People who have lived in Colorado their entire lives, such as myself, often take the water resources of this state for granted. We water our lawns at noon, run the tap while we’re waiting for the water to cool down or while we’re brushing our teeth, and generally take all the fresh water we use for granted (and I’m sure Coloradans aren’t the only ones).

Does it strike anyone else as wrong that we use potable water to flush our toilets? To water our lawns? I don’t mean to sound (too) patronizing, because I’m just as guilty of these things as nearly every other American, but we are all incredibly privileged and most of us don’t even realize it (myself included).

Why don’t we do something about this, like use gray water to water our lawns and flush our toilets? I suspect there are two reasons. First, we just don’t really think about it a lot of the time. It’s just how it is, and we take the status quo for granted. Second, it really would take an extraordinary amount of infrastructure (re)development to re-route gray water from your shower drain to your toilet. Right now, we just don’t have the infrastructure or the will to do it.

It will probably take a significant water crisis, maybe on an order of magnitude similar to the Dust Bowl, to convince us that it’s silly to keep wasting all this fresh water.

Speaking of the Dust Bowl, I live on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, which means I also live on the east side of the Continental Divide. In Colorado, 80% of our rain falls on the west side of the Continental Divide, and only 20% on the east side. So, a significant amount more water flows down the west side of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean than down the east side of the Rockies, to the Atlantic.

But eastern Colorado is where the vast majority of the farming in Colorado is done, because that’s where all those “fruited plains” are. In the early stages of Colorado’s settlement this wasn’t a problem, but during the Dust Bowl, farmers east of the Continental Divide (not just in Colorado) began to covet all that wonderful fresh water out west that they couldn’t use.

So began a little public works project called the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT). It was authorized in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and completed almost 20 years later. Upon completion, the project supplied fresh water to 33 cities, including Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley, Loveland, and Estes Park, as well as farming in 7 Colorado counties. It includes 10 reservoirs, 18 dams and dykes, six hydroelectric power plants, and the Alva B. Adams tunnel.

The technical skill and perseverance required to build the entire C-BT project, and the Alva B. Adams tunnel in particular, continues to astonish me (remember, this was 70 years ago). The tunnel is 13 miles long and goes all the way under the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built from 1940 to 1944, in the middle of a world war. Much of the impetus for its construction was the hardship suffered by Americans, farmers in particular, during the Dust Bowl.

If this astonishingly hot, dry summer (and a little report from the UN) are any indication, Climate Change is here to stay. Ignoring it will not make it go away, despite what certain politicians seem to believe. Colorado, as well as much of America’s farmland, has faced drought conditions every summer for the past several years, and we desperately need to save as much clean water as we can for its best possible uses. (I’ll give you a hint – it’s not to flush your toilet.)

We need another large-scale water project. This time not to build dams, reservoirs, and tunnels, but to make more efficient use of the water we have. The Federal government can’t even find the political will necessary to pass a budget without shutting down the government, let alone undertake the massive infrastructure investment that would be required to mitigate another Dust-Bowl-like drought. We need that kind of investment to do things like re-route gray water from our shower and sink drains to our toilet bowls and lawns.

I’m afraid we might end up waiting for another Dust Bowl before we do what’s necessary.

This post was inspired in part by my newly begun master’s studies in Agricultural and Resource Economics, where I recently took a tour of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) headquarters. The NCWCD is responsible for administering the water resources for northeastern Colorado, including the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. 

Updated to include tips on saving money on heating during the winter. 

This spring, it seems like every time I turn on the news there’s a story about how temperature records are being set all over the world. If this trend continues (and I’m sure it will) record breaking summer temperatures will undoubtedly take a toll on your wallet.

There are plenty of expensive ways available to reduce your heating and cooling expenses, like buying a solar thermal system, replacing all your windows with triple-paned glass or re-insulating your home, but many such measures are expensive and time consuming.

By trade and education, I’m an economist. There are very few things that economists love more than efficiency. Below I’ve outlined many free or cheap ways to cut down on your energy bill and keep your home comfortable this summer (and winter).

Install weather stripping around all your doors and windows; it will keep the comfortable air inside your home, and the hot or cold air out. Weather stripping is cheap and easy to install and you can buy it at any hardware store.

Use your light bulbs efficiently. This doesn’t just mean buying energy efficient light bulbs. Compact Fluorescent bulbs are great in places where the lights are on for more than 15 minutes at a time, but don’t forget that CFL bulbs show significantly decreased lifespan when used for short periods at a time. Incandescent bulbs have lasted longer in my bathroom and hallway lights than CFLs have. Keep your old incandescent bulbs to use in fixtures like these.

Lower your blinds/drapes during the day in the summer, and make sure to raise them in the daytime in winter. If your blinds are anything like the flimsy ones in my apartment, you might also want to curtains that block the light better during the hottest parts of the day. Your cat might love the warm patches of sunlight on the floor, but once the heat gets into your home it’ll be there for a while.

