ENVIRONMENT

News and discussion concerning our local environment.

The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday that would curb the methane that leaks from facilities related to oil and natural gas production. Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

iSeeChange: Dead Finches

Aug 14, 2015
Flickr User quinet

Earlier this summer, we received an observation over at iseechange.org about finches.  Ann Cabillot  had a mystery: dead purple finches found across Paonia.

This year's El Niño is shaping up to be a whopper — potentially surpassing the one in 1997, which was the strongest on record, the National Weather Service says.

That could be good news for drought-stricken California, but not-so-good for places such as the Philippines and Indonesia, which typically experience below-normal rainfall or drought conditions during El Niños.

flickr user ashrunner

Denise Weaver lives in Sanborn Park, near Norwood, Colorado. Weaver and her husband have lived there for 10 years.  For the first time this spring, they heard something they were a little unfamiliar with: some sort of humming coming from the pine trees.  They investigated, and described finding locusts. 

Denise asked around, and eventually a local farmer said that they were cicadas, and not to be worried at all.  Still, she had some questions. 

"Extreme." "Unprecedented." "Historic." Those are just a few of the words being used to describe the start of this year's fire season in North America.

The wildfires are centered in the northwest of the continent, but their consequences are far-reaching. Thick smoke has blanketed parts of Wisconsin and North Dakota. It's triggered air alerts in Minnesota and Montana and muddied skies as far south as Tennessee and Colorado.

And, of course, things are even worse at the source.

Rural Tulare County, Calif., is now being called the epicenter of this drought.

That's because at least 1,300 residential wells have run dry, affecting at least 7,000 people. When your taps start spitting out air here, Paul Boyer and his team are who you call.

Under a punishing midafternoon sun, Boyer helps muscle down five of these hefty 400-pound water tanks from a semi-truck flatbed. He helps run a local nonprofit that's in charge of distributing these 2,500-gallon water tanks to drought victims.

Jake Ryan / KVNF

About 3 years ago, KVNF became the incubator station for iSeeChange, a new type of environmental reporting.  Instead of finding reports and studies about frogs, or insects, or climate change, and bringing that report to our listeners, we went backwards.  Take a listen to hear what we've reported on so far this year.

In 1922, seven Western states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California — drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide.

As a result, each state was promised more water than actually exists. This miscalculation — and the subsequent mismanagement of water resources in those states — has created a water crisis that now affects nearly 40 million Americans.

Darcie Rose

The unusually wet spring has made some mushroom foragers very happy. 

While Colorado has experienced much needed rain this spring, fire officials are still expecting an average fire season.

"The moisture has helped considerably, at least to forestall the onset of the fire season, which we know is coming," said Paul Cooke, the Director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

The addition of two specialized planes that can spot a wildfire in its very earliest stages means that the state should be better prepared for the fire season. Specialized equipment like this though, means the cost of fighting wildfires in Colorado and the west continues to go up – and officials at every level are planning accordingly.

A team of government scientists has revised its estimate for how much the planet has been warming.

The new results, published in the journal Science, may dispel the idea that Earth has been in the midst of a "global warming hiatus" — a period over the past 20 years where the planet's temperature appears to have risen very little.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it has found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — has led to widespread pollution of drinking water. The oil industry and its backers welcome the long-awaited study, while environmental groups criticize it.

On this show,  a conversation KVNF's Jake Ryan had with Julia Kumari Drapkin, executive producer for iSeeChange.  The project started here at KVNF as a way to connect people to the bigger picture of climate change, and it’s now grown to a nation wide platform. 

Included at the end is a piece that was produced about a month ago, after a hard frost came through.  A Paonia orchardist, like a lot of farmers, was hit hard by the frost. 

It’s May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It’s pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he said, holds more than just water.

“Chances are it’s carrying the excess nitrogen we’re talking about,” mused Cheatham.

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

Flickr User colorob

Spring is in full effect, and for quite a while birds have been migrating through the area.  One listener, Marylin Stone, commented on the iSeeChange website that she noticed, for the first time this year a Bullock's oriole and a hummingbird, she wasn’t positive which species.  I brought this observation to Jeff Birek, a biologist with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Copyright 2015 Colorado Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.cpr.org.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In the 19th century, before Americans fully settled the West, some called it the Great American Desert. It wasn't considered fertile enough to develop.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

iSeeChange: Frozen Fruit

May 2, 2015
Jake Ryan / KVNF

A hard freeze in April damaged a wide range of fruit crops on the Western Slope of Colorado.

The historic four-year drought in California has been grabbing the headlines lately, but there's a much bigger problem facing the West: the now 14-year drought gripping the Colorado River basin.

One of the most stunning places to see its impact is at the nation's largest reservoir, Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. At about 40 percent of capacity, it's the lowest it's been since it was built in the 1930s.

Fans of Boulder County's osprey nest cam saw a bit of drama last season.

Two females and a male were living in the nest, when a third female arrived and kicked the original female out. Observers said she bonded with the male.

"People called it ... the 'home-wrecker osprey,' " says Nik Brockman, Boulder County's web specialist.

Jessica Reeder via Flickr (CC BY creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Spring is in full effect, and it seems to have a head start. 

iSeeChange: Forecasting A Fire Season

Apr 9, 2015
Hotchkiss Fire Department

With record wet and cold in the east, and record dry and hot in the west, some meteorologists are scratching their heads.

high country news
High Country News

The HCNU classroom program presents a live radio discussion, "When in (Mega?) Drought," April 8 at 6 p.m. Mountain time. We'll be broadcasting and live-streaming from our local radio station, KVNF, in Paonia, Colorado, with four experts on water, drought, agriculture and the climate.

CLICK HERE FOR ARCHIVED AUDIO STREAM AT HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

For more information, visit High Country News.

The water outlook in drought-racked California just got a lot worse: Snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history — just 6 percent of the long-term average. That shatters the previous low record on this date of 25 percent, set in 1977 and again last year.

Scientists who warn that the earth's climate is changing have been subjected to hacking, investigations, and even court action in recent years. That ire usually comes from conservative groups and climate skeptics seeking to discredit the research findings.

The message from park rangers, amateur metal detectors and regular fisherman at California's Lake Perris is unanimous: The water is lower than they've ever seen it.

Coloradoans pride themselves on the quality of their drinking water, most of which originates high up in the Rocky Mountains. On the Eastern Plains though, many communities have water that not only tastes bad, it's out of compliance with federal drinking water standards.

At the J and L Cafe in downtown Sterling you'll find diners sipping glasses of tap water as they enjoy lunch. Just a year ago, that wasn't the case.

"You couldn't hardly drink it," said diner Kathy Orchid, she never used to drink the tap water. "It's much better [now]."

Gunnison Sage Grouse
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the listing of the Gunnison sage grouse.

Last November, the grouse was listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. 

After the announcement, Colorado along with environmental groups and local governments threatened to sue. 

On Wednesday the state filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the listing.

The solar energy business is growing fast, thanks in part to a steep drop in panel prices.

It's official: 2014 was the hottest year on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center crunched the numbers and came to this conclusion:

Travis Bubenik/KVNF

2014 is over, and Joe Ramey is looking back at what the weather was like. 

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