water-resource stress periods and increasing drought-resilient renewable energy sources,” according to a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Confronting Climate Change in New Mexico.”

The ABCWUA might be in front of a coming wave of climate-change lawmaking in response to the Trump administration. Since Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, state and local governments, as well as companies, have pledged to act on climate regardless.

Yuhas said she is also hearing from other water managers in the West in the wake of Water: 2120. “Yes, there is interest beyond New Mexico,” she said. “They have said, ‘This is great. Tell us about how you did this. What did it take to get this done?’”

Climate change may confuse and confound water planners, but the goals are clear. “One hundred years isn’t forever, but it’s several generations out,” Yuhas said. “You’re now talking about your great-great-great grandchildren who will benefit from this program.”