Open your upstairs windows to let warm air rise up and out of your home.

Make sure ceiling fans are set properly. All ceiling fans have a switch on the base to select between winter and summer modes. This makes a bigger difference than you expect.

Plant shade trees on the sunny side of your house. Poplars are a good choice because they grow very quickly and have a fairly full canopy (but they do use a lot of water). You won’t begin to reap the benefits from this until next year, but you’ll be surprised at how much it helps. If you live somewhere with cold winters, make sure to consider if the benefit in summer is worth the cost in winter.

Paint your house a light color and install light-colored shingles (ok, that might be a bit more expensive). The light colors will reflect a lot of the sun’s heat and will save you a lot of money compared to a house with dark paint or shingles. And hey, maybe you’ll even contribute a bit Earth’s albedo.

Buy a programmable thermostat, and don’t forget to program it. Programmable thermostats are surprisingly cheap and easy to install; mine set me back $12 and took me five minutes to install. Set it to cool (or heat) your home while you’re there and to turn off when you’re gone.

Turn off your appliances. Stoves and ovens are an obvious source of heat and use a lot of electricity, make sure you’re not leaving them on when they don’t need to be. Please don’t interpret this as advice to use your stove as a heater in the winter (but maybe you could find an excuse to do a little more baking than usual).

Lighting (especially incandescent), computers, and TVs also generate a lot of heat and add to your electric bill, so make sure these items are off if you aren’t using them. I keep many appliances (within reason) plugged into power strips that I turn off whenever I’m out of my apartment for a while.

Hang out in the basement! It stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Most basements stay between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit year round.  When you’re in your basement you also don’t need to heat or cool other rooms.

Service your AC, furnace, or hot water heater. A/C units with clogged filters or old coolant are significantly less efficient and will take a lot more energy to cool your house. Old furnaces and water heaters do not heat as efficiently.

Inspect your refrigerator door to make sure there’s no trapped dirt interfering with the seal. Refrigerators use a ton of electricity, so this is great advice. Thanks to reader zeusalmighty for this tip.

If you can think of anything I didn’t add, please leave a comment and I’ll put it in.

A recent study by the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University showed high concentrations of chloride, bromide, strontium, and radium in wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in Western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Formation, after undergoing wastewater treatment.

226Ra levels in stream sediments (544−8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were ∼200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22−44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal.

These potentially dangerous, high levels of sometimes radioactive pollutants were discovered in fracking water that had already been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. This poses serious concerns for treated fracking wastewater, let alone water from hydraulic fracturing that has been documented being dumped into nearby water supplies without first being treated.

The study is Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania. Abstract below. 

Abstract: 

The safe disposal of liquid wastes associated with oil and gas production in the United States is a major challenge given their large volumes and typically high levels of contaminants. In Pennsylvania, oil and gas wastewater is sometimes treated at brine treatment facilities and discharged to local streams. This study examined the water quality and isotopic compositions of discharged effluents, surface waters, and stream sediments associated with a treatment facility site in western Pennsylvania. The elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with the strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions of the effluents reflect the composition of Marcellus Shale produced waters. The discharge of the effluent from the treatment facility increased downstream concentrations of chloride and bromide above background levels. Barium and radium were substantially (>90%) reduced in the treated effluents compared to concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters. Nonetheless, 226Ra levels in stream sediments (544−8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were ∼200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22−44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater
disposal.

China smog emergency shuts city of 11 million people

BEIJING, China – Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China’s largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country’s first major air pollution crisis of the winter.

An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people.

A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

“You can’t see your own fingers in front of you,” Harbin’s official news site noted.

Originally posted on Coyote Gulch:

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced several significant improvements and resources for communities recovering from the historic September floods: the Colorado Department of Transportation will reopen a section of US 34 to residents; the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will offer grants to repair flood-damaged water and waste systems and water quality testing and the Colorado Water Conservation Board will provide low-interest loans for water systems repairs; and a benefit concert on Sunday, Oct. 27 with several of Colorado’s favorite musicians for flood recovery efforts.

“We are leveraging all available resources from the federal government, local businesses and communities to repair and rebuild Colorado after the historic September flooding,” Hickenlooper said. “We want to thank everyone involved in helping impacted communities recover quickly. We have more work to do across…

View original 459 more words

Marijuana TrendThe latest Public Policy Polling poll of Colorado, released on October 25, shows that Coloradans support Amendment 64 by a 10-point margin and that support is trending upward.

According to PPP:

Colorado’s amendment to legalize marijuana continues to lead for passage with 53% of voters saying they plan to support it to 43% who are opposed. This plays out very much as a generational issue with voters under 30 favoring it 73/25, while seniors oppose it 38/55. Every age group except seniors supports the amendment, and it has a 58/36 advantage with independents.

This is 4-point increase from PPP’s previous (September 4) poll, which showed 47% in favor and 43% opposed. This is also an increase from the October 11 Denver Post /Survey USA poll which showed 48% in favor of Amendment 64 and 43% opposed.

