Flooding feared in the Front Range

VAIL – The snow is still falling, but is dust on the horizon? That’s the question in some basins of the West, where snowpacks have been extraordinarily deep this winter. As Vail prepared to close on Sunday, it was nearing 505 inches of total snowpack for the season, among the best ever.

But what will happen if dust storms arrive to blanket these deep snowpacks? Research in the San Juan Mountains in recent years has established that dust absorbs solar radiation more readily, accelerating the melting of snow.

Dust storms were frequent and intense during the last two springs. One storm late last April blasted cars as far away as Denver, making it look like they’d been four-wheeling in the red-rock country of Arizona. The snowpack in some places looked like a beige carpet. Had warming prevailed, flooding might have followed. Instead, weather turned cool, and the runoff was more leisurely.

But how about this year’s bigger Front Range snowpack? Already, minor flooding has occurred in creeks and ditches around Steamboat Springs, reports thePilot & Today, while 2,000 sandbags were employed to stem flooding of the local fairgrounds near Park City, according toThe Record.

At the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, dust-watchers are keeping their eyes on what arrives at the front of the storms. Will it be dust, like last year’s spring storms? Or will this year’s snowpack slink slowly into the night?

Jackson reports rising home values

JACKSON, Wyo. – Sales records used to assess property in Teton County for taxes finds slight increases in home values, at least in some areas.

“Basically the values are going up slightly. I can’t honestly say that the market is still on a downward decline,” Teton County Assessor Dawn Johnson told theJackson Hole News&Guide.

But at least one real estate agent remains skeptical. “The values did not go up in the last year,” said David Viehman, an owner of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates. “Show me one property where values went up.”

Meanswhile, one demographic is clearly growing in Jackson. The population of people identified as Latino or Hispanic surged in Teton County during the last decade.

Analyst Jonathan Schechter points out that population growth overall slowed from 63 percent in the 1990s to just 17 percent in the last decade. But instead of 82 percent of the new residents being Caucasian, the figure fell to 43 percent during the last decade. Most, but not all, of the new ethnic minorities were Hispanics or Latinos.

Writing in theJackson Hole News&Guide, Schechter reports that 15 percent of the Teton County residents are Latino. He notes Hispanics and Latinos now constitute 30 percent of Eagle County (Vail, but also including some suburbs of Aspen) in the Rocky Mountains, highest in the Rocky Mountains (presumably excluding Taos and other New Mexico resorts). Lowest is Routt County (Steamboat Springs), at 7 percent.

Schechter has a maxim: economics change faster than perceptions, and perception changes faster than politics. Citing his own maxim, he urges awareness of this new reality and probing of what it means. “We’ll inevitably lag in addressing the challenges posed by a more diverse community and, even more worryingly, be slow to identify and embrace the opportunities it creates.”

Towns limiting the use of chemicals

KETCHUM, Idaho – Ketchum city officials have adopted a policy that sharply restricts the use of pesticides and herbicides in city-administered parks and other areas. It does not, however, restrict what people do on their own land.

The Idaho Mountain Express notes that the new policy doesn’t flat-out prohibit all chemicals. Instead, it limits their use to “last resort” efforts. They can be used in just concentrated areas to control infestations, not broad swaths.

Children’s playgrounds, however, have no exceptions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies sug

gest that children are more likely to have adverse reactions to pesticides because their internal organs are still developing.

According to National Public Radio, scientists report that children exposed before birth to a common class of pesticides can have lower IQ levels when they reach school age. One of the pesticides, chlorpyrifos, is now banned for household use in the United States, although it’s still sprayed along roadways and on food crops.

In Revelstoke, B.C., municipal officials have also adopted a pesticide ban that sustainability coordinator Penny Page-Brittin describes as “strong.” Unlike Ketchum’s new law, for example, private applications are not exempted.

However, the ban does not restrict the Canadian-Pacific Railroad from spraying herbicide in its right-of-way through Revelstoke. And the golf course was exempted to the extent that anti-mold fungicides can be sprayed sparingly, notes theRocky Mountain Outlook.

Crested Butte deals with mining past

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte is ambivalent about its mining heritage. It celebrates its Victorian buildings, erected when mining kept brigades of Slavic immigrants employed. Town law mandates even the sagging outhouses and coal sheds be propped up, a reminder of civic roots.

But the coal and minerals themselves are another matter. The most recent cleanup reported by theCrested Butte News concerns 5,000 cubic yards of coal that linger on a two-acre sites near where a railroad turnaround once existed. The mine delivered 1.3 million tons of anthracite between 1884 - 1923.

TheNews says removing the coal and restoring the two acres will cost $250,000 - $300,000. As for the coal, it will be consolidated elsewhere, but it can’t be sold to defray expenses, because that would require a mining permit.

County mandates for better insulation

GUNNISON – Insulation requirements for new and remodeled structures have been rising. A few years ago, in some places, you could get away with R-19 in your ceiling. But some jurisdictions, particularly those mindful of pledges to reduce carbon emissions, have been bumping up the standards above those of generally accepted standards.

Such is the case in Gunnison County, where the minimum standard is now R-49, reports theCrested Butte News. County Commissioner Hap Channel noted that while the payback on that added cost is currently 20 years, energy costs are likely to go up, shortening the payback period.

Glaciers continue to recede near Banff

BANFF, Alberta – The ice mass is continuing to dwindle in the glaciers clustered along the Continental Divide northwest of Banff.

One of the glaciers, named Pyeto, has lost 70 percent of its volume in the last 100 years. Another, Bow Glacier, the headwaters for the river of the same name, could completely disappear in about 53 years. The glacial sources of the Athabasca River could disappear in 83 years.

Altogether, according to Shawn Marshall, a glaciologist at the University of Calgary, 85 percent of the volume of the glaciers could disappear by the end of the century as the result of warming temperatures.

Most climate scientists believe that accumulating greenhouse gases have something to do with warmer temperatures of recent decades. TheRocky Mountain Outlook notes that even if emissions were immediately stabilized, the warming would almost certainly continue, because of the latent greenhouse effects of those heat-holding gases that will persist in some cases for centuries.

Park City waives energy projects fees

PARK CITY, B.C. – In an effort to spur renewable energy projects, municipal authorities in Park City have agreed to waive up to $1,000 in building and inspection fees for solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and wind energy projects completed this year.

– Allen Best


In this week's issue...

March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing