Colorado reps meet with other states on Colorado River drought plan

LAS VEGAS — With drought entering a second decade and reservoirs continuing to shrink, seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed Colorado River for crop irrigation and drinking water had been expected to ink a crucial share-the-pain contingency plan by the end of 2018.

They’re not going to make it — at least not in time for upcoming meetings in Las Vegas involving representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the U.S. government, officials say.

Arizona has been the holdout, with farmers, cities, Indian tribes and lawmakers in the state set to be first to feel the pinch still negotiating how to deal with water cutbacks when a shortage is declared, probably in 2020.

“There will be cuts. We all know the clock is ticking. That’s what a lot of the difficult negotiations have been around,” said Kim Mitchell, Western Resource Advocates water policy adviser and a delegate to ongoing meetings involving the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, agricultural, industrial and business interests, the governor, state lawmakers and cities including Tucson and Phoenix.

In Arizona, unlike other states, a final drought contingency plan will have to pass the state Legislature when it convenes in January.

Federal water managers wanted a deal to sign at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference beginning Wednesday in Las Vegas, and threatened earlier this year to impose unspecified measures from Washington if a voluntary drought contingency plan wasn’t reached.

However, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman is signaling that the agency that controls the levers on the river is willing to wait. She is scheduled to talk to the conference on Thursday.

“Reclamation remains cautiously optimistic that the parties will find a path forward,” the bureau said in a statement on Friday, “because finding a consensus deal recognizing the risks of continuing drought and the benefits of a drought contingency plan is in each state’s best interest.”

Colorado River water supports about 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico.

After 19 years of drought and increasing demand, federal water managers project a 52 percent chance that the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam, will fall low enough to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system.

The seven states saw this coming years ago, and used Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in December 2007 to sign a 20-year “guidelines” plan to share the burden of a shortage.

Contingency agreements would update that pact, running through 2026. They call for voluntarily using less to keep more water in the system’s two main reservoirs, lakes Powell and Mead.

Lake Powell upstream from of the Grand Canyon is currently at 43 percent capacity; Lake Mead, downstream, is at 38 percent.

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the river’s Upper Basin states, aim to keep the surface of Lake Powell above a target level to continue water deliveries to irrigation districts and cities and also keep hydroelectric turbines humming at Glen Canyon Dam.

The Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada aim to keep Lake Mead above a shortage declaration trigger point by using less water than they’re legally entitled to.

If Lake Mead falls below that level, Arizona will face a 9 percent reduction in water supply, Nevada a 3 percent cut and California up to 8 percent. Mexico’s share of river water would also be reduced.

Water officials in most states — from the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas to the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado — have signed off on plans in recent weeks.

In Arizona, the board governing the Central Arizona Project irrigation system approved the Lower Basin plan on Thursday.

In California, the sprawling Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves some 19 million people, is set to approve it Tuesday.

Board members there were reminded the agreements are only a short-term fix.

According to a board briefing, the Bureau of Reclamation, seven basin states and water contractors will begin negotiating again beginning no later than 2020.

“That process is expected to result in new rules for management and operation of the Colorado River after 2026,” the board briefing said.

Colorado reps meet with other states on Colorado River drought plan

LAS VEGAS — With drought entering a second decade and reservoirs continuing to shrink, seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed Colorado River for crop irrigation and drinking water had been expected to ink a crucial share-the-pain contingency plan by the end of 2018.

They’re not going to make it — at least not in time for upcoming meetings in Las Vegas involving representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the U.S. government, officials say.

Arizona has been the holdout, with farmers, cities, Indian tribes and lawmakers in the state set to be first to feel the pinch still negotiating how to deal with water cutbacks when a shortage is declared, probably in 2020.

“There will be cuts. We all know the clock is ticking. That’s what a lot of the difficult negotiations have been around,” said Kim Mitchell, Western Resource Advocates water policy adviser and a delegate to ongoing meetings involving the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, agricultural, industrial and business interests, the governor, state lawmakers and cities including Tucson and Phoenix.

In Arizona, unlike other states, a final drought contingency plan will have to pass the state Legislature when it convenes in January.

Federal water managers wanted a deal to sign at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference beginning Wednesday in Las Vegas, and threatened earlier this year to impose unspecified measures from Washington if a voluntary drought contingency plan wasn’t reached.

However, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman is signaling that the agency that controls the levers on the river is willing to wait. She is scheduled to talk to the conference on Thursday.

“Reclamation remains cautiously optimistic that the parties will find a path forward,” the bureau said in a statement on Friday, “because finding a consensus deal recognizing the risks of continuing drought and the benefits of a drought contingency plan is in each state’s best interest.”

Colorado River water supports about 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico.

After 19 years of drought and increasing demand, federal water managers project a 52 percent chance that the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam, will fall low enough to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system.

The seven states saw this coming years ago, and used Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in December 2007 to sign a 20-year “guidelines” plan to share the burden of a shortage.

Contingency agreements would update that pact, running through 2026. They call for voluntarily using less to keep more water in the system’s two main reservoirs, lakes Powell and Mead.

Lake Powell upstream from of the Grand Canyon is currently at 43 percent capacity; Lake Mead, downstream, is at 38 percent.

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the river’s Upper Basin states, aim to keep the surface of Lake Powell above a target level to continue water deliveries to irrigation districts and cities and also keep hydroelectric turbines humming at Glen Canyon Dam.

The Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada aim to keep Lake Mead above a shortage declaration trigger point by using less water than they’re legally entitled to.

If Lake Mead falls below that level, Arizona will face a 9 percent reduction in water supply, Nevada a 3 percent cut and California up to 8 percent. Mexico’s share of river water would also be reduced.

Water officials in most states — from the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas to the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado — have signed off on plans in recent weeks.

In Arizona, the board governing the Central Arizona Project irrigation system approved the Lower Basin plan on Thursday.

In California, the sprawling Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves some 19 million people, is set to approve it Tuesday.

Board members there were reminded the agreements are only a short-term fix.

According to a board briefing, the Bureau of Reclamation, seven basin states and water contractors will begin negotiating again beginning no later than 2020.

“That process is expected to result in new rules for management and operation of the Colorado River after 2026,” the board briefing said.

“We are in trouble”: Global carbon emissions reached record high in 2018

Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are actually doing.

Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent.

The expected increase, which would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record high of 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, is being driven by nearly 5 percent emissions growth in China and more than 6 percent in India, researchers estimated, along with growth in many other nations throughout the world. Emissions by the United States grew 2.5 percent, while emissions by the European Union declined by just under 1 percent.

As nations are gathered for climate talks in Poland, the message of Wednesday’s report was unambiguous: When it comes to promises to begin cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, the world remains well off target.

“We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference, where countries will wrestle with the ambitious goals they need to meet to sharply reduce carbon emissions in coming years.

“It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation,” he added. “Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”

Guterres was not commenting specifically on Wednesday’s findings, which were released in a trio of scientific papers by researchers with the Global Carbon Project. But his words came amid a litany of grim news in the fall in which scientists have warned that the effects of climate change are no longer distant and hypothetical, and that the impacts of global warming will only intensify in the absence of aggressive international action.

In October, a top U.N.-backed scientific panel found that nations have barely a decade to take “unprecedented” actions and cut their emissions in half by 2030 to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. The panel’s report found “no documented historic precedent” for the rapid changes to the infrastructure of society that would be needed to hold warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

The day after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration released a nearly 1,700-page report co-written by hundreds of scientists finding that climate change is already causing increasing damage to the United States. That was soon followed by another report detailing the growing gap between the commitments made at earlier U.N. conferences and what is needed to steer the planet off its calamitous path.

Coupled with Wednesday’s findings, that drumbeat of daunting news has cast a considerable pall over the international climate talks in Poland, which began this week and are scheduled to run through Dec. 14.

Negotiators there face the difficult task of coming to terms with the gap between the promises they made in Paris in 2015 and what’s needed to control dangerous levels of warming – a first step, it is hoped, toward more aggressive climate action beginning in 2020. Leaders at the conference also are trying to put in place a process for how countries measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions to the rest of the world in the years ahead.

But while most of the world remains firmly committed to the notion of tackling climate change, many countries are not on pace to meet their relatively modest Paris pledges. The Trump administration has continued to roll back environmental regulations and insist that it will exit the Paris agreement in 2020. Brazil, which has struggled to rein in deforestation, in the fall elected a leader in Jair Bolsonaro who has pledged to roll back protections for the Amazon.

The biggest emissions story in 2018, though, appears to be China, the world’s single largest emitting country, which grew its output of planet-warming gases by nearly half a billion tons, researchers estimate. (The United States is the globe’s second-largest emitter).

The country’s sudden, significant increase in carbon emissions could be linked to a wider slowdown in the economy, environmental analysts said.

“Under pressure of the current economic downturn, some local governments might have loosened supervision on air pollution and carbon emissions,” said Yang Fuqiang, an energy adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental organization.

China’s top planning agency said Wednesday that three areas – Liaoning in the northeast Rust Belt and the big coal-producing regions of Ningxia and Xinjiang in the northwest – had failed to meet their targets to curb energy consumption growth and improve efficiency last year.

But Yang said that these areas were not representative of the whole country, and that China was generally on the right track. “There is still a long way ahead in terms of pollution control and emissions reduction, but we expect to see more ambitions in central government’s plans and actions,” he said.

Such changes – in all large-emitting nations – have to happen fast.

Scientists have said that annual carbon dioxide emissions need to plunge almost by half by the year 2030 if the world wants to hit the most stringent – and safest – climate change target. That would be either keeping the Earth’s warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius – when it is already at 1 degrees – or only briefly “overshooting” that temperature.

But emissions are far too high to limit warming to such an extent. And instead of falling dramatically, they’re still rising.

Wednesday’s research makes clear the intimidating math behind the fundamental shift that scientists say is required. While some nations continue to grow their emissions and some are shrinking them, overall there are still more additions than subtractions.

“We’re not seeing declines in wealthy countries that outpace the increases in other parts of the world,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University who contributed to the research as part of the Global Carbon Project.

The problem of cutting emissions is that it leads to difficult choices in the real world. A growing global economy inevitably stokes more energy demand. And different countries are growing their emissions – or failing to shrink them – for different reasons.

“India is providing electricity and energy to hundreds of millions of people who don’t have it yet,” said Jackson. “That’s very different than in China, where they are ramping up coal use again in part because their economic growth has been slowing. They’re greenlighting coal based projects that have been on hold.”

The continuing growth in global emissions is happening, researchers noted, even though renewable energy sources are growing. It’s just that they’re still far too small as energy sources.

“Solar and wind are doing great, they’re going quite well,” said Glen Peters, director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo and another of the Global Carbon Project authors. “But in China and India, the solar and wind are just filling new demand. You could say if you didn’t have solar or wind, emissions could be higher. But solar and wind are nowhere near big enough yet to replace fossil fuels.”

The figures the researchers provided are an estimate based on available energy and cement industry data through the first nine months of the year, and projections based on economic trends and the amount of carbon different countries are believed to be emitting to use energy. The estimated growth could change a bit, Jackson said — it’s possible the final number could be between an increase of 1.8 percent and 3.7 percent. But either way, there’s little doubt that 2018 hit a new record high for global emissions.

In the United States, emissions in 2018 are projected to have risen 2.5 percent, driven in part by a very warm summer that led to high air conditioning use and a very cold winter in the Northeast, but also by a continued use of oil driven by low gas prices and bigger cars. U.S. emissions had been on a downturn, as coal plants are replaced by natural gas plants and renewable energy, but that momentum ground to a halt this year, at least temporarily. In Europe, cars also have been a major driver of slower-than-expected emissions reductions.

As for China, coal accounts for about 60 percent of China’s total energy consumption, but the government hopes to bring it down to 10 percent by 2050.

Thanks to increased investment in green energy, China’s carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP, declined by 46 percent by 2017 from 2005 levels, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment reported earlier this week. It had expected it would take until 2020 to reach the targeted 40-45 percent reduction.

“With these goals met, a very solid foundation has been laid for meeting the target of halting the increase of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and even accomplishing that sooner than planned,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change affairs, told the state-owned news agency Xinhua ahead of the meeting in Poland.

China will remain steadfast and active in addressing climate change and implementing the Paris agreement, Xie said.

But officials and analysts alike point out that the United States is not doing its part to combat global warming. “We would also love to see the United States embrace its responsibilities by returning to the Paris climate deal,” said Yang of the NRDC.

Despite the overwhelming challenges, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, still holds high hopes for the talks in Poland.

“I’m an optimist because of human nature,” Espinosa said in an interview. She suspects the spate of ominous climate news might have spurred a sort of tipping point, where societies begin demanding aggressive actions from their leaders to stave off the most disastrous effects of climate change.

“I think we have kind of reached the limit,” she said. “When we are facing the limit, I think we need to come up with something more creative, more ambitious, stronger and bolder.”

– – –

The Washington Post’s Lyric Li contributed to this story from Beijing.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission faces loss of member over rates, renewables

The move by a Montrose-based electric cooperative to buy out its contract with wholesale energy provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is the latest effort by Colorado utilities to cut reliance on fossil fuels and boost the use of renewable energy.

The Delta-Montrose Electric Association said it intends to end its contract with wholesale power provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission to take better advantage of the falling costs of renewable sources. Delta-Montrose filed a complaint with state regulators that the fee Tri-State wants for letting the cooperative out of its contract is unreasonable and discriminatory.

Brighton-based United Power, the largest member cooperative in Tri-States’ four-state service territory, is taking a different route to resolve its issues with rates and the demand for more renewable energy. United Power, whose service area includes southern Weld County and Denver’s northeast suburbs, has proposed a change in the bylaws that would allow the cooperatives to buy an undetermined percentage of their power from other sources.

“Many of our members are asking for more of a mix of renewables,” United Power spokesman Troy Whitmore said Friday. “The purpose is to get a more active conversation going with Tri-State.”

The hope is to discuss a possible change in the bylaws during Tri-State’s annual meeting in April, Whitmore added.

Tri-State, based in Westminster, generates and transmits power to 43 member cooperatives in four states: Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska. The cooperatives, which include United Power and Delta Montrose Electric Association, in turn provide electricity to their members, including businesses and households.

Tri-State has been criticized by some cooperatives it serves and renewable-energy advocates for relying too heavily on coal at a time when the costs of wind and solar energy are falling and concerns about climate-changing emissions from fossil fuels are increasing.

“We believe this is in the best interest of our membership. That’s our bottom line,”  Virginia Harman, ( the Delta-Montrose cooperative’s chief operating officer said of the complaint filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Delta-Montrose has been talking to Tri-State for more than a decade about ways to stabilize its rates, which have jumped 56 percent since 2005, Harman said.

The cooperative’s complaint says Delta-Montrose wants to develop more local, cost-effective renewable energy resources but Tri-State hasn’t been receptive. It has objected to a 5-percent limit on the amount of energy that Tri-State members can generate on their own.

Tri-State will have 20 days to respond to the formal complaint by Delta-Montrose, and the Public Utilities Commission will decide how to proceed, spokesman Terry Bote ( said.

“We are disappointed that (Delta-Montrose) has decided to attempt to litigate this matter rather than negotiate their withdrawal. Tri-State continues to believe that negotiations on withdrawal are far preferable to litigating this matter,” Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said in a statement.

Regarding the proposal by United Power, Boughey said in an email that engagement between Tri-State’s members on their contract is not surprising and the board of directors “regularly considers the contract to ensure the association meets the needs of its members. These discussions continue.”

Tri-State’s wholesale rates have remained stable four of the last five years, won’t increase next year and are forecast to remain stable in the years to come, Boughey added. In addition, 30 percent of Tri-State’s comes from renewable energy sources and the association is currently negotiating to add more renewable sources.

“We acknowledge that Tri-State has added renewables,” Whitmore said.

The problem, added Whitmore, is that United Power pays roughly 28.5 percent more than adjacent customers of Xcel Energy-Colorado and the fear is the gap will continue to grow. That’s a big disadvantage when communities served by United Power are trying to attract businesses to the area, he said.

United Power members also want to increase the amount of renewable energy sources used and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Whitmore added.

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, Tuesday unveiled a new goal of eliminating all carbon emissions across its eight-state territory by 2050. Its energy plan approved by regulators in August includes boosting its use of renewable energy to 55 percent of its mix by 2026 and the early retirement of two coal plants.

Harman with Delta-Montrose also expressed concerns about the cooperative’s electric rates being a drag on economic development.

“If we have rate stabilization we can really encourage businesses to relocate to our area,” Harman said. “We have had organizations reach out to us looking at building in the area and  they do ask us about electric rates. Our rates have not been competitive.”

The cooperative is working with Guzman Energy, the same energy wholesaler and energy-trading company that financed the $37 million buyout of New Mexico-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s contract with Tr-State in 2016. Chris Riley, Guzman’s president, said plummeting costs of wind and solar have drastically changed the energy landscape and created opportunities for utilities that want to decrease rates while switching to cleaner energy sources.

The cost of coal-powered electricity can vary depending on a plant’s efficiency, Riley said, but generally wind power is in the range of 2 cents per kilowatt hour and large-scale solar power is in the range of 2.5 cents to 3 cents. In contrast, coal can range from 3 cents to 4 cents per kilowatt hour, he said.

When Xcel Energy sought bids from energy companies in 2016 as it was developing its electric resource plan. it received more than 400 bids, many of those at historically low prices for wind and solar energy. Colorado regulators called the number of bids and prices unprecedented.

The Kit Carson cooperative based in Taos, N.M., is scheduled to pay off the $37 million contract buyout fee in the sixth year of the 10-year agreement it signed with Guzman Energy, said Luis Reyes, the cooperative’s CEO. Until then, the rates might be about the same or slightly higher than under Tri-State, but will drop 40 percent, as stipulated in the contract, once the loan is repaid.

Kit Carson expects to save $50 million to $70 million altogether under the contract with Guzman, Reyes added. Rising rates and members’ desire to expand the use of renewable energy contributed to leaving Tri-State, he said.

“We joined Tri-State in 2000 and between then and 2014, our rates had doubled,” Reyes said.

Now, the cooperative has certainty and expects to get 100 percent of its daytime power from solar energy by 2022, he said.

Supplementing 9-to-5 jobs, Colorado millennials turn to side hustles to get by — and craft their dream careers

When 22-year-old Marguerite Horton isn’t at her two part-time jobs — working at a waste management company and as a sustainability manager for a Denver catering company — the Louisville millennial likely can be found plugging away at her eco-friendly blog, Instagram account and online shop.

Unless she’s tending to the pups she dog-sits on the side.

While the idea of all that may leave some winded, Horton doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. She’s one of nearly four in 10 Americans whose daily grind includes a side job — or three — and is a part of the generation more likely than any other age group to identify as a “side hustler,” according to a 2018 survey from financial information website Bankrate.

“Millennials are more likely than members of other generations to say they have a side hustle,”  Bankrate’s Amanda Dixon wrote. “In fact, the odds of someone earning money from a second job decline with age.”

Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Margeurite Horton works on her blog/merchandise shop from her home November 20, 2018.

Andrew Hudson, founder of well-known Colorado job board Andrew Hudson’s Jobs List, isn’t surprised by the study’s findings. He’s found that most entry-level jobs for recent college graduates start at an annual income of around $30,000 to $40,000.

“That’s about what it started at when I graduated from college in 1989,” Hudson said. “You think about all the expenses a millennial has to worry about right now: college debt, cost of housing in Colorado, technology, cell phones, health care and all these things we never had to worry about. These costs have all risen. It is literally impossible for them to be able to survive on a $35,000-a-year salary at a so-called professional job.”

In 2015, 5.6 percent of Coloradans held down multiple jobs, which was slightly higher than the national average of 4.9 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

“The side hustle thing has been going on a long time,” said Alexandra Hall, the department’s chief economist. “It’s also known as the gig economy now because it’s been powered by technology that makes the transaction much easier than it used to be. Back in the ’90s, it would have been more complex to make the arrangement. Technology is changing things to make it much easier to participate.”

Technology makes Horton’s side hustle possible.

Horton moved to Colorado this summer after graduating from the University of Vermont, joining her twin sister, who graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder, out West. The sisters, raised by parents who owned a restaurant, developed a strong relationship with food and the complex issues that went with it — food waste, health, agriculture and beyond. During college, Horton along with her sister and friends worked on a blog with a name too profane to print that stood for strong relationships with people, food and the Earth.

Horton helps design sustainable T-shirts that they re-purpose from thrift stores, as well as stickers, buttons and posters, and sells them through the blog, which features content about the environment, good eats and social justice issues.

On the weekends, Horton also uses the Rover app to find local dog owners willing to pay for someone to walk or watch their precious pups.

“We’re all just out of college, so this is just a big transition for us,” Horton said. “We’re still trying to figure out what career we want to do or if we’re happy with what we’re doing right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but comfort in knowing what we’re doing now might not be what we’re doing in four months.”

While the dogs and the blog help supplement Horton’s income by about 10 percent to 15 percent, she views her side hustles more as passion projects that keep her pursuing interests she loves.

“I like getting to do different things,” Horton said. “No day looks exactly the same, and I get to move around, be around different people, make those personal connections with new people all the time. I don’t know if I ever really want to work full-time on just one thing.”

Andy Cross, The Denver Post
LOUISVILLE, CO – NOVEMBER 20: Margeurite Horton works on her blog/merchandise shop from her home November 20, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Brandon Wong, a 24-year-old Arvada resident, is also using his new side hustle as a launching pad for his dream job.

Wong works about 40 hours a week at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store. On his days off, he becomes a part-time financial educator through Five Rings Financial, growing a clientele in the financial industry. Wong, a graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver, turns into his own boss when he’s not working retail, helping educate people about their financial futures.

“My goal is to create a side hustle that turns into a career,” Wong said. “I don’t want to have a 9-to-5 schedule. I don’t want to have a boss who dictates when I take a break. I want a lifestyle where I’m controlling my own time and living my own dream.”

Not having days off was hard for Wong at first.

“It was really exhausting,” Wong said. “But it got to the point where I was looking at my bigger goals, and it motivated me to not think about the crazy hours. We live in Colorado. It’s expensive. This gives me the opportunity to save up and buy a house and have future college savings for my future kids and retirement savings while making the money I need at the same time.”

Hudson hears from senior working professionals who complain about their millennial employee’s entitlement, griping that the younger workers stay in one place for a couple of years and then move on.

“Then I hear from millennials who say they don’t mind paying their dues, but they gotta pay the rent,” Hudson said. “And I get that. The American dream where you pay your dues for decades and move up in your career in your 40s and buy a house and get married and have kids has become such a distant illusion. You don’t see people working for the same company to get the gold watch anymore.”

Trump administration takes steps to open public lands to drilling by easing sage grouse protections

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration moved forward Thursday with plans to ease restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling, mining and other activities that were put in place to protect an imperiled bird species across millions of acres in the American West.

Land management documents released by the U.S. Interior Department show the administration intends to open more public lands to leasing and allow waivers for drilling to encroach into the habitat of greater sage grouse.

Critics warned the changes could wipe out grouse colonies as drilling disrupts breeding grounds. Federal officials under President Barack Obama in 2015 had adopted a sweeping set of land use restrictions intended to stop the birds’ decline.

Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said the agency was responding to requests by states to give them more flexibility in how public lands are managed. He said the goal to conserve sage grouse was unchanged.

From the Opinion Page: “When the sage-grouse deal is broken for special interests, we all lose.” 

“I completely believe that these plans are leaning forward on the conservation of sage grouse,” Bernhardt told The Associated Press. “Do they do it in exactly the same way? No. We made some change in the plans and got rid of some things that are simply not necessary.”

The changes drew a sharp backlash from conservation groups and wildlife advocates, who warned excessive use of drilling waivers could push sage grouse onto the list of threatened and endangered species.

“If you allow exception after exception, that might make sense for a particular project in a particular spot, but you add them all together and you have death by a thousand cuts,” said National Wildlife Association Vice President Tracy Stone-Manning.

Sage grouse range across about 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) in parts of 11 Western U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Their numbers plummeted in recent decades.

In 2015, after determining the Obama administration’s plans were sufficient to keep the bird from slipping toward extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pledged to revisit its status in five years.

The agency revealed Thursday that it no longer plans that 2020 status review, often a first step toward determining if greater protections are needed.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland told the AP that the Fish and Wildlife Service is not legally required to complete a review. Instead, it will work with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to document the effectiveness of the conservation plans.

Under President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has vowed to lift obstacles to drilling, and grouse protections have long been viewed by the energy industry as an obstacle to development.

MORE: Amid drought, a changing climate and population growth, can Colorado’s unique water law system survive?

The new plans remove the most protective habitat designations for about 13,000 square miles (34,000 square kilometers) of public land. Those areas, considered essential to the species’ survival, were a centerpiece of the Obama policy. The Trump administration also wants to drop some requirements to prioritize leasing for oil and gas outside sage grouse habitat.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said Thursday’s announcement showed federal officials heeded the state’s desire for changes to the 2015 plans.

“This is a great example of federal leaders listening to state leaders, valuing their expertise, and changing their plans based on that input,” Herbert said in a statement.

But U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, said the Interior Department “has decided to put the interests of the oil and gas industry ahead of the best interests of Nevadans.”

“This new plan undermines the delicate balance Western states had struck to ensure the protection of sage grouse populations and strengthen economic development across the western United States,” she said.

Sage grouse are large, ground-dwelling birds known for an elaborate mating ritual in which males strut around breeding grounds with large, puffed-out air sacs protruding from their chests.

They once numbered in the millions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates there are 200,000 to 500,000 of the birds after energy development, disease and other causes decimated populations in some areas.

The Trump administration’s proposal would reverse or modify the Obama-era protections in seven states — Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, Idaho and Oregon. No significant changes were proposed in Montana, Washington or the Dakotas.

The oil and gas industry chafed at the old rules. Once Trump took office, industry representatives lobbied the administration to give more recognition to changes in drilling practices that reduce land disturbance.

“We can do both — protect sage grouse and move forward with responsible energy development,” said Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, which represents more than 300 oil and gas companies. “We’ve reduced the size of well pads, reduced the numbers of wells. And we had done all these things and the prior administration assumed development was taking place like it was 20 years ago.”

Governors from several Western states previously raised concerns over a related federal directive from the Bureau of Land Management that would limit a type of land swap that can be used to preserve habitat for the birds.

Without land swaps and related forms of compensation to offset habitat damage, the governors said it would be harder to help the sage grouse.

In response, the Interior Department Thursday revised the directive to say federal officials would consider state-mandated or voluntary proposals for land swaps or similar offsets.

“Where there’s a state requirement, we require in our permits that they comply with state requirements,” Bernhardt said.

The governors and the public get another chance to weigh in before a final decision is expected in early 2019.

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A Western Slope electric co-op’s demands for renewable energy is barreling toward a legal showdown

The battle between a West Slope rural electric cooperative and one of the largest power wholesales in the West has tumbled into the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

The Delta-Montrose Electric Association, stymied in its efforts to quit its contract with power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, has filed a complaint with the PUC asking it to “adjudicate” an exit fee.

DMEA and Tri-State have been in negotiations over an exit fee for about two years but have been far apart as Tri-State has set a very high figure, DMEA CEO Jason Bronec said. “Their practices and posture have been discriminatory and unfair.”

DMEA has sparred with Tri-State for nearly a decade as the co-op saw rates rise 56 percent since 2005 and the wholesaler tried to block local renewable energy projects because its contract requires members to get 95 percent of their electricity from the association.

Local control of generation is an economic development issue, an environmental issue and a way to blunt the impact of high rates, Bronec said.

Westminster-based Tri-State is the wholesale power supplier for electric cooperatives in four western states, including 18 co-ops in Colorado.

Tri-State representatives have said that the association has made investments in plants and lines in anticipation of servicing its long-term contracts and in fairness to the remaining members, a departing co-op needs to cover some of those costs.

A wind turbine with the sun shining in the sky. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“We are disappointed that DMEA has decided to attempt to litigate this matter rather than negotiate their withdrawal,” Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Westminster-based Tri-State, wrote in an email. “Tri-State continues to believe that negotiations on withdrawal are far preferable to litigating this matter. Tri-State has not seen a copy of the DMEA complaint and cannot comment further at this time.”

In 2016, the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, in Taos, N.M., became the first co-op to buy its way out of Tri-State as it sought to add more renewable energy. Its exit fee was $37 million.

“Our overall sales are one-and-a-half times Kit Carson’s, but our buy-out number was magnitudes higher than Kit Carson’s,” Bronec said. The exact number is cloaked in a non-disclosure agreement.

MORE: Fight over prices, renewable energy spurs second rural cooperative to leave Tri-State Generation

DMEA asked Tri-State for the details on how it arrived at the Kit Carson exit fee, Bronec said. When Tri-State refused, DMEA filed a complaint with the Tri-State board seeking the information. The board backed management.

DMEA turned to the PUC arguing that this is a rate issue, since any exit fee would be paid through rates.

“Under Colorado public utilities law, the PUC has legal responsibility to ensure that public utility rates and charges are just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory,” the cooperative said in a statement.

The co-op wants the PUC to set-up a hearing to set an exit fee. “We need some regulatory intervention on behalf of our ratepayers,”Bronec said.

Bronec said there is some precedent as three rural cooperatives — La Plata Electric Association, White River Electric Association and Empire Electric Association — in 2013 filed with the PUC for rate relief from Tri-State. That complaint was settled without PUC action.

When Kit Carson left Tri-State, Miami-based Guzman Energy, who became the city’s power supplier, provided the $37 million exit fee, which it is recouping in rates for the first five years of a 10-year contract. The co-op estimates it will save $70 million over the life of that contract compared to Tri-State rates.

DMEA said it too will partner with Guzman Energy if it is successful in leaving Tri-State.

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Cory Gardner, Scott Tipton bring new “good Samaritan” bill to address abandoned mines and stoke solution for $50B problem

Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday introduced the latest version of a so-called “good Samaritan” bill to address abandoned, leaking mines in the U.S. with hopes of breaking roughly two decades of congressional gridlock on the topic.

With just weeks left before the end of the year, the legislation offered by the two Republicans has a near-impossible path toward passage, but is meant to set the table for broader conversations in 2019.

The bill would let environmental and conservation groups prove the good Samaritan concept by working with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up 15 abandoned mines, most of which are leaking toxic waste.

The measure is called good Samaritan legislation because those good-will groups would be exempt from strict clean-water standards that typically come with addressing historic mining sites, Those rules currently keep do-gooder groups from completing remediation work.

“Across Colorado and the West we have needed a permanent solution to the dangerous problem of abandoned mines,” Gardner said in a written statement. “The opportunity to clean up the environment around these sites is crucial and this pilot program will finally allow for the long overdue process to begin.”

Gardner said he understands changes to the bill might be necessary and that he looks “forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to evaluate their feedback.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, during a tour of abandoned mining sites in Clear Creek County in August 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

A sign of likely future holdup is lack of a Democratic sponsor on the legislation — namely Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who has also been pushing for a good Samaritan bill. Bennet and Gardner worked on a draft version of a similar bill in 2016.

“Abandoned mines across Colorado and the West need to be cleaned up,” Bennet told The Colorado Sun in a statement. “We are willing to work with anyone to pass good Samaritan legislation with appropriate environmental safeguards. We have a strong history of working together in our delegation and have made a lot of progress on a bipartisan and comprehensive solution to address this issue. We should restart the conversation in that spirit.”

Also, environmental groups are leery of this type of legislation because they worry it could create more pollution and would not do enough to solve the enormously complex issue of abandoned mines.

There are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines across the U.S., 23,000 of which are in Colorado alone.

“The American West is littered with approximately 500,000 abandoned mines that shackle taxpayers with an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated $50 billion in costs,” Lauren Pagel, policy director for the environmental group Earthworks, said in a statement Thursday. “Good Samaritans, no matter their intentions, lack the resources to dent a problem of this scale.  And this bill does nothing to address disasters like Gold King.”

The 2015 Gold King mine spill in southwest Colorado rekindled interest in good Samaritan legislation. However, Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on how to clean up abandoned mines without sacrificing environmental protections.

MORE: Three years after the Gold King Mine spill there’s no fix to leaky abandoned mines. What’s the holdup?

Groups like Earthworks want to see changes made to the nation’s 1872 Mining Law, specifically some kind of mechanism where current mining companies can pay into a fund dedicated toward abandoned mine cleanup.

Gardner and Tipton’s bill would bar any mining companies from working on sites they previously owned or operated. It would, however, allow those companies to clean up other abandoned mines.

The legislation bars so-called “re-mining” — or resuming mining activity at a site that’s being cleaned up — though it would allow groups to reprocess waste at a site to defray the cost of cleanup and help the EPA pay for overseeing the program.

Environmental groups also fear that good Samaritan legislation would allow companies to mine for profit without facing environmental regulations. The re-mining and cleanup-cost offset provisions in the new bill aim to address those anxieties.

“There are many Good Samaritan groups that have the technical expertise, financial ability and desire to conduct successful remediation at abandoned mines, but they are discouraged from taking on projects due to current regulations,” Tipton said in a statement.

Conservation group Trout Unlimited, which has been working with Gardner on the bill, has endorsed the legislation, as has the mining industry.

The bill’s formal name is the Good Samaritan Remediation of Orphaned Hardrock Mines Act of 2018.

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Colorado regulators mull new rules increasing buffer zones for oil, gas drilling near schools

By Dan Elliot, The Associated Press

Colorado oil and gas regulators are considering enlarging the mandatory buffer zone between new wells and school property.

A proposal released by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission late Wednesday afternoon would require new wells to be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) from buildings as well as outdoor areas that schools use, such as playgrounds and athletic fields.

Current rules require the same size buffer zone but measure it from school buildings, not outdoor areas. That allows wells to be closer to playgrounds and similar facilities.

Regulators could still allow wells closer if areas outside the buffer zone are deemed to be technically infeasible or economically impractical. School officials could also agree to allow wells within the buffer zone.

The rule would apply to future facilities as well as existing ones if schools plan to have them in place within three years.

Read more energy stories from The Colorado Sun.

In written comments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said it supported the new rules but asked for changes.

The association said the rules should make it clear that the expanded buffer zone does not apply to non-school facilities that are sometimes used for school activities, such as municipal tennis courts, golf courses and baseball fields.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will consider the rule at a hearing Dec. 17 and 18.

The hearing will be held just six weeks after Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have required a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and what the measure called vulnerable areas such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals.

MORE: Proposition 112 fails, but big vote total signals oil and gas setbacks will be headed to the Colorado capitol

The measure also would have allowed local governments to require even bigger buffer zones. The industry advertised heavily against it.

The proposed rule expanding the school buffer zone was separate from the ballot measure. The school rule has been in the works since August.

The latest draft of the proposed rule had not been posted on the commission’s website Wednesday.

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Jefferson Parkway finalists to be selected in December

The Jefferson Parkway, the controversial 10-mile tollway that would nearly complete the beltway around metro Denver, is set to take a big step forward this month with the selection of finalist firms to design, build and operate the road connecting Broomfield to Golden.

Thursday marks the deadline by which companies must notify the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority that they are interested in being a contender to land the $200 million project as part of a public-private partnership. The authority’s board of directors is scheduled to choose no more than three finalists Dec. 20.

“Jefferson Parkway is on the way to being built,” Bill Ray, executive director of the authority, said this week.

After the Dec. 20 selection, he said, the authority will issue a request for proposals from the three finalist firms in the spring. They will likely have until the fall of 2019 to submit responses. Construction, if all goes well, would begin in the spring of 2020.

“This is going to be a very complex document,” Ray said of the RFP. “It’s not a trivial process.”

The selection of a list of finalists that would finance, design and build the highway that would run past Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, down the east side of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and through Arvada’s Leyden Rock neighborhood out to State Highway 93 is a significant step in what has been a decade-long process to get the road built, Ray said.

“What this says is that the marketplace is indicating its belief in the future success of the Jefferson Parkway as a public-private partnership,” he said.

The parkway, which would be a tolled road akin to the Northwest Parkway and E-470, has been the subject of multiple lawsuits over the last few years, as Superior, Golden and environmental groups have challenged it on environmental grounds. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the parkway in 2015.

The proposed project also ran into trouble with the Federal Aviation Administration last year over its proximity to the ends of runways at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport.

The fierce fight over an artesian spring in southern Colorado provides a glimpse of coming water wars

TELLER COUNTY — Until Colorado water authorities announced a plan to cap it and locals started a petition drive to save it, the little spring at Gillette Flats never inspired much reflection.

No one knows when someone first stuck a pipe in the ground to tap the water burbling up a few miles north of Cripple Creek. No one knows who pulled up a stock tank to capture it.

But the spring over the years became just another part of the local landscape — as free to enjoy as the county’s soaring views of Pikes Peak.

Then, amid a severe drought this year and worries of even worse water shortages in the future, the state in September declared that the spring is illegal. It would have to be shut down.

“No one really has stepped forward with evidence that there ever was a permit or decree for it,” said Bill Tyner, the division engineer for Colorado’s Water Division 2, which covers the Arkansas River basin. “We’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of people who claim they’ve used water from the well but no one who has stepped forward and said, ‘That’s mine; I own that.’”

The ensuing fight over the Gillette Flats spring shows what happens when the state’s historic laws for apportioning water crash head-on into community sentiment over what it means to live in Colorado.

With prolonged drought becoming the norm, it will hardly be the last time.

To officials at Colorado’s Division of Water Resources, the debate over the spring is not a close call. The spring sits just off Colorado 67 on land owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation — which doesn’t want responsibility for it. The owner of the surrounding land says it’s not his.

The state doles out water based on an orderly queue of rights. So, to state regulators, taking water you don’t have a right to isn’t just cutting in line, it’s like skipping the line and breaking in through a back door.

But, to locals, capping the spring is akin to shuttering part of their community. People depend on the water from the spring, they say. But their arguments for keeping it open also spiral into broader concerns, over the rising cost of living and increased crowding and a looming sense that the Colorado they grew up in — or moved to — is vanishing.

“It’s taking away the ambiance of what Colorado is,” said Wendy Lee Sobisky, who lives in the nearby town of Victor and is leading the campaign to keep the spring open. “I didn’t come here from California to see it look like California.”

The Gillette Flats natural artesian spring sits along Colorado 67 on the way to Cripple Creek at mile marker 57, and for decades area folks have free access to fill up all manner of containers. The Colorado Division of Natural Resources has announced that the spring will remain open until April 2019. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

And this fight is being waged over a relatively small amount of water.

Tyner estimated that the spring produces no more than 15 gallons of water a minute — about the same as a good-producing residential well. The majority of that, though, likely overflows the stock tank and soaks back into the ground, returning to the water supply. Some gets flushed down drains or toilets, going back to streams via water treatment systems. All told, Teller County residents and visitors might be consuming only an acre-foot of water a year from the spring — in a state that measures its total downstream obligations in millions of acre-feet.

MORE: Amid drought, a changing climate and population growth, can Colorado’s unique water law system survive?

For a long time, it was little enough that the state turned a blind eye. But Tyner said a 2017 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette showed that some locals had begun using the spring as an alternative to drilling their own wells or buying water from a supplier. (The Gazette was also the first to report earlier this year on the spring’s planned closure.)

There was sometimes a line at the spring. People brought huge tanks and used motorized pumps to fill up.

“Hauling water away for domestic use, that’s the use that starts to consume water and take it out of the system,” he said.

The fact that Colorado was in a drought year only heightened the stakes. Tyner said there are plenty of permitted water rights owners in the Arkansas basin who got no water this year because those with more senior rights took all that was available. Though it wasn’t a huge amount of water, the Gillette Flats spring likely took a little bit more from those playing by the rules, Tyner said.

So the state made an announcement: The spring would be capped.

And that’s when the fight really began.

Andy Coron of Colorado Springs fills containers at the Gillette Flats natural artesian spring Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Coron said he collects water each time he drives past the spring on the way to Cripple Creek casinos. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Inside the historic Florissant Grange hall, two dozen people in the audience stared forward with incredulous expressions.

Before them, Tyner and two other district water officials tried to explain the decision to cap the spring.

“As citizens of Colorado,” he said at the meeting, which took place in late October, “if you want to have water for your homes, it’s probably going to cost you something. You’ve had a unique system where it didn’t cost you as much. But people in Colorado have to pay for water.”

The crowd grew increasingly restless.

Audience members accused the state of trying to strong-arm the poor. They accused local water districts of greed because capping the spring could bring in new customers.

Told that it would cost people tens of thousands of dollars each to drill new domestic wells at their homes, one woman asked: “How do you expect people to fork over the cost of a new car just to get water when they can get it now for free?”

To Tyner’s explanation of the water rights system, a man asked: “Why do we think that all of Denver owns all of our water and all of Colorado Springs owns the rest of the water?”

The voices in the Grange echoed much of the public outcry over the spring’s planned closure.

After Sobisky started an online petition to keep the spring open, more than 3,000 people signed their names to it. In comments on the petition site, people wrote about childhood visits to the spring or the need to preserve a free water source for the poor. They lamented what they believe Colorado is becoming.

“Water is sacred,” one woman wrote.

And, back in the Grange hall, Sobisky tended to agree.

“I know Colorado has this whole water rights thing going on with legal beagles,” she said. “But I just don’t understand it. It’s a natural spring.”

Wendy Lee Sobisky is leading up a change.org petition to keep the Gillette Flats natural artesian spring open along Colorado 67 on the way to Cripple Creek. She was photographed at the spring Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

One agreement did come out of the meeting: A potential way to preserve the spring, legally.

An initial shutdown date in November has already been pushed back to April. But Tyner told the crowd that, if they could come up with a plan to replace the water they take from the spring, the state could issue the spring a permit and bring it permanently into the water rights system.

It wouldn’t be easy. Such plans — called augmentation plans — require detailed research, a good chunk of money to buy replacement water rights elsewhere and lots of work in water court.

Sobisky has created a new Facebook group and begun, with others, conducting surveys out at the spring. She needs to know how many people are using water from the spring, how much they’re taking, where they’re taking it and what they’re using it for. Likely more than $30,000 needs to be raised.

But she’s optimistic — and a little chastened.

“I do get the reasons of augmentation, because the people living in lower elevations south from the spring do need all they can get,” she wrote on the Facebook group’s page shortly after the meeting. “When word first got out, reactions spoke for themselves including my own. At the moment of shock, we just don’t take others into consideration right off the bat and now, my heart pours out for these people.”

The group has also picked up a newly powerful ally. Incoming state Rep. Mark Baisley, a Republican, attended the meeting in Florissant when he was still just a candidate and vowed to help with the augmentation plan as best he can — as long as everyone works together.

“It’s an issue that evokes some feelings,” he said then. “Water is life.”

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Water flows from a pipe at the Gillette Flats natural artesian spring Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The spring sits along Colorado 67 on the way to Cripple Creek at mile marker 57. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Trump admin to ease oil drilling restrictions protecting imperiled Colorado bird

BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration moved forward Thursday with plans to ease restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling and other activities across millions of acres in the American West that were put in place to protect an imperiled bird species.

Land management documents released by the U.S. Interior Department show the administration intends to open more public lands to leasing and allow waivers for drilling to encroach into the habitat of greater sage grouse.

Critics warned the changes could wipe out grouse colonies as drilling disrupts breeding grounds. Federal officials under President Barack Obama in 2015 had adopted a sweeping set of land use restrictions intended to benefit the birds.

Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said the agency was responding to requests by states to give them more flexibility in how public lands are managed. He said the goal to conserve sage grouse was unchanged.

“I completely believe that these plans are leaning forward on the conservation of sage grouse,” Bernhardt told The Associated Press. “Do they do it in exactly the same way, no? We made some change in the plans and got rid of some things that are simply not necessary.”

The changes drew a sharp backlash from conservation groups and wildlife advocates, who warned excessive use of drilling waivers could push sage grouse onto the list of threatened and endangered species.

“If you allow exception after exception, that might make sense for a particular project in a particular spot, but you add them all together and you have death by a thousand cuts,” said National Wildlife Association vice president Tracy Stone-Manning.

The ground-dwelling grouse ranges across about 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) in parts of 11 Western U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Its numbers have plummeted in recent decades.

Under President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has vowed to lift obstacles to drilling, and grouse protections have long been viewed by the energy industry as an obstacle to development.

Sage grouse are large, ground-dwelling birds known for an elaborate mating ritual in which males strut around breeding grounds with large, puffed-out air sacs protruding from their chests.

They once numbered in the millions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates the population at 200,000 to 500,000. Energy development, disease and other causes have decimated populations in some areas.

The Trump administration’s proposal would reverse or modify the Obama-era protections in seven states — Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, Idaho and Oregon.

The oil and gas industry chafed at the old rules. Once Trump took office, industry representatives pushed the administration to give more recognition to changes in drilling practices that reduce how much land is disturbed for wells.

“We can do both — protect sage grouse and move forward with responsible energy development,” said Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, which represents more than 300 oil and gas companies. “We’ve reduced the size of well pads, reduced the numbers of wells. And we had done all these things and the prior administration assumed development was taking place like it was 20 years ago.

Governors from several western states previously raised concerns over a related federal directive from the Bureau of Land Management that would limit a type of land swap that can be used to preserve habitat for the birds.

Without land swaps and related forms of compensation meant to offset habitat damage, the governors said it would be harder to help the sage grouse survive.

In response, the Interior Department on Thursday revised the directive to say federal officials would consider state-mandated or voluntary proposals for land swaps or similar offsets, but would not accept cash payments.

“Where there’s a state requirement, we require in our permits that they comply with state requirements,” Bernhardt said.

John Swartout, senior adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper, said the state is generally satisfied with the Colorado-specific provisions in the Bureau of Land Management’s final sage-grouse plans. He said changes from the 2015 plans provide more flexibility when development is proposed in the bird’s habitat.

“They’ve kept the standard high. You can’t have an impact on grouse,” Swartout said. “The bar is still extremely high and it should be.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said Thursday announcements showed federal officials heeded the state’s concerns.

“This is a great example of federal leaders listening to state leaders, valuing their expertise, and changing their plans based on that input,” Herbert said in a statement.

Following Thursday’s release of environmental studies analyzing the changes in each state, governors and the public get another chance to weigh in before a final decision is expected in early 2019.

Fish damage from Gold King Mine spill wasn’t severe, long-lasting, EPA says

DENVER — Fish and other aquatic life did not suffer severe or long-lasting damage from a mine waste spill three years ago that polluted rivers in three states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

An EPA report released last week analyzed the 2015 spill at the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado, which an EPA-led contractor inadvertently triggered. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted with a bright yellow-orange plume carrying iron, aluminum and other metals.

Part of the Animas River in Colorado closest to the spill was already so polluted by decades of waste spilling from inactive mines that the most vulnerable fish, insects and other aquatic life were already gone, the EPA said.

Further downstream, the spill appeared to have little impact on fish numbers, probably because the pollution was diluted and kept moving, so the exposure did not last long, the report said.

Another factor was that most of the metals in the plume remained in particulate form rather than dissolving in the water, the report said. Particulates are less harmful to aquatic life than dissolved metals.

The EPA’s conclusions appear to be sound, said Jason Willis, manager of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Abandoned Mine Land Program. Willis helped gather some of the samples used in the report but was not involved in analyzing them or drawing any conclusions.

The report demonstrates the need to take action on wastewater draining from 250 inactive mines in Colorado and hundreds more in other states, Willis said.

Wastewater was already pouring out of the Gold King Mine at a rate of about 3 million gallons (11.4 million liters) a week, the same amount released in one day by the EPA-triggered spill, Willis said.

“The fact that it was seven days’ worth of Gold King helps put it in perspective,” he said.

The EPA analysis, first reported by the Durango Herald, used samples gathered from the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico and the San Juan River in New Mexico. The Animas flows into the San Juan near Farmington, New Mexico, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) downstream from the spill.

The samples were collected in the fall of 2015, after the spill, and again one year later. The EPA used its own data along with samples collected by other federal, state and tribal agencies.

The report said potential longer-term impacts are still unknown, especially on longer-lived fish. Possible effects on very young fish — wich are more sensitive to pollution — might be hard to detect because dead larval fish are harder to see than dead adults.

Other findings in the report:

— A year after the spill, insects, worms and other small aquatic life that can survive in the upper Animas had higher levels of metals in their tissue than before the spill. But the same was true upstream and in other areas that weren’t polluted by the spill, suggesting it was caused by something else.

— In lower reaches of the Animas, three types of fish — bluehead suckers, flannelmouth suckers and speckled dace — had significantly high levels of many metals in their tissue in the weeks after the spill. But when fish were sampled in the following spring and fall, the concentrations were back down to pre-spill levels.

— Numbers of most fish in the San Juan River were close to pre-spill levels immediately after the spill and a year later. But bluehead suckers, flannelmouth suckers and speckled dace were at historically low levels. The EPA said populations of other fish that prey on the struggling fish or compete with them for food were high, so it’s possible that contributed to the decline.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP.

Colorado weighs new rules for oil and gas drilling near schools

DENVER — Colorado oil and gas regulators are considering enlarging the mandatory buffer zone between new wells and school property.

A proposal released by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission late Wednesday afternoon would require new wells to be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) from buildings as well as outdoor areas that schools use, such as playgrounds and athletic fields.

Current rules require the same size buffer zone but measure it from school buildings, not outdoor areas. That allows wells to be closer to playgrounds and similar facilities.

Regulators could still allow wells closer if areas outside the buffer zone are deemed to be technically infeasible or economically impractical. School officials could also agree to allow wells within the buffer zone.

The rule would apply to future facilities as well as existing ones if schools plan to have them in place within three years.

In written comments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said it supported the new rules but asked for changes.

The association said the rules should make it clear that the expanded buffer zone does not apply to non-school facilities that are sometimes used for school activities, such as municipal tennis courts, golf courses and baseball fields.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will consider the rule at a hearing Dec. 17 and 18.

The hearing will be held just six weeks after Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have required a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and what the measure called vulnerable areas such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals.

The measure also would have allowed local governments to require even bigger buffer zones. The industry advertised heavily against it.

The proposed rule expanding the school buffer zone was separate from the ballot measure. The school rule has been in the works since August.

The latest draft of the proposed rule had not been posted on the commission’s website Wednesday.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP.

Larimer County approves oil lease on open space farm near Berthoud

Larimer County has approved a lease allowing Extraction Oil and Gas to horizontally drill beneath the Little Thompson Farm, a preserved property south of Berthoud that is currently and will remain a working farm.

This site, if drilled, will constitute the first oil production on any preserved open space owned by Larimer County — acres that have seen many firsts, from pioneers traversing and settling the land to a water-sharing agreement in 2017.

The county will receive $594,243 for the right to drill on the property for the next three years, then 20 percent of any profits from that production. All of that money will go toward paying off a loan for a portion of the $8.4 million purchase price of the land, formerly known as the Malchow farm.

But the agreement is about much more than money, noted officials with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, which owns the property.

Charlie Johnson, the senior land agent who negotiated the deal, said the biggest priority was to negotiate a lease that will prevent any wells or drilling infrastructure on the farm.

Read more at reporterherald.com.

Xcel Energy wants carbon-free electricity by 2050

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, is upping its renewables game with the announcement Tuesday that it has a goal of being 100-percent carbon free by 2050.

The Minneapolis-based company that serves eight states has been a leader in the quest to increase the use of renewable energy sources, said Ben Fowke, the utility’s chairman, president and CEO.

“This isn’t new to us. We’ve been leading the clean-energy transition at Xcel for quite a while now. Investing in renewables has really been part of our DNA for over 20 years now,” Fowke said at a news conference for the announcement Tuesday at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The move to more wind, solar and other renewable energy sources is not only good for the environment but also good for the bottom line of both the company and its customers, Fowke added.

“That has allowed us to reduce our carbon footprint by 35 percent across all our eight states since 2005,” Fowke said.

Xcel Energy already had a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 60 percent and increasing its use of renewable energy sources to 55 percent of its mix by 2026 as part of its Colorado Energy Plan, which was approved by state regulators in August. The new plan includes a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030 across eight states and getting to zero emissions of the greenhouse gas by 2050.

Fowke and Alice Jackson, president of Xcel’s Colorado operation, said they don’t know of any other utility in the country that has set a goal and timeline for producing no carbon emissions.

Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, who has a goal of getting 100 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2040, said he is excited about “Xcel having the most aggressive goal of any utility in the country.”

Polis, speaking at the Xcel Energy news conference, said he would like to see Colorado achieve the zero-carbon goal even earlier and wants to work with municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to achieve the goal.

“Colorado has always been a very innovative state and I think it’s great that we’re showing the country the way to keep rates low, have cleaner air and to do our part for our climate and embrace the future of clean energy and make it work for Colorado businesses and individuals,” he said.

Fowke and Jackson conceded in a media briefing before the news conference that some of the technology required to meet the new goal might not currently exist.

“I’m betting on the technology,” said Fowke, referring to the many advances that have made wind and solar energy comparable to or less expensive than fossil fuels.

Jackson said state policies, including laws and regulations, might have to be changed to make it easier for utilities to invest in the research and development of new technology. She and Fowke also acknowledged that attaining zero emissions of carbon dioxide might involve the use of nuclear power and capture and sequestration of emissions from fossil fuels.

Fowke stressed that providing affordable and reliable power across Xcel’s territory is the priority. Stemming the effects of climate change, fueled by heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, is also of concern he said. The latest National Climate Assessment by the federal government shows that the effects of climate change are getting worse, he noted.

“I think it drives home the sense of urgency,” Fowke said of the report.

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, aims to have zero carbon emissions by 2050 in industry-first plan

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, announced an ambitious plan Tuesday to slash carbon emissions from its electrical generation by 80 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and emit zero carbon emissions across the eight states where it operates by 2050.

The industry-first initiative comes in direct response to climate change, said Ben Fowke, CEO of the Minneapolis-based company. He emphasized that affordability and reliability are key in achieving the goals.

“This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too,” Fowke told reporters while in Colorado to announce the major initiative.

At the same time, however, Fowke acknowledged that the technologies are not yet available on the commercial scale to actually reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan is based on the hope that new technology will be developed in time to make reaching the aspirational goal possible.

“If we put our minds to it,” Fowke said, “we will find the best solution to get us there.”

That could include everything from carbon capture to nuclear energy and potentially state-level legislation giving Xcel the ability to add “research and design” on top of its work generating power. It’s notable that Xcel is aiming for zero carbon emissions and not 100 percent renewable energy generation, suggesting that carbon capture is expected to play a significant role in the plan.

Xcel’s bold move — the company says it’s the most ambitious announced to date within the electric-power industry — comes after Gov.-elect Jared Polis ran a campaign on a platform that included moving Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. It also comes as Democrats prepare to take control of the state legislature when it reconvenes in January and plan to introduce a slate of measures to reduce carbon emissions in Colorado and boost renewable energy generation.

MORE: Jared Polis wants Colorado 100 percent powered by renewable energy, but talk is easier than the walk

That makes it a politically opportune time for Xcel to announce its new goals, especially as it looks for ways to pay for the transition. Xcel is a regulated utility and any changes to its business model, including the addition of research and development, would require the consent of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

“We’re evaluating what we need in order to move forward and be successful in this environment,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy’s Colorado branch, said of possible legislation. “We don’t absolutely have to have legislation to move forward with the plan.”

But, she said, legislation would allow Xcel to “really dig into those new technologies” and move things along.

Jackson added that Xcel thinks the plan “goes a long way to addressing what Gov.-elect Polis’ administration was running their platform on.” She said that increasing renewable energy is really about reducing carbon emissions.

Jackson also said the goals put the utility in line with communities across Colorado — including Pueblo and Aspen — that are seeking to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

MORE: Boulder, Pueblo could be the next cities to create their own utilities in pursuit of 100 percent renewable energy

“The message that this sends is, ‘You know what, we’re right there with you,’ ” she said.

Xcel has already been moving toward cutting emissions and boosting its renewable energy portfolio in Colorado. In Colorado, 28.5 percent of Xcel’s electricity last year came from renewable sources – 23 percent of that was wind, with the balance from hydro and solar. The company is aiming to have about 55 percent of the electricity on its power grid in Colorado come from renewable sources by 2026.

The utility also says it has since 2005 cut carbon emissions by 35 percent in its eight-state region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota,  Texas. Xcel has two nuclear power plants in Minnesota.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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Zero-Waste weddings: Focusing on sustainability from food to invitations to flowers

To protect the environment, many couples are saying “I do” to Zero-Waste weddings, focusing on sustainability for everything from floral design and dresses to invitations and food.

The goal is to recycle, reuse, compost and otherwise keep anything from becoming trash in a landfill. Whether or not couples succeed in reaching the Zero-Waste goal, “they’re certainly more conscious of the ecological impact of what they do, and are aiming for something as close to that as possible,” says Rachel Sylvester, lifestyle editor at Real Simple magazine.

The key to success, experts say, is letting wedding planners, vendors and your reception venue know from the start that you’re serious about going Zero Waste. Then be flexible enough to facilitate that.

“Flexibility and creativity are essential,” Sylvester says.

Bea Johnson, one of the pioneers of the Zero-Waste movement, says, “You’d be amazed at what you can find second-hand if you’re open-minded and really look around.” Her Zero Waste Home blog features a “bulk finder” tab that helps locate businesses selling food, drinks and other items free of plastic packaging.

Focusing on quality instead of quantity also helps, Johnson says: “The smaller the party, the easier it is to make it truly Zero Waste.”

Her own Zero-Waste wedding was on a yacht, so space constraints limited the guest list to 40.

Kathryn Kellogg, who wrote extensively about her Zero-Waste wedding on her Going Zero Waste blog, hosted a reception for 60 people on a shoestring budget of $200 for everything. She bought bedsheets from a thrift shop to use as tablecloths, and borrowed dishes, tables and seating from friends and family.

“We were on a tight budget, so we were married at city hall with our closest family there, had a separate reception for about 60 people, and decided to save most of our money for a really great honeymoon in Maine,” she says.

“Honestly, the hardest part was convincing our families to go along with it all. My biggest tip is not to stress things, and to balance expectations with reality. Ours may not have been the perfect Pinterest wedding, but that didn’t make it less fun or meaningful.”

Some Zero-Waste wedding tips:

FOOD AND DECOR

Choose cloth napkins, and authentic tableware, glassware and plates, rather than disposables.

“It’s easy enough to rent, borrow or find things at thrift shops,” says Kellogg, who used her abundant collection of Mason jars and borrowed items for her reception.

“Sometimes an eclectic mix of plates and glasses can be fun,” says Johnson.

As for food, Kellogg says, “I took my Crock-Pot to the butcher, had him put in 4 or 5 pounds of pork shoulder, and served pulled pork and pulled jackfruit for the main dishes,” Kellogg says.

She and Johnson both recommend colorful displays of fruits, vegetables or even flower petals as table centerpieces that guests can take home and enjoy.

GIFTS

“Instead of traditional wedding gifts, we asked guests to each bring a side dish or something to drink, and contribute to our honeymoon fund,” Kellogg says.

Other couples ask for donations to their favorite charity, or contributions toward a goal, such as a down payment on a house.

INVITATIONS

“For my wedding invitations, I bought card stock and painted a design on the front, but these days I’d say paperlesspost.com or another e-mail option would be the best Zero-Waste option,” says Johnson.

If you’re set on paper though, “go for recycled paper with vegetable ink,” says Sylvester. Some papers are embedded with seeds, so guests can even soak the invitation in water and then plant it.

ATTIRE

Like tables, chairs and linens, wedding dresses and tuxedos can be rented. Vintage or second-hand dresses are also popular, and can be tailored to size. Some designers now make Zero-Waste dresses using fabric scraps otherwise destined for the trash.

“Zero-Waste weddings are a recent trend in France. This year I even designed for a client a wedding dress made from pieces of her grandmother’s wedding dress,” says Laetitia Drouet of the French-based Kamelion Couture.

FLOWERS

Choose locally grown, seasonal flowers, “certainly from a carbon-footprint perspective if not a waste perspective,” says Ariella Chezar, author of the forthcoming book “Seasonal Flower Arranging: Fill Your Home with Blooms, Branches, and Foraged Materials All Year Round” (Ten Speed Press).

To cut back on waste, make sure your florist isn’t using foam in centerpieces and other arrangements. “It’s one of those products that is non-biodegradable and is totally unnecessary,” says Chezar.

Next, plan how your florals will be repurposed after the event, she says. Many organizations will pick up arrangements and give them to nursing homes and other institutions. If nothing else, make sure flowers are composted instead up ending up in a landfill somewhere.

“Or you can forgo cut flowers altogether in favor of potted plants, which can then be gifted or planted. There’s certainly no waste there,” Chezar says.

PARTY FAVORS

Centerpiece and other decor items, like flowers, fruits or vegetables, can double as gifts for guests, as can things like votive candles.

Environmental policy change has major implications

The Trump Administration’s emphasis on state empowerment has garnered significant attention, particularly in the environmental arena. So it is somewhat surprising that a recent change in policy having major implications for state permitting authority under the Clean Water Act has gone relatively unnoticed. The process that precipitated this change actually began under the Obama Administration. The CWA establishes two permitting programs: one that addresses effluent discharges, such as those from municipal or industrial wastewater-treatment plants (Section 402); and one that addresses the use of “fill” material to construct things such as dams or bridges, or to otherwise enable development in areas containing wetlands, streams, or other waters (Section 404). Section 404 permitting (often called “wetland permitting”) frequently presents issues for those in land or water development, agriculture, and extractive industries. Congress initially placed both CWA permitting programs in the hands of federal agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency for Section 402 and the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA for Section 404), but included specific provisions in the Act to allow states to take over, or “assume,” these programs. Regulated interests, such as businesses, farms, and municipalities, typically favor state-run programs over federally run programs. Currently, 47 states (including Colorado) implement their own Section 402 permitting programs, but only two states — Michigan and New Jersey — implement their own Section 404 permitting programs. While various obstacles account for this discrepancy, one of the biggest is the difficulty in identifying those waters a state can regulate when it assumes Section 404 permitting authority (known as “assumable waters”). This is because the CWA requires the Corps to retain authority over certain waters, but does not clearly identify those waters (known as “retained waters”). Traditionally, when a state wanted to pursue Section 404 program assumption, it negotiated with the Corps over how to divide permitting authority. Regulations grant the Corps final say on the matter, so, as one might expect, the Corps has interpreted retained waters broadly. In fact, Minnesota recently evaluated potential Section 404 program assumption and estimated that the Corps would retain jurisdiction over 92 percent of total wetland acreage and 99 percent of total lake acreage in the state. Creating and implementing a complicated permitting program requires a significant investment of time, money, and political capital. Given the Corps’ traditional interpretation of retained waters, it is not surprising that most states have concluded that the return on Section 404 program assumption is insufficient to justify the investment. In 2015, EPA assembled a group of stakeholders to recommend a way of identifying assumable waters that would remove this barrier to state Section 404 program assumption. In June 2017, this group, known as the Assumable Waters Subcommittee, provided its final recommendations to EPA. While EPA has announced its intent to propose regulations in 2019 to address the subcommittee’s recommendations, the Corps decided not to wait. It recently issued a policy memorandum adopting the subcommittee’s recommendations. These recommendations have profound implications for assumption of Section 404 permitting authority by Colorado. Under the previous […]

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Here’s Jared Polis’ initial to-do list, courtesy of current Gov. John Hickenlooper

Gov. John Hickenlooper is leaving his successor Jared Polis with a lengthy to-do list.

In one of its final acts, the Hickenlooper administration set preliminary performance goals through June 2020 for the Polis team in the areas of economic development, environment, health, education and government services.

The incoming Democratic administration is not beholden to the benchmarks — and even suggested plans to rewrite them. But the document offers guidelines for Polis to build on the current administration’s work, which he pledged to do in his campaign. How much energy Polis puts into the effort also will indicate whether public accountability and transparency will be a priority.

“We felt like you couldn’t just end the conversation, as if we can walk away at the end of 2018,” said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who leads the current administration’s effort as the state’s chief operating officer. “We wanted the agencies to continue to do the work which they are doing to get to improvement across all of those areas in 2019.”

A look at the goals set for Polis administration

The two dozen goals outlined for the Polis administration are incremental in many cases, but others would result in real-life impacts if achieved, according to documents shared with The Colorado Sun.

The targets to meet by the end of June 2020 include:

  • Improve broadband coverage in rural parts of the state from the current 81 percent rate to 95 percent, and reach 97 percent statewide in the same time frame.
  • Reduce traffic congestion on Interstates 70 and 25 by a few minutes and reduce crash fatalities.
  • Cut 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the current level as part of a goal to lower emissions nearly 20 percent by 2025.
  • Increase the acreage restored for wildlife habitat each year to about 21,000 acres from 11,095
  • Lower the state’s suicide rate to 18.5 per 100,000 residents from the latest figure of 20.2.
  • Increase the immunization rate among kindergartners to 95 percent from the current 88.7 percent.

Lynne, who serves on the Polis transition team for customer service, said the governor-elect may want to accelerate certain goals or find new areas of focus. Either way, she added, “we feel pretty passionate about continuing the work.”

Mara Sheldon, a spokeswoman for Polis, said in a statement that the transition team is gathering information and plans to present modified goals in April.

But she declined to answer questions or elaborate on whether Polis will continue to prioritize the government accountability process once he takes office Jan. 8. The question of whether Polis would champion transparency is one that remains unanswered from the campaign.

Polis urged to embrace accountability and transparency dashboard

Much of the work is required by state law as part of the State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive and Transparent Government Act passed in 2010. But Lynne said it takes much more — a desire to build “a whole culture that supports it.”

The Hickenlooper administration embraced the SMART Act to increase government accountability and transparency, designating a chief performance officer in each state agency and building a public dashboard that allows the public to track progress toward the goals.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration published a dashboard that showed progress toward its goals in different key areas.

“The one-page colorful dashboard is just like a car dashboard,” said Lynne, who has talked to the Polis team about the importance of what she considers a good-government initiative.

Even if they don’t fill her job as the state’s chief operating officer, Lynne said she implored them to have “the accountability to say where you are going, put the resources to it and then report it out.”

State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican and budget writer, also wants to see the Polis administration continue the dashboard to help shed light on the agency priorities.

“It condenses rather wordy documents into some very concise measurements that the average legislator can identify with and think about it,” he said in an interview.

In essence, it holds the administration’s “feet to fire and makes it visible to both the public and the legislature.”

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All of this snow is great, but it will likely be months before we know the impact on Colorado’s drought

You’re seeing the pictures of deep snow being surfed by skiers and snowboarders across the state. The Colorado Department of Transportation is working double time to keep high country stretches of highways passable.

But if you were expecting an overnight solution to Colorado’s drought, which has been particularly acute in the southwest part of the state, don’t hold your breath.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows conditions have improved only marginally since the summer and meteorologists and water advocates say whether the snow is adequate to quench the most parched parts of the state won’t be known until spring, when the runoff begins.

Areas of Colorado that most need the snow still are at below-normal snowpack levels compared to the deep snow reported in northern Colorado.

“We have been able to rebound a little bit with these storms,” said Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Durango is in our forecast area, they are still 8.66 inches below normal (precipitation) for the year so far.”

Snowfall and rain are just part of the equation when it comes to drought, she said. Water consumption also comes into play.

But it’s no secret that last winter and the summer were immensely dry, setting the stage for the state of drought Colorado finds itself in. As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 12.35 percent of the state, mostly in the Four Corners area, remains under exceptional drought — no change from the week before.

“Down south they really have just been socked into that exceptional drought since April,” Stackhouse said. “If we could just keep getting these good snowstorms that we are getting right now, that would be great.”

When that snow actually melts in the spring, she said, the needle could be moved significantly. But we might not know until then what the impact is.

The water level of the Ridgway Reservoir, pictured here on Sunday August 19, 2018. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins was at 70 percent of normal as of Friday. The Gunnison River basin was at 94 percent of normal. The Rio Grande River basin was at 86 percent of normal and the Colorado River basin — which hydrates much of the the Front Range — was at 133 percent of normal.

The South Platte River basin’s snowpack level was 155 percent of normal heading into the weekend, when more snow fell.

Overall, the state’s snowpack level on Friday was 114 percent of normal, 108 percent of average, and 186 percent compared to last year’s level at this time.

“You have take it with a grain of salt because it is so early in the season,” said John Berggren, a water-policy analyst with Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. “The bulk of the snowpack accumulation doesn’t happen until the next few months.”

A single good snow season might not be enough to end the drought. It might take two, three or four years of good snow in a row to make a real, lasting dent.

“You need more than one great snowpack to pull yourself out the drought, especially on the heels of a pretty bad water year like we had in 2018,” Berggren said.

MORE: Colorado’s hot summer of dry ditches and empty reservoirs has left distressed farmers sweating: Will it get worse?

Still, Berggen said his organization is cautiously optimistic about the coming snow season.

Forecasters are still waiting to see if an El Niño weather pattern will develop, which could bring increased moisture to Colorado. Wetter-than-average conditions usually take hold during an El Niño winter and higher elevations can get more snow.

It’s also true that El Niño can bring warmer temperatures, which could mean an earlier runoff season.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, said forecasters still expect the pattern to develop as winter approaches and it could last into the spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Colorado, other states paid big sums to keep federal parks open during the 2013 shutdown. Utah says it’s unlikely to recoup its $1M tab.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders are resigned to the fact that they are likely to never be repaid the nearly $1 million the state spent in 2013 to keep its popular national parks open during a government shutdown.

It would take an act of Congress to get repaid, and Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop acknowledges other priorities have largely overtaken the issue that was once the subject of serious consternation, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .

“But it’s still unfair,” Bishop said, adding he might try to revive the issue before his tenure as House Natural Resources Committee chairman ends when Democrats take control of the U.S. House next year.

Utah wasn’t the only state to reopen the parks on their own dime during the 16-day shutdown. Others that sent the federal government money to keep the lights on included Colorado, Arizona and New York. None was reimbursed.

Colorado spent more than $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park during the shutdown, Politico reported five years ago.

The shutdown happened in the wake of the state’s devastating 2013 floods, which impacted many of the communities near the park. There were fears about what the compounded problems of the natural disaster and the shutdown would mean for places like Estes Park

The 2013 government closure was largely blamed on Utah’s GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, who were determined to block funding for President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Along with furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and shuttering offices, the Obama administration closed national parks, saying it would be unsafe for visitors without park rangers on hand.

But with the large role Utah’s parks play in the state’s tourism economy, leaders didn’t want to let them go dark. Gov. Gary Herbert said he’d do it all over again if he had to.

“While we would love to be reimbursed for those funds, it was money well-spent,” Herbert said. The state has a total budget of about $17 billion.

The state wired nearly $1.7 million to the federal government to keep the parks open. Of that, $600,000 wasn’t spent and was returned to the state.

The agreements with Utah and other states did not require reimbursement, but U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he would be glad to pay it back if Congress passed legislation.

Zinke worked to keep most parks open during a two-day government shutdown in January, and Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift says he has been critical of the decision allowing the parks to close in 2013.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

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Climate change clobbers Colorado and the West, unfurling fire, drought, insects and heat

Fires burn more frequently and uncontrollably, ravaging the West’s pines, firs and spruces, destroying lives and buildings.

Multiplying insects feast: Colorado’s forester last week said the state over two decades has lost a fifth of its forests to bugs, and a recent survey estimated one in 14 standing trees is dead.

Shrinking Rocky Mountain snowpack is forcing farmers out of business, jeopardizing skiing, and compelling utilities to consider super-costly new sources of water, including recycled waste.

And rising heat waves hurt people — especially children, the elderly, low-income outdoor workers and anybody who can’t afford air conditioning.

These impacts of global warming, intensifying across Colorado and the West with costs in the billions, have happened precisely as scientists have been predicting. The latest National Climate Assessment — released by the Trump administration on the day after Thanksgiving — now drives home this scientific consensus that Colorado and its western neighbors will face worsening, potentially ruinous environmental upheaval as average temperatures that increased 2 degrees over the past 30 years keep rising.

World leaders at a United Nations-backed forum in Poland this week will rally nations to try to minimize ecological harm after 2050, and while American scientists will be there, the U.S. government isn’t participating.

Dead and burned trees still mar the land where the Cold Springs fire burned over 2 years ago on Nov. 28, 2018 in Nederland.

Native Americans also predicted upheaval — including droughts, fires and floods. Ute Mountain Ute leaders watched as European settlers took Colorado mountain terrain and they prophesied that “the white man” would cause environmental calamity, tribal elder Terry Knight said last week from his home in the Four Corners region.

“What you are putting in the air, what you are putting in the water, what you are putting in the ground — all this chemical contamination — it is causing an imbalance of nature, causing this drought and climate change,” Knight said.

Heading into 2019, tribal leaders, like local governments around the West, are scrambling to deal with the worsening impacts. For Utes, the most painful has been losing mountain springs used for sacred ceremonies due to decreasing snow and rain.

“People may have to consider changing their ways — how much water they use. They might have to think about how they’re going to sacrifice some things for the long run,” Knight said. “It’s up to the people. If they don’t want to do this, they had better be ready to accept the hard times.”

Yet Colorado continues to expedite the extraction of fossil fuels, which when burned worsen global warming, as the state clings to the economic benefits of jobs and tax revenue from the politically powerful oil and gas industry.

The 300 scientists who produced the National Climate Assessment, including several based along Colorado’s Front Range, point to recent ruinous climate events as evidence that global warming is affecting the United States as never before and threatening to disrupt lives coast to coast. Those impacts are pretty much locked in until 2050 due to past emissions that raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to 410 parts per million. What happens after 2050 depends on how fast humans reduce air pollution from burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and other human activities that further load the atmosphere with heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

“The message just gets louder and clearer as the years go by. We have got to deal with this problem,” said Colorado State University climate scientist Brad Udall, who co-authored portions of the climate assessment, which is produced every four years as mandated by Congress.

“We’ve had event after event after event over the last 10 years with climate change written all over them. We have another 80 years ahead of us. And with the current projected air emissions, the future is bleak,” Udall said. “…We need a sane and safe way to wean ourselves off fossil fuels over the next few decades, doing the least harm we can do to our economy but doing right by the environment. … We have to cease all greenhouse gas emissions as soon as practical.”

The “blinking red light” of climate change

Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis on Thursday weighed in on the climate assessment, vowing aggressive state-level action to deal with global warming impacts and also to tackle causes.

“States must lead the way, because the federal government has dropped the ball,” Polis wrote in an emailed response to questions from The Denver Post. “My administration will be looking carefully at various options to not only deal with the potential short- and long-term impacts from climate change, but how to do our part to combat the root causes of global climate change through bold, proactive policies to transition to renewable energy.

“Climate change is a blinking red light, and we have to act now or our children will end up suffering the consequences of inaction.”

A five-term congressman, Polis last week was clearing out his office in Washington, D.C., and mulling possibilities for a state leadership team adept at cross-departmental dialogue in dealing with rising temperatures.

“Climate change can touch every facet of people’s lives, and so there really isn’t a part of government that isn’t affected,” he said. “It’s preparing for floods and fires, but it’s also looking at how climate is affecting people’s health, how it’s affecting our economy now and is likely to affect it in the future. We will certainly be looking at how best to make sure we are taking a comprehensive approach to the issue and how our agencies can work together.

“Our ecology and many of our communities in the West are in already on a razor’s edge. Water is extremely scarce, and an expected population influx, coupled with longer, hotter summers and shorter, drier winters would threaten the region’s continued prosperity and quality of life.”

 red needles on the pine trees are dead lodgepole pines
The red needles on the pine trees are dead lodgepole pines that have been killed by the pine beetle infestation. These trees were found near Rollinsville near the Peak to Peak highway.

Raging wildfires and voracious beetles

For the West, bigger wildfires and a lengthening “fire season” have combined with population growth and building in burn zones to destroy more people and property, as seen in California’s recent devastating wildfires and fierce burns in Colorado this summer. The record-low mountain snow in southern Colorado and higher temperatures accelerated a climate shift toward aridity that favors frequent ignition.

The cumulative forest area burned is increasing rapidly. And federal wildfire analysts calculated that the 24 million acres burned across the West between 1984 and 2015 was twice what would have burned had global warming caused by humans not happened.

Fires favored by climate change worsen the problem of more people building homes in forests and flammable former agricultural fields. Colorado state forester Mike Lester said in an interview that house-building and other urbanization in burn zones has left more than half of Colorado’s population — 2.9 million people — threatened by wildfire. That’s up nearly 50 percent from 2 million in 2012. State task force recommendations to limit construction in what insurers designate as the “wildland urban interface” mostly have been ignored by state lawmakers and property developers.

The more people move into burn zones, the harder it becomes to restore forest health because safety pressures to suppress fire set up bigger fires in the future. Forests need fires to regenerate.

 

 

“We need to let our forests evolve naturally,” Lester said. But population growth leading to urbanization of forests means “we’re always going to be suppressing fire.”

Forests naturally function as “a great carbon sink,” Lester said. “But now they’re a big carbon source. … We’re going to have to suppress some fires. We’re going to have to do some active management. We’re going to have to do something with fire as a prescribed burn tool.”

Meanwhile, recent surveys show spruce beetles infested another 202,000 acres of Colorado forest, pushing their total damage above 1.7 million acres. This follows the ravaging of 3.7 million acres of forest by mountain pine beetles. Rising temperatures help inspects proliferate in out-of-balance forests, especially as winters pass without extended sub-zero temperatures, Lester said.

