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Op-Ed: Happy Birthday, Colorado River – long may you live!

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No room for mistakes in the Colorado River Basin.

Conservation has to be the centerpiece of local, state and regional water planning efforts

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — When Congress 93 years ago formally renamed the Grand River as the Colorado, it probably didn’t have any inkling about what the mightiest river in the West would be subjected too early in the 21st century.

Now far removed from that era of hopeful development, the river is over-exploited from beginning to end. Headwater streams are diverted to water acres of bluegrass lawns in Denver, and mountain resorts mindlessly draw down tributaries for snowmaking during the low-flow season, just when trout most need the water.

Just this week, scientists said they’ve documented an astounding rate of water loss in the basin from groundwater pumping alone, which may turn out to be a worse problem than we think, groundwater development is state-regulated, therefore not as closely tracked as the diversions and storage related to major reservoir operations.

And all the pressures have intensified in recent years: More population growth, more development, more demand for food and irrigation, a 14-year dry spell across the West and a warming climate. Even without manmade global warming, ancient trees tell us that the region has seen longer and more intense droughts in the past few thousand years.

The Colorado is tapped out. Continue reading

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Groundwater depletion threatens sustainability of Colorado River

Satellite data suggests more than 75 percent of water loss in drought-stricken basin is from groundwater pumping

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A new study quantifies groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Groundwater pumping is a huge factor in the Colorado River Basin water equation, California-based researchers said this week, announcing the results of satellite study that for the first time quantifies how groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states.

Along with surface diversions and pipelines, water users in the basin are also unsustainably depleting underground aquifers. For example, mountain resort towns in  Colorado tap underground water from headwaters streams like Tenmile Creek and the Blue River for municipal use.

The new study found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought, the researchers concluded. Continue reading

Colorado: District court judge voids voter-enacted fracking ban

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Are communities powerless against the fracking juggernaut?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Banning fracking within Longmont city limits would result in “waste” of the state’s mineral resources, Boulder District Court Judge D.D. Mallard ruled today, voiding the city’s voter-enacted ban on the controversial drilling practice.

But  fracking won’t resume anytime soon in the northern Colorado town, as Judge Mallard said there will be no fracking “until further order of Court, either from this Court or a higher court.”

In Judge Mallard’s words: “Longmont’s ban on hydraulic fracturing does not prevent waste; instead, it causes waste. Because of the ban, mineral deposits were left in the ground that otherwise could have been extracted in the Synergy well. Mineral deposits are being left in the ground by all the wells that are not being drilled due to the fracking ban.” Continue reading

Climate change drives Antarctic fur seal decline

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

Survival of the fittest?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After studying fur seals around Antarctica for decades, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey say they’re seeing distinct genetic changes related to a changing climate and food availability. But despite a shift  towards individuals more suited to changing environmental conditions, this fitness is not passing down through generations, leaving the fur seal population on South Georgia Island in decline. Continue reading

Climate: Study sheds new light on Antarctic sea ice expansion

Growth in sea ice may be slower than reported

The water in the Antarctic Sound can be smooth as glass, and sometimes look thick and oily, probably because it's so cold. Click on the photo to learn about some of the environmental issues in Antarctica.

Scientists are puzzling over the expansion of Antarctic sea ice. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Global warming deniers have long been using the observed expansion of Antarctic sea ice as a way to try and confuse the public about the reality of global warming, but some new research by scientists with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego suggests the rate of expansion is not as dramatic as reported.

The findings, published in The Cryosphere (European Geosciences Union) acknowledge that there has been some expansion recently, but that some of the reported ice gain may be due to inconsistencies in computer models used to measure Antarctic sea ice. Continue reading

Morning photo: Purple mountains, really!

A quick Summit set …

Lookin' like Kodachrome!

Lookin’ like Kodachrome!

.FRISCO — I really do dig the way iPhone sensors pick up colors in the sky, and especially in the clouds — just check out the last picture in this set! So in the course of wandering around Summit County the last couple of days, I did manage to stop and point my camera at various things, usually involving wildflowers, the sky, clouds and/or some distant peaks. I’ve recently started shooting a lot more images in vertical format, because they’re easier to crop for Instagram that way. It kind of reminds of the old square-film format, so sometimes I pretend I’m shooting with a Hasselblad.

If you enjoy our near-daily feed of high country images, please visit our online gallery at Fine Art America.

And if you want to keep those photos coming, along with our stellar environmental reporting, visit our Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger crowdfunding page at Beacon. We’re at 70 percent of our goal and really could use your help to help sustain world-class environmental reporting.

Donate to the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project

mtnYour contribution to this independent journalism project will be matched dollar for dollar by Beacon. Click to learn more and make a donation. Continue reading

Crowdfunding: Nearly 70 percent there!

The Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger Project needs your support

It's getting warm around here!

It’s getting warm around here!

Love the Rockies? Support our independent journalism project.

Love the Rockies? Support our independent journalism project.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With NOAA reporting yet another record high global temperature for June, and afternoon temperatures soaring into the 80s here in Frisco, there’s every reason to believe that we’re heading for uncharted climate territory in the Rocky Mountains. Already, the birds and bees are out of synch with wildflowers, the snowpack is melting weeks earlier than it used to, and spring dust storms are blackening the Rocky Mountain snowpack more frequently each year.

It’s really important to know what those changes mean for us, and especially for future generations — our kids and grandkids — because they will have to live in the greenhouse-gas warmed world that we’ve created with just a few decades of fossil fuel consumption. That’s why once again I’m asking you, faithful Summit Voice readers and subscribers, to support our Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project my making a pledge right now at Beacon, our crowdfunding partner: http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/rocky-mountain-climate-rangers.

And just to be clear, the Beacon-backed Climate Ranger project won’t have any negative effect on Summit Voice. In fact, your support will help enrich the Summit Voice news and photo feed.

Some of you already responded to our grassroots appeal in the last few months. It was your generous response that encouraged us to pursue funding for this two-month father-son climate journalism trek. And right now, Beacon is generously matching every pledge dollar for dollar, so when you support us, your money will be doubled. We’re only about a week away from the end of our pledge drive (July 31) and we’ll only be funded if we get the full amount, so your support is critical.

You can support the project for as little as $5 but we have some great incentives for larger pledges, including a free harvest dinner at the popular Sunshine Cafe in Dillon. A $100 pledge includes dinner for two, along with a climate journalism presentation at the Sunshine Cafe. It’s a great deal, and you’d pay almost that much just to have a nice dinner for two, so why not support homegrown environmental journalism at the same time.

For $200, you’ll be invited to the dinner AND you’ll be eligible for a large-format fine art print from one of Summit Voice’s acclaimed online galleries, or an image from the reporting trek — and I’m sure we’ll get some great shots!

With our deadline approaching, please consider making a pledge now, and if you can’t, please pass along this post via email to anyone who might be interested. Thanks for reading and your continued support.

Donate to the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project

mtnYour contribution to this independent journalism project will be matched dollar for dollar by Beacon. Click to learn more and make a donation.

Climate: Has global warming slowed down?

Study shows natural variability still a factor in climate change

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Staff Report

FRISCO — A cool phase of natural climate variability may have canceled out the heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases the past 15 years, which would explain the so-called global warming slowdown, according to McGill University physicist Shaun Lovejoy.

In a paper published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, Lovejoy concluded after a statistical analysis of average global temperatures between 1998 and 2013 thatslowdown in global warming during this period is consistent with natural variations in temperature.

In a paper published this month in Geophysical Research Letters, Lovejoy concludes that a natural cooling fluctuation during this period largely masked the warming effects of a continued increase in man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Condor chick hatches in Zion National Park

A tagged California condor in flight.

A tagged California condor in flight. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Can the endangered birds recover from the brink of extinction?

Staff Report

FRISCO — California condors have been hovering on the brink of extinction for decades. But the majestic birds may be on the verge of making a comeback in southern Utah, National Park Service biologists said last week, announcing the first-ever birth of a condor chick in Zion National Park.

Without revealing the exact location to the public, biologists had been monitoring a rock cavity in a remote corner of the park for several weeks where they observed the nesting pair. Finally, on June 25, the condor chick made its first appearance at the edge of the nest. Continue reading

Opinion: Lake Hill development should be carbon-neutral

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Bob Berwyn.

Smart up-front planning can minimize our carbon footprint

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Passage of the Lake Hill land conveyance bill by the U.S. Senate last week is good news for Summit County’s efforts to try and keep up with the demand for affordable housing in the pricey mountain resort region, and will also help the U.S. Forest Service by funding a new administrative and maintenance facility. Now that the deal is done, it’s time to start thinking about making sure that the Lake Hill neighborhood becomes a model of sustainable development. Continue reading

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