From 1982 through 2016 across all 11 western states, snowpacks declined at an average rate of about 9.5 percent per decade

“We predict an additional loss of snowpack water storage of up to 60% within the next three decades due to combined influences from anthropogenic forcing and internal decadal variability.” That is the conclusion of a team of researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the University of Colorado in a new study of historic and projected snowpack across the West.

To begin with, the study documents that from 1982 through 2016 across all 11 western states, snowpacks declined at an average rate of about 9.5 percent per decade, with heat-trapping emissions determined to have contributed to the decline.

For the future, if heat-trapping emissions continue increasing at a high rate, the multiple projections produced by the researchers project on average a 30 percent decline in snowpacks over a near-term 25-year period of 2013-2038, with the projections ranging from a 60 percent decrease to a three percent increase.

In an April 27 story by Inside Climate News about the study, Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Project at the University of Colorado, Boulder, observes, “We are already a couple decades into this pattern of declining snowpacks. This is neither an abstract or new threat. There is going to be some pain and suffering. That’s a given. The question is how much of that suffering can we avoid by being proactive and innovative before the real damages set in?”

Other Western news

From extreme drought to record rain: Why California’s drought-to-deluge cycle is getting worse, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2017. The intensifying of the state’s cycle over the last 30 years, culminating in going from a driest-on-record scenario to a wettest-on-record scenario in just two years, is consistent with what climate models say should be expected under increasingly hotter temperatures.

Drought

New study: California drought increased electricity bills and air pollution, San Jose Mercury News, April 26, 2017. California’s brutal five-year drought did more than lead to water shortages and dead lawns. It increased electricity bills statewide by $2.45 billion and boosted levels of smog and heat-trapping gases, largely due to a big drop-off in hydroelectric power, according to a Pacific Institute study.

The trees that make Southern California shady and green are dying. Fast. Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2017. Record drought has aggravated the effects of a toxic mix of insects, non-native species, and development patterns, resulting in what scientists call an unprecedented die-off of the region’s trees. The losses in urban forests are akin to those documented in a 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and RMCO, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk: Confronting Climate-driven Impacts from Insects, Wildfires, Heat, and Drought.

Ecosystemsforests

The trees that make Southern California shady and green are dying. Fast. Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2017. Record drought has aggravated the effects of a toxic mix of insects, non-native species, and development patterns, resulting in what scientists call an unprecedented die-off of the region’s trees. The losses in urban forests are akin to those documented in a 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and RMCO, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk: Confronting Climate-driven Impacts from Insects, Wildfires, Heat, and Drought.

Clean Energy 

Wind turbines provide 8% of U.S. generating capacity, more than any other renewable source, Energy Information Administration post, May 2, 2017. Wind energy has surpassed hydroelectric, and has contributed more than one-third of new utility-scale electricity generating capacity added since 2007. Four Western states are among the top ten for wind production.

California curtailed 80 GWh of renewables in March and Arizona’s SRP to join Western Energy Imbalance Market, Utility Dive, April 24 and May 1, 2017. The importance of developing interstate energy markets is demonstrated in California where renewable energy utilization has to be significantly curtailed at times (such as afternoons when rooftop solar production soars) because there is not enough market demand for it.

Fossil Fuels

Failed legislation leaves Colstrip’s future in limbo, Missoula Current, May 3, 2017. The closure of two units at the Colstrip generating station in eastern Montana busied the state legislature with bills intended to ease the impact of loss of jobs and tax revenues.
Coal jobs prove lucrative, but not for those in the mines, New York Times, May 2, 2017. The yawning gap between executive pay and blue collar wages in the industry keeps expanding. “The company boards seem to think they need to keep executives from fleeing a sinking ship,” says Sarah Anderson, an executive compensation expert at the Institute for Policy Studies.
More coal is rolling out of the pro-Trump Western Slope, but is it adding up to any jobs? Denver Post, April 16, 2017. An uptick in production from one surviving Colorado coal mine spurs hope in communities with coal-based economies, but the handwriting looks to be clearly on the wall: Colorado coal production has declined by two-thirds since 2004, and jobs by nearly half.
Wyoming receives up to $2M to retrain coal workers, Casper Star-Tribune, April 9, 2017. The U.S. Department of Labor grant is intended to help northeast Wyoming workers who were employed in the coal industry and related businesses. Those who are eligible can receive up to $6,500 toward the cost of a retraining program.
Peabody Energy hopes to land buyer for troubled Navajo Generating Station, Arizona Republic, April 10, 2017. The coal giant that owns the mines that supply the notoriously polluting coal plant is betting lower coal prices on the prospect a smarter operator than the Salt River Project can be found to buy and profitably operate the plant, now slated to be shuttered.
Wildfires

The future of fighting wildfires in the era of climate change, Pacific Standard, April 17, 2017. According to a new study (abstract only) based on research in Colorado and California, the U.S. Forest Service and state and local governments simply won’t be able to keep up with fighting climate-change-induced bigger and longer-lasting fires unless they adopt new strategies of letting large fires burn, restricting development in the wildland urban interface, make existing development more resilient, and abandoning ineffective thinning of vast non-urbanized areas.