Western streamflow forecasts a mixed bag

Severe drought continues in Southwest

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California, Arizona and New Mexico reporting very dry conditions.

By Summit VoiceFRISCO — Snowpack across the West is still somewhat of mixed bag in this no-Niño winter, but February storms did help bolster water supplies across the northern tier of states, according to the monthly update from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

East of the Continental Divide as well as parts of Washington, northern Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana are now forecast to have near-normal or above normal water supplies, according to the forecast from the NRCS National Water and Climate Center. Continue reading

Environment: USGS study measures success of abandoned mine cleanups in Montana

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Abandoned mine cleanups can help clean up polluted streams, a new USGS study in Montana finds. 

Water quality improving in Upper Clark Fork Basin

Staff Report

FRISCO — There are hopeful signs that the ongoing cleanup of abandoned mines around the West will pay off.

The U.S. Geological Survey, reported decreased levels  of toxic heavy metals in the streams of Montana’s Upper Clark Fork Basin that have been targeted by remediation efforts. Continue reading

Colorado River District seminar to focus on dwindling snowpack, state water plan and Lake Powell woes

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North American spring-season snow cover extent has declined steadily in recent decades, according to measurements from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab.

‘Shrinking in supply, growing in demand’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Since the 1980s, warmer spring temperatures in the Rocky Mountain region have been melting the snowpack earlier, with increasing temperatures tabbed as the main factor in the decline, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency carefully tracks streamflows and snowpack measurements, with decades of data now showing clear trends toward shorter winters, earlier spring runoff and an overall 20 percent shrinkage of the snowpack in the mountains of the western U.S.

The researchers say at least part of the changes are due to global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but that natural variability is also a factor. Regardless of the exact cause, the snowpack decline is already causing major headaches for water managers in the region facing dwindling supplies and increased demand.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District will focus on some of the emerging critical water questions during its annual water seminar (Sept. 13, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) in Grand Junction. USGS researcher Greg Pederson, who is the lead author on some of the key snowpack studies, will discuss how spring is killing the Rocky Mountain snowpack, especially at lower elevations, where the effects of warmer temperatures are more pronounced. Continue reading

Morning photo: Flyover

West Coast-Denver flight a great geology lesson

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Salty Mono Lake is a unique inland sea in eastern California, and an enduring symbol of success for environmental advocacy, activism and education.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — I’m one of those annoying airplane passengers who always wants a window seat. If I don’t have one, I may be the guy next to you who leans across your lap to catch a glimpse of a familiar or exotic landscape from 35,000 feet up. I’m pretty sure I’ve always been that way, even as a kid, when on family trips, I stared out of the plane window for hours.

Even on trips across the ocean, the ever-changing patterns of sunlight reflecting on the sea and shifting cloud bands hypnotizes me. And if I’m flying over territory that I’ve explored on the ground, so much the better. It’s always fun to spot a familiar landmark from a new perspective.

So on a recent flight from the Bay Area back to Denver, it was a gift to fly over Mono Lake, where I spent some formative years learning about western water issues and environmental advocacy from the incredible grassroots Mono Lake Committee. Later in the flight, the widespread landscape alteration from oil and gas drilling in the intermountain West became apparent, along with slices of untouched Utah wilderness and national park lands.

In this series, the stark light of mid-day and the muted colors of winter paint a subdued picture of the interior West, especially through the filters of my iPhone app. All these images were shot with an iPhone 4S. Continue reading

BLM seeks more humane wild horse program

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Federal resource managers continue to make changes to its wild horse and burro program. Photo courtesy BLM.

New policies aimed at boosting transparency

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — seeking to address the concerns of animal welfare advocates, the Bureau of Land Management this announced internal policy changes to its national Wild Horse and Burro Program that will help strengthen the humane treatment of animals and increase public transparency of management.

“These changes are part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the humane treatment of animals that are gathered from our public rangelands,” said acting BLM Director Mike Pool. “In addition, increasing public transparency is a cornerstone of this Administration’s approach to our work.  These new policies represent significant and substantial improvements, and we anticipate additional steps in the future to continue to strengthen this program.” Continue reading

Feds on high alert for July 4th wildfires

Forest Service, BLM to step up enforcement of fireworks ban

A June, 2011 wildfire in Keystone Gulch burned within a few hundred feet of vacation homes and full-time residences at the Colorado resort. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal land managers will step up enforcement of a personal fireworks ban in the West (covering Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming) and increase patrols and enforcement.

Orders from the top also say that land managers must coordinate across the West to reduce the rist of new fires and to prepare for an efficient response if they do start. And, as a no-brainer, the memo prohibits any prescribed burns while dangerous wildfire conditions prevail. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Most-view & weekend headlines

Crime, wildfires and climate …

Week in review.

The roundup is sponsored Trippons. Click the logo to find E-coupons for your mountain town.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A short initial story about a rare local murder was the most-viewed story of the past week, followed by reports on regional wildfire and stories about last week’s solar eclipse. Google searches and Google News referrals were the big traffic drivers, along with a decent number of referrals from Facebook and Twitter.

Is cattle-grazing damaging public lands in the West?

Cattle grazing continues to degrade vast tracts of public lands in the West. PHOTO COURTESY BLM.

Evaluation of rangelands report suggests damage is growing more widespread

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — By some estimates, the amount of western public lands damaged by improper grazing has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, according to a watchdog group that analyzed a recent  federal rangelands assessment.

According to the federal report, slmost 40 percent of BLM allotments surveyed since 1998 have failed to meet the agency’s own required land health standards, with impairment of more than 33 million acres, an area exceeding the State of Alabama in size, attributed to livestock grazing. Continue reading

Western governors seek better climate information

Western weather forecasting should improve under a new agreement between NOAA and the Western Governors' Association.

Extreme weather prompts call for improved forecasting

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Floods, drought, wildfires and severe storms have spurred the Western Governors’ Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make a deal that will improve the  development and delivery of climate science and services to Western states.

The agreement will increase collaboration and boost existing efforts to ensure Western states and the U.S. Pacific islands are better able to plan for natural hazards.

The memorandum of understanding was signed last week at the WGA’s Annual Meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Govs. C.L. “Butch” Otter (Idaho) and Chris Gregoire (Washington), the Chair and Vice Chair of WGA. WGA includes Governors from 19 Western states and three U.S. Flag Pacific Islands. Continue reading

Report: Colorado River Basin dams degrade national parks

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is centered on the river that flows through its midst, but a new report shows how the operation of dams degrades the very resource that formed the park in the first place. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION.

Natural flow regimens needed to restore habitat

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A pending agreement between Denver Water and West Slope entities has often been described as a “global” settlement, but in reality, the deal doesn’t look very far to either side of the Continental Divide. It’s main focus is ensuring water supplies for the Denver Metro area and for booming recreational communities in the high country.

New diversions — up to 15,000 acre feet per year — will probably exacerbate negative impacts farther downstream, including a series of national parks whose natural history is inexorably linked to the mighty Colorado River. The existing impacts were recently outlined in a new report from the research arm of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association.

The report finds that alterations to the natural state of the river, such as the long-term presence of major dams and non-native species, and changes in water flow is altering the natural landscapes and cultural heritage found in national parks in the southwest. Continue reading

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