THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Colorado River reprieve
Breakthrough Colorado River deal reached, outlining big water cuts for three years
Representatives of the seven states that depend on the Colorado River reached consensus Monday after months of negotiations, with California, Arizona and Nevada together committing to reduce water use by 3 million acre-feet between now and the end of 2026 — an average of 1 million acre-feet per year, cutting usage by about 14% across the Southwest.
At last, states reach a Colorado River deal: Pay farmers not to farm
The Biden administration has temporarily resolved a dire water crisis—with help from a wet winter.
Breaking down the ‘breakthrough’ Colorado River deal
Yes, the three Lower Basin states came up with an agreement to cut water use substantially. Yes, it’s a breakthrough (as any such agreement would be). But no, it won’t be enough to save the Colorado River if the climatic conditions of the last couple decades persist or worsen. Plus, the proposed cuts are only for the next few years. What then?
Colorado River agreement punts on drastic cuts and difficult negotiations
It’s clear that states avoided the fundamental conversations needed to ensure the future of the Colorado River, said Michael Cohen, a senior researcher with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit that studies water issues.
Colorado River deal offers reprieve, but long-term water crisis remains
California, Arizona and Nevada's three-year agreement to cut use of Colorado River water, in a deal backed by federal funds, is only a temporary fix.
Colorado River water sharing agreement likely dodges legal fight
A messy Colorado River legal fight is much less likely in the near term now that the seven river basin states have reached consensus on how to conserve water amid a historic 23-year drought, legal observers say.
Utah isn’t forced to make cuts, but will still feel the pain from Colorado River agreement
The state may never see its full allotment of the river’s water, while curtailments impact everything from food prices to how our communities grow.
A striking visualization of Colorado River consumption from @nytclimate
— Gulnaz Khan (@gulnazkhan)
May 23, 2023
More on the megadrought
One Colorado river basin has been drying for years. It’s changing a way of life.
Are the lessons from a $30 million effort to restore the parched Republican River in Colorado a road map for other rivers, or a warning?
At Lake Powell, record low water levels reveal an 'amazing silver lining'
As the water recedes, a breathtaking landscape of deep red-rock canyons that cradle lush ecosystems and otherworldly arches, caverns and waterfalls is emerging.
As water levels drop, the risk of arsenic rises
As the West grapples with a megadrought, its driest spell in at least 1,200 years, rising levels of arsenic — a known carcinogen — in Colorado’s San Luis Valley offers clues to what the future may hold.
Earlier snowpack melt in the West could bring summer water scarcity
Snow is melting earlier, and more rain is falling instead of snow in the mountain ranges of the Western U.S. and Canada, leading to a leaner snowpack that could impact agriculture, wildfire risk and municipal water supplies come summer, according to a new CU Boulder analysis.
Great Salt Lake is still blowing dangerous dust
The lake needs to swell another six feet or so before it reaches an elevation that will allow it to rise and fall, as salty terminal lakes do, without posing a threat to industry, wildlife and public health.
Opinion: Can the Great Salt Lake become a national park?
The Great Salt Lake is a cultural and historical landmark of Utah. Giving it national park status will repair our relationship with this natural wonder.
Mining boom dispatches
Biden admin hits pause on Arizona copper mine
An attorney representing the Forest Service told a federal appeals court that the Biden administration needs more time to meet with tribes and review
USGS rejects push to make copper a 'critical' mineral
A bipartisan group of lawmakers had urged the agency to put copper on its list of critical minerals. But USGS Director David Applegate said that is not
Experts say Indigenous sacred sites are increasingly under threat
As the federal government weighs greenlighting controversial mining projects in places Indigenous peoples consider sacred – including the proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass in northern Nevada and the proposed copper mine at Oak Flat in Arizona – a group of Native law experts warns that Indigenous religious freedoms and access to these sites are increasingly under threat.
Questions remain for rare earths mining project in northern Wyoming
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group that has battled Ramaco over the Brook Mine for years, has its doubts about this latest evolution.
Exxon joins hunt for lithium in bet on EV boom
The oil giant quietly laid plans earlier this year for potentially producing the mineral in Arkansas.
Federal legislation seeks to update mining law
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is leading efforts to modernize mining laws as the transition away from fossil fuels increases demand for certain metals and minerals.
Over a barrel
Chevron’s $7.6B purchase of PDC Energy creates the biggest oil and gas company in Colorado
Chevron Corp. is buying PDC Energy in a $7.6 billion deal that will make it by far and away the largest oil and gas producer in Colorado and continues a trend in the state of bigger companies gobbling up smaller ones.
Colorado frackers doubled freshwater use during megadrought, even as drilling and oil production fell
Oil and gas operators dramatically increased their reliance on high-quality water for fracking even though they produced enough wastewater to supply the operations.
New Mexico's fracking water contains cancer-causing chemicals, study says
State records indicate companies injected thousands of pounds of PFAS into about 260 sites in the past decade during hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and possibly far more because the state’s trade secrets law allows operators to conceal many of the chemicals they use, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility’s 55-page report.
Scientists: ‘Path of the Pronghorn’ misrepresented in gasfield suit
Ecologist Joel Berger wasn’t pleased when he learned his research had been cited as evidence — inaccurately, he says — that the famous Path of the Pronghorn migration route ends well short of Jonah Energy’s Normally Pressured Lance gas field
How an energy giant helped law enforcement quell the Standing Rock protests
New documents show Energy Transfer spent big on police gear and worked with a cadre of spin doctors to fight an information war against protesters.
Texas and New Mexico led U.S. crude oil production in 2022
In 2022, for the third consecutive year, crude oil production grew more in New Mexico than in any other U.S. state. New Mexico production grew by 0.3 million b/d to 1.6 million b/d, a record for the state.
The land report
Utah Supreme Court upholds law making it more difficult to access waterways, much to the dismay of outdoor enthusiasts
The Utah Supreme Court upheld the Public Waters Access Act, which makes it illegal to step on private creek beds even if the waterway is publicly accessible.
Virtual fences for cattle find a home on the range
“I think it’s the best thing since barbed wire,” said Kristy Wallner, a BLM rangeland specialist in Colorado.
Colorado scientists delve into cattle intestines to cut greenhouse gas emissions
“We want to find solutions that can help mitigate those emissions to cut the climate impact of beef,” says CSU’s Sara Place.
Report: U.S. Forest Service serving grizzly habitat to livestock industry
Critical Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear habitat has been degraded by a 2019 U.S. Forest Service decision to allow more than 17,000 livestock to graze in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, according to a new report.
Congress should fund the BLM
How Donald Trump’s changes to the Bureau of Land Management are still slowing the energy transition.
The green clash between renewables and conservation
Scholars argue that federal agencies can conserve land and still increase renewable energy output.
Interior's oil plan is coming. Here's what to watch.
Biden administration officials in recent weeks hosted private listening sessions with environmental groups and oil companies ahead of the release of proposed oil and gas regulations that could represent some of the White House’s most lasting steps on public lands to help address climate change.
In New Mexico, an unlikely wildfire thinning alliance
A unexpected alliance between traditional woodcutters and federal land managers in New Mexico could provide a model for a push by President Joe Biden's administration to thin forests near villages and towns at risk of climate-driven wildfires.
Hunting is having a moment. Will it last?
Adventure athletes like pro snowboarder Eric Jackson have begun to dabble in the pursuit, helping create a bridge between two previously distinct outdoor communities.
A new approach to conservation: ‘Indigenize’ not 'decolonize’
“When we’re able to come together and uplift Indigenous knowledge—and learn from each other, too, because there are things from western science and ecology that are important for restoration—we can change these systems to be more regenerative.”
Stranded Glacier National Park hiker shares story of survival and hope
After slipping off a snow-covered trail in Glacier National Park and losing both shoes, 19-year-old Matthew Read hunkered down in a tree shelter for three nights and awaited his rescue. When help finally came, he was overcome with relief.
Big Sky battlegrounds
Why Montana is emerging as a must-watch climate battleground
Montana is the land of big skies, glaciers and fly-fishing — where natural beauty is so important, the state imposed a constitutional right to a clean environment. But it also boasts the country’s largest recoverable coal reserves, which are critical to its economy, making it one of the most intense climate battlegrounds in the country.
Montana GOP tries to derail first U.S. climate trial
Legislators spent part of their recently ended session passing bills that seek to slow action on greenhouse gas emissions. The moves come as a landmark climate case is hurtling toward trial in their state.
Montana says 1st-in-nation TikTok ban protects people. TikTok says it violates their rights
Montana became the first state in the U.S. to enact a complete ban on TikTok on Wednesday when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a measure that’s more sweeping than any other state’s attempts to curtail the social media app, which is owned by a Chinese tech company.
Montana TikTok ban draws multiple court challenges
Less than a week after Gov. Greg Gianfortesigned a bill that will ban Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok in Montana, the newly minted law has already drawn court challenges, one filed last week by a group of users and a second, filed Monday, by the company itself.