“We need to recognize the value of our Colorado forests, what they do for us. They provide water for 18 other states. They provide cleaner air, recreation, wildlife habitat. These are things a healthy forest does,” he said. “If our forests are not healthy, they do less of those things. This is a huge part of our way of life and well-being.”

Threatened water flows and rising temperatures

Global warming is disrupting water flows, too, complicating the water supply necessary to allow more population growth in Colorado and other parts of the arid West. Rocky Mountain snowpack dipped to record low levels this year. Climate scientists have documented lower flows in rivers, including the Colorado River that farmers and urban developers tap as the main source serving 40 million people across seven states. Looming shortages compelled state officials to prepare emergency plans for curbing use of water from the government-built reservoirs and irrigation systems that enabled settlement of the West.

Beyond water conservation, some cities are pushing for construction of new and expanded reservoirs to try to store more water when rain falls.

The heat waves, with more days above 90 degrees throughout Colorado and the West — Denver alone now sees 50 to 70 days a year with 90-plus temperatures — drive more people to emergency rooms.

Higher temperatures force lifestyle changes, keeping people and pet animals indoors. Climate scientists say the rising heat hits the elderly hardest, along with children and low-income people who cannot afford to run air-conditioning systems. Low-wage workers, including some on construction and public works crews, often are given no choice but to toil outside when temperatures top 100 degrees.

Demand for artificially cooled air increasingly strains electricity grids, leading to power outages. And climate scientists say the conditions favorable for mosquitoes and ticks are spreading more sickness, including the Lyme disease that wreaks havoc on immune systems. The Zika virus is spreading northward.

A light dusting of snow sits atop the mountains behind a red barn
AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post
A light dusting of snow sits atop the mountains behind a red barn along Highway 285 south of Jefferson on Thursday, January 4, 2018. Colorado is experiencing a record low snowfall during the 2017-18 winter season.

A need for adaptation and action

Dealing with impacts falls mostly — and unavoidably — to local governments. Some cities, including Denver, Fort Collins and mountain resorts, are joining together to lobby for help in adaptation and coordinated international climate action to reduce emissions.

“The droughts, fires, threats to water supplies and heat waves — those things are all amplified and exacerbated by these increases in temperature,” said Gregg Garfin, a University of Arizona climatologist who co-authored parts of the national assessment focused on Colorado and southwestern states.

“Fossil fuel extraction is probably really good for the economy in the short term,” Garfin said. “If you look at the long term, then we have to take into account the effects of heat-trapping gases warming up the lower atmosphere. It is important to see the connections.”

Native Americans around the West are leading efforts to adapt, managing forests to increase resilience and restoring water flows where possible, said CSU climate researcher Shannon McNeeley, a national assessment co-author who has worked with tribes.

Natives cultures grasped how the natural environment, beyond economic potential, enabled survival of life in the West, McNeeley said.

“There are lessons we can learn from tribes. There’s more of an emphasis on viewing the natural world not as a commodity but as important relationships and interconnectedness — having value beyond just economic,” she said. “The environment has value for our health and for our well-being, beyond just financial. What has gotten us into trouble is prioritizing economic values. We prioritize that to our detriment.”

Denver can now recycle paper coffee cups

Massive stacks of recycled trash inside Alpine Waste and Recycling towered behind Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black as she posed a question nearly every coffee drinker has asked: What are we supposed to do with those paper cups?

Sam Tabachnik, The Denver Post
Denver councilwoman Kendra Black (left) and Lynn Dyer, president of Foodservice Packaging Institute, celebrate the city adding paper coffee cups to the list of items that can be recycled on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.

Denver now has answer.

They can be recycled, the city announced Friday.

Friday’s announcement marked the first time since 2012, when milk cartons came aboard, that the city added a new recyclable product to its list, Charlotte Pitt, manager of Denver’s solid waste management, said.

Coffee cups became a hot issue when environmentalists installed tracking devices that showed paper cups were travelling from Starbucks recycling bins to the landfill. In fairness to Starbucks, signs on the bins said that paper cups couldn’t be recycled.

A poly-coated liner inside the cup, a material that keeps the coffee from breaking through the paper and splashing onto your lap, could not be recycled. To solve this problem, the city partnered with the Wisconsin-based company Sustana, which has the technology to strip the poly-coated lining so the rest of cup can be recycled.

It’s all part of a closed-loop system: Recycling enters the Alpine Waste and Recycling plant. It is then sent to Sustana, where the cups are smashed into a pulp before being shipped to paper mills for use around the country.

“The economic impact is huge,” said Mark Bond, sales manager for Sustana, said. “If you just throw something away, that’s one job. But if you recycle, that could be about 10 jobs.”

While recycling coffee cups will spare landfills, other utensils associated with on-the-go coffee still are headed to trash bins. Straws, sleeves, stirrers or anything else that comes with the coffee cannot be recycled.

Starbucks has promised $10 million toward developing a cup that can be recycled or composted. However, the company has not said whether it will take advantage of the new recycling option in Denver. The city doesn’t offer commercial recycling services, but its contractor Alpine Waste does.

Friday’s announcement is a step toward increasing Denver’s below-average recycling rate, and part of Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2020 Sustainability Goals — which include improvement targets on everything from water quality and greenhouse gasses to housing and recycling.

The city currently recycles 22 percent of its waste, Charlotte Pitt, manager of Denver’s solid waste management, said. The goal is to reach, and then exceed, the national average of 34 percent.

“From a recycling rate perspective, we have a lot of work to do,” Pitt said. “But we’re chipping away at it, one small piece at a time.”

The coffee cups make up only about 0.2 percent of Denver’s residential recycling stream, according to the city’s recycling contract.

A theme at Friday’s news conference centered on public education about what can and cannot be recycled. The council has allocated more money in next year’s budget for Pitt and her team to get the message out there, Black said.

“If you bag your recyclables, they’re just going to get brought to the landfill,” Black said. “Don’t do that!”

The city still faces challenges as it improves its recycling program.

Recycling is free, but voluntary. Residents must request bins. And they pay the same trash fee so there is little financial incentive to recycle. The city also doesn’t collect from apartments, condos and businesses.

Homes with no energy bills are catching on — even in Pueblo — and the extra cost isn’t as high as you’d think

A few months ago, Boulder resident David Resnick had an epiphany. Actually, his real estate broker, Thorne Davis, barraged him with emails, research and news stories about clean energy construction. Then the report arrived.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to a clean energy and low-carbon future, concluded that building net-zero energy houses — or homes with no monthly electricity bill — didn’t cost much more than building an ordinary house. Estimates were 1 to 8 percent higher. That intrigued Resnick, who then met with the organization.

“What it felt like to me was the whole process of developing an all-electric, net-zero community had been happening, and I wasn’t aware of it. It had gone so much further into the mainstream,” said Resnick, a long-time land developer with projects in California and Arizona. “And then I understood how to build a net-zero community.”

That’s how the 61-year-old owner of Jevin Investments, who rarely takes chances on real estate trends, decided to take a big chance. He carved 750 houses out of an existing 4,850-unit residential project and committed them to being net-zero ready homes. The other gamble? He’s doing this in Pueblo and wants to keep prices in the low $200,000s to mid $300,000s.

“What would really be the smart thing for me to do is build the least expensive homes I can,” said Resnick, whose North Vista Highlands project is just north of Colorado State University-Pueblo. “But what is going to bring people to Pueblo? It’s got to be something more than just the lower end of the housing spectrum.”

The North Vista Highlands project proposed in Pueblo plans to include 750 net zero homes that target an older population who want single-story floor plans and no energy bills. (Provided by North Vista Highlands)

These net-zero or zero-ready homes produce more than enough energy from solar or wind power so they can feed extra power back into the local energy grid to compensate for night use. But the number of such homes is tiny, less than 0.1 percent nationwide (the Net Zero Energy Coalition counted up 13,906 units in the U.S. and Canada last year). And some decade-old projects in Colorado have languished for years due to lack of financing after the housing crash.

But a change in motivation is underway as reports of sizeable net-zero ready projects are popping up across Colorado.

Besides the Pueblo project, which lined up Sprout Tiny Homes to build 162 non-tiny homes, a Texas developer is working on a 4,500 net-zero ready development in Fort Collins called Montava. Thrive Home Builders has another 500 zero-energy homes proposed in Fort Collins. The reason to go green isn’t just to save the Earth, said Sprout Tiny Homes CEO Rod Stambaugh.

“I applaud David for stepping outside his comfort zone,” said Stambaugh, whose company built the chemical-free homes on wheels in Aspen and plans larger homes for Pueblo. “Here’s the real message: The evolution of housing is changing and the traditional way of doing site-built, stick-built homes is broken. And the reason it’s broken is there is a huge diminishing skilled labor pool. … Labor costs are going up and combined with the increase in material costs because of natural disasters like fires, hurricanes and floods, those factors don’t bode well for traditional builders.”

Zero-energy homes in the U.S.

To officially be a zero-energy ready home (ZERH), it must be certified by the U.S. Department of Energy.  Some items on the ZERH checklist include the house being ready for solar panels, have air-tight construction and insulation and an efficient water system. The number of certifications is still small but growing. According to the Dept. of Energy: 

• The number of ZERH certifications have doubled every year for the past three years straight (2016-2018)
• 400+ builders have partnered with ZERH
• 12,000+ Zero Residential Units in U.S and Canada

The Report

Net-zero homes start with being very energy efficient. Some tweaks are no brainers: insulate well, use energy-efficient appliances, and seal windows, ducts and doors to prevent leaks.

But key to keeping construction costs low is technology, according to Jacob Corvidae, principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, who worked on “The Economics of Zero-Energy Homes” report.

Download the Rocky Mountain Institute report

There are heat pump water heaters that heat and cool so builders don’t spend money on separate heating and cooling systems. Structurally insulated panels and insulated concrete forms may cost more during construction, but they can reduce the project’s costs because they require fewer tools, enable higher quality (and thus fewer defects) and faster construction times.

“The other simple fact is that newer housing gets held to a higher standard than 10 or 20 years ago. We’re already building houses better, and not everyone realizes that,” Corvidae said. “When you add all those things up, it allows you to keep costs lower. This is the classic idea at RMI and other places of integrated design. The fact that a super-efficient home has to be really expensive is true — if you do it wrong.”

Rocky Mountain Institute looked at other factors as well, from the cost to construct the home to the benefit of low electricity bills and resale value. The result put the average cost for a zero-energy home with solar panels between 6.7 to 8.1 percent higher than a regular home. For a zero-energy ready home, which means the homeowner would later add on solar panels or lease them, the cost goes up 0.9 to 2.5 percent compared to a similar traditional home.

Sprout Tiny Homes built several tiny homes on wheels to house workers in the city of Aspen. The company is expanding into larger, modular homes built in its factory in Pueblo and is the lead home builder for the proposed North Vista Highlands project in a northern part of the city. Pictured are house designs by Earthtone Builders. (Provided by Sprout Tiny Homes)

Savings varied in the regional markets studied. The most expensive market was Chicago, where the cost to build a home is $346,848. To construct a net-zero house, builders would have to pay 8.9 percent more.

However, in Atlanta, where homes cost about $100,000 less, a net-zero house would cost 10.4 percent more to build. That’s because certain material costs are consistent nationwide. With tax incentives, however, both cities saw construction costs no more than 10 percent higher, with Chicago’s incremental cost at 6.7 percent and Atlanta’s at 8.1 percent.

As builders see evidence that the cost of net zero is less than they thought, that should attract larger companies, like the Pueblo developer, Corvidae said.

“One of the things I love about David (Resnick) is that he’s not coming at this from a, ‘Hey, we’ve got to figure out how to pursue a zero-carbon community’ or ‘This is an energy crisis and we’ve got to solve it,’” Corvidae said. “It’s ‘I’m a developer and need to appeal to people who want a good place to live.’ This often gets politicized. … But the point is these types of homes have many benefits that appeal to many people. Our report is helping people who don’t realize how feasible this is.”

How builders plan to get to zero

The Geos Neighborhood in Arvada has long promoted a home design that uses 75 percent less energy than similar sized homes. But the project, approved by the city in 2009, stalled as the housing market crashed and developers were unable to find financing until recently, Geos’ master developer Norbert Klebl said.

Buyers moved into the first homes two years ago and 10 more will be ready early in 2019. Klebl now feels confident about pursuing 100 more.

“When the overall market was down and the number of homes built between 2009 to 2011 dropped 50 percent, even in those times I had 30 to 40 potential home buyers on my waiting list,” Klebl said.

Starting at $400,000 for a townhouse and up to $600,000 for a single-family home, the Geos homes are priced about 10 percent more than other new homes in Arvada, he said. According to Zillow, Arvada’s median price of listed homes is $439,850.

“My homes use 75 percent less energy than a standard-built home,” he said, and that translates into fewer solar panels. Solar energy systems also cost about one-fourth what they did 10 years ago, so there’s additional savings there.  

But net-zero homes are not yet mainstream, he said. That won’t come until more builders are forced to build zero-energy homes, as they are in California, which requires all new residential construction to be zero-net energy by 2020.

“When national builders get forced into higher performing homes in one state, they’ll be able to offer the product in other states. California will move the rest of the country mainstream in these homes,” he said. “Builders will not go voluntarily in that direction, only if they are pushed.”