Amendment 64 seeks to legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and manufacture of small amounts of marijuana and goods containing marijuana. It will create the legal framework necessary to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. The Amendment states that the first $40 million in annual tax revenue will be earmarked for public school construction. More information on the Amendment, as well as the full text and ballot language, can be found on the  Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol website.

While the numbers from the latest PPP survey may appear favorable to supporters of the Amendment, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol cautions supporters against becoming complacent. A similar measure in California, Proposition 19, led in polls until late September before the 2010 election, but was defeated 53.5% to 46.5% on election day.

Post-election analysis of Proposition 19 in California determined that the measure was probably defeated due to late-in-the-game opposition from prominent public figures in California. This is a concern for supporters of Amendment 64 in Colorado as well; Governor Hickenlooper and Denver’s Mayor Hancock, as well as several interest groups, oppose the Amendment.

On the other hand, Amendment 64 has advantages that California’s Proposition 19 did not. Many local law enforcement professionals and doctors, as well as the Colorado Democratic Party, have voiced their support for the measure.

Those in favor of Amendment 64 have a significant fundraising advantage. The Denver Post reports that over $3 million has been spent so far by groups on both sides of the issue. Groups that favor legalization are out-spending opposition groups by a 4-1 margin. However, spending by groups in favor of Proposition 19 in California was also significantly higher than spending by groups opposed, so a fundraising edge for Amendment 64 does not necessarily indicate that it will pass.

Finally, the October 25 PPP poll suggests that support for Amendment 64 is currently at its highest level yet and is trending upward. For comparison, polling for California’s Proposition 19 showed support peaking in late September 2010 and trending downward until the measure’s defeat on election day.

Hi everyone. If you follow this blog, you’ve probably realized that I haven’t posted anything for close to three weeks now. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without writing a post, and I’m sorry to keep you all hanging. I started my graduate program in Natural Resource and Environmental Economics two weeks ago, and so the last three weeks have been pretty hectic, what with moving all my stuff to a new city, getting settled in, starting classes, and getting used to having homework again.

Things are (hopefully) starting to calm down somewhat this week, so I hope that I’ll be able to get back to making regular posts. I do have a post to share today, though, which I’ll be posting right after this one.

I just listened to my brother, Jens Lund Snee, interview Stanford Professor Michael Wara, a climate scientist-turned-legal scholar, for Standford’s Generation Anthropocene podcast. See below for Michael’s and Jens’ backgrounds, and for notable quotes from the interview.

Click the link below to listen to the full interview.

Michael Wara Interview

 

Contributor

Michael Wara
An expert on energy and environmental law, Michael Wara’s research focuses on climate and electricity policy. Professor Wara’s current scholarship lies at the intersection between environmental law, energy law, international relations, atmospheric science, and technology policy.  Professor Wara was formerly a geochemist and climate scientist and has published work on the history of the El Niño/La Niña system and its response to changing climates, especially those warmer than today. The results of his scientific research have been published in premier scientific journals, including Science and Nature.

 

Interviewer

Jens-Erik Lund Snee
Jens-Erik Lund Snee is a Masters student at Stanford University studying Geology and Environmental Sciences. He is interested in ways that scientific knowledge can better inform policy, particularly with regard to international natural resources issues. He spent 2011 on a Fulbright Fellowship studying geology and politics in New Zealand.

 

Quotes:

“The industries that were gonna be regulated played what I think is a disproportionately important roll in driving the design of the law” 

“I try to come at the problem from a sort-of fact-based, data-driven… approach, and that isn’t really how things play out in Washington.”

“You don’t see to many ideas that really die in the policy arena, unfortunately, even if there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they aren’t terribly effective.”

“That person ends up sitting – giving expert testimony to lawmakers – pretending as if – pretending that – this was their idea; that this has nothing to do with a financial arrangement that has been made behind the scenes and I find that – I think that, in particular, gives you some clue as to why ideas, good or bad, don’t die in the policy arena.” (apx 16:00)

“If there was one thing I wish we would try more of, it’s smaller-scale agreements, where we actually do things. Where we experiment with reducing emissions of a particular gas, from a particular industry, and then we learn about how well we can implement those kinds of programs; how much they actually cost, not how much industry and environmental groups say they’re going to cost. And we also learn about our partners in the international negotiation, how much we can trust them, how well they can actually implement agreements that they sign on to.” (18:00)

“I think that, if we could have more sort-of small-scale steps, we could actually get a lot further than we have been by trying to craft this giant kind of global, once-and-for-all agreement.” (20:00) 

“We see environmental problems being resolved by regulatory approaches that change behavior, change incentives, and we also see environmental problems being resolved by innovation; but sometimes the innovation is stimulated by the regulation.” (21:00) 

“Energy research and development investment in this country is pathetic… We need some basic innovation if we’re going to really change the picture on climate.” (22:00)

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