Montana TikTok ban brings questions about digital sovereignty
Now that the governor has signed a controversial bill essentially outlawing the TikTok social media app in Montana, Indigenous people in the state are wondering how such a law might affect sovereign tribal nations.
'Racism,' 'discrimination,' 'partisan': Native lawmakers in Montana reflect on session
When people in Crow Agency see Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy around town and ask her how the legislative session went, she tells them, “It was terrible.”
Links from the brink
The Big Hole River and its continued state of peril; trout numbers again at historic lows
Recent data from three sections of the 153-mile freestone river in southwest Montana showed the fewest number of brown and rainbow trout since data was first collected in 1969.
Yellowstone Lake's native cutthroat trout getting bigger as population rebounds
“These fish are much larger and much heavier, so the biomass here overall may actually be the same or surpass what we had prior to the lake trout invasion.”
Grizzly 399’s ‘final legacy’
At 27 years old, world-famous bear is now the oldest known grizzly female to reproduce and raise cubs in a half-century of monitoring the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population.
Bear burnout: Officials expand bear-resistant products program as grizzlies tire of testing
Increasingly, bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone are showing signs of “testing fatigue,” experts say. They are less interested in interacting with containers, and that led to a backlog last summer.
Yellowstone National Park seeking information on incident that led to death of bison calf
Park officials are seeking information about a man who intentionally disturbed a bison calf in the park’s northeast corner last week, which led to the death of the calf.
When wolves move in, they push smaller carnivores closer to human development – with deadly consequences
Reintroducing wolves can restore important ecological processes, but it can have unintended effects when smaller predators like coyotes are driven closer to people, a team of ecologists found.
How the tiny brine shrimp can help protect the Great Salt Lake
A conversation with the sixth-grade activists behind Utah’s new state crustacean.
What else we’re reading today
Western resort towns risk being ‘loved to death’
A new report from Headwaters Economics details the downsides of tourism and population booms – and what communities can do about it.
Boots on the ground
As FEMA struggles to keep up with climate disasters, extremist groups see an opportunity.
Montana acts to protect Native American priority in adopting Native children
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed legislation giving Native American families preference in fostering and adopting Native children involved with child protective services, a proactive move to protect such rights as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could undercut them nationally. Governors in Wyoming and North Dakota signed similar laws this spring, while a proposal in Utah stalled.
How wildfire smoke can harm human health, even when the fire is hundreds of miles away – a toxicologist explains
Fires in Canada have sent smoke across several U.S. states, leaving cities like Denver with some of the worst air quality in the world – even far from the actual flames.
Opinion: Alberta had one of the best wildfire programs in the world. Budget cuts have left the province at risk
Trina Moyles writes that a series of government cutbacks and defunding has seriously damaged Alberta Wildfire’s ability to prevent and respond to wildfires.
Colorado is poised to set the nation’s first standards for green hydrogen. Will the federal government follow suit?
Without clear guardrails in place, environmental groups worry clean hydrogen could accelerate climate change, not slow it down.
Colorado’s big push on electric vehicles gets boost from federal funds, but it’s got a long way to go
Though the state is set to spend plenty in effort to meet the goals of its emissions reduction plan, more permanent solutions seem far off.
DOE awards Wyoming $41M for carbon storage hub
In another show of support for cleaner energy projects, the federal agency taps UW to help launch the public-private project in southwest Wyoming, building on groundwork laid by the state.
New cleanup standards proposed for historical coal ash sites
Environmental groups are celebrating a new rule proposed Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that could expand federal oversight to a number of previously unregulated coal ash storage sites in Wyoming.
Environmentalists sue to protect Lake Koocanusa selenium rule
Conservation groups in Montana and Idaho allege an oversight body unlawfully attempted to invalidate Montana’s 2020 selenium rule.
Yes, 90 degrees can be dangerous
From a jump in ER visits and gun violence to fears for maternal health, the Northwest’s May heat wave shows the dangers of more moderate, early heat waves.
What a century-old restaurant can tell us about the Chinese-American experience in the West
The Pekin Noodle Parlor in Butte is the oldest, continually operating family owned Chinese restaurant in the country. But the story behind the Pekin is not just the story of one restaurant. It's a story about the Chinese-American experience of a distinct, authentic culture and cuisine that was created in this chaotic mixing bowl of the American West.
Edited by Matthew Frank, associate director of regional journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana
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