Colorado grapples with water supply

BRECKENRIDGE – The drought of the early 21st century continues to reverberate in places like Summit County, where the usually placid blue waters of Dillon Reservoir were replaced in 2002 by broad expanses of brown sand and mud.

The skimpy runoff from that drought year, along with subsequent low-snow and unusually hot years left Utah’s Lake Powell, farther down on the Colorado River, no more than a third full. Had the drought continued in its severity, the reservoir might well have been left with what is called a dead pool, not enough water to be released downstream to Arizona, California and Nevada.

That would have created a ticklish situation. The 1922 Colorado River Compact, which apportions water in the basin among the seven states, requires the four upper-basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually based on a 10-year rolling average to the lower basin states.

That figure was derived in error. The framers of the compact assumed more water in the Colorado River than what has actually been the case. Moreover, climate change seems sure to limit flows even more.

In that case, what if there is insufficient water in the upper basin to make that legally mandated commitment to Arizona, Nevada and California and still meet existing needs?

In Colorado, water officials have begun coming up with Plan B and Plan C. One such idea, reports theSummit Daily News, is creation of a “water bank.” This bank would hold water rights senior to the 1922 compact – mostly held now by farms and ranches – to be allocated in such a water-short time to keep the economy going. Two water conservation districts responsible for water matters on the Western Slope, where nearly all of Colorado’s ski areas are located, have been putting together the plan.

Such a call would not only impact many ski towns, but also the array of cities located on the Great Plains at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. TheDaily News reports that the Colorado River and its tributaries provide between 25 to 75 percent of the total water supplies for those cities, which include Denver and Colorado Springs.

Soggy summer the norm in the West

VAIL – Soggy conditions have prevailed in many mountain towns in recent weeks, causing moods to become as dark as the clouds. “Man, there’s been a lot of rain around here,” exclaimed one Vail man after another half-inch rainfall. “It’s crazy.”

In Idaho, the story is the same. Ketchum, located at the foot of Sun Valley ski area, got more rain in the first week of June than it averages all month.

“It’s like the Pacific Northwest around here,” a sheriff’s deputy toldThe Aspen Times.

But the Pacific Northwest is currently parched. Concerned about the risk of starting wild fires, the Whistler Fire Rescue Service in late May banned construction adjacent to forests except for between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Unaffected by the ban was the athletes’ village being readied for the 2010 Winter Olympics, as most remaining work now is in the interior, reportsPique newsmagazine.

Brian Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says both wet and dry anomalies can be explained by two distant storms, one anchored near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and another hunkered south of Greenland. Think of them like boulders in a river, determining the current flows, he says. Until an even bigger storm comes along, Whistler and Vail alike can expect more of the same.

Yet the downpours were by no means uniform. In Colorado, Crested Butte was only a little above average. Durango had three times its average precipitation during May and had recorded 0.75 inches of rainfall a third of the way into June, more than double the usual monthly figure of 0.32.

If this year’s rainfall deviates from whatThe Aspen Times describes as the early summer norm of bluebird skies, it’s useful to also remember that averages are just that. A pattern of deluges also occurred in 1995 almost until Summer Solstice, leaving valley bottoms soaked and mountain-tops resplendent with fresh powder.

Jumping off a cornice at the Arapahoe Basin ski area in mid-June that year, the editor of a now-defunct ski magazine from New England stopped and turned to his companion in astonishment. “These are mid-winter conditions,” he exclaimed.

Aspen pressures Congress on climate

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. has joined Starbucks, Clif Bar, Hewlett-Packard and 15 other companies in calling upon Congress to “swiftly enact comprehensive legislation that will cut carbon pollution and create an economy-wide cap and trade system.”

That call to action was contained in an advertisement placed in the June 10 issue ofThe Wall Street Journal. It was paid for by Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups.

The businesses signing the ad said they believe the U.S. is falling behind China, Germany and other countries. “When it comes to preparing our country to compete in the clean energy economy, the U.S. is losing, and we lag behind our global competitors,” the ad states.

The advertisement calls for “certainty and rules of the road” that will enable U.S. businesses to plan, build and lead.

At the center of debate now under way is how aggressively the United States should create a de facto tax on carbon. The Waxman-Markey bill now being debated in Congress proposes a cap-and-trade regime. The 900-page bill proposes to sell polluting rights to operators of coal-fired power plants, for example, and use the money to innovate technologies and infrastructure that will cause less atmospheric pollution.

Auden Schendler, executive director of community and environmental responsibility for Aspen Skiing Co., says those wanting aggressive action have been split on what will be the smartest strategy: accept a watered-down plan with hopes of later improving it, or hold out for strong action with the potential of getting nothing.

Real estate bounces back in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – Real estate sales have been down 35 to 60 percent in Whistler this year, and those sales that have occurred typically have been for less than last year. For example, prices of chalets declined 9.5 percent and townhomes 32 percent.

But agents tellPique newsmagazine that they find room for optimism. “Things are starting to improve,” said Drew Meredith, a former mayor.

Part of the optimism comes from the real estate scene in Vancouver, 115 kilometers (71 miles) to the south. There, sales volume has been up, even if housing prices have come down.

Meanwhile, it’s a renters’ market in Colorado’s Summit County. Landlords and rental-management companies tell theSummit Daily News that they have had to lower their prices and become more flexible with their leases in hopes of earning income from their properties. Still, the telephone often doesn’t ring. Mike Magliocchetti, president of Key to the Rockies, a management company based in Keystone, said most lodging companies are down 20 to 40 percent for summer bookings.

Carbon neutral Olympics in the works

WHISTLER, B.C. – Organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler will be claiming that direct emissions caused by the event will be carbon free, at least in spirit, and contribute toward offsetting indirect emissions from air travel.

The foundation for this claim will be the purchase of carbon offsets through a British Columbia-based firm called Offsetters, which intends to create a portfolio of projects that will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases elsewhere.

Some of the projects include installation of fuel-cell technology in transit buses, energy efficient systems and biomass gasification, reportsPique newsmagazine.

Such claims will no doubt be viewed with skepticism by some students of offsets. One study coming out of Stanford University last year found that even two-thirds of well-vetted high-quality offsets failed to measure up to their claims.

Olympic organizers, however, insist that all projects in the portfolio will be “high-quality offsets” consistent with the standards applied by the new greenhouse regulations applied by the British Columbia provincial government. As such, they are designed to meet or exceed the highest international standard for carbon accounting and offsetting.

Ouray darkens skies with LED lights

OURAY – The nighttime sky should be more visible, and the electricity bill should be less, as the result of the installation of 100 LED light fixtures on Ouray streets.

– Allen Best

TheTelluride Watch reports that installation costs of $60,000 should be recouped within two years because of lower electricity prices. Bob Risch, the mayor, also expects to see more stars. A retired astronomer, he says the old street lights did not shield the direction of the emitted light.

Sun Valley mayor calls for gun training

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – The mayor of Sun Valley has encouraged city staff to take a handgun safety course. Wayne Willich, the mayor, told theIdaho Mountain Express he isn’t encouraging people to own or carry weapons. Rather, he seems to want them to set an example. As is, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office has issued permits for 1,500 people to carry concealed weapons.  

– Allen Best


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