Denver-based Thrive Home Builders has already built hundreds of net-zero homes in the Front Range. It’s been picking up U.S. Dept. of Energy awards annually for innovation on zero-energy homes. Its two Fort Collins projects will be the largest.

“We definitely do cost more,” said Nathan Kahre, a healthy-home manager at Thrive. “To go from a (traditional) home to a net-zero home is about $35,000, so it’s a premium. But buyers have responded to that. What Thrive is working on as a company is how do we reduce the cost. That’s a big goal with our Fort Collins project.”

In the Front Range, labor costs more, but Thrive holds training sessions for contractors.

“We recognize our subcontractors need to know how to do it better. Rather than penalize them for it, we take it upon ourselves to train them and help them gain the skills,” Kahre said. “I’ve done a couple dozen trainings with insulation crews, framing contractors and several different areas. In 2018, we’ve probably hosted over 30 trainings.”

And then there’s Pueblo

Pueblo has seen an uptick in new residents moving in from the Front Range looking for a home that’s “a little less expensive,” said Scott Hobson, an assistant city manager in the city’s planning department. According to the Colorado Association of Realtors, the median sales price in Pueblo County was $185,000 in October.

Pueblo home sales have slowed since August but that’s “because our inventory has been very low. Without the inventory, we don’t have the buyers,” said David Anderson, southeast spokesman for the state Realtors Association. But he’s not sure buyers will come.

“In 1994 in Pueblo West, there were only 5,000 people living there. After 25 years, there are 33,000. It takes a long time and again, you have to have jobs,” he said. “Granted, you may get retired people to move here, but for something this big, you’re going to need jobs.”

The city of Pueblo worked with Resnick and his North Vista Highlands project to revise the annexation agreement for the property, which now allows for 4,850 homes to be built over 30 years. The city also raised the number of homes to 1,500 from 1,000 before developers must build more infrastructure. The land, annexed in 2008, was never developed, Hobson said.

“They’re not off the hook to do their public infrastructure and improvements, but it’s more spread out,” Hobson said. “It made it a little more affordable (for developers). I think otherwise, they would not have been able to secure the financing for the development to be affordable for both the developer and the consumer.”

Sprout Tiny Homes, based in Pueblo, is working with land developer Jevin Investmentson the North Vista Highlands project near Colorado State University-Pueblo. The proposed 4,850-unit housing development will include 750 net-zero ready homes will range from 1,100 to 1,800 square feet and be priced in the low $200,000s to mid $300,000s. The house pictured was designed by Earthtone Builders. (Provided by Sprout Tiny Homes)

Sprout Tiny Homes is the lead home builder for the zero-energy ready portion in Pueblo. The development is near the company’s headquarters and 45,000-square foot manufacturing facility, also in Pueblo. It plans to build the new homes at its factory to keep costs down and quality high, said Stambaugh, adding that he’ll probably call the new line Sprout Eco Homes.

“We’ve done that to date for homes on wheels, and now we’re making the transition to what we believe will lead an evolution in housing in the country,” he said. “Affordable housing has essentially evaporated in America. Traditional site-built, stick-built housing is broken. It doesn’t work anymore. What does work is what we’re doing in Pueblo and beyond. Smaller footprints, high quality and net zero.”

The plan is to build high-quality, smaller houses with health, safety and energy-efficiency features that appeal to an aging population that doesn’t want to deal with Denver traffic and high home prices. Homes are expected to be between 1,100 to 1,800 square feet, with single level and open floor plans, high-end appliances and non-toxic materials.  

“Let’s face it. Colorado’s population has aged and having a floorplan favorable to that demographic is what we’re focused on,” he said. “… We think Pueblo is the next growth area in Colorado. Denver has already gone through a huge increase in housing prices, both north and south. Fort Collins home prices have escalated big time there. The whole wave is heading south. We want to be in front of that curve.”

Rising Sun

More from The Colorado Sun

El Nino teases as Southwestern U.S. remains in drought

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — National climate experts have been watching and waiting but El Nino has only been teasing, leaving the American Southwest to hang on longer until the weather pattern develops and brings more moisture to the drought-stricken region.

Experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and the National Weather Service on Thursday said the epicenter of the nation’s drought has been centered for months now over the region where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.

The exceptionally dry conditions have affected water supplies throughout the region, said senior hydrologist Royce Fontenot.

Many reservoirs throughout the intermountain west are below where they should be this time of year, and rivers and streams that depend on snow-melt have had some record-low flows, he said.

“I love to compare drought to malnutrition,” Fontenot said. “The atmosphere and the environment expects a certain amount of precipitation even in the desert at times of the year so the more you go without precipitation, or food if you want to think of it that way, the more starved you get.”

He pointed to maps that take into account precipitation and evaporation levels over certain periods of time, showing that parts of the intermountain west — particularly the Four Corners region — have become more starved for moisture.

“Of course what happens when you become more malnourished, it takes more energy, more food, more calories to get you back up. It’s kind of what we’re dealing with with precipitation,” he said.

The latest federal drought map shows some improvements along the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, but dryness has expanded in parts of southern California and parts of Nevada.

Along the Nevada-California border, the Tahoe area on Thursday received more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a backcountry avalanche warning for most of the central mountain chain there.

Forecasters said the winter snowpack for Colorado’s Front Range, northern Arizona and other areas also was looking promising but the El Nino pattern has yet to develop. Wetter-than-average conditions usually take hold during an El Nino winter and higher elevations can get more snow.

While temperatures in the Pacific Ocean have been on the mark for a couple of months now, rainfall levels and atmospheric conditions aren’t quite right yet.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, said forecasters still expect the pattern to develop as winter approaches and it could last into the spring.

___

Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

Big projects changing the horizon in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood

Southwest of downtown in the Lincoln Park neighborhood a trio of new commercial buildings are rising from the heavily industrial landscape.

Unlike the transformation that preceded it in the Central Platte Valley area to the north, these projects aren’t necessarily introducing new uses to the neighborhood. But they are bringing more density, modern design and — in one case — innovative sustainability features to Denver’s west side.

Earlier this month, Denver Water celebrated construction crews topping out the skeleton of a new six-story administration building being built near the intersection of West 12th Avenue and Shoshone Street. The $55 million building, part of a more than $201 million overhaul of the water utility’s Lincoln Park operations complex, is expected to be home base to 550 workers by the middle of next summer, Denver Water officials say.

It will replace an aging administration building tucked into the utility’s 36-acre complex, one of many structures on the campus found to have major functional deficiencies during an internal audit a few years back, according to Brian Good, Denver Water’s chief administrative officer. Leaders considered moving the administration building off the property Denver Water has occupied since the 1870s, but the notion was quickly dismissed.

“We’ll be more a part of the community now and a lot easier to find,” Good said as he surveyed the project and its surroundings. “You really sense the whole area is about to go through a major metamorphosis.”

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
Crews install pipes on the roof of Denver Water’s new headquarters on Nov. 28, 2018.

The view from the future roof of the Denver Water tells the tale. Just a few blocks to the north, crews are busy installing windows at a five-story building that will be the new corporate headquarters for All Copy Products, a company that provides office equipment and technology services to other businesses. In a news release last year, All Copy Products president and CEO Brad Knepper touted features planned for the estimated $34 million project including “a golf simulator, pizza oven, full bar, 10 large screen televisions, shuffleboard table, and retractable glass walls that open to an outdoor deck.”

About a half mile from the Denver Water campus, the Denver Housing Authority is making progress on the 11-story building that will serve as its headquarters, as well as housing a fresh food market and co-working space just steps away from the light rail station at West 10th Avenue and Osage Street.

Authority spokeswoman Stella Madrid said that project, by the far the tallest building on the agency marquee Mariposa District property, is expected to completed in April.

“The density and mix of uses is critical to the neighborhood fabric that is now Mariposa and has been a continued vision made possible by our partners in the redevelopment thus far,” Madrid wrote in an email.

Mariposa has been held up as a national model for mixed-income housing projects, and, across the tracks, Denver Water has high hopes its administration building will serve as a national model for water conservation.

Tony Thornton is the senior project manager with Stantec, the architecture firm providing master planning and many other services for the Denver Water redevelopment.  He said the 190,000-square-foot building will be on the cutting edge of energy and water conservation.

Thanks to solar panels on its roof and on neighboring parking areas, a narrow design that allows natural light to spill across each floor, a water-fed radiant heating and cooling system and other features, the building is expected to achieve net-zero energy use.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
The construction site of Denver Water’s new headquarters on Nov. 28, 2018.

It will feature an innovative water recycling system that will turn on-site waste water into water than can be pumped back into the buildings’ toilets or used for irrigation. One of the finishing touches of that system will be plain to see. Planters in the building’s lobby will help polish the recycled water, Thornton said, helping it use nearly 75 percent less water than a standard building of the same size.

“Denver Water really was pretty visionary with this,” Thornton said. “They really came at this from a viewpoint of  environmental stewardship and their role in the community.”

With Colorado’s methane pollution rules the gold standard, is federal oversight still needed?

While Colorado’s first-in-the-nation regulations of methane emissions from oil and gas sites are considered a gold standard, a new report by an environmental group says federal regulations are still necessary.

The report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society and Taxpayers for Common Sense, says Colorado has been a leader in reining in methane pollution, a potent greenhouse gas, while some energy-producing states in the West have done little. That’s why it was a mistake for the Trump administration to repeal a 2016 federal rule that clamped down on methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands, said Jim Ramey, Colorado state director at The Wilderness Society.

“The air doesn’t stop when it gets to the Colorado-Utah state line or the New Mexico-Colorado state line,” Ramey said. “On the Western Slope, people are living with the impacts of poor state regulations in Utah, New Mexico and elsewhere.”

In September, the Trump administration replaced methane regulations approved in 2016 by the Obama administration. The action followed lawsuits by the oil and gas industry, a failed attempt by Congress to abolish the rule and the Trump administration’s attack on the regulations as too burdensome for companies.

The repeal of the Obama-era rule essentially returns the country to federal regulations that are more than 30 years old, leaving it up to individual states whether to adopt tougher standards, Ramey said. The result is a patchwork of rules across the West, with many states failing to address the problems of burning off methane gas at wells and preventing methane leaks from oil and gas equipment, he added.

The 2016 rule was aimed at stemming methane pollution, which dissipates in the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide but is at least 25 times more efficient at trapping radiation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule applied to new and existing oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands and was projected to cut methane emissions by as much as 35 percent.

The rule was also intended to recover millions of dollars being lost when excess methane is flared, or burned off or lost through leaks, rather than captured and sold. A 2010 Government Accountability Office report said states, tribes and taxpayers lose as much as $23 million annually when methane, a primary component of natural gas and byproduct of drilling, is wasted.

The 2016 regulations, which were being phased in, required oil and gas producers to cut flaring in half at wells, periodically inspect for leaks and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air. Operators also had to limit venting from storage tanks and try to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.

The rule applying to lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management was modeled after the 2014 Colorado law that regulates methane emissions from oil and gas sites. Separate methane regulations administered by the EPA on private lands were also modeled after Colorado’s law.

The Trump administration is taking public comments until Dec. 17 on its proposal to scale back the EPA methane regulations.

Colorado’s methane regulations apply to both state and private lands and remain in effect despite changes in the federal laws. Since the state program began, 73,733 methane leaks have been found and repaired. The number of leaks fell by more than half from 36,044 in 2015 to 17,254 in 2017.

“At a time when the nation faces historic deficits, our country needs actions that will reduce methane waste, and ensure state and federal taxpayers are compensated for the resources we own,” Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in a statement.

The oil and gas industry disputed the figures on loss of royalty revenue and argued the methane rule for public lands were unnecessary duplications of state and federal laws. Companies challenged the legality of the methane rule for public lands and said it would cost far more to comply with the law than the Obama administration said it would.

“This is just another repackaging of the flawed analysis that these groups have been using for years on the supposed value of the gas lost, which we have debunked multiple times,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade and advocacy organization, said in a statement.

The replacement for the Obama administration’s rule “will reduce waste, and industry will continue its four-decade-long trend of innovating and further reducing emissions,” Sgamma added.

Superior delays vote on oil and gas moratorium after Rocky Flats drilling plans fizzle

Absent the Rocky Flats oil and gas applications that drew local backlash earlier this month, Superior trustees on Tuesday night voted to table a proposed drilling moratorium, but will still continue toward potentially drafting new regulations in the coming weeks, officials say.

Newly appointed Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Lacis at the beginning of the meeting asked to delay a planned vote on the moratorium until there had been an executive session and more discussion on the matter. The motion was approved unanimously.

Despite the moratorium’s delay, the town is poised to overhaul its approach to oil and gas in the coming weeks with attorney Matt Sura at the helm, say officials who speculated Tuesday about looking into various deterrents ranging from land use authority to home rule powers to enacting taxes similar to those of neighboring municipalities.

“Our tabling is not (an indication) that we don’t think it’s necessary anymore,” Mayor Clint Folsom said of the moratorium’s postponement, suggesting that town staff would work with legal counsel on a plan of action before moving forward with any measures.

Read more at dailycamera